Guests Are Stealing Insane Things From Hotels – Even Mattresses Are Heading Out The Door

Forty nine hotels have reported mattresses stolen in the past two years although I imagine many hotels don’t admit the thefts. It’s hard to imagine guests stealing mattresses, and even those who want to do so would seem like they’d have a hard time doing it without getting caught, even though most reports are that it happens in the middle of the night.

And it’s pretty obvious who the culprit is. When housekeeping goes into the room to turn it for the next guest, and finds the mattress gone, the hotel knows who stayed there last. Hotels know who did it, and usually don’t report the theft.

This isn’t motels, either, where you’d take the mattress straight out of your room to your car in front – this data is from a survey of managers of four- and five-star hotels. It turns out as well that there’s a difference between what’s stolen from four-stars hotels and what guests take from five-star properties.

TV sets, tablet computers and mattresses were stolen more frequently in five-star establishments, whereas four-star guests were more interested in batteries and remote controls.

Last year a family was caught on video in Bali with items stolen from the hotel they stayed at packed in their luggagae. The hotel demanded they open their bags for inspection and a big argument ensued. As the bags are searched one stolen item after another gets revealed.

We’ve heard about a grand piano stolen from a Sheraton lobby, and about guests who steal televisions from their room.

And, would you believe: carpet, light fictures, curtains and mirrors? Even door hinges have been stolen. The Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire (the Pretty Woman hotel) had a fireplace stolen. A couple staying at a Holiday Inn once asked for a room beside the parking lot – to make it easier to clean out the entire room including all of the furniture, even the bed.

The thing is – at least until hotels replace miniature bottles with wall-mounted toiletries – hotels actually want you to take those mini bottles. They don’t want you to raid the housekeeping cart, but the ones in your room are fair game in hopes you will think of them and the brand when you use them.

Hyatt specifically implores you to do it.

But since there are limits to what you can take some hotels have taken to RFID tags to detect when towels leave the property.

[O]ne hotel that has saved $16,000 per month by reducing its towel thefts each month from 4000 down to 750 by attaching washable RFID tags to its towels. I assume that they aren’t actually tracking down towel thiefs, rather by letting guests know that the towels are tagged this serves as a deterrent. Presumably the deterrent would work just as well by telling guests that the RFID tags are in the towels, without any need to make the actual investment, at least as long as they are able to keep their lack of technology investment a secret.

More than warning you, or even catching you, there can be real consequences to theft in some places:

In Japan a few years ago, one hotel reportedly had a young couple arrested for running off with bathrobes and an ashtray, while a woman in Nigeria was sentenced to three months in prison for stealing two towels from the Transcorp Hilton Abjua Hotel.

Too bad they didn’t take advantage of towel amnesty!

What do you take from hotels, and what seems like crossing the line?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I loved the plush towels at the Savoy hotel in London, so I went to the front desk and asked if I could buy some. They sold me four of them and I was happy. I wasn’t about to steal them. Same with pillows at the Hotel Bel Air. Oh, and I’ve slept on a Westin heavenly bed for years. Purchased of course. I know it’s difficult given what is going on in the country these days but let’s make honesty cool again.

  2. I’ve never taken anything from a hotel, but I was accused of stealing a spoon at a hotel in Weifang China. It was a “4” star hotel that my wife ordered room service from. No spoon was given so we used the one from the coffee bar in our room. We must have put the spoon on the room service tray when the tray was returned.

    When we went to check out the next morning, they inventoried our room and found the spoon was missing. After going round and round trying our best to explain what happened I finally gave up because we were going to miss our flight. I asked how much the spoon was. After some discussion, they decided it was the US equivalent of $3. I gladly (and politely) gave them the Yuan. They seemed dumbfounded and a mere 15 minutes later after a triplicate set of paperwork was completed, we were on our way. My wife wasn’t too happy with the way they treated us, but we did keep a closer eye on what we returned on any room service tray after that.

  3. I took a pillow from a Marriott 10 years ago on one of my first business trips…maybe this is gross to admit but I still have it it is super comfortable!

    I wouldn’t do that today. I only take “consumables”, things that are refreshed from the housekeeping cart. Towels, batteries, robes…all off limits. Only coffee pods and toiletries, sometimes pens if they’re nice.

  4. Who in their right minds would want a used mattress or bedding from anywhere? There’s a good chance you’ll be bring home bedbugs. YUCK!!!

