Do you really have to check out of a hotel?
I can probably count on one hand the times I’ve checked out of a hotel. I usually leave as discreetly and quickly as possible. I’m doubly unlikely to check out if there’s a queue at the front desk. And having never experienced backlash of any kind for skipping the process, it just seems wholly unnecessary, no matter how simple.
Do you have to check out of a hotel? The quick answer is no — but ruminating on the subject, there are two reasons I can pinpoint for doing it anyway. They’re both legitimate and may actually persuade you to do it more often.
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Why should you check out of a hotel?
To check the bill for incorrect charges
I’ve rarely ever found an incorrect charge on my final bill — but I do check it every time. One thing I find moderately concerning is when hotels allow you to charge a meal directly to your room. Anyone can jot the wrong room number on the check (unintentionally or otherwise), and that meal could instantly be added to your room tab.
One of my friends ran into a related issue once during a stay at The Gwen in Chicago. When reviewing his bill, he discovered a meal expense that didn’t belong to him. He queried the front desk, and they discovered the charge was from the previous guest that was staying in his room. The hotel charged the room after my friend checked in, so it was added to his bill.
Other unexpected charges can come from inside the room. During a stay at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner in Washington, DC, I fell victim to minibar sensors.
Some hotel minibars have weight sensors that are tripped when you lift an item, and your room is automatically charged. It’s a you-touch-it-you-buy-it policy. Up until this hotel stay, I had never been bamboozled by minibar sensors, but this time they got me. I had rifled through the alcohol, picking up bottles to read the labels and inadvertently spent $80 in the process.
I made sure to check out and receive my final bill so I could explain that I hadn’t actually purchased minibar items. Thankfully, I found that my card wasn't actually charged. The front desk explained that guests have a few seconds to replace an item after picking it up before the sensor charges the room. Next time I know to bring a bag of sand and Indiana Jones the minibar if I want something.
Another “hidden” hotel charge that may not occur to you from those seductive bottles of water in the room. Some are free. Some cost a lot of money. Some are complimentary with hotel elite status. And they all look nearly identical. If you’re not diligent, you’ll break the seal on the wrong bottle of water, and you’ll pay dearly.
As a frequent traveler, you should also keep an eye on your card statement after the trip for any surprise charges after you leave. You could be charged for damages, room service, drinks or other surprising expenses that aren’t incurred during your stay.
Checking out is courteous
If you don't check out, housekeeping won't know your room is all clear to prepare for the next guest.
I almost never stay in my room until checkout. And I almost always want to check in early. If the guests before me check out when they leave, I probably have a better shot at an early check-in. This angle persuades me to actually check out. It's just considerate to the hotel and fellow travelers.
Given the pandemic and new deep cleaning procedures, it’s also considerate to properly check out when you leave. Cleaning staff can get a head start on disinfecting surfaces, laundry and other hotel-specific operations.
How to check out of a hotel
Checking out is pretty simple. Most times you can just stop by the front desk to let the receptionist know you’re leaving. They’ll review your charges and ask if you’d like a receipt of the final bill.
If you don't have time for an in-person checkout, some hotels have a mobile app that notifies the hotel with a single tap. You'll find an easily-reviewable log of your room charges in that same corner of the app. Others allow guests to review bills and check out on the in-room TV or iPad.
Alternatively, you can call the front desk from your hotel room on your way out or from the car after you’ve left and request for the bill to be emailed to you for review.
Related: Is it acceptable to keep your hotel key? The surprising controversy behind those little plastic cards
You do not have to check out of a hotel.
But while it may seem a bit inconvenient — especially if you're in a rush — it can help you resolve any discrepancies on your bill (face to face is always better) and it can help the hotel prepare your vacant room in a timely manner for the next traveler.