By Amy Bradley-Hole Travel columnist
updated 3/5/2008 11:10:05 AM ET 2008-03-05T16:10:05

In my last column , I told you about a cheap way to take home some of the items found in a typical hotel room. But by cheap, I didn’t mean the ol’ five-finger discount. Yep, guests steal things from hotel rooms every day, and you’d be amazed at some of the things they pinch. Maybe they’re just desperate because they don’t live near a liquidation store.

Here are a few of my favorite funny stories about hotel theft, and also a few tips about what items not to waste your time stealing:

  • Grabbing every last toiletry you can find in your room is not theft. (I can’t count the number of times people have actually called the front desk to see if there’s a charge for them. I even had a guest ask if the charge for the cotton balls was per ball or per bag. I know hotels like to nickel-and-dime these days, but c’mon, people.) However, raking dozens of shampoo/conditioner combos off the housekeeper’s cart into a duffel bag is going too far. And I’ve seen that happen dozens of times. (Although I do confess to sneaking a couple of extra mini-mouthwashes myself. They’re so handy, and yet so rare.)
  • When I was working at the front desk of a small hotel, a guest once asked where he could buy a cheap suitcase, as he was going home with lots more stuff than he’d brought. I jokingly asked if his wife had done lots of shopping at the upscale department store down the road, but he explained that he’d found some beautiful artwork he loved. After he checked out, the housekeeping staff discovered he’d taken every last painting off the wall of his suite.
  • Irons are the items that are stolen most often, followed closely by coffee makers. This is because hotels haven’t yet figured out how to attach them to the wall as they’ve done with those annoyingly low-wattage hair dryers. But I ask you: What is the appeal of these lousy appliances? Why do people want irons that can’t get even the tiniest wrinkle smooth and that seem rigged to spit out dirty water? Or coffee makers that only work with “brewing pods” that are sold only through wholesale food distributors? Besides, if you steal one of these items from a hotel, you’ll probably be charged $25 for it. Chances are you could find a better model at your local big-box discount store for half that.
  • At least one man left the iron behind and instead took the ironing board. I watched security video of him walking directly through the front door with a board tucked under his arm. When questioned, the doorman and valet admitted to seeing this odd sight, but said they were afraid to say something to him because they feared he’d complain and lower their customer service scores. I’ll bet his wife just looooved her souvenir.
  • Most of you probably think that hotel bedding, especially the comforters, is really gross — and you might be right. But I’ve seen beds stripped by guests who stole all the sheets, blankets and even pillows. Let’s hope they boiled them when they got home.
  • I once encountered a guest who cleaned out his minibar from top to bottom every day of a 10-day stay. When he saw his bill, he was astounded. He thought that everything in the minibar was complimentary, despite the fact that the prices were posted in about three different places in the room, including on the door of the minibar. The guest didn’t want to pay for it, so he unloaded an entire suitcase full of overpriced snacks onto the lobby floor. He had even taken the time to wrap all the little liquor bottles individually in tissue paper so that they wouldn’t break.
  • I once worked for a casino hotel that was about to open up a penthouse floor of amazing suites for our high-roller guests. Just before opening, my manager and I went through each room, gluing every last tchotchke down onto the furniture. He insisted that if we didn’t, all the knickknacks would be gone within a few weeks. I thought that our guests — especially our VIP guests — had more class than that. I was so wrong. On the third day the suites were open, one of the guests asked maintenance to send someone up to help her get some figurines unstuck because she wanted to take them home with her. At least she was polite enough to ask before stealing.

If you’re like these sticky-fingered individuals I’ve written about, be forewarned: Most hotels are now charging guests for every little thing missing from the room. Gone are the days when the stolen bathrobe was overlooked. And hotels are charging high prices, too. You’d think Ethernet cables were made of gold if you’d ever accidentally stuck the hotel’s cable in your briefcase and gotten dinged for it when you saw your final bill. Hotels are grabbing for revenue any way they can, and sticking it to the cheats is one way to make money.

But I’ll be honest with you: It’s awfully hard for a hotel to prove that you were the one who took an item, and not the guest before you. It becomes your word against the housekeeper’s, and in the name of guest relations, you’ll probably win. But in the name of good karma, be honest. Don’t steal. If there’s something that the hotel uses that you love, just ask if you can purchase it. Chances are you’ll get an unused version in the original packaging and it won’t be terribly expensive.

And if you really need an ugly lamp or cheap alarm clock, remember — there just may be a surplus store near you.

Amy Bradley-Hole has worked in the hotel industry for many years in many different positions and at all types of properties — from small luxury boutique hotels to large resorts, both in the United States and abroad. E-mail her or read more of her articleson Tripso.com.

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