When Your Aging Parents Hit the Road: Tips for Handling High Hospitality Hold Fees

As is the case with so many of us living in the sandwich generation, we are separated from our aging parents and our other adult siblings by miles, states and even coastlines. If we’re lucky, this means that Grandma and Grandpa are doing a great deal of traveling on their own in order to be with us, our own kids and other loved ones. Not one of us wants to imagine our aging mom and dad worried, or heaven forbid, stranded on the road during any leg of their travels because they’re suddenly strapped for cash.

I know what you’re thinking: This would never happen to your parents because a) they are seasoned road warriors, and b) your parents aren’t that financially constrained… are they? (This, my friends, is a conversation for a blog post entirely of its own.)

If, like many, your parents are dependent on a monthly Social Security deposit, or any annuity, and they’re used to paying for all they do on a debit or credit card to help manage their cash flow, then yes, your parents are the precise demographic that should be worried about the exorbitant hold fees being levied against today’s consumer by a risk-averse hospitality industry.

What, exactly, is a hold fee, and do all hotels charge them? “This is a fee set up by the hotel in abeyance against possible charges the guest may make when using the restaurant, phone, incidentals, etc.,” according to Kalman Held, an Atlanta-area hospitality consultant. And yes, this is (and has been) a common practice, but what was once a nominal fee may now be $150 or more held—and thus authorized by your bank—against your credit or debit card upon checking in.

“Management wishes to ensure that its guests have enough funds or a credit balance available to cover their anticipated costs and expenses, or even their potential damages,” says Held.

This is a real problem for those who are on a fixed or limited income, and especially for those who are altogether unaware of the transaction, he explains, as reversing or crediting back the charge may take your bank as many as 10 days. Plus, as the front desk at any hotel is the hub of all activity, you’re at the mercy of a busy employee’s schedule, and… well, we all know how that goes.

What should you do if you’ve got elderly parents who are frequent travelers and hotel guests? First, please make them aware of this burgeoning issue by having them read this post. I’ve culled together a few more tips, below, to help ensure that Mom and Dad get from Point A to Point B with their finances intact:

  1. Ask for a lower hold rate. You may just receive it. Better yet, see if you can have the entire fee negated. Truth be told, any front desk employee with a little common sense should recognize that your elderly parents aren’t likely to have an all-night seniors keg party and trash their hotel room. The actual charge is something of a judgement call. Ask to see the front desk manager or the manager-on-duty, if necessary.
  2. Ideally, maintain one credit card dedicated exclusively to travel and accommodations. Maxing out is less of a stressor this way.
  3. And finally, be aware of whatever it is you’re asked to sign. This is the only sure-fire way to catch an unexpected service fee before it becomes problematic.

All my best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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