Giving your credit card for incidentals allows you to utilize all of the features of a hotel without having to stop and pay for them. You can watch in-room movies, use the mini-bar in your room or use the fitness room whenever you want. The charges for these services just get billed to your credit card when you check out. This is a convenient way for you to enjoy your stay and worry about settling up at a later date.
For the hotel, incidentals are about far more than your convenience. For a hotel, incidentals are a necessary evil. Placing a hold on your credit card for incidentals is the hotel's assurance that you won't split without paying for any additional services you may use. The incidental charge also covers any damage in the room that you caused.
The exact amount of the hold placed on your credit card for incidentals may not be disclosed to you upon check-in. However, the amount is usually far more than you'd actually use. This can be a problem if your credit card is close to its limit. According to a "USA Today" article written in March 2008, it can take up to a week for the hold to be removed.
Alternatives to Credit Cards
If you don't want to use a credit card to cover your incidentals when you check in, you have two other options. The first is to use a debit card, which is problematic because the cash in your checking account is essentially frozen while it's being held by the hotel. The other option is to leave a cash deposit, which you may not be in a position to do while on vacation. On the other hand, if you use a card and you're not close to your limit, the hold will be there and gone before you ever notice it.