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I'm staying in San Francisco for 2 weeks. When I arrived I gave my European debit card to the hotel, and they (at least, I thought so) withdrew the 5,000 dollars I owed them for the whole stay.

Yesterday, I noticed my debit card account went negative and I found out that the hotel charged me 3,000 dollars out of nowhere.

I asked them what was going on, and they explained me that when I gave them my debit card the first time, they just authorized the payment up to 5,000 dollars. Now the system automatically "took" 3,000 dollars to cover the costs up to today (and also said they are going to take the remaining 2,000 dollars in the next days).

On my internet banking website I see the first transaction has the status "blocked", and the 3,000 dollars one has the status "completed". But at the end of the day, I have 3,000 dollars less than what I was supposed to have.

Something like this never happened to me and I don't know if this is normal or if I should do something. I called my bank and they said all the money (5,000 + 3,000) is already in the hotel's bank account and that the hotel should either cancel the second transaction or send me a wire with this money.

What's the right way to proceed?

Update (Jul 23):

During these days I transferred more money on the card, but they "charged/blocked" (I'm not sure) me 3900 dollars, this time when I asked them the reason they said that was an error on their system and they provided me a letter to forward to my bank to get the transaction reverted.

I then transferred other 2000 dollars to cover the remaining cost of the stay, and this morning, before I presented at the front-desk to checkout, I discovered they did "block" me other 2000 dollars, so I again don't have the money needed to settle the balance.

Now they asked me to come back in the afternoon (my flight is this night at ~9), they said they will fix the situation...

Update (Jul 27):

That afternoon they said that everything had been adjusted, that they did release (from their side) all the blocked amounts and that I could just leave.
I obviously asked what to do about the remaining 2,000 dollars I owed them and they simply said "It's all okay".

After few days, I got back the 3,900 dollars that were "accidentally" blocked, and I have also been charged for the 2,000 dollars I still owed them. This charge happened without my authorization, so I guess they simply assumed it was acceptable to use the authorization they got when I first gave them my debit card.

I asked my bank about all the money that is still blocked and they see in the system that the block will automatically expire in approximatively 2 weeks, I guess this means they didn't release anything actually, apart for the 3,900 dollars for which I got a letter from them.

I think this story ends here. For the curious and ones that denigrated me because of not having used a credit card, I asked around few banks in my country, and the credit card that gave me the higher limit provided up to 4,000 euro/month, which obviously wouldn't be enough to pay such kind of stay in the future.

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    And just TBC. If they had prepaid the 5000. In fact they would have definitely also done a hold (for, say, $1000) for incidentals. Any time you prepay at a hotel, they also do a hold. Because this didn't happen, we indeed know that they did a hold. The bottom line is you told them to do a prepay, but they sloppily just did the usual hold. – Fattie Jul 23 '18 at 14:01
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    This kind of crap really ticks me off. We had a similar experience (but much less money) staying in Miami (Kimpton Surfcomber) where they charged us the full amount on check-in (which was fine) and then another $350 for "incidentals" (minibar, etc.). They said whatever we don't use will be refunded 3-5 business days after we check out. – cbmeeks Jul 23 '18 at 19:11
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    Next stop: TripAdvisor – mcalex Jul 24 '18 at 4:00
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    Next stop, being european: calling your bank's fraud de partment, & cancel the transactions. – CptEric Jul 24 '18 at 9:15
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    Post Update: Is it time to name and shame this hotel? This is the type of problem/information a serious hotel would not want guests to know about. Maybe you could show the management this page and stare deeply into their eyes, silently, waiting for an apology and ...? – Mari-Lou A Jul 24 '18 at 11:11
125

It is usual for hotels to put a 'block' (a deposit) on your payment card for the total amount, plus some estimated incidentials.

On a credit card, this has little consequences (unless you are maxed out), but on a debit card this really takes the money out for some days. Many hotels (same for car-rentals and gas stations) have signs at the check-in where they explain that and explicitly warn you about it. It is a significant reason to use a credit card at check-in (even if you prefer to pay with the debit card at the end).

