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?