  5. Are mattresses depreciated or accounted for at replacement cost? Could properties just be reporting them stolen to write off their costs against replacement or something? (I’m clearly not an accountant!)

  6. @Neal: I think calling it a “good chance” of bringing home bedbugs is an exaggeration. People are staying in every hotel in this country every day and the incidence of bedbugs is vanishingly low.

    For every news story you hear about bedbugs, 100,000,000 other people have had a bug free hotel stay.

  7. I did take a canvas laundry bag from a Hilton in China about 10 years ago. I’m still using it as my travel laundry bag. They got even though as they charged me $5 US for using a washcloth to clean up a red wine spill on the nightstand.

  8. Now y’all know why hotels have moved to requiring credit cards even if you are paying cash. They need something to charge if you damage the room. It happens constantly.

    I know of one front desk that got sweet-talked into letting a guest stay without a credit card, little old lady who promised to be good, and sure enough ended up with a $250 charge and no way to collect it.

    Robert’s story above is why I never use the cutlery supplied in Residence Inns. I bring plastic utensils and don’t have to worry.

  9. I’m going to call bs on the whole mattress stealing thing. This is obviously a case of don’t believe everything you read in a survey. Yeah I’m sure it has happened, but it’s not a regular occurrence.

    I take toiletries if I like them, that’s it. Anything else and you are a scumbag.

  10. Ref Robert above – in 1976 I stayed at the “Tung Fung Hotel” in Canton,China with my biz partner -he broke a bathroom glass and asked the hall boy to replace it -and he did —

    at checked out they charged him 2 cents for the glass

  11. In regard to the RFID tags, my understanding in reviewing what has been written about this is that a lot of the reduction (between 80 and 90%) in “theft” is from the laundry services reporting missing towels, when, in fact, they have just taken the towels and not returned them. With the RFID tags, the hotel knows how many of the towels are taken out for cleaning and how many of them are returned, so the laundry services can’t “lose” them and then sell them back to the hotels. We looked into this for our vacation rental business, but it is not viable for multiple small locations, especially since the towels generally do not leave the premises, like they do in large hotels.

  12. Once when we were staiyng in a hotel at LHR, I took a shine to a very nice memo pad holder in the room. I went to the receptionist and asked if I could buy one. After consultation with her colleagues, she said that there was no procedure by which they could sell me one, but she then not too subtly suggested that I simply take it. Still have and enjoy it.

  13. Just came to say that I’m intrigued by the person above being charged for using a towel to clean up a red wine spill. Doesn’t enough bleach and hot water make any stain go away with white? While I’ve never taken anything (seriously wtf to the person that took a pilllow) I have made it a fun game of staying in brand new hotels and noting what isn’t well attached (like unattached Bluetooth speakers in a nice boutique) and returning and seeing their presence decrease over time. In fairness most inventory loss overall is from employees not customers whether we’re talking Ritz or Wal-Mart…either way, I’m now an expert at this point of going to a new hotel and being able to tell if the owner has any previous experience in hotel development based just on the FFE…

  14. @VML – why not just take the towel rack in the shower ?!
    last hotel (brand not mentioned) I stayed in – the towel rack was stolen – they literally unscrewed it from the tile wall! When I notified the front desk after checking in – housekeeping didn’t notice this? – they rolled their eyes and apologized!

  15. I guess one of the reasons hotels provide so few coffee pods ( typically 3 or 4), is that people would make off with them if there were more. I’d gladly take my own, but you never know if they’re going to be compatible with the machines ( they vary even within hotel brands, some Nespresso, some Caffitaly, some others). Pain in the butt.
    I suspect 99.9999% of guests don’t take a thing ( other than the odd pen or shampoo). I wouldn’t want a 100th hand bathrobe or towel, however plush.
    I did buy a silk bed runner thing ( somewhere in China IIRC) , still got it 20 plus years later.

  16. Well. I was not charged for a Michelin Star French dinner for me and my girlfriend. So I asked them to add it to my bill because I was not looking for a freebee. The hotel staff starting getting upset at me because they could not find the bill. So finally, I took the diplomatic way out, and checked out without paying for the meal.

  17. My 4-year old daughter once stole the Bible. She was helping pack before departure and put it in the bag, not sure if she realized at the time that it was not ours. We only discovered it at home.

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