The deposit will normally be reinstated automatically when the block period runs out, normally about three business days, but it might depend on your bank, and potential intermediaries. The hotel should be able to cancel this deposit any time, but might not be willing to (as you still will owe them around 2k). They could replace it with a new 2k deposit, though.

You should talk with the hotel to ask them to drop the deposit, or at last replace it with a lower one.

Lesson: Don't ever use a debit card for check-in (unless you have heaps of cash in the account).

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    What would a gas station need to put a block on your card for? – Andrew Grimm Jul 23 '18 at 3:04
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    Because they do not know how much gas you will be pumping when the transaction is approved. – Aganju Jul 23 '18 at 3:06
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    @AndrewGrimm You'll note that there's a maximum amount of fuel you're allowed to spend at the pumps with automated payment .... that amount is the reserved amount on your card because that's how much they know they'll be able to take. They also hope it's a number that's small enough that anyone buying fuel will be able to aford – UKMonkey Jul 23 '18 at 9:23
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    @UKMonkey in the US at least it is normally a 1$ hold that goes on the card when pumping gas, followed by a hold for the amount purchased, the 1$ hold normally drops off in 1 - 2 business days – hellyale Jul 23 '18 at 14:01
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    @hellyale remember that gas prices in Europe are several times higher than they are in the US. Here in the Netherlands gas now costs an equivalent of about $8 per gallon. I normally get about 7-8 gallons at a time, so about $60 worth of gas at my prices. – jwenting Jul 24 '18 at 6:45
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I'm going to disagree with the other answers here, and state that the hotel didn't follow the correct procedure for charging your card, which is what has caused your problem.

When you checked in, the hotel did an authorization for the $5,000. This is normal - it basically "reserves" the money so that it's there when they come to charge your card, which normally doesn't occur until you check-out.

As a part of that authorization is an auth code - presuming they gave you a copy of the receipt it should show that code on it, along with the fact that it was only a "pre-auth" or something to that effect.

When they actually come to charge your code, they are supposed to use that "auth code" to make the charge. This tells the bank that this charge is to be taken out of the money that has already been reserved. It sounds like this didn't happen in that case, so instead of placing a charge against the existing reserved $5,000, the bank treated it as a NEW, additional charge of $3,000.

Most likely the hotel made this "mistake" deliberately. If they had issued the charge against the auth code, then the remaining funds under that authorization would have been cleared. ie, the $5,000 authorization would have been removed, and replaced with the $3,000 charge. When they came to charge you the additional $2,000 they would have had to do that as a new charge, without a pre-authorization, and there is the possibility that it would have been rejected (eg, if you had taken the funds out of your account).

At this point the hotel only has $3,000 of your money - although technically if they wanted to they could charge an additional $5,000 to your card and it would be approved, on the grounds that they had already obtained a pre-authorization for that amount. (I'm not suggesting they would do that, just that they physically could).

When you to check-out and they attempt to charge the remaining $2,000, one of two things will happen. If they issue that charge using the pre-auth code obtained when they did the authorization, then the additional $2,000 will be taken from that amount, and the remaining $3,000 reservation will be returned to your account relatively quickly (possibly immediately, but normally within a day).

Alternatively if they issue the next $2,000 as a new charge (without the auth code) then they will take a further $2,000 from your account - and NOT release the pre-auth. At that point, depending on the timing, your bank account will be down $10,000 - although the hotel will only have $5,000 of that. Then, around a week after the initial authorization was done, the $5,000 that was reserved will be returned to you.

  • "Most likely the hotel made this "mistake" deliberately." Wouldn't charging $3000, then immediately reserving $2000 be better? This makes sure you still "take/reserve" $5000 from customer's card but no more than that. – kiradotee Jul 24 '18 at 14:26
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In the US banking system (I don't know if it differs in other countries) these are two separate types of transactions. Here's what I know from working for many years in the card services department of a bank.

