Ever been locked out of your hotel room, poked your head into the room next door where housekeeping was cleaning and asked them to let you into your room? I have and guess what, they let me into my room. I was beyond happy to not have to spend 10 minutes going back down to the front desk to get another key. But what happens when someone who isn’t you does this?
Your laptop and wallet go missing. Your diamond earrings aren’t where you left them. That happened to me at the same hotel where housekeeping let me back into my room. Luckily, I had my laptop locked and my wallet was with me so it was only the diamond earrings that were taken. Still. I’m out a pair of expensive, sentimental diamond earrings.
I suppose Karma made a visit and I should have just gone to the front desk…
Most hotels do have a policy that forbids housekeeping from letting someone into their room, but a little pleading, such as I did, can go along way.
Unfortunately, as I learned hotel thefts are all too common and happen even in the best hotels. After my experience I did a little digging into statistics on hotel theft…they are hard to find. Police don’t keep stats on hotel thefts and hotels don’t always report them. USA Today did an investigation way back in 2009 and found nearly half the crimes against guests were thefts…
So how do you prevent hotel room theft? First, don’t freak out about having your hotel room robbed. There are some easy things you can do to help avoid hotel room thefts. For one, not traveling with your diamond earrings.
13 Tips to Help Prevent Hotel Room Thefts
1. Before You Book
When you’re booking your hotel check online to determine its location. Is it in a busy business district? Near tourist locations? Close to a police station? Is it in a seedy area of town? Google Maps, MapQuest and especially Google Earth are good tools to use to get a “feel” for the area of town and what is nearby. While these are good tools, online reviews at Hotels.com, TripAdvisor.com and StayFaster also hold value in determining if a hotel is deemed safe. If you’re traveling internationally, make sure to check with the U.S. State Department as it offers country-specific safety information on its website; see Travel Warnings and Advisories to see hot spots and areas to avoid.
2. What is the hotel security?
Finding out the type of hotel security your hotel offers may be difficult. However, it’s not difficult to call and ask about the types of locks on the doors, if the hallways have security cameras. (The cameras can identify the thief if their is a theft.) Most hotel rooms already have a dead bolt lock on the door that limits someone from gaining access to the room when it’s locked from the inside. (If you get someone on the phone go ahead and ask them about parking. Is there valet? Garage parking? How far is the walk into the lobby from the parking and is the area well-light at night?)
3. Selecting the Hotel Room
You may not have a choice of rooms when you’re checking into a hotel, if you do ask to stay in a room on the third-floor or above. Try to avoid staying in a hotel room located on the ground floor, especially those located off the parking lot with windows and doors that open to the exterior of the hotel. Ground floor hotel rooms that open to an interior hallway or courtyard tend to be safer options. If you are in a ground floor room, make sure the windows are locked before you leave the room (and go to sleep).
4. Read the Small Print
Who reads the small print on the room registration documents you get when you either book a hotel online or check into a hotel? Be honest. Probably not. Well, you should. These documents detail what the hotel will and will not cover in terms of theft. Typically hotels do not insure their guest’s belongings.
5. Lock Your Luggage
When you’re flying, you can’t typically place a lock on your luggage, at least not in the United States but packing one so you can lock your luggage in your hotel room is an easy way to avoid hotel room thefts. (There are TSA approved luggage locks.) It might be a pain to pack everything you’re traveling with in the mornings before you head out, instead simply put any valuable items – laptops, notebooks, cameras, phones – in your bag and lock it.
Taking this one step further, consider investing $10-$50 in security luggage cables that physically lock your suitcase or equipment down. Using a security cable, you can easily secure your bag to a pipe in the bathroom or a stationery piece of furniture. Note, make sure you’re using a slash proof bag.
6. Lock Your Electronics
Most computers can be individually locked down with a laptop cable lock. I’ve used these in the past and they’re very helpful. You can leave your laptop at the desk with it locked to something that can’t be moved.
7. Be Present Even When You’re Out
Making your room always look occupied deters thefts. Simply leaving a light on and the TV or radio on a low volume can make it appear that someone is in the room.
8. Ask for New Keys – Not Duplicates
If your hotel room keys are electronic and one is lost ask the hotel for a new room key – not a duplicate. This will reprogram the lock on the door in case the key was stolen. It’s important to note there have been a few security flaws reported in common keycard locks, resulting in many hotel room break-ins. Essentially the electronic locks were hacked, allowing thieves to enter hotel rooms undetected. This can make it difficult in reporting a hotel room theft. All the more reason to follow the previous two tips.
