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Frequently asked questions about hotel rooms

You can absolutely rent a hotel room without a credit card. You won’t be able to reserve a room in advance with cash, but hotels do accept cash payments upon check-in. To book a room in advance, you’ll need either a credit card, a Visa debit card or a prepaid card. Some online booking sites even let you pay through PayPal. Most hotels require a deposit in addition to the cost of the room to cover things like incidentals, damage, or theft. Generally, hotels will place a pre-authorized hold on your credit card for the amount of the room, plus the deposit amount. The hold is released a few days after check-out as long as you have not damaged the room or stolen anything. While some hotels might let you pay for the deposit in cash or a debit card, not all hotels do, so it’s better to travel with a Visa debit or a prepaid card.

You can walk into a hotel and book a room. However, whether or not you actually get a room depends on the hotel’s vacancy. If there are no rooms available, you will not be able to book a room. If there are rooms available, you will be able to book it as long as you have an accepted form of payment like cash, debit, credit card, or prepaid card as well as photo ID.


If you book in advance, some hotels will immediately charge your card and you’ll see the funds either clear your bank account, or a charge processed onto your credit card statement. Other hotels will simply put a hold on your card for the amount of the room, meaning the transaction has not actually gone through but the funds have been earmarked for the anticipated transaction. Holds reduce the available funds you have access to either through your bank account or credit card account, depending on the method of payment you used. Many hotels require a deposit to cover any theft or damage you may cause during your stay and will place a hold on your card for the amount of the deposit. The hold is released a few days after check-out as long as you have not caused any damage to hotel property or stolen anything.

If you book a hotel through a third-party booking site, you should contact them first to request a cancellation.  If they are unable to cancel the reservation, then you should contact the hotel directly. Depending on the cancellation policy, you may need to pay a cancellation fee or pay the full cost of the room. To avoid the fee, choose a hotel that does not impose a cancellation penalty. Cancellation policies are typically advertised on third-party booking sites, and you can find them on the hotel's website or by contacting them directly.


Get out of a hotel cancellation fee by avoiding it in the first place. Choose a hotel with a no-cancellation penalty policy, or the most flexible cancellation policy you can find. You can also purchase private trip cancellation insurance to cover the cost of your trip including penalties in the event you need to cancel. If you reserved the room through a third-party booking site, the cancellation policy is usually disclosed in the ad for the room. Sometimes it's even advertised upfront as a perk. If your cancellation is subject to a fee you should contact the hotel directly, explain the situation and ask them to waive it. If you booked with a credit card, contact the credit card company to see if they offer travel insurance and if the cancellation fee is eligible for reimbursement.

The cheapest way to book a hotel depends on your situation. It is cheaper to book directly through the hotel if you have travel or loyalty points you would like to use to cover the cost. If you’re booking last minute, want a travel package, or love snagging a mystery deal, you’re better off going through a third party booking site. For example, you could use our hotel comparison tool. Having said that, you should always contact the hotel directly and compare their pricing to what online booking sites have to offer.


Resort fees, which can also be called destination fees or facility fees, are mandatory at the hotels that have them. When booking directly through a hotel site or third party platform, make sure you expand the quote to see a breakdown of the taxes and any other charges before you pay a dime. You also need to determine how the fees are charged, either a flat rate per night, a percentage of your total bill, or cost per person so you know the true cost before you book. The only sure fire way to avoid resort fees is to choose a hotel that doesn’t charge any.

The best way to get a free hotel room upgrade is to book directly through the hotel, then simply ask if they’d be willing to upgrade you. If it's a special occasion, like a honeymoon or anniversary, let them know and they may give you a complimentary upgrade. You can increase your chances by signing up for their customer loyalty program, branded credit card, or both. You’re also more likely to get an upgrade if you book during the off-season, stay during the week instead of a weekend, and when you check-in later in the day. 


Not necessarily. There are different types of travel insurance that cover different things. Generally, the term travel insurance refers to the coverage of emergency medical treatment abroad. It can sometimes include cancellation insurance, but not always. Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption insurance is specifically designed to reimburse you for the cost of a non-refundable trip or travel package in the event you need to alter dates or cancel altogether. Some travel credit cards automatically insure trips booked with the card. But you can also purchase private trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance on your own.

Apartment vacation rentals, such as Airbnb or VRBO, are generally cheaper than the cost of a comparable hotel accommodation. Hotels have a lot more overhead costs than owners who rent out their property through vacation rental sites. However, you do lose some benefits like room service and an onsite team for things like customer service issues, emergencies, or maintenance problems. Prices on private vacation rentals tend to remain more stable and consistent, while hotels practice surge pricing when demand is high. On the downside, sites like Airbnb and VRBO do not have loyalty rewards programs, whereas many hotel chains do. Private rentals tend to be further away from attractions and other amenities, which adds to your shoe-leather costs.

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