Do You Have To Check Out Of A Hotel When Leaving?

Last Updated on September 21, 2021

Most hotels specify a checkout time on your reservation with 11 am being the most common check-out time.

During a formal checkout, you will return the room key to the front desk, let the hotel know you are leaving, and settle up any outstanding bills.

But in the morning the front desk clerk can be overwhelmed and lines form at reception with all guests trying to return their room keys at the same time.

It seems inefficient and a little chaotic. So is the check-out process really essential? Can you just leave a hotel without checking out?

And what happens if you simply forget to check out?

Let’s take a closer look.

What happens if you leave a hotel without checking out?

If you leave a hotel without checking out what will happen depends on what hotel you were staying at and where in the world it is located.

Hotels in the USA almost always place a hold on your credit or debit card when you check in.

This means that if you just leave without checking out they can still charge your card.

When a customer asked on Trip Advisor about leaving the Hilton without checking out management stepped in to answer the question:

You can certainly leave your room key in your guest room upon departure. No need to stop at the front desk for check out… The only time you would want to make sure you personally stop at the front desk for check outs is if you are departing on an earlier date than we expected.

Lee Buchanan, Hilton Hotel Providence

You can walk out of that particular Hilton without checking out because the hotel already has your card details. They have already pre-authorized your credit card or debit card and are certain to be paid for your stay.

Once the hotel finally realizes you have left they will check you out in your absence and should send an itemized bill to your email address.

However, not all hotels around the world operate in the same way.

If you didn’t give any card details, and you “forgot” to check out, then that’s no different from “doing a runner” or “dining and dashing” from a restaurant.

You might even find yourself in trouble with local police if you leave a hotel without providing any means of payment.

In the US, it’s actually pretty common for business travelers to just walk out of a hotel without formally checking out. Less experienced travelers are usually the ones standing in line to formally check out.

But there are a few reasons that make it worthwhile to visit the front desk before departing.

Benefits Of Checking Out In Person

When you check out in person you will have a chance to review the bill including any room charges.

Mistakes do happen, sometimes incorrect charges can be added to your bill.

You could be billed for the same thing twice. You could be charged for minibar items that you didn’t consume. Or charges might have been allocated against the wrong room number.

While it might be possible to dispute surprise charges after you checked out it’s easier to do it in person.

The second reason to formally check out is courtesy.

Look at it from Fae’s perspective for a second:

You like early check-in right? If you let the hotel know you have left then cleaning staff can then enter your room to prepare it for the next guest.

When you notify the hotel of your check out then it’s a chance for you to utter “thanks for having me”, “I enjoyed my stay” or any other polite chit chat that helps the world go round.

For me, it feels nicer to let them know I’m leaving, and a few kind words can really brighten someone’s day.

One way to avoid standing in line is to call room service using the phone in your room before you leave.

You can just let them know you are checking out and will leave the key in the hotel room. Sometimes there will be a drop box for the key at the reception desk.

Another alternative is to settle up the bill the evening before you will be leaving.

Explain that you will be in a rush in the morning and would like to be able to leave fast. Some hotels will send an itemized bill up to your room so you can review it.

Then in the morning, it’s just a case of dropping off the key.

Danny on Twitter opened up a can of worms when he said he’s stayed at over 1000 hotels and never bothered to tell them when he was leaving:

Kari thought it was odd that Danny didn’t turn the key in, or pay the bill.

But Danny isn’t the only one that just walks out without visiting the front desk:

And Amy does it too, she sometimes checks out using the TV in the hotel room:

Dee suggests that it’s “an American thing” to leave without checking out.

She’s right. If you travel internationally some hotels don’t even place a hold on your card when you check in.

They might not even request a credit card. So if you leave without checking out in that case it’s like walking out of a restaurant without paying the check.

Maybe that’s why the American part of Ashley walks out of the hotel without going through the checkout process, but the Japanese part of her feels guilty for doing so.

Darneil, who is a front desk clerk, chipped in saying that his people “don’t mind if you just leave”.

But it’s handy if the front desk knows when customers have left so that housekeeping can start cleaning the room for the other guests.

Kimberly explained that some people go to the front desk to check out because they want to “pay cash or debit instead of the credit card on file.

Alan needs to check out at the front desk so he can get a paper receipt.

If you are traveling for business and need to get a receipt to claim expenses then it might be best to pay a visit to the front desk.

If you want to live in a world where politeness and manners are still valued then checking out in person keeps up the old traditions.

Don’t get me wrong, hotel staff are not offended if you leave without saying goodbye, if you are in a rush I don’t think it’s rude to just leave.

However, if you can spare the time, then I think in a small way it makes the world a nicer place.

Be like Mary, who checks out in person just because she wants to be able to say thank you to the receptionist.

It may be old fashioned but there is something to be said for polite formalities.

And if you feel they are deserved, check out time is a great chance to dish out some compliments.

The Verdict

If your hotel has your card on file then you can leave without formally checking out. This is common practice in the US and you shouldn’t need to wait in line if you don’t need a receipt.

In some countries, this would be considered strange. So if you are traveling internationally consider the local culture.

Also, if the hotel doesn’t have your card details and you disappear without paying that’s a crime.

I think the middle way is best.

While you might not care to formally check out and get a receipt, you can at least find a way to indicate that you have left the building.

It only takes a second to grab someone’s attention and say that’s us leaving and hand back any room keys.

That way hotel staff don’t need to guess if you are still there or not and can begin preparing your room for the next visitors.

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