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I know that in many non-US countries they require identification to check into hotels. However, in the United States I am not aware of any laws that require this. Do they exist?

The reason I ask is that I have attempted to anonymously check into hotels in the United States and found it very difficult to do. For example, one conversation went this way (note that this is an in-person conversation, I am literally standing right in front of the guy at the desk with my bags):

Desk: I need a credit card and a driver's license.

Me: Why do you need to see a driver's license?

Desk: To verify the credit card.

Me: I plan to pay cash.

Desk: I still need a credit card.

Me: Why?

Desk: To guarantee your room.

Me: I will pay cash UP FRONT for the full amount of the stay plus a substantial deposit which will cover any miscellaneous charges.

Desk: I still need a credit card.

Me: Why?

Desk: I don't know, I just need it.

I have had similar conversations at several different hotels. What is going on here? Is there some secret law or something that hotels have to record your identity in the United States?

Maybe a better question would be: is it possible to check into a hotel in the United States without a driver's license and credit card?

Note I am talking about a walk-in, not making reservation. In other words just walking up to the hotel and attempting to check in, then and there, no reservation involved.

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    I don't know, I just need it. Did they really say that ?? – blackbird Aug 4 '16 at 14:13
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    Also, as with anything in the US, I suspect any regulation will be very state-specific – blackbird Aug 4 '16 at 14:15
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    @blackbird Are you really surprised? I would be modestly surprised to find a hotel desk clerk who answered otherwise. Or, if the answer were more informative, I would expect it to be scripted or incorrect. – phoog Aug 4 '16 at 14:29
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    @phoog at least say it's hotel policy or something, it just sounds like they don't know what they're doing :p – blackbird Aug 4 '16 at 14:30
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    Note that realistically, your deposit would need to cover not only the miscellaneous charges you plan to incur, but all the charges you potentially could incur, as well as the costs of any damage you could conceivably cause. The amount of that deposit might be higher than the room rate itself. Since most people would be startled to be asked to put up that much cash, the hotel policies might simply not make that an option at all. – Nate Eldredge Aug 4 '16 at 15:59
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I know that in many non-US countries they require identification to check into hotels. However, in the United States I am not aware of any laws that require this. Do they exist?

Yes:

According to Massachussets legislature:

Section 27. Every innholder, and every lodging house keeper required so to do under section twenty-eight, and every person who shall conduct, control, manage or operate, directly or indirectly, any recreational camp, overnight camp or cabin, motel or manufactured housing community shall keep or cause to be kept, in permanent form, a register in which shall be recorded the true name or name in ordinary use and the residence of every person engaging or occupying a private room averaging less than four hundred square feet floor area, excepting a private dining room not containing a bed or couch, or opening into a room containing a bed or couch, for any period of the day or night in any part of the premises controlled by the licensee, together with a true and accurate record of the room assigned to such person and of the day and hour when such room is assigned.

I would imagine that legal advice has been sought by hotels and that lawyers have suggested that hotels seek official identification in order to comply with this.

In Los Angeles, an ordinance specifically targets cash or walk-in guests:

  1. Renting of Hotel Rooms. The operator of a hotel shall not rent a room except in compliance with the following conditions. (a) A guest who pays all or part of the rent for a room in cash at the time of checking in, and a walk-in guest, shall be required to present an identification document or a housing voucher at the time of checking into the hoteL.

Also Tennessee has proposed a similar bill:

Hotels and Restaurants - As introduced, mandates lodging establishments maintain a guest register providing the name, address, date of birth, copy of a state or federally issued photo identification and vehicle registration information of every guest staying at the hotel; requires the hotel copy the photo ID; authorizes law enforcement personnel to inspect the registration records for law enforcement purposes.

Your next question:

I have had similar conversations at several different hotels. What is going on here? Is there some secret law or something that hotels have to record your identity in the United States?

I cannot find any evidence of any federal law regarding this and due to the other legislation found, it is unlikely that any exists that is not localised.

Maybe a better question would be: is it possible to check into a hotel in the United States without a driver's license and credit card?

I would advise you to check the booking conditions of the hotel before you attempt to check-in, for example, the hotel you list states in their FAQ (bolded text is bolded question from hotel page FAQ):

Is my ID/passport required at check in?
Yes, a valid government issued picture ID is required for Hotel Check-in.

and

What forms of payment are accepted to pay for my room?
A valid credit card is required to check in to the hotel, but guests may use cash or credit card at check-out to settle their bill.

6

No, there's nothing suspicious going on here and there is no national and very few if any state or local laws requiring ID to get a room.

What you experienced is most likely a hotel policy requiring credit/debit card for a deposit and possible that desk clerk not knowing how to hold a cash deposit if the hotel allows it.

Based on you conversation, the issue was not ID to check it, but requiring a credit card which requires ID.

