If you do enough traveling, eventually you probably are going to leave something behind at a hotel.
But what exactly happens to your item whenever you leave it behind at a hotel and what are the odds of you getting it back?
In this article, we will take a deep dive into how lost and found processes work at hotels and give you some insight into the process along with tips to help you get your item back.
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What happens when you leave an item in your hotel room?
The usual process for a hotel is for housekeeping to come in to clean the room after you check out, so housekeeping personnel are typically the first people who will discover your lost item.
Every hotel may have a slightly different process for what happens next but generally housekeeping (acting in good faith) will bag or collect the item and then eventually bring the item to the front desk, the housekeeping manager, or some other designated individual.
(Some properties may require housekeeping to notify security who will then retrieve the lost item.)
The item should then be logged in a book or software application and then perhaps tagged and placed in an office bin, safe, or storage closet.
The name or phone number of the guest and the room number along with the reservation dates may be included in the log and hopefully on the tag for easy recognition. Other details like where the object was found and who found it may also be included.
After logging the item, the hotel could choose to reach out to the guest but some hotels have a strict policy that does not allow them to do that.
The reason is that some people stay in hotels on a “confidential” basis.
They could be up to something shady (cheating on a spouse) or could be in need of secrecy for some type of safety reason which is why hotels don’t like to get involved with communicating with guests after they leave.
So for the most part the hotel will wait for you to call and inquire about the lost item.
At that point, they may ask you some questions to verify that you are the owner but if they have the details of your room and stay dates, it should be really easy to verify you are the owner.
Things you need to know about hotel lost and found
The initial waiting time
If you contact the hotel directly after checking out of your room, that might actually be too early for you to recover your item.
Don’t get me wrong, if you can’t quickly make it back to the hotel, I would recommend calling as soon as you realize you lost the item but your lost object may not be added to the lost and found until after the room is cleaned.
Until that happens, the only way you might be able to get your item is if an employee is willing to go to the room and search for it.
This is when customer service comes into play.
Some hotels may not be that helpful but you’d be surprised how some hotels go above and beyond to help you retrieve your lost item.
Speak to the right person
When you contact the hotel about a lost item you want to make sure that you are talking to the right person at the right time.
Some hotels may designate a single individual as the person who oversees lost and found. For example, this could be a housekeeping manager or even a member of security.
If you call and that individual is not available, the person over the phone may not be able to help you much. In those cases, you may need to call back a few hours later and try again.
Some hotels are not very organized
Some properties may not keep good records which means that they won’t have an accurate log of lost and found items.
So when you call in there could be no record of the lost item!
Even if the hotel has a record of your item, they will still have to locate it.
This could come down to an employee having to go search through a storage closet that could potentially contain hundreds of items.
Unless that employee is particularly motivated to search thoroughly for your item, they could end up giving up rather quickly with only a superficial search.
So if the hotel is not organized and employees are not sufficiently motivated to search, it could be difficult to get your item back even if the hotel is in possession of it.
Related: Is It Safe to Use a Hotel Safe?
Hotels that use apps
These make it easy for guests to submit a lost item and for the hotel to manage and track these down.
Some of them even allow the shipping process to be set up making it ultra convenient to get reunited with your lost item.
If a hotel has invested in lost and found software like this, chances are they will take your lost and found claim seriously.
Your item may be thrown away
Some hotels may send certain items directly to the trash or only hold onto them for very little time before they dispose of them.
These would be items that present health risks like pillows, blankets, and clothing. Hotels don’t want to risk bringing in bedbugs or potentially spreading viruses that could have been living in these.
Other times, if an article is particularly dirty or gross (certain adult toys) a hotel will not hesitate to throw it away. Drugs including weed presumably are thrown away and alcohol is poured out (or split among hotel staff).
It’s also possible that if you brought a pillow it could have been mistaken for one that the hotel owns and they could have put it in the laundry cycle.
The holding time
Just how long a hotel will store your item will depend on a lot of factors.
First, some hotels just have very short holding policies of only a couple of weeks to 30 days. They do this so that they don’t have to spend a lot of time keeping up with lost items from many months ago.
These properties won’t always tell you that they have short holding times.
The worst offenders may even act like they are searching for your item when they know they have already disposed of it!
The typical length of time that a hotel will hold onto your item is three to six months. Generally, the more valuable the item the longer the hotel will store it.
For example, something random like a pair of sunglasses may be held for three months while a phone may be held onto for six months. On occasion, a hotel might even hold onto something even longer especially if they think it is very valuable such as an engagement ring.
Hotels do love to keep around chargers though because they can loan these out to guests (who don’t always return them).
Sometimes there are state laws that require a hotel to hold onto items for a certain amount of time so you can always look into those if you think a hotel is not complying.
Related: What Can You Take From A Hotel Room?
If your item is never claimed then hotels have a couple of different ways they will handle it.
Sometimes they will give it to the person who discovered the object or to any employee interested in taking it home. But other times they could simply donate the item to a local charity or place it in some type of auction.
If the item contains confidential information such as a phone then they may have a policy for disposing that type of item to prevent any kind of liability with leaked data.
And for anything nobody wants, they will just throw it away….
Getting the hotel to ship you the lost item
If your home is far away from the hotel then your best bet will probably be to have the item shipped to you.
For the most part, expect to have to pay for the shipping of the item. You can do that by sending a prepaid label (sometimes via email) or by just allowing the hotel to charge the card that they had on file. Also, as mentioned some of those software applications allow you to pay for the shipping.
Every now and again, you may encounter a hotel that will ship the item to you for free, especially if the shipping cost is pretty low. Consider yourself #blessed if that happens.
What if your lost item is located in a room that is now occupied?
If your object is not found in the lost and found, there’s a chance that it could still be in the room that you stayed in even after new guests have moved in.
This actually happened to us one time when Brad could not find his passport.
It was underneath a room service binder in the hotel room and because housekeeping does not move those binders, they did not discover it underneath there when they cleaned our room.
After searching extensively, we had a strong suspicion that it was still in that room so we asked the hotel to check but the current occupants were not in their room to consent.
That would not have been a problem except we had an international flight to catch in the morning and this was already in the evening time. So we only had hours to spare.
It took some convincing but we were finally able to get someone from the hotel to enter the room and search for the passport. Within seconds they found it.
So if you believe that your lost item is in a hotel room occupied by someone else, you might be able to convince the hotel to give it a search but this may only happen in pretty dire circumstances (like the one we were in).
When you have a lost item at a hotel the process is not always so straightforward. You want to make sure that you are talking to the right person and that you don’t wait too long to contact the hotel. Finally, be prepared to pay for shipping to get your item back.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.