When companies use the word "block", "reserve", "hold" or "authorization" they're referring to a type of transaction that is used to verify that funds are available and prevent them being spent for a short period of time. This is usually done in cases where there could be some variation in the actual amount due at the time of payment, such as at a hotel, gas station or rental car company. No money actually leaves your bank or is transferred into their account, but you will generally be unable to use the funds until the hold expires. Typically this would be about 3 business days, but could be longer or shorter depending on lot of complicated factors that influence how these authorizations are processed by your bank. There are also some companies whose software will continue to renew the hold until the time they're ready to make your final transaction. The authorization can sometimes be cancelled by the company that placed it, but it's not something that is done very commonly in most industries and you might have a hard time finding someone who knows how to remove it and has the authority to do so. I would hope that the employees at a hotel that deal with customer billing would be familiar with this process, but in my experience many of them are not. I would not be at all surprised to learn that there is significant variation in how long it takes these holds to expire if your bank is located in another country.

The other type of transaction is the actual charges to your account. This is the type of transaction you're used to encountering, where the amount due is known at the time of the transaction and funds leave your account and are electronically transferred to the receiver's bank almost immediately.

Unfortunately, because these two types of transactions are done separately and at different times, you can run into the type of situation you've described, where your funds are still being held because of the first authorization and have also been actually removed with a regular transaction, creating the impression that you've been charged twice. What can be done about it is often quite dependent on the banking software being used by the company that has placed the hold. The better programs automatically revoke and update (if necessary) the hold, while slightly less good ones sometimes allow the hotel staff to cancel the hold manually, but they may not do so unless you bring it to their attention. If nothing is done, the hold will eventually expire and your funds will be available to you again at that point.

As others have mentioned, this is something you are likely to encounter while traveling, so having more funds available than you will actually need is a good idea, as is presenting a credit card instead of a debit card at check-in so that you don't run into as many problems from having the hold on. Presenting a credit card doesn't stop the hotel from placing a hold on your funds but in many cases, you have a credit limit that exceeds the amount of money you actually intend to spend on your trip, and you'll still have access to the money you have in the bank for other purchases in the meantime. The fact that none of your actual money is tied up and the fact that the hold will eventually expire without causing any true charges to appear on your credit card bill can save you from the worst of the pain.

Some comments have pointed out that some policies conflict with this information, but unfortunately there tends to be quite a bit of variation in what you will actually encounter in the real world. It's a complicated process that involves interactions between several big companies and it's not always predictable how that will work out for you. Your best bet when you run into this kind of problem is to start with the hotel employees. If they know what they're doing and the hotel chain has good software, they may be able to release the hold or adjust the amount of the hold to account for what you've already paid right from the computer at the front desk. It sounds like you're not lucky enough to be dealing with one of these hotels though, so your next step is to speak with a supervisor about the situation. If the hotel is using particularly horrendous banking software, they might actually have to call the bank to have the hold released. At the bank where I worked, we could remove holds from customer accounts, but were strongly discouraged from doing so unless it was absolutely necessary and we could get the company that placed the hold to send us some kind of documentation to prove that they wanted it released (that usually meant speaking to both the customer and the hotel manager on the phone and then having the manager fax a signed letter to us requesting for the hold to be released). You might get some help from your bank directly, since policies differ from bank to bank, but most of them consider this to be a problem caused by the hotel and will send you back to them for help. It's far from a perfect process and I'm sorry you're running into trouble with it.

if you're interested, you can read more about holds here: https://chargebacks911.com/knowledge-base/credit-card-authorization-hold/ and here https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/need-know-credit-debit-card-holds.php

and specifically in relation to best practices for traveling here: http://www.traveller.com.au/hotel-checkin-with-credit-cards-how-hotel-preauthorisations-work-gmduxj and here https://petergreenberg.com/2016/08/15/check-in-to-a-hotel/

