Putting money and valuables in hotel safety boxes is always a prudent move, but travelers should be aware that the hotels still have liability limits that vary from state to state in the United States on what amounts they are required to pay you for any losses incurred.
The liability of hotels abroad also varies from country to country. A key factor may be how much insurance the hotel carries.
It's best to travel without anything of great value, but if you are going to have assorted valuables you might want to obtain additional insurance. You should also check what sort of coverage you have through existing insurance, such as homeowner's insurance.
In California, hotels, motels and other accommodations generally post notices, usually on the inside portion of the door to the room, that they have a fireproof safety deposit box available for your valuables. If you choose not to place your valuables in these boxes, the hotel has no liability for those items (money, securities, documents, jewelry, furs, etc).
But hotels may still be responsible for up to $1,000 for the rest of your luggage excluding valuables, according to John Lamb, staff counsel, Department of Consumer Affairs for California. "But you would have to establish negligence on the part of the hotel," Lamb added.
"The best advice is to put your valuables in a hotel safe if one is available," said Herschel Elkins, senior assistant attorney general for California. "Get a receipt and see what limitations or conditions may be printed on this receipt. Let's say you have a diamond that's worth $5,000 or more. Unless you inform the hotel, and have its agreement that it will be responsible beyond the liability amount, the hotel's liability will only be a maximum of $500."
While various hotels have begun offering guests in-room safes, the status of liability for such safes isn't as clear as it might be.
As far as California goes, the ruling seems to be that the two areas of safe locations are governed equally. "Until we have a court case indicating otherwise, the traveler should assume that the state laws dating back to 1872 will continue to be applied, and that the $500 liability limit for items put into safety deposit boxes in hotels also applies to in-room safes," Lamb said.
Lamb also noted that there is a relatively short statute of limitations affecting the filing of claims with these liability limits. "You have 900 days from departure," he said.
Marriott has in-room safes at one property and is testing such safes at two other hotels. "We want to see if guests are interested in this amenity."
Westin Hotels also has in-room safes at several of its properties.
While not necessarily the same procedure for all chains, or hotels, the way the safety deposit box system works at Hilton properties is that the front desk provides a box to guests. "You don't have to declare the value of what you put in," Koci said. "It's irrelevent. The hotel is still limited by the liability limit of that state."
You receive a receipt showing your box number, and a key to the box, which is the only key. "It's important to note that you get a receipt for the safety deposit box, not what you put in it," Koci said.
If you lose the key, you have to pay for it and the box will have to be drilled open. A sticker on the inside lid of the box will state the pertinent liability limit. Only you will have access to this box, which excludes even a spouse traveling with you (unless you both sign for the box).
With an in-room safe, using Westin as an example, there is no charge for using the safe. You simply put your items into the safe, which is large enough to store cameras and like objects, lock it and take the key with you.