Q: How can I protect myself from thefts that occur in a hotel? Last year my hotel room was ransacked. The hotel's insurance company basically said I was responsible for the theft, which was a cop-out. I am traveling again this year and want to know: What should I do to protect my belongings in a hotel room, and what rights do I have as a traveler against theft?
-Kathy, Fresno, Calif.
A: First of all, most hotels are protected by individual states' innkeeper's laws, which clearly state that the hotel is not responsible for theft from your room. The exception is if you use the safe-deposit boxes the hotel has behind its front desk. Even a hotel's in-room safe won't cover you in terms of loss.
Recently, some travelers are slyly hiding cash or other small belongings in hotel rooms with a diversion safe. These decoys are everyday objects, like a Suave hair spray can, that are actually hollow so that you can open them to secretly store small objects. You can find all types, from fake soda cans to cans of shaving cream, on the Internet. With one company (www.efindoutthetruth.com/Diversion_Safes.htm), if you buy three diversion safes, they will send you a pair of "dirty" underwear with a secret Velcro compartment to hide cash or jewelry.
As for your rights, they may be limited. Your best bet is to check around your room for signs posted about hotel liability or to inquire at the front desk so you know your rights ahead of time. If it's worth the effort, you can also take your case to small-claims court. Be sure to file complaints with the hotel and police department as soon as your property goes missing, as that may help your case.
Also ask for a "reading" of the door lock if it's electronic. The hotel staff might be able to provide you with information about who entered your room and when, while you were gone. If the record comes up blank, however, this doesn't necessarily mean your room was intruder-free. It is possible that an employee entered through a connecting door if there is an adjoining room.
Here’s some more advice:
Leave the radio on while you are out of the room, just loud enough to hear if you lean up to the door. This may deter curious thieves by making them think the room is occupied.
Avoid using the signs requesting housekeeping, since these can also be seen as an invitation for a would-be thief.
If you are traveling alone, ask for the extra key rather than leaving it at the front desk. You wouldn't want anyone else getting ahold of it and having access to your room.
If you are concerned about someone entering your room while you are in it, you can try the Swege Door Stop & Alarm. It costs just under $25 and acts as a doorstop lock―a sort-of extra deadbolt. If someone does try to enter your room, it would stop the door from opening and emit a 120-decibel alarm. You can find this device at www.corporatetravelsafety.com.