A warning about credit card holds when you travel


When Perry Capurro rented a car from Hertz in Harrisburg, Pa., he got an early surprise: a required $200 “authorization” on the reservation.

“They were difficult to deal with the whole time, and they do not release the hold until midnight,” he says.

So what’s with the “hold”?

Actually, the requirement is disclosed in the rental agreement.

Credit Qualifications/Requirements: To qualify to rent the Hertz vehicle, the renter must present at the time of rental a current driver’s license and valid major credit card or debit card (see Debit Card Usage below) in the renter’s own name with available credit. At the time of rental, an authorization hold will be secured on the credit/debit card provided, to cover the estimated rental charges and any additional charges that may be incurred. These funds will not be available for your use. For customers with a PC coupon, the estimated amount is the approximate total not including your promotion.*

*We may place an authorization amount of up to USD 200.00 plus the estimated charges on a customer’s card, given certain conditions that will be outlined at time of rental.

Here’s the problem: I went through the Hertz booking process to see at what point it revealed the charge. You have to go through four booking screens and then click on the rental terms, then choose “form of payment” to hear about the $200 hold.

I think that’s why Capurro is upset.

“Tell Hertz they need to disclose to customers making reservations and confirmations that there will be a $200 authorization hold on their credit cards,” he says. “They pull bait and switch tactics and do not tell the consumer until you are at the counter to get your car.”

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Car rental companies aren’t the only travel businesses that place “holds” on your card. Hotels do it, too. I’ve heard the reasons why, but they don’t make any sense to me. To me, these “holds” look like unnecessary money games. The fact that they’re poorly disclosed makes them look even more nefarious.

Capurro is lucky. Some “holds” can take days or weeks to clear. A few years ago, a hotel in New York preauthorized my card for several hundred dollars. It took an entire week to clear. It was awkward. I was in town to shoot a segment for ABC News, and they had agreed to cover my hotel. The preauth made it look as if they’d charged me the full rate. I made several nervous calls to their accounting department before figuring out that this was just a credit card “hold.”

Credit card preauthorizations make no sense if you’re a consumer. It’s taking money before you receive the product and pay the bill. I’m not surprised car rental companies like Hertz note the preauth as an “oh-by-the-way” four screens and two clicks into the reservation process.

But let me be clear: A preauth can ruin your day because it decreases or eliminates your available credit. Often, you don’t find out about the “hold” problem until you’re trying to buy dinner for your family, and you realize that you don’t have the available funds.

Capurro wants me to issue a warning to other consumers about the credit card “holds,” and I’m happy to do so. With the holiday travel season just around the corner, you need to know about this now. Carry more than one credit card and don’t forget that there are other ways to pay for your consumer products besides plastic.

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After this story appeared, our “help” lines were flooded with me-too cases from other travelers who had experienced an unwanted preauth. I probably should have mentioned in the original story that collecting any kind of damages for a surprise preauthorization is usually impossible. Also, despite efforts to disclose their preauth policy, more travelers are affected by this than ever.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • Annie M

    This is precisely why you should never use a debit card for travel. A hold can take up every penny in your checking account and cause bounced checks.

  • Bill___A

    This has been a standard practice for years. Marriott does $50 a day or £50 a day. Hertz does $200 a rental. Iremember decades ago when I first learned about this. They disclose it quite well. What also might need to be mentioned is that restaurants, when your card is “swiped” – authorize for their anticipated tip added on.

  • finance_tony

    “They pull bait and switch tactics and do not tell the consumer until you are at the counter to get your car.”

    No they don’t.

  • FQTVLR

    Years ago I worked a summer job at a hotel. The number of guests attempting to pay with a card that did not have enough credit on it was amazing. I understand the reasoning behind the authorization. It might be the only way a hotel or car rental business can guarantee they will be paid.

  • Jeff W.

    “Credit card preauthorizations make no sense if you’re a consumer. It’s
    taking money before you receive the product and pay the bill.”

    First of all, they not taking real money. It will never show up on a bill as something that you have to pay. But when you pick up your car from the rental counter, you are taking possession of a $20k asset. (may be more, may be a little less.) That company want to make sure you can pay for any damages to an expensive item when you return it.

    When you rent an apartment, basically the same thing. You place a security deposit with the landlord. But in that case, you put down real money, Here, it is just a temporary hold.

