Most travelers rely on plastic when it comes to checking-in to hotels and paying for their stays. But there are some travelers out there who desire to pay for hotels with cash for various reasons (both ethical and unethical). Paying for a hotel with cash raises a lot of different questions and concerns you need to be aware of and in this article, I’ll break down everything you need to know.
Can you pay for a hotel with cash?
Yes, you can pay for a hotel with cash at some properties but there are often some difficulties involved.
Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!
Issues with paying with cash
There are two major issues that you may encounter when trying to pay for your hotel room with cash money.
When it comes to paying for travel with cash there are often immediate concerns about the legitimacy of the transaction.
A lot of actors engaged in criminal or questionable activity like to use cash because it does not leave a paper trail in the same way that using a credit card does.
This allows people to hide their activity from spouses, investigators, lawyers, etc.
So don’t be surprised when hotel agents apply more scrutiny at check-in when you are trying to pay with cash. And when I am talking about scrutiny, I am talking about how hotel agents will judge your appearance.
If you act shady or are dressed in a way that makes you look less trustworthy, it’s very possible that a hotel will simply tell you that they do not accept cash simply because they view you as a potential risk. Perhaps they think you are going to be doing drugs in the hotel or that you may not be responsible enough to not damage or ruin a hotel room.
This could be argued to be illegal discrimination, especially since minorities are often underbanked with no credit/debit cards, but it is just a matter of fact that this goes on.
So if you’re paying cash be sure to make yourself as presentable as possible at the time of check-in.
No safety net
The other major issue with paying for hotel lodging with cash is that it does not provide a safety net for the hotel for incidentals.
In a less serious case, you might add five cheesecake slices and all seven Harry Potter movies to your room tab and then simply go MIA. The hotel may have a copy of your ID but will not have an immediate way to cover those charges by charging your credit or debit card.
Sure they could sue you with five cheesecake slices and seven Harry Potter movies as damages but it’s most likely not going to be worth their time.
In a more serious case, you could completely trash a hotel room. We’re talking broken coffee tables, blood on the walls, cocaine covered couches — you’d be surprised how some people leave hotel rooms.
In a situation like that, if you have offered no credit card or debit card on file, there is no way for the hotel to immediately get you to cover the damage that you caused which could be in the thousands. If they can track you down, they likely will but it will still be a costly process for the hotel.
For those reasons don’t be surprised when a lot of hotels don’t accept cash payment without some type of credit card on file.
Related: Can You Pay Uber With Cash?
How to pay for a hotel with cash
Verify the hotel accepts cash
The first thing you need to do is verify that the hotel actually accepts cash. Certain types of lodging such as motels may be more willing to accept cash versus large expensive resorts but it is sometimes a case by case situation.
If you were planning on paying for a hotel with cash my advice would be to call or email the hotel ahead of time and let them know that you plan on paying with cash.
First, this will avoid any confusion as to whether or not the hotel does accept cash. They should be able to explain the process that they utilize for cash payments and should also be able to notate on your file that you will be paying with cash.
Most likely, you will be in a small minority of customers who pay for hotels with cash so don’t be surprised if the front desk agent is not initially clear on how to process your transaction when you arrive.
Hand over your ID
When you check into a hotel typically you are asked to hand over a credit card and a government-issued ID.
If you are paying cash it’s possible that the hotel will apply extra scrutiny to your ID, especially if it is an out-of-state ID or foreign passport. If something looks questionable (e.g., you don’t look like the guy or gal in the photo) they may turn you away and not allow the cash payment.
Related: Why Do Hotels Ask How Many Guests are Staying in Your Room?
Make the cash deposit
The amount of this cash deposit will depend on the type of hotel but you could expect it to be somewhere around $100 or more.
Some hotels may even jack up the deposit by including things like a cleaning fee or smoking fee added to the deposit. They do this in part to protect themselves but also to deter people from using cash.
It is also common for hotels that accept cash payments to require you to pre-pay for your entire stay.
So in some circumstances when paying for a hotel in cash, you may have to pay the following at check-in:
- Upfront deposit
- Cleaning and smoking fee deposit
- Prepaid room rate
Depending on the length and room rate, you could be coughing up several hundred dollars to over $1,000 in cash.
