Luxury Larceny: How 5-Star Hotel Guests Are Stealing More Than Just Towels

A new study shows that guests at 5-star hotels are more likely to steal high-value items like tablet computers, artwork, TVs, and mattresses, reflecting a trend among wealthier guests. There’s been an increase in the theft of more valuable items since 2019, including coffee makers, mattresses, and tablet computers. Mini fridges are now commonly stolen from 4-star hotels.

The survey categorizes theft behavior in hotels by nationality.

  • Germans and Brits mainly take towels, bathrobes, and toiletries
  • Austrians prefer dishes and coffee machines
  • Americans often steal pillows and batteries
  • Italians favor wine glasses
  • French target TVs and remote controls

Hotels are increasingly defending against these thefts, with many adopting digital “no-stay” lists to ban known thieves. And it’s understandable why.

Forty nine hotels reported mattresses being stolen in a two year period. Not towels. Actual mattresses, and I imagine many hotels don’t admit the thefts so the real number is higher. How does a guest even do this without getting caught? (Most reports are that it happens in the middle of the night.)

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 – the data is from four- and five-star hotels where the things most frequently stolen include TVs, batteries and remote controls. People are taking the batteries out of devices in their room!

In 2018 a family was caught on video in Bali with items stolen from the hotel they stayed at packed in their luggage. 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 fixtures, 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 began replacing miniature bottles with wall-mounted toiletries – hotels actually wanted you to take those mini bottles. They don’t want you to raid the housekeeping cart, but the ones in your room were fair game in hopes you would think of them and the brand when you use them. Hyatt specifically implored you to do it!

But since there are limits to what you can take some hotels took 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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. i wonder if this is related to how lightly-staffed hotels are overnight nowadays. In many budget hotels, in the night there is no one that can even leave the front desk it seems. Of course, they should all have a credit card on file.

  2. What is it about a person that makes them think they can steal anything? Seriously the lack of morals and desire to take anything people can is sickening. I have NEVER taken a robe or towel, let along anything more valuable (not even one of the cheap water glasses) and can’t imagine doing so. It is one thing to take the pad of paper, pen and individual toiletries (assuming there are any) as those are intended to be taken (and may be thrown away for sanitation if you don’t take them) but no way it is right to take anything else.

    Love to hear from someone on here that has stolen from a hotel and the reason they think that is right (BTW – they over charge me or didn’t provide the service level I wanted so the “owe” me isn’t a legitimate argument).

    Not only should hotels put guests that steal on the no stay list but should charge their credit card for anything missing from the room.

  3. Of course, stealing is wrong. But I also don’t understand how any kind of hotel can be so incompetent in security or staffing not to notice a guest walking through the hotel with a TV, mini-fridge, mattress or some other kind of object. It’s not like you can just hide those.

    For the record, taking pens, stationary, toiletries and slippers is not stealing.

  4. I used to take pens and stationary when I was a kid – those were the most valuable mementoes from a trip for a travel-obsessed youngster. I took toiletries in the past when I liked the bottle shape (e.g., ones with wide enough mouths to refill with my own product).

    These days, though, I have higher quality toiletries at home, better refillable bottles, nicer pens and little need for stationary. I’m also an anti-packrat, and this stuff is just something else I need to dispose of.

    For many people I speculate that stealing is more about the thrill of getting something for “nothing” rather than them actually needing any of these things. Pushing the limits, what can they get away with, etc.

  5. I think the items described as stolen are exagerated.

    It makes no sense that a guest staying at a fancy hotel can or would walk away from the hotel with a television or matteress and other items described.

    The story makes for cute reading but the story lacks credibility.

  6. Actually had an Indian (country) lady walk right up to my luggage cart while we were waiting for our room and take an Emirates amenity kit off of it in a high end hotel in Dubai at the Dubai Mall.

    No shame at all.

    After that, I had to stand at the cart and actually discourage a couple more who tried to stop and look.

    Now I request our cart be placed in the luggage room immediately.

