About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

when your doctor runs the Waystone Inn

You know from some of my other posts on these subjects that I have very passionate feelings about the direction our country is taking on matters of so-called security. These manifest themselves with particular, and sometimes and unfortunately ill-advised and untimely and misdirected passion, when a hotel in the US demands a photo ID at check-in.

We don't, or at least so I thought until I was reading the NY Times about the Lake Shore Limited, need papers to travel in the country.  If we need papers to check in at a hotel, then we need papers.

Beyond that...   the reasons a hotel will give for this are basically the same, that the person checking in with my credit card isn't actually me, so I am being protected by the hotel from credit card fraud and/or identity theft.

I would reasonably guess that fraud is most likely to occur for a spur of the moment booking.  But certainly in my circle, most -- not all but most -- people book well in advance  And the hotel knows things about you or your reservation. As an example, you are a member of the hotel's reward program and are paying with the card that was used to guarantee the reservation or a card that is in your profile with the hotel chain or staying at a hotel or a region where you often stay or staying in conjunction with a conference or other group event.

For almost all of my own bookings, the chances of either credit card or identity fraud would be along the lines of "I lose my bag at the airport, someone steals bag, notices a printout of my hotel reservation, decides it's a good rate, and would be nice to pretend to be me and stay at hotel under my name." The odds of this happening are not good. If it did happen, the odds that the credit card company would be informed of the theft, could notice at the card was authorized at the hotel after it was stolen, could inform the local police and arrest the miscreant while he is in "my" room at the hotel -- the odds the crime would result in somebody being arrested are better than the odds of the crime ever happening in the first place.

If anyone wants to provide me with the percentage of credit card fraud that takes place in hotels vs gas stations or retail or as fraudulent telecommunications charges or the like that shows my analysis to be wrong, please do let me know.  When someone did ring up charges on my card, it was at gas stations, Walmart, etc., not two nights at a hotel.  If someone has facts to show the percent of fraud on advance vs newish reservations, I'll happily correct.

More than one hotel tells me if a charge is contested they need to have checked photo ID to avoid having a chargeback, and I don't know if that can be confirmed.  In my experience the credit card industry wants to encourage you to use your card for more things in more places. It isn't so long ago I had to sign for small purchases under $25 at one merchant I frequent.  Not any more.  Not so long ago you couldn't use your credit card at McDonalds or the local movie theatre but the credit card companies worked with these places to get the cards working.  The card companies feel they have much better ways of detecting fraudulent use than some clerk at the Four Points by Sheraton in Times Square detecting a fake Idaho drivers license.

Oh -- if a hotel refuses to let you check in for a night without a photo ID, try and eat at that same hotel's fancy restaurant and pay with that exact same credit card on that exact same day and see if they'll ask for a photo ID at the end of your nice expensive dinner. This happened to me recently at a Manhattan hotel. I wasn't even staying there but wanted just to put the incidentals for a third party on my card.  The same meal I couldn't pay for one way, they were perfectly happy to have me pay for the other way. Could someone please give me the logic for that which wouldn't start to totally collapse in and twist on itself?

I was watching at a hotel recently while an entire water polo team was being checked in merrily giving their photo IDs. Did they have a ringer?  Someone snuck in to the team bus who wasn't on the team?  They were actually a ring of credit card thieves? This isn't airport security where for all my rants I don't go along with the argument that you never check grandma. Because then, yes, the bad guys will recruit grandma.  This is just stupid. This is stupid like proofing grandma and grampa before selling them beer at a ballpark. I hate being next to drunken louts at a ballpark, but that's stupid.  And having a water polo team all show photo IDs to get their keys is stupid. If one of them later contests the credit card charge, the manager at the hotel can call the coach and the school and have words with them. I strongly doubt that's a conversation he'll have to have.

And this stuff isn't without a cost. You don't pay all the costs of your driving because there's the gas fumes people breathe in or the hidden subsidies of the road system. Here, everyone spends more time checking in at the hotel. Maybe you don't notice that but think of every checkout line you are on and then think on that line if every single credit card purchase requires a photo ID.  It's not like two $89 nights at a hotel is more costly than a lot of trips we have to Target to do the back to school.

No, I'm sorry, but no hotel should require a photo ID as a condition of check-in. It's an insult to the guest, it makes visiting a hotel like visiting a doctor where first thing you must do is show your insurance. It protects against a not so existent threat. It's an infringement on our liberty. And if everyone started to complain about this instead of acting like it's perfectly reasonable maybe they would stop.

Plenty of hotels don't ask for ID and seem to survive. Those that do should clearly inform at the reservation process.  I will choose hotels that have honest guests, that don't require me to show my papers, instead of hotels that host criminals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gee, so sorry to hear you so upset for that! I admit I never took notice. When I booked tours in the US our tour guide took care of check-in at hotels. When I travel on my own, I don't care because... I'm Italian, and our hotels REQUIRE ID on checking-in for police use... so it's not a big deal! But I understand your POV. I know you'd bring your passport anyway to come to Italy, and be prepared to give it to any hotel reception guy, because over here it's unfortunately the law! ;-)