Getting assigned your room
Once you are checked in don’t be surprised if you are limited on the type of room you can get. For example, some hotels may put cash paying guests only on the first floor. Presumably this would be to limit the chance of them destroying a lot of property with things like overflowing bathtubs, sinks, and showers.
This is yet another drawback of paying with cash because it means you might miss out on upgrades and on any type of view you might get from a higher floor.
When you check-out, the cash deposit should be given back to you in full. However, don’t be surprised if the hotel requires housekeeping to first verify that your room is in good condition.
Depending on how busy housekeeping is that verification could take a little while which could slow down your checkout process, especially if you are trying to get out of there early. So again, utilizing cash for a hotel payment is simply problematic in a number of ways.
Related: Ultimate Late Check-Out Guide for Hotel Stays
Some hotels may offer a hybrid approach to paying with cash.
For example, they may require you to handover a credit card so that they can put a pending charge/deposit on the card when you check in. However, they will still allow you to pay for your stay in cash at the time of check-in or check-out.
All of this should be communicated to you clearly at the time of check-in.
Will hotels make exceptions?
Some hotels with policies to never accept cash payments may be willing to make exceptions for cash payments but this can become problematic very quickly.
Essentially, when a hotel makes an exception they are making a judgment call that they feel you are an upstanding citizen who will not cause trouble by destroying a room, running away after incurring a huge tab, etc.
Although there is no federal law that precludes a hotel from having a policy to refuse payment in the form of cash, this judgment call could easily open the door for claims of discrimination on the basis of things like race, appearance, age, etc.
For that reason, I would not expect a lot of hotels to be willing to make exceptions if they have an explicit no-cash policy.
Related: Which Car Rental Companies Accept Cash or Debit Card Payments?
Why you should use a credit card
While you can find some hotels that will accept cash I would strongly recommend you to avoid using cash to pay for a hotel. Instead, you should seriously consider using a credit card and I will explain a few reasons why.
It is customary to use a credit card to pay for a hotel stay and departing from that can raise red flags or just make your check-in and check-out experience more complicated. Your hotel experience will be much smoother if you simply use a credit card.
Point earning potential
Hotel expenses code as travel and there are many credit cards that offer lucrative bonus points for travel expenses. Using a travel credit card for a hotel payment can often get you three times or even five times the points which puts a lot of value back into your pocket. If you pay with cash you will be losing all of this additional value.
If you get a co-branded hotel credit card they often come with special perks for the hotel. For example, a Marriott card may offer you Gold status or a Hyatt card may offer you World of Hyatt Discoverist status.
These can help you get perks like upgrades, early check-in, late check out, and sometimes even a free breakfast. So just by getting the right credit card you can upgrade your hotel experience in a pretty significant way.
The final reason why you should use a credit card is that you can find travel credit cards with amazing travel protections such as trip cancellation.
So let’s say that you booked a prepaid hotel rate that does not allow you to cancel but something comes up like you getting sick and you cannot make the stay. You could use a benefit like trip cancellation attached to your credit card that allows you to get refunded for your nonrefundable expense. It can save you $$$!
If you don’t have a credit card
If you don’t have a credit card or are unable to get approved for one, consider loading your cash to a prepaid card. For example, you may be able to load cash to an Amex Serve card or a pre-paid Visa card. Just make sure that you call ahead to the hotel and ask if they accept pre-paid credit cards because otherwise your cash could get stuck on the card.
While paying for cash for a hotel room is possible I strongly recommend not doing it because it causes several issues.
First, a lot of hotels will not accept cash as a form of payment so you are limiting the hotels you can choose from.
Second, you can create trust issues with a staff right off the bat, be subject to higher deposit requirements (and possibly even higher room rates), be limited on the type of room you can get, and be forced to wait longer to check-out while housekeeping verifies the condition of your room.
And most of all, you miss out on some big time earning opportunities and travel protections that you would otherwise get from a good travel credit card.
So if possible try to pay for all of your hotel stays with a credit card and avoid the hassles that come along with cash payments.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.