Check into a posh hotel room and there are probably a few things that bring a little sparkle into your life. That swell desk lamp perhaps, or the shaving mirror on the concertina arm with built-in lighting. Look great at home wouldn't they, but whoa right there!
There's stuff you can take and stuff you can't, and staff notice. That blank space on the wall where a Samsung 4K TV used to sit, those indentations in the carpet that suggest the Venetian style side table that once stood here? These are dead giveaways and their absence will not go unremarked. All hotel rooms are pretty much the same. When the housekeeper working on autopilot goes to refill the water reservoir in the Nespresso machine and it's no longer there, this will strike them as odd.
Towelling slippers are not going to be used again, might as well throw them into your bag, and btw these are the ideal inflight footwear for long-haul economy-class flights. However that fluffy towelling bathrobe will be laundered, refreshed and readied for the next guest so hands off.
Remember that the hotel has your credit card, or that of your employer or someone else close to you. The damage the hotel can do to your finances is far greater than the cost of buying that bathrobe.
Towels are the most common item that gets filched from hotel rooms, and monogrammed towels are a prized item. Far from serving as a watermark, and thus confounding thieves, monogrammed towels are more expensive and more desirable, and thus more likely to see the inside of a guest's suitcase. Which is why none but the cream of five-star elite hotels have monogrammed towels these days.
Hotels acknowledge they're going to lose a certain number of towels every year and it's something they generally write off as a cost of doing business. They might not and there have been cases where hotels have relentlessly pursued towel-nicking guests.
A woman in Nigeria was charged with stealing two towels from the Transcorp Hilton Abjua Hotel. The judge hit her with three months in jail or a $20 fine, which suggests the Nigerian judiciary is not overly fixated on the issue of towel theft.
Linens are to be left on the bed but stationery, hotel-branded pens and plastic shoehorns are cheap to replace and some of this is free advertising for the hotel, so go ahead.
Mini-size hair products are ideal for the apres-pool shower, no problem there. Same for emery boards, combs, disposable razors and toothbrushes. Want more? Cleaning staff will restock every day if you remove them from the bathroom. If the thought of inflicting yet more plastic waste on a world already clogged with the stuff doesn't trouble you, make hay.
Some guests regard the housekeeper's trolley as a serve-yourself freebie on wheels stacked with tissues, soaps, hair products and possibly even bite-sized snacks. Taking stuff from the trolley is a power trip and it's unmannerly. You're putting one over on a housekeeper who will probably hesitate to confront you even if they do catch you in the act, and who might have to re-stock their trolley, or even account for the loss of nine packs of peanut butter cookies.
Same goes for light bulbs, the batteries from the remote and even the toilet paper rolls, this is low-hanging fruit. Swiping it suggests psychosis rather than need.
Coat hangers are another item that speaks of desperation on the part of the swiper. It's all down to the hanger heisters that we have those pilfer-proof hangers that lock into ring clips mounted on the bar. No inconvenience to the user, but how desperate do you have to be?
It's a challenge to get your money's worth out of the hotel breakfast buffet so why not regard this as an opportunity for a takeaway? I never manage anything more than a quick shuffle out the door with a croissant and an apple wrapped in a paper napkin while the waiters aren't looking but if you're up for it, this is an all-you-can-carry doggy-bag proposition.
I've seen elderly bus travellers with Tupperware boxes hoovering the buffet table like a conga line of Burmese pythons, and bad luck you if you happen to be at the end of it. No shame equals plenty of gain.
Frankly, some hotels ask for trouble. The swanky Sujan Rajmahal Palace Hotel in India's Jaipur, built for the family of the maharaja, is stuffed with trinkets and memorabilia left lying around. With rooms starting at just a shade under $500 per night, perhaps it's assumed that their well-heeled clientele would not stoop to common thievery.
During my visit a couple of years ago, when I stayed in the suite where Jackie Kennedy once slept, staff tended to lurk in a watchful way, creepily following me from room to room and loitering above my breakfast as if I was going to trouser the silverware. Must confess, I took to jingling the coins in my pocket just to keep them on their toes.
What sort of person steals the light bulbs from their hotel room? According to research released this morning, just your average Joe.
