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Tips for Explaining Hotel Authorization Holds to Guests (and Making It Stick)

I regret to inform you that I recently fell victim to not understanding an authorization hold. And from what from I've read in hotel forums, I'm definitely not the first guest to do this.

On a recent family vacation, our front desk agent very politely told me I would get an itemized bill at the end of my stay and requested a credit card to keep on file. I gladly handed her my Discover and went about my day.

And then later I saw it: a giant charge in my Discover app that I wasn't expecting. It appeared to be my total stay plus an extra amount (which I later learned would cover incidentals).

You see, in my mind, "keeping a card on file" meant she somehow took down my credit information and would have it handy to use at a later date. I now realize that sounds ridiculous – why wouldn't she just get and swipe my credit card at checkout then – but when you're tired from traveling, have two small screaming kids in tow, et cetera et cetera, you're not prone to rationalize and draw the right conclusions.

So what exactly does a hotel credit card hold mean?

Don't assume your guest knows. Make the below information easily accessible to them from your website and physically at your front desk so you can get ahead of questions and disputes. With better communication and transparency from you, your guests are less likely to walk away confused or frustrated.

What is authorization hold?

It's important to note that an authorization hold is not a charge.

The hotel will temporarily place a hold on your credit card at the time of check-in. Consider it a placeholder for a later charge or a temporary swipe that won't process.

What are the different names hotels could refer to the hold as?

Hotel Authorization Hold
Hotel Credit Card Hold
Hotel Incidental Hold
Hotel Holding Fee
Hotel Temporary Authorization Hold

Why do hotels do holds?

A hold is common practice in the hotel industry to guarantee payment for your stay (your room and associated fees), as well as potential incidentals (such as room service or damages) that may occur during your stay.

The authorized funds are not immediately deducted but are effectively reserved for the hotel.

What will I see on my credit card transaction history during my stay?

Immediately following check-in, you will see a charge with a "processing" or "pending" status, typically referred to as a hotel pending charge.

For most transactions, a charge will eventually be processed and move to a "posted" or "completed" status, deducted for the merchant, and officially applied to your statement. This is what happens when you, for example, swipe your card at the grocery store to buy milk.

In the case of a hotel hold, however, the charge won't move or deducted immediately. Instead, the charge will remain in the processing/pending status until you check out.

When do hotels charge your card?

At check-out, you will receive an itemized bill indicating the final amount due to the hotel. This is the amount that will be processed, deducted for the hotel, and be applied to your card statement as a completed transaction/charge.

The hold will remain in the processing/pending status until your network eliminates the temporary charge from your transaction history. This can take up to two weeks.


And for good measure, she would've had me sign this to acknowledge I've read and understood the policy.

Take it from a lay(wo)man: what may seem painfully obvious to your staff may not be obvious to your guests. You may also have grown tired of explaining holds time and time again, but it's the first time your guest will hear it.
By taking the time up front to clarify what will happen so your guests expectations can be set, you'll hopefully save a lot of time and stress throughout the stay.
Guarantee a seamless arrival for business travelers every time.

Managing authorizations via email or fax isn’t just inefficient, it leaves you prone to a breach of your traveler’s sensitive payment information.

That’s why Sertifi partners with leading travel and payment companies, giving hotels an easy, secure way to receive credit and virtual card information from them before arrival. All it takes is signing up for a free Sertifi portal.

About the author

Amy King

Amy King is the director of brand and content marketing at Sertifi. In collaboration with teams across and outside of Sertifi, she guides brand and creative marketing, content strategy, public relations, and community engagement.