Things You Can And Cannot Take From Hotel Rooms

Before you swipe that hotel souvenir, here’s a primer on what you can (and can’t) bring home.

The suites at the Shinola Hotel in Detroit feature turntables that guests can use during their stay.

The suites at the Shinola Hotel in Detroit feature turntables that guests can use during their stay.

Courtesy of Shinola Hotel

Starting in 2012, to mark the centennial anniversary of several of their hotels, the global Fairmont group began offering something unexpected: amnesty. For the benefit of on-site exhibits at such historic properties as Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier and Calgary’s Fairmont Palliser, they requested the safe return of any and all contraband souvenirs from brass keys to silverware to full statues, taken home—mistakenly or not—by guests, alongside mini-shampoo bottles and soaps.

Fairmont’s policy? No questions asked.

That initiative continues to this day whenever there’s a major renovation or opening. And that only seems fair since sometimes, it’s not entirely clear what’s up for grabs and what’s meant to be used exclusively in-room or during a stay. That’s partially because policies can vary dramatically from property to property: At the lauded vineyard resort Coquillade, tucked in a Provencal village, for example, guests are invited to take their locally made goose down pillows home as parting gifts. Conversely, at the 10 sustainability-minded 1 Hotels from Toronto to New York City, visitors are actually encouraged to lighten their load instead of taking items home through the brand’s “1 Less Thing” program, through which they donate gently worn clothing to charity.

Of course, the thievery isn’t always accidental. Many properties have begun selling oft-stolen items in their boutiques, making these popular items more accessible, in an attempt to offset the issue. At the Plaza Hotel in New York, for example, people lifted so many doorknobs embossed with the iconic double P logo from their guest rooms that the hotel started stocking them in the gift shop.

So how can you determine what to take and what to leave, from bath salts to bathrobes? We’ve compiled some rough guidelines for you to follow, with some standout examples from properties around the world.

Things You Aren’t Allowed to Take From a Hotel Room

Two yellow stainless steel water bottles with the Post Ranch Inn logo on it in front of two hats.

Post Ranch Inn offers guests complimentary stainless steel water bottles.

Courtesy of Post Ranch Inn

The Bathrobe

Hotel robes are cozy and plush, and perhaps most significantly, they embody the decadence of escape. It’s no wonder people want to steal them—and do all the time. These hot items are almost always off-limits and, when they do get stuffed into suitcases, there’s generally a sizable follow-up bill. Hotels could remedy this by eliminating the robe experience altogether, but, instead, many have doubled down, making loungewear even more of a main event—for a price. The chic Hotel Saint Vincent in New Orleans, for example, has collaborated with Marfa, Texas-based design studio Far West on in-room marbled silk robes that also sell in their shop, ByGeorge, for $395. Printed cards on in-room closet hangers explain that the robes are for sale and, should guests fall for the ones they’ve already slipped on during their stay and want to take them home, they can simply let the hotel know at checkout.

The Glassware

On the surface, it may seem obvious: the water glass on your bedside table is property of the hotel. Same goes for the teacups and saucers. That rule can generally be applied to all things in-room beverage-related, including coffeemakers and accessories. And yet, these items often disappear. “Guests have even taken our Nespresso trays,” says Kimberly Walker, founder of California-based motel revival brand Nomada. “Ours are by Anastasio Home, so [admittedly] very tempting.” Giving guests the benefit of the doubt, perhaps some confusion stems from these items living in the room and not coming and going with room service. And maybe there’s a degree of fogginess around complimentary branded reusable water bottles, which are not unusual for hotels to gift, versus actual dishware. At Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, California, for instance, they do gift gratis stainless steel water bottles, but guests often mistakenly take the hotel’s etched glass bottles home instead, placed at bedside for turndown. So, make sure to clarify.

