Hotel shows customer the door after he refuses to show ID — can it do that?

Can a hotel refuse to honor your reservation because you won’t show your identification?

That’s not a hypothetical question. Nick Cataldo contacted me earlier this week because he’d been denied a room at a Sleep Inn property in Birmingham, Ala. Here’s his story.

When I was asked for and declined to show ID, a manager who was contacted by telephone spoke with me and refused me admittance unless I showed ID. I offered to pay cash for the room, to avoid suspicion of credit-card fraud, but this was still unacceptable.

The manager then refused to authorize cancellation of my reservation. After I left, my credit card was charged for one night’s stay. The charge was removed by American Express only after two months.

I asked Sleep Inn about this requirement to show ID. David Peikin, a company spokesman, said the hotel chain doesn’t require IDs to be shown by guests.

As a franchisor, we don’t own or operate any hotels. So while we don’t have any rules or regulations that require a hotel to request identification, these are independently owned and operated businesses that make their own operational decisions.

Cataldo did a little research to find out if the hotel was within its rights to require an ID.

No law requires US domestic travelers to carry photo ID. Hotels and hotel chains cannot assume that a person making a reservation will bring a photo ID. Given guests’ real concern these days about identity theft if the hotel records information on an ID, hotels should offer written privacy policies and should not be allowed to make or retain copies of the ID as a condition of admittance.

When an ID requirement is not stated and the guest cannot or will not show an ID, cancellation of the reservation on request should be the industry standard.

Alabama’s lodging laws make no specific mention of an ID requirement. As far as I can tell, the relevant statute, Section 34-15-11, just mentions a special contract.

A hotel may require any guest, or person proposing to become a guest, to enter into a special contract as to the duration, kind and place of board, entertainment or lodging to be furnished such guest and the price therefor to be paid. If such guest refuses to enter into such contract and to accept board, entertainment or lodging under the terms and conditions so proposed by the hotel, said hotel may refuse to receive or entertain such guest and because of such refusal shall not incur any liability whatever. Such special contract must be in writing and signed by both parties, and by such contract a hotel may vary its liability for the safety of the goods of its guests.

I can’t think of any reason why Sleep Inn should have required a guest to show an ID — particularly one who offered to pay in cash. It had no right to keep his money, and American Express was correct to refund his money.

But maybe I’m missing something. Can you think of a reason why an ID might be necessary for a hotel stay?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Q2AYBXTN4MEALORUDJVL56UVGE Jessica

    I work for a hotel and if a guest comes in and wants to pay cash, we are required to get a copy of their ID and keep it with their registration or a copy of a credit card with their name on it for incidentals. But even if they keep a copy of their credit card on file, they are still required to show their id. If they choose to have a copy of their ID on file, it is so we know the address is valid and they can be billed for the room or we can take them to court for damages to the room.

  • Rock Star Destroys Hotel Room

    Of course the hotel should ask for ID. Do you know how many selfish people will destroy other peoples property and happily sneak out the door.

  • Philipinesnation123

    can i see the picture of the id before go inside in the hotel….

  • Missella916

    I am a manager for a hotel, and we do require id upon checkin, first for security purposes ( we need to know who is occupying the room) second, if any damages occur while someone is utilizing the room we can collect from the loss. Just like you need an id to lease/rent anything, the same standards should be set nationwide to require id. I mean doesnt it seem logical?

  • That1guydrew

    I work for a hotel and I totally agree with the Manager. We have a lot of “Locals” people who live in the area that just want a room to usually do things that are frowned upon by the law. We require all guests to show us their id so that we can for sure know that it is them. We also put their mailing address and phone number in the system. And if they pay cash, we require an id so we can make a copy. We just had a guest check in last week and the Front Desk agent didnt make a copy of id. Well needless to say they damaged the room and the police told us, you have no copy of their id, we cant do anything for you.

  • Loss Prevention

    Of course all the complainers are customers and not merchants why:

    Enough with your worry of getting targeted with advertisements.  All Merchants are trying to do is protect their assets from being stolen.  The credit card company doesn’t pay when you dispute an item that was purchased illegally on your card.  They do what is called in the industry a “CHARGE BACK” to the merchant who has to eat the cost of the theft.  Thus causing the merchant to charge more for their products or services.  Yes that’s right the complaining consumer, YOU, are the loser.  Next time, just get off your soap box and put your thumb over your address and just let them see what they need to protect YOU and Them from theft: the picture to make sure it matches you standing in front of them and the name on the Picture ID matches the credit card you are using.  Wow what a hardship…. 

    WOW BUILD A BRIDGE SHOW YOUR ID AND GET OVER IT!