  7. I wouldn’t stay in a hotel where a guest could carry a tv or mattress through the lobby and not be stopped. If they can get stuff out of, what kind of stuff gets INTO the hotel!

  8. Is there data about whether these are leisure or business travelers? IF the latter, or if using a company credit card, could not an hotel look at the company’s website for their ethics policy and then report the guests to their employers? Have any done so?

    I do not think this is exaggerated. I work in the meetings industry and remember those attending meetings bragging about the bottles of liquor and packaged foods they stole from often unstaffed concierge lounges. Even if it were for their immediate consumption, it’s still theft. Friends who work in hotels have told me of the items taken. And about security being so bad that it’s not seen, it’s that there are not security people throughout hotels nor cameras that catch everyone’s coming and going. It is far easier to move things out of an hotel room than one might thing. Not suggesting trying it to see!

  9. Love my Holiday Inn branded bath map from the 70s 😉
    Todays Hotel ‘keep sakes’ are limited to coasters and the TWA pencils and pad
    For the past several years flying in First I’ve routinely asked and been granted small pieces I can reuse like the nut ramekin (have 6 Etihad) or small bowls. Need one more Lufthansa Champagne flute for a set of 4 Favorite old one is 1990 era Northwestern wine stemware – a small pour
    Last year at the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi I had my Qatar First glassware (asked and received) on display and housekeeping took them! Apparently thinking they were from the restaurant. Fortunately they were recoverable 🙂

  10. Just because people have enough money to stay at a 5-star hotel does not mean that they have enough class to not steal items from the hotel room.

    Also, let’s not forget about the power of alcohol that could help induce some guests to steal large items from a hotel room in the dead of night, a small group of drunk friends snickering and giggling as they squeeze it into an elevator down to the the first floor and out to their car. One can easily see this occurring in almost any country.

  11. Me, not much of anything. I do take the used soap. Hate seeing it trashed.

    Had a friend a number of years ago staying at a 5 Star+ hotel in the ME. The butler was helping with the bagsss bc and noted they hadn’t taken the toiletries from either bath in the suite. My friend commented, “I don’t normally steal stuff”. The butler said they were theirs to have and brought a bag. Checking later, he had about $1,000 of Hermes products. Guess it offset a little of the suite cost.

    Not happening these days.

  12. Watching the video showing an Indian family got busted for theft. I would make them pay ten times the market prices and still called the cop on them. There was no need for negotiation or leniency. When I visited Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka in late 2018, all the locals with whom we were in contact in those said countries had negative perception toward East Indians. No exception. Hotels do not want negative publicity about their establishments. They consider it a cost of doing business. The costs to hire lawyers to prosecute and sentence them are higher than letting them free. Even when the courts award them a judgment, how do you expect them to collect it? As for dinging their credit cards for incidental costs, it is not as “icing on the cake” as you think. I rather not elaborate on it for safety practice for accommodation establishments. I did not realize the extent of such problem elsewhere outside US. But I know what it is in US. We now live in a world where ” I see no evil I hear no evil” practice become prevalent. Rarely anyone helps other people in need anymore. We have normalized immoral, unethical and illegal misconducts and behavior to justify all societal ills.

  13. I have to question the validity of this story. I doubt this issue is truly rated to guests. Not to say that guests are above stealing but when you cite large items such as mattresses or TVs, it’s fairly obvious that the theft is being done by someone with knowledge of security camera placements and unmanned exit doors. These activities are likely conducted by employees or even property owners who can deduct the cost of thefts from their taxes.

  14. @David S said it best in his comments above, “Who among us haven’t considered stealing a mattress or two in our travels?”

    I am laughing out loud at the bar on my laptop and people are wondering why, lol.