The Hipster Home Decor

Hotel-branded items seem to present particular confusion, perhaps because hotel guests have grown accustomed to being given promotional swag on occasion, from tote bags to sunblock printed with a property’s logo. That, combined with the trend of hotels designed to feel more like cool apartments, may make snagging clutch home decor items extra tempting. Who doesn’t want their home to look as edgy as an Ace Hotel room, for example? Still, generally, at eclectic hotels like these, visitors are not free to simply stuff items like pharmacy lamps, Fender guitars, or Pendleton blankets in their rolling suitcases. Yet, at Detroit’s Shinola Hotel, for example, which has a craftsmanship-forward aesthetic in keeping with what began as a watch company, people have gone as far as taking the branded turntables in the streamlined suites. In the same city, at the Siren Hotel, people often snag rose-colored vinyl ice buckets with brass detailing from the 106 guest rooms, which range from playful Hideout rooms with bunk beds to an elaborate Penthouse suite. To meet demand and perhaps stem the stealing, these hotels now sell their in-room accessories in their hotel shops. Bedding is also frequently lifted, and in response, retreats like Hotel Peter & Paul, housed in a converted church in NOLA, have begun making their signature quilts available for official sale.

Things You Can Take From a Hotel Room

Tenuta di Murlo, a stone building with a pool in front, in front of green hills in Umbria, Italy on a sunny day with blue skies.

Tenuta di Murlo is located in the hills of Umbria.

Courtest of Tenuta di Murlo

Beauty and Self Care Products

Snagging mini-bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash has long been a pleasure associated with hotel hopping. And, at many spots, this remains a delightful perk, sometimes even along with items like bath salts (at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in North Carolina, for example). That said, for the sake of the planet, many hotels are (thankfully) moving toward refillable wall-mounted bottles. Those are not for the taking (though guests at Marram in Montauk have apparently tried to steal the Le Labo bottles mounted on the wall), but are often for purchase in the hotel boutique. This focus on sustainability does not spell the end of toiletry gifts, fortunately. Items that aren’t packaged in plastic and are more portable are still a great option. For instance, at Casa Polanco in Mexico City, guests can take handmade custom marjoram soaps by Angelica Flores, a local alchemist.

Local products

In a world that feels increasingly homogenous, hotels love to offer that elusive sense of place, a taste of what makes their corner of the world unique. So, they tend to get generous with locally made items and especially products created on-site. To avoid sticker shock, you should always keep an eye out for what’s for purchase in the minibar versus what’s complimentary, but odds are good that the mini-sampling of chocolates or vinegar is up for grabs. At Tenuta di Murlo in Umbria, guests are gifted olive oil, rosé, and red wine. At Hotel don Pepe Gran Melia in Spain, visitors take home ceramic candleholders made by local Marbella potters. And at Palacio de los Duques in Madrid, guests can snag a sample Carner candle, fragrance and illustrated book. In Rwanda, at the luxurious One&Only Gorilla’s Nest in Volcanoes National Park—home to some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas—the resort offers guests small gifts throughout their stay that support local social enterprises. They include a felt mountain gorilla at turndown from Handspun Hope, a Rwandan cooperative that employs and supports close to 300 vulnerable women. They offer training and salaried jobs in yarn making and knitting using locally sourced wool and dyes, while also providing counseling and microfinancing support.

The Umstead Hotel's bathrooms feature deep soaking tubs and separate showers.

At the Umstead Hotel in North Carolina, sybarites can swipe the bath salts.

Courtesy of the Umstead Hotel

Reading Materials

In vacation home rentals, the trading of books is a kind of understood barter. You’re free to take one, but it’s good etiquette to leave one behind in its place. At hotels, this exchange is less clear. Many of the in-room coffee table books and materials about the locale are meant to remain as resources for the next guest (especially since they often double as decor). But that’s not always the case. More and more, hotels are offering up books related to the property or destination as gifts to their patrons. At the William Vale in Brooklyn, for example, guests are meant to leave Phaidon coffee table books behind, but are free to take copies of AnOther, a thick fashion and culture magazine that feels substantial.

Of course, a good rule of thumb is to ask when unsure. However awkward that might seem, the hotel staff will most likely appreciate it, and can potentially direct you to online shops or brick-and-mortar boutiques selling those items you covet so much. And if it’s too late and you’re already on the lamb with that cool clock or china set, wait for amnesty and maybe, one day, give it back.

Nora Zelevansky is a travel and lifestyle journalist whose writing has appeared in the New York Times, Elle, Town & Country, the Los Angeles Times, Travel & Leisure ,and Vanity Fair, among others. She is the author of novels Competitive Grieving, Will You Won’t You Want Me?, and Semi-Charmed Life and coauthor of nonfiction book, Roll Red Roll: Rape, Power, and Football in the American Heartland. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two kids, and enormous cat, Waldo.
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