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    having more funds available than you will actually need is a good idea - perfectly agreed, but... as is presenting a credit card instead of a debit card - I don't understand this. If you present a credit card which is reserved a large amount of money, you end up reducing your monthly plafond, which is dictated by your bank according to your usual income. So you may end up being unable to pay the restaurant's bill. What am I missing? – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Jul 20 '18 at 21:38
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    @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ You can let the reservation be on the credit card. Since the hotel will reverse the reservation this is not money lost. You can pay your actual expenses with an other debit or credit card that is unrelated to the credit card. Of course you run in problems when you spend more than you own, but this is something you have control over, rather than dictated by aweful hotel or car rental systems that (temporarily) reserve much more money than you actually owe. – Sumurai8 Jul 20 '18 at 21:59
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    @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Money on hold on a credit card is credit that you're not able to use. You can still spend all your own money (using a debit card) plus whatever credit you have left, up to your credit limit. Money on hold on a debit card is your own money that you can't use until the hold is released, which usually takes days. It's still possible to run out of your own money + credit, yes, but having a hold on your credit is usually better than overdrawing your bank account. – Zach Lipton Jul 20 '18 at 22:20
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    @Jules usually households are paid from your main bank account and a hold on your money could stop these being paid causing you massive headaches. You don’t normally pay tax/household bills etc. using credit card so it’s safer to have the hold on there. Also paying by credit card usually offers extra buyers protections that debit cards don’t. – Notts90 Jul 21 '18 at 8:37
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    @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ In the US, we would call it a "credit limit," if I'm understanding the term correctly. – Zach Lipton Jul 22 '18 at 0:36
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I just want to clarify what other answers have said. The hotel does not have $8000, notwithstanding what the card representative said. I base that on the "blocked" status you see online. What they have is a lockout on $5000 (which should be reduced to $2000) plus an actual $3000 transfer.

You need to speed up the "unblocking" of the $3000. Confirm that the hotel has released that. You may be able to call your bank and have them hurry that up.

If by some fluke the online statement is wrong and the hotel has received $8000, they should revert the extra immediately, and if they don't, notify your bank that there is a duplicate charge.

  • It's still annoying they've done this. They should have used the reserved $5000 instead of making a new transaction. Normally you have to wait a week to get the funds back. One week of not having $5000 is a big one. You might either end up without money to buy food, or lose money because you could have been acquiring interest on those $5000 during that week. – kiradotee Jul 24 '18 at 14:34
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All answers are very good, I would like to also add something else to protect yourself in case you need to dispute the charges later. Get a clear receipt from the hotel with all charges. While this may not help you now, it will help you once you have left the hotel and you find an error was made and you can easily get your bank to correct the issue by disputing any incorrect charge.

  • Yes. I always ask for a receipt when I check out. I never do the self-checkout bit and drop the keycard in the slot and walk off. I'll wait in line to check out and get the receipt. Very important if there are issues later on. – chadbag Jul 22 '18 at 0:06
  • @chadbag Every self checkout I've done, the hotel provides the receipt by sliding it under your door early morning the day of checkout, so you still have a paper receipt. – Andy Jul 22 '18 at 15:07
  • @Andy that would be cool. I've never had a hotel/motel/inn slide the receipt under the door. – user79730 Jul 22 '18 at 17:03
  • @chadbag Eh, not really, as long as you use a credit card. I simply look at the charges on my card, and if there's anything wrong, I dispute them. The credit card company always takes care of me, so it's not something I worry about. – ell Jul 24 '18 at 21:03
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This is pretty normal in my experience with Hire Car companies and I expect that Hotels do the exact same thing.

Upon arrival, they get a pre-approval or pre-authorisation for an amount expected to cover the eventual bill. With Hire Car companies, sometimes that is enough to cover the expected eventual bill AND the full insurance excess on your hire. That validates that your card has enough balance to cover the expense. This pre-authorisation is often not carried through and completed when finalizing the billing, often because the amount is indicative rather than final and the amount is usually released back onto your card after approximately three days, perhaps more depending on your banking/card provider and their merchant processor.

Then, when the bill is to be settled they process a charge on your card for the final amount or, for a sub-amount along the way if they are making incremental billing as in your case.

Do not worry, you are not out of pocket and the pre-authorisation will disappear from your account.

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