    The only thing fair game is the toiletries, IMO. Especially the ones mounted to the shower walls. 😉

    -Jon

  15. Meanwhile even upper end hotels now BOLT $3 bottles of soap and lotion to the wall so no one takes them. They could just leave them there on the counter and even with a note stating, “If you like this lotion, take it with our compliments.” Considering they buy these at substantial discounts and what is a couple of dollars versus several hundred for each night of a stay. That would go such a long way to show some goodwill versus the message of “we don’t trust you so we will BOLT the handsoap to the wall…”

  16. This is how my parents brought home their first color TV. I was on the trip and witnessed it. …However, I must add that they PAID for the TV – the hotel was upgrading to a bigger/better model and selling off the old ones from the rooms. So my Dad got to try it out and apparently thought he was getting a bargain (who knows, I thought $20 was a fortune in those days). On the way home, I shared the back seat with the TV and we kids were thrilled to FINALLY watch “The Wonderful World of Disney in **Living Color**”!

  17. Re Patti’s comment…thru are notorious for wanting something for nothing. I worked for one years ago and experienced it first hand on a daily basis. They think the world owes them.

  18. Hotel stationery, pens, plastic laundry bags, and some single-use items from the bathrooms used to be the items I would take with me from my stays. Over time, I have been taking less of those than I used to take.

    The hotel toiletry items and airline amenity kit items I often would end up sending for use at shelters for the displaced and/or homeless. It felt nice to see my huge collections of “travel” “goodies” get good use by those down on their luck or escaping violence. Think refugees/asylum seekers, domestic violence victims, and those down on their luck and homeless. Nowadays the collections are thinner than they used to be despite the travel being almost as much as it’s ever been for me — and so the opportunity to play “Robin Hood” this way is not as rich as it used to be.

  19. About big bulky items being stolen from hotels, I wouldn’t be surprised if at least som of that is a combination of an inside job at least to some extent or due to misunderstandings by work crews brought into the hotel by hotel management. No one is waking up in a hotel bed and just randomly thinking on the way out that they will grab the room mattress or big floor lamp to transport in/on a sedan or take on their flight home.

  20. I think it’s a typical rich rich entitled thing to take stuff and say charge me if you want to. Instead of figuring out where you can go to buy one like that for yourself. I have read elsewhere stories of guests calling a plumber to remove a faucet so they could take it home to use in their own house.

  21. @Gary, google the iconic Churchill Photograph that was stolen from the Ottawa Fairmont! Talk about brazen!!!!!

  22. About the only thing I have taken from a hotel has been bedbugs…
    I have never understood the thought process of thieves, petty or otherwise. If it isn’t yours and you didn’t pay for it leave it alone.

  23. I have stayed at many hotels, from four seasons down to hix, and I have never, ever thought to myself, “wow, this hotel’s [tv, towel, bathrobe, pillow, etc.] is so much better than the one I have at home.”

  24. I have used to collect the toiletries as never used all that were stocked each day in the room since I was a solo traveler on business. I would collect all the bottles of soaps, shampoo, sewing kits, etc. in a box when I got home and at the end of the year I had a pretty good collection and I would drop it off at the homeless shelter or the abused women’s shelter and they were very appreciative to be able to provide them to their ‘guests’ for hygiene needs.

    Now of course all hotels are pushed to be more eco and ‘green’ so these are seen as huge landfill items (and added cost to the hotel) so now we just have empty pump bottles mounted to the walls or clogged up or falling apart…let’s not kid ourselves we know who pays for outright theft, it’s us that pay crazy hotel prices…regardless the numbers of stars and lack of service.

  25. If the hotel won’t sell it to you, it has been my personal experience that they will give it to you. All I did was ask if the item was for sale.
    Although I’ve never had a desire to possess a USED hotel mattress. Additionally one can usually purchase the item, even from specific hotels, on ebay (recently purchased a Royal Hawaiian pink beach towel.)

  26. I would prefer not to take *anything*, as it seems very low-class to me. But my wife insists on taking the little toiletries, even if we haven’t opened them. I know the hotels want you to take them, but it still seems cheap to me. (Besides, what about the possibly-urban-legend that the housekeeping staff take them for their own use? Is so, they need them more than I do.) Okay, maybe a bit elitist, but at least not klepto.

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