Ethical Frugality Week: Hotel Visits

Over the upcoming week, I’ll be posting a series of articles on the ethics of frugality. How far can you take things without crossing an ethical line or diving into seriously socially unacceptable waters? I’ll be recounting some of my own stories – and some stories from readers – along the way.

“Maddie” writes in:

My husband and I stayed at a hotel for two nights recently. As we left, my husband packed all of the hotel shampoo, conditioner, coffee packs, plastic cups, soap, and so on into his bag. On the way out, he stopped in the pool room and picked up two towels. I didn’t mind the disposable items in our room, since they would likely be tossed, but I thought taking the towels was wrong and I told him so. What do you think? Is it right to take things like this from a hotel when you stay there?

As always, there are two sides to every story. Let’s look at them.

Taking such items is stealing. A stay at a hotel consists of permission to use their room and to use disposable items they offer you. It is not permission to simply take items on the premises that you want. It would be the equivalent of going to a friend’s house and taking the soap and shampoo and toothpaste and towels out of their bathroom and taking them with you.

Such items are part of the service you receive. You’re paying a substantial fee to stay there – and part of that fee is toiletry and other simple convenience products for your use. Not using them is essentially the same as paying for something at a store, then handing the item back to the store owner and saying, “No, thank you!” That’s frugal foolishness!

My opinion is pretty straightforward on this one. I have no problem taking the items that would likely be disposed if I didn’t. The small convenience soaps, shampoos, conditioners, cleansers, coffee, and so forth are fair game for taking. However, the items that the hotel would re-use – like towels and the like – should be left there. Quite often, the hotel’s rules make it clear that if you take such an item from your room, they’ll charge you big. Using other means, like snagging a towel from the pool room or from the maid’s rack, is pretty much just stealing, as those are items that weren’t there for you to even use.

What do you think? Is it appropriate to take such items from the hotel? What items are appropriate to take?

The question continues, too. What should Maddie do with the towels that were taken from the hotel if she believes it was wrong to take them?

Should she return them? This is perhaps the most honest thing to do, since the towels are/were the property of the hotel. Is it okay to return them anonymously, or should she identify herself when returning them? Or should she just keep the towels?

If I were in Maddie’s shoes, I’d return the towels. I don’t think it makes any difference whether they’re returned anonymously or not – if you dropped them off at the front desk and say, “These accidentally wound up in our bags,” I doubt a word would be said. If you mailed them, I suppose they might investigate the return address, but I’d think it was unlikely. Most likely, they’d simply be accepted – and you’d be psychically off the hook.

What do you think? Should Maddie return the towels now that they’re taken?

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