9. Safes Aren’t Always Safe
Most hotels have in-room safes and most of them charge you for that added security. Yet this added hotel security does not mean your belongings are insured by the hotel if there is a robbery. Most hotels are protected by individual states’ innkeeper’s laws, which state the hotel is not responsible for theft from your room – including the in-room safe. The exception is if you use the safe the hotel has behind its front desk. If you choose to use the front desk’s safe, make sure the items are insured.
Using the safe in your hotel room doesn’t mean your things are locked up. Most hotels have a back-way into their in-room safes, be it a master key or a master code. Management has access to these in case they need to assist guests if they loose their keys/code to the safe. This poses a security risk since there are people who can access your belongings.
I came across Milockie and it seems to be a good option for travelers wishing to add another layer of security to their in-room safes. Essentially, Milockie locks the lock of the safe so only you can access it. Nice if you’re traveling with a lot important travel documents or other valuables. With or without the Milockie if the hotel safe has an electronic key code, it’s recommended that you change the code daily. Don’t write it down. Memorize it. (If you know you’re not going to be able to remember it, text it to yourself – in the form of a phone number so it’s not obvious.)
If you’re not staying in a hotel that has a safe or simply don’t want to deal with a safe, check out a few diversion safes. These are items that appear to be everyday objects but they’re so much more. A simple hairspray bottle that’s been emptied out to hold cash or jewelry. Shaving cream cans and soda cans where the tops screw off or a book that has a hidden compartment, all create perfect containers to store valuables and travel documents. (You may have to reveal your diversion safes to airport security since most of the bottles appear to be larger than 3oz.)
10. Give Them a Sign – Do Not Disturb and Make This Room
Avoid hanging the door sign – Make This Room – unless you really need your room cleaned and you have your valuables with your or locked up. It’s the easiest way to identify target rooms.
If you don’t need your room cleaned, hang the Do Not Disturb sign on the door to keep cleaning staff out of the room. This doesn’t just eliminate possible thefts from hotel staff but from someone pretending they are staying in your room and coming back to grab a few things while the room is being cleaned. (If someone is in the room, they’re going to avoid that room altogether.)
The Do Not Disturb sign isn’t a sure fire way to keep cleaning crews out of your room though. You will need to call down to the front desk ask them to not clean your room.
11. When You’re in Your Hotel Room
Hotel thefts typically take place when you’re not in the room. But, we’ve all stayed in those questionable places where a bit of added security would make for a better night sleep. Besides moving a dresser in front of the door, there are a few small and inexpensive alarms you can travel with to protect yourself and your belongings when you’re in your room. Items such as the Door Jammer, the Swege Door Stop & Alarm and Portable Door Lock keep the door secure when you’re in the room and the GE SmartHome Portable Security Kit provides security for the door and windows. I also really like the Traveller Defense Alarm given it’s super small size.
12. Travel Insurance
Insurance is a necessary evil. Before you purchase travel insurance though, check with your existing homeowners or renters insurance to see if your policy covers things like thefts when you’re traveling. To help with your search for the right travel insurance to meet your specific needs, make sure to read what you need to know about travel insurance.
13. Don’t Forget – Or Overlook – The Obvious
There are so many little things that seem to be common sense, but are often overlooked by travelers especially people who have become “comfortable” traveling. Here’s a quick reminder to prevent hotel thefts.
- Don’t travel with your valuable jewelry, aka expensive, sentimental diamond earrings.
- Don’t leave items just laying around your room – jewelry, technology, computers, notebooks, cameras, even receipts (think identity theft).
- When you leave make sure your door is locked. Sounds silly but take a moment and turn around to make sure the door has closed and the lock has engaged.
- Don’t share your room number with others.
If you are a victim of hotel room theft… If your room is broken into immediately report it to security and the management at the hotel. You will be asked to file a detailed report and the police may be called. If they are, expect to fill out more paperwork.
If your hotel room has a electronic door lock you can ask for a “reading” of the door lock to see when the room has been accessed and by whom. The “whom” part may not help if your hotel room was robbed by someone who stole your key or walked in when the room was being cleaned.
Don’t expect the hotel to reimburse you for your belongings. By law, they are not required to. However, they should do everything they can to help you find the thief and your belongings.
Have you been a victim of a hotel room theft? What safety precautions do you take to avoid hotel room thefts?
Portions of this article were originally posted in a guest post I did on Suitecase Stories.