Just ask to see a Manager. They will either process the case deposit or tell you that a credit card is required, which they are allowed to do.

Also, the hotel may require ID for reasons unrelated to actual check-in or credit cards. If the room is stocked with a mini-bar, then the law would require them to verify the guest is over 21.

  • Anyone should comment before downvoting because you're flagging a perfectly valid answer. – Johns-305 Aug 4 '16 at 14:45
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    @Berwyn - why would they not be allowed to require a credit card? If it's my hotel & I decide that i want to be able to charge a deposit/hold on a credit card for my rooms, surely that's my right? – brhans Aug 4 '16 at 14:45
  • The problem was that the hotel requires a credit card, then the hotel requires an id for the credit card. They are two separate things. Yes, they are two separate things. – Johns-305 Aug 4 '16 at 14:47
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    Hold on, to be clear, most merchant agreements prohibit requiring ID for acceptance. They can ask, but the cardholder can refuse. In this case, the most likely cause by far was check in staff no knowing how to handle a very uncommon scenario or an unrelated policy/law such as alcohol access. – Johns-305 Aug 4 '16 at 15:18
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    Yes, but we're not going to cover every conceivable scenario here. I will not provide documentation, but a hotel will simply refuse <21 guests before they will empty the mini-bar. The only exception would be premade arrangements for 'youth' groups and such. If an >21 guest requests the mini-bar emptied, they will likely do so. The problem here is that the OP did not get the exact details on why ID was 'required' and apparently did not escalate the issue. Making a "Mr. Smith" booking is very easy if you know or ask how to do it. – Johns-305 Aug 4 '16 at 16:53
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I know I am a bit late in answering this question but most hotels will require ID at the time of check-in based on local/state laws and hotel policy.

Hotels will photo copy your ID to keep on file in the event that law enforcement may need it due to an incident that could occur. Human trafficking is a big factor when it comes to this. Usually if you have a guest who engages in illegal activities, they will choose not to stay at your location because of the chance of being identified. Checking the ID helps for the safety of fellow guests and reduces the liability on the hotel. Other than that the ID is used to verify your credit card as well.

Honestly, if a hotel isn't asking for your ID, then they have no real way of knowing who is coming or going in their rooms. Its for your safety and the safety of others. I've turned guests away for refusing to present ID. I understand it may be uncomfortable for some, but its to safeguard everyone.

  • Note that taking a photo copy of an ID is strictly forbidden by law in Europe. Many hotels do it, but it is against the law and you should always refuse it. Don't know about the rules in the US. – RHA Feb 4 '18 at 18:54
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I have worked in hotels for 4 years. Any major hotel chain such as Marriott or Hilton will require a Credit Card and a matching ID at check in, even if you intend to pay cash. This is done in case the room is severally damaged, or more commonly, if guests smoke in a non smoking room. This way the hotel has a card on file to cover the charges. However, even at motels that accept cash upfront, such as Motel 6, an ID is required to ensure the potential guest is of legal age to rent the room and for emergency/legal situations. Should a guest have a medical emergency where they are incapacitated, such as a seizure or an overdose, the hotel needs to know said persons identity so that it can be provided to authorities. Hope that clears things up.

  • One more reason I use hostels, AirBNB, BeWelcome.org, my tent, etc. Hotel is a LAST resort for me. – WGroleau Feb 2 '18 at 8:04
  • @WGroleau It's extremely nice to meet you, Mr. Doe. – CGCampbell Feb 2 '18 at 18:03
  • Of course the main reason is the expense. The savings pay my airfares. And there’s far more identification involved with that! – WGroleau Feb 3 '18 at 1:45
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In addition to covering the incidental deposit for charges made to the room (gift shop, restaurant, etc), the card needs to be on the file in the event of actual damages to the room/property. Most US hotels have about a $50.00 incidental deposit at check in. If you pay that in cash, but cause damages that exceed that amount, the hotel is left to cover the expenses. For example, at my property, if you smoke in your room there is a $250 cleaning fee.

Excessive or not, we can't get the additional $200 if there is no card on file. Additionally, more often than not, the room will not be checked until after the guest is gone. If the guest checks out before housekeeping can inspect the room for damages, the front desk can't check the room, so they will more than likely give the guest the $50 deposit before the room is even inspected.

The part about guaranteeing your room is so that in the event of a No-Show or Early Departure the hotel can still collect payment for any non-advance deposit reservations.

tl;dr - The hotel needs to have a card on file in the event there are charges beyond the original incidental deposit. If this deposit were to be made in cash and charges exceed the cash deposited, the hotel would have no way of getting payment. If there's a card on file, they can always at least attempt to charge that card for more, if need be.

  • You answer why a credit card is needed, the question is whether a passport or other ID is required by law in the USA. Can you adjust your answer please? – Willeke Jan 29 '18 at 19:19

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