Travel insurance: What to do if hotel staff steal your money, valuables
There’s a sinking feeling you can get during takeoff when the plane is still climbing, that has nothing to do with the natural laws of gravity when flying.
No, this sinking feeling is when you discover you’ve been robbed in the hotel you’ve only checked out of hours before, just as you’re looking out the plane window to see that country disappear beneath.
That was my recent experience as I was sitting on the plane after leaving Berlin on the way to Singapore, while checking through my travel wallet which contained my passport, itinerary and some foreign currencies.
Looking to make sure I had enough local currency for a taxi when I landed, I instead found the Singaporean dollars had disappeared, along with amounts of euros, US dollars, British pounds and Thai baht. In total, an Australian value of about $300 was missing.
I had just spent three days in a swanky five-star Berlin hotel, where I had been upgraded into a lavish suite. I had been working every day, and so I left my computer out on the desk, and alongside it, my travel wallet.
I reasoned that as I was in such a luxurious hotel, my valuables were fine to be left out in my room. I normally always lock my travel wallet in the room safe or leave it at reception the moment I arrived, but in a suite as stunning as this in a hotel as chic as this, I figured nothing could possibly go wrong. The discovery of the missing cash was a quick lesson in travel ignorance, not to mention sheer stupidity.
Having had my phone pickpocketed in London a few years ago, I know all the rules about reporting a theft while travelling. The local police need to be notified within 24 hours and once you have that report, then inform your travel insurance company.
“We recommend you call or email the hotel as soon as you realise the loss or theft has occurred,” Cover-More insurance company spokesperson Maureen Mullins says. “Ask the hotel to respond in writing to confirm you have reported the loss. But, refrain from making unfounded accusations about the hotel staff unless you actually witnessed a staff member committing the theft. Provide the hotel with as many details as you can and make sure they provide you with a loss report.”
Which is exactly what I did upon arriving in Singapore, sending an email direct to the Berlin hotel’s general manager. I carefully worded the email so not to make any accusations, but to tell him exactly what was missing and to outline my movements while in the hotel. I also asked if there was CCTV of the hallway outside my room that could be checked.
The hotel manager responded initially with the promise to check out my case. Days later, he emailed back with the news a hotel maid had been captured on film walking away from my room, clearly holding a stash of my money, and had tried to exchange the notes for local cash at the front desk.
The missing money was later refunded into my credit card account. All this was sheer luck, but if no camera evidence had been found, what then?
“Even if you don’t notice the loss or theft until you arrive home, still contact the hotel and report the loss, and then submit a claim to your travel insurance provider,” Ms Mullins adds. “Make sure you fully outline when you believe the loss or theft occurred and when you first realised it had happened, so your insurance company has the full picture. We will also need a detailed explanation of how the loss occurred and what actions you took when you realised it had happened.”
What might be much easier, however, is just to go back to the way I used to travel, and lock my passport, travel wallet and valuables into the room safe upon arrival. And before checking out, check again everything is in place. That good habit had been abandoned this time through sheer complacency. Well, once bitten, twice shy — just as long as I don’t forget the safe’s security code!