Booking Hotels With a Debit Card

Learn the potential risks before you do it

Hotel
••• David Freund/Photolibrary/Getty Images

When you're planning a trip, the first thing you often do after booking a flight or planning your road trip itinerary is checking out hotels for your destination or on the road. So you find just the perfect place and yes, it has availability when you will be there. To hold your reservation you'll be asked for a credit or debit card number. If you are trying to use your credit card as little as possible, you might choose to use your debit card instead.

But before you do, get the inside skinny on the possible ripple effects of doing that since using a debit card to book a hotel could end up leading to travel trouble.

Hotel Holds on Your Account

The hotel or resort probably will put a hold on your debit or credit card, whichever you use to hold the reservation, to cover the potential balance of your stay. The room rate and taxes per night for each night of your stay, along with estimated incidentals such as meals, telephone calls, WiFi charges, valet parking, and mini-bar fees are all used to calculate the hold. And that hold likely will be much more than you expect to spend.

Such holds can remain on your account for several days to more than a week after you check out even after you've paid the hotel bill. They'll fall off your account when the actual charge is processed.

Pitfalls of Holds on Debit Cards

It's typically safer for you to use a credit card rather than a debit card when checking into a hotel or a resort unless you carry a high balance in your checking account.

If you don't carry a high balance, the hold could take your account into negative territory even though you haven't actually spent that money. If that occurs, your debit card could be refused on a purchase. If you have overdraft protection, you will still be able to make purchases with your debit card, but you could be charged hefty overdraft fees for purchases you thought you had money in your account to cover.

On the other hand, if the hotel hold is on a credit card, it isn't a problem unless you are up against your credit limit. You likely won't even know it's there. 

If You Don't Have a Credit Card

If you don't have a credit card, you'll need to make sure you have a high balance in your checking account to cover debit card holds when you're traveling. You can also have two checking accounts and use one only for things like debit card holds by hotels and other travel-related expenses. 

If You Pay With Another Card

Of course, you can pay the hotel bill with a credit card or cash if you don't want to actually pay it with the debit card when the time comes to check out. But if there is a hold on your debit card, it will not be released immediately since it will remain as a kind of insurance for the hotel until your payment processes and is credited.