  • Jim

    We stayed at a Kalahari waterpark resort and they pre authorize $150 per person who can charge to the room (they issue wristbands to everyone and certain ones can charge to the room and others cannot), per night!!!! We shared a suite with another family for three nights and it was four adults in the room. Two nights was a $1200 hold on the credit card!!!!

    They cannot put a fixed hold on the card and then charge more as you get closer to the authorization!?

    They disclosed the $150 per person but it was not clear it was per night as well until check in. I cannot imangine many people would want that kind of hold on their card for longer stays.

  • Bill___A

    This would be an extreme circumstance, even Disney does not put holds to that extent, I don’t think. In any case, hotels can and do put additional holds on, Certain Marriott Franchisees do it when they are messing about with the computer system (which is annoying). When used properly, the hold system works fine, when abused, it is quite annoying.

  • Shirley Kroot

    I have never had a hold placed on my credit card for anything. A hotel will take a credit card just in case there are additional expenses (mini-bar, phone calls, etc) but they have never put a “hold” on the card. In addition, it seems to me that most people who travel have a credit limit that exceeds the several hundred dollars “hold” that a car rental company or hotel would put on ones credit card.

  • cscasi

    We eat our regularly and I always use my credit cards for payment of the bills. I have yet to have any of the restaurants “pending transactions” contain a “tip”. They have always been for the amount of the charge. Then, when the pending charge clears, it shows the full amount (which includes the tip I always add).
    We also stay at Marriott; Residence Inns, and Courtyards in the U.S. and in Europe. I have never had them place a “hold” for any amount on my Chase Marriott Rewards card I use. I am not saying that Marriott never does that, but it has never placed a temporary hold for any amount on my stays. I usually look at my bill daily when staying for a few days (available on the TV in my room).
    I have to admit that my wife and I did go to the Winstar Hotel and Casino in Thackerville, OK this past week and when we checked in the receptionist told us that there was a $40.70 hold being placed on my card – $10.70 for the taxes and $30 as a hold for incidentals; should we use them. That did appear as “pending” on my card until the hotel bill cleared a couple of days later and then it was just the $10.70 for the taxes.

  • cscasi

    Concur.

  • joycexyz

    Common practice in the travel industry. You need to watch your statements closely to make sure the temporary hold has been reversed. Sometimes they “forget.”

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I know that for those who aren’t able to pay their bill each month this is a problem (or if they have a low credit limit), but if you don’t have an “extra” $200 available on your credit limit, my personal advice would be to limit pleasure traveling, at least, until you’ve either reduced your monthly bill or have more money available. (* I certainly did when I was a young, poor graduate student with a very small stipend and an even junkier apartment).

  • Gary K

    Not only do I agree with Jeff’s comment, but I’ll go further and offer the opinion that “It’s
    taking money…” is an irresponsible comment. The fact of the matter, at least with my issuer of credit cards, is that unless an actual charge shows up to replace the hold, it expires and evaporates. I wonder how you would describe the standard practices in the insurance industry where pre-payment is the norm.

    I also agree with the comment below that if one is skating so close to the edge that an extra $200 of temporary hold causes a problem, then you have far greater issues to deal with.

    IME, and I’m on the road about every other week, there is variability in how large the hold is. I did have one incident where a large gas station in AZ tried to pre-authorize $150 at a self-serve pump. Not even close to my credit limit, but it did cause a fraud alert, which I was able to clear quickly, and the clerk explained that it was policy because of previous incidents.

  • Mel65

    I would find the additional $200 hold an irritant, but nothing more. Many rental cars and hotels do something similar to ensure they’re covers for contingencies. Sounds like it fell off pretty quickly and they don’t charge it to everyone. We also don’t know why they are characterized as “difficult to deal with”. The first time I bought airline tickets (many years ago), the tickets were $2500 on a shiny new never used card with a $5K limit. I then tried to use it for s $100ish purchase which was declined. Turns out I had 1 pending charge of $2500 and 5 @$500 each. When I called in a panic, assuming that I’d been double charged, they said it was standard to get an initial preauthorization for the total, and then to run the individual ticket purchases. Took 5 days to fall off. THAT was a pain.

  • Lindabator

    Umm….Marriott Rewards card ensures no such holds.

  • Lindabator

    they just did not want to have to actually read thru the T&C

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