LateRooms.com claims to have asked 8000 hotels whether guests had stolen anything in the last year. Nine out of 10 said that they had, with light bulbs cited as the second most commonly purloined item.
First on the list will suprise no-one: unopened toiletries. So ready are we to fill our suitcases with little bottles of Molton Brown that surely no hotelier even considers it to be theft.
Indeed, when it comes to toiletries, Jacob Tomsky, author of the best-selling Heads in Beds, a memoir of 10 years spent in the hotel industry, suggests taking the swag bag beyond the bedroom: "Consider the unmanned housekeeper's trolley a smash and grab situation.
Take three of everything and get the hell out of the hallway. Even if you do get caught, just say you were out of shampoo and thought you'd save them the trouble by grabbing it for yourself." Alex Polizzi, the hotelier and TV presenter, said: "Bathroom amenities we cost in to the price of the room. So feel free to take the shampoo, shower gel, body lotion and soap."
But light bulbs? How do you stop them smashing into smithereens? Wrap them inside a stolen bathrobe, or layer after layer of pilfered loo roll?
Third on the LateRooms.com list were batteries, followed by towels, plants, Bibles , bath mats, duvet covers, TV remotes (well, if you're going to take the batteries...) and hairdryers.
And that's just the most commonly taken items. You'll never believe what the most brazen thieves will steal. LateRooms.com said one hotelier reported that a guest left with the flat-screen TV and minibar fridge from their room. That's nothing.
Colin Bennett, a former general manager for the Starwood hotels group, recalled the most brazen theft he encountered during nearly 20 years in the business: "As soon as I walked into the lobby of one hotel," he said, "I immediately realised something was missing but I couldn't put my finger on it.
It transpired that three people had strolled into reception, dressed in overalls, and had wheeled the grand piano out of the hotel and down the street, never to be seen again."
Other seemingly immovable objects he remembered being taken included overhead projectors and innumerable televisions. Looking back over the CCTV footage, we would see a guest walk through a busy reception struggling under the weight of a television set, yet no one would bat an eyelid, he said.
At the Hotel du Vin in Birmingham, one tired and emotional guest was caught trying to nab a mounted boar's head from the billiard room. Some weeks later, friends of the embarrassed would-be thief purchased the stuffed head from the hotel to present to him as a wedding gift.
Beyond the usual things, such as shampoos and bath towels, the most frequently stolen items are our sex toys, said a member of staff at the Residence in Bath, a former hotel which offered kinky accessories,at a price to adventurous guests. I would call them up to explain that they had been caught. A rather long silence would inevitably follow,she added.
One incident even saw a hotel owner's pet dog stolen
At the Franklin Hotel in Knightsbridge, one guest decided to unscrew the number from their door. We only noticed it had gone missing when the next guest was found wandering up and down the corridor looking for his room," general manager Karen Marchant was reported to have said.
According to a survey by Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine, other items to have been relieved from British hotels include a medieval sword, door hinges and a 4-foot wooden bear. One incident even saw a hotel owner's pet dog stolen. It certainly puts light bulb theft into perspective.
Who is to blame? According to a report published earlier this summer, it's the Argentinians. Hotels.com'sl deduced that our old Latin American friends are the nationality most likely to indulge in misappropriation of hotel items, with 73 per cent admitting to taking property,not including toiletries from their room.
Singaporean and Spanish holidaymakers are also rather prone to thievery, with seven in 10 taking items from their hotel. Germany, Ireland and Russia completed the top five.
So how do people get away with it? Well, in many cases, they won't. We asked the Metropolitan Police how it would react to allegations of towel-lifting. "It is a crime," its spokesman said. "If we were to receive allegations, we would follow them up."
In Japan, one hotel reportedly had a young couple arrested for running off with bathrobes and an ashtray, and a woman in Nigeria was sentenced to three months in prison for stealing two towels from the Transcorp Hilton Abjua Hotel.
More likely will be a charge on your credit card, or a life ban. Taking the hairdryer, towels or the bathrobe is not playing fair,said Alex Polizzi. I will blacklist you. Neither you, nor anyone with your surname, will ever be able to stay at my hotel again."