  • Loss Prevention

    Of course all the complainers are customers and not merchants why:

    Enough
    with your worry of getting targeted with advertisements.  All Merchants
    are trying to do is protect their assets from being stolen.  The credit
    card company doesn’t pay when you dispute an item that was purchased
    illegally on your card.  They do what is called in the industry a
    “CHARGE BACK” to the merchant who has to eat the cost of the theft. 
    Thus causing the merchant to charge more for their products or
    services.  Yes that’s right the complaining consumer, YOU, are the
    loser.  Next time, just get off your soap box and put your thumb over
    your address and just let them see what they need to protect YOU and
    THEM from theft: the picture to make sure it matches you standing in
    front of them and the name on the Picture ID matches the credit card you
    are using.  Wow what a hardship….

    Now do you understand why the credit card companies don’t require the merchants to check ID’s?   Because they don’t pick up the tab!  Wow sounds similar to the fat cats that got away with the mortgage bailout….OH WAIT THEY ARE ONE IN THE SAME.  WAKE UP PEOPLE! WOW BUILD A BRIDGE SHOW YOUR ID AND GET OVER IT!

  • Nancy

    This requirement is common in youth hostels, ID check is mandatory as a way to prove your age and is generally accepted. Now, hotels are a different animal. I was denied a room in London once, it was a Crown Plaza. The funny thing is it was a company-organized event and everybody came from within the UK. Because I was the only one with a non-british name I was the only one asked for an ID and denied a room. I had to argue with the manager and they accepted me only after “I sweared” I had a permanent UK address and they entered it in their system.

    I still remember what the receptionist shouted at me infront of my colleagues: “IF I SEND THE POLICE RIGHT NOW TO THIS ADDRESS YOU ARE GIVING ME, WILL THEY FIND YOUR PASSPORT OR ID THERE?”… One of the most embarrasing moments of my life…are you listening Crown Plaza Shoreditch??

  • Ken Bailey

    As a former hotel manager, I can also give you a reason why hotels can and do ask to see ID at the time of registration. If a former registered guest is being investigated for any reason and law enforcement knows they stayed at a particular hotel or motel, they can and do subpeona records from that business. As a manager I was responsible for knowing who stayed at the hotel. As custodian of records, I was called into court on more than one occasion and had to swear as to the accuracy of those records. We were expected to know who we were renting the rooms to and one way of confirming that is to see some sort of picture id whether it be a drivers license or other state issued id. We generally did not ask for ID from guests who were paying by credit card, but we certainly required it whenever a guest paid cash for their room rental. Sometimes a guest would pay cash for just one night, and then run up all sorts of charges and then skip out owing money. Worse than that, sometimes they would cause damages to the room. Now we have no way to really track down that guest in order to collect.
    The same thing applies to guests paying by check. If we took a hot check from a guest, there was very little room for recourse without any type of identification.

  • mfan2

    Identification and credit cards give establishments recourse in case of damage to a room. I’m more concerned about needing ID for travel. And now they have cameras to track liscence plates to track you when you travel by car, too.

  • Troy

    To check into a hotel you MUST have two things: money to pay for the room, and a guarantee. The guarantee is either having an authorized credit card on file OR a deposit (our hotel’s standard deposit is $200, which is given back when the guest checks out as long as the room is still in shape). Think of it as collateral in case the guest were thinking about trashing the room or stealing or whatever. From the story, he chose to put his credit card as the guarantee when he reserved. In order to use a credit card for ANYTHING, a corresponding ID must be shown. This is just about any business you go to, fraud is everywhere.

    Think, he could have paid in cash for his stay (nothing wrong there, right?), but used his brother’s card as a guarantee. Next morning, the guest has stolen the HDTV, microwave, fridge, and trashed the room. Guess how they will get reimbursed for the damages? Charge the card on file. The brother has now become victim of identity theft. It’s not over, the victim can now sue the hotel for not verifying identity before the credit card was used.
    You can absolutely check into a hotel anonymously. You can check into a room with your name as Mickey Mouse, as long as you have a valid and authorized credit card WITH ID or a deposit to give them. Card doesn’t have to belong to the person staying there, but it will have to be authorized by the cardholder.

  • Ronald Moore

    Yes, if you destroy the room, they know who to file charges and/or a lawsuit against.

  • Ty Emzone

    A merchant cannot require ID as a condition for use of the credit card. However, the merchant can require ID for other reasons, most of which are at the discretion of the merchant, or are subject to other laws. The ID is not a condition of card use unless the card is unsigned, in which case the merchant is empowered to ask for ID.

  • Saty Ki Khoj

    first they ask id, understandable (to prevent CC fraud) ;; then they refuse to take cash , not understandable but acceptable as it’s their choice (example what if guest steals TV or damages room) ;; then they turn the guest away, and even still charge his CREDIT CARD, Totally UNACCEPTABLE (cause it is FRAUD and FALSE) Once you turn the guest away and not let him check in , since u don’t believe him then you have no right , NO-RIGHT to charge that CREDIT CARD which YOU THOUGHT WAS SUSPICIOUS … WHAT AN IDIOTS