Why couldn’t the hotel split my bill with my sister? – Sun Sentinel

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“Dear Lois,

My sister and I rented a two-room bungalow at the Beachcomber Resort in Pompano Beach from April 25 to 30. We had a wonderful time with very friendly and considerate staff. On the last day, my sister needed to leave the hotel before I did. She wanted to pay her portion directly to the hotel, before she left and while I was sleeping.

The night before departure, my sister discussed her request with the agents on duty at the front desk. They told her they knew of no way to split a bill when the second name hadn’t been keyed to the record when signing in. They suggested that the “day staff” probably knew better, so she should ask them in the morning.

The next morning, the staff on duty repeated that they didn’t know how to do it. Somehow, they closed the bill to my credit card, while I was still using the room.

So, no harm, really, just an inconvenience when Housekeeping called to [find out why we were still in the] room, and my sister needed to write and mail a check to me.

What do you know about splitting hotel bills? Do hotels generally do this or not?” Katharine Sharp

Katharine, I’m glad you had a good stay in South Florida despite this incident at the end. Most hotels readily divide bills as roommates usually want to make a clean break when they pay the front desk instead of having to negotiate the tab when they get home.

I spoke to Jack Miller, general manager at the Beachcomber, and he said a request for a bill to be split at checkout requires the intervention of a supervisor. That’s because, upon arrival, charges begin accumulating on the card you used to book the hotel.

Here’s how he described what could then happen when guests say they want to split the bill as they’re checking out: “Let’s say we approve the initial card for $1,000 and the bill would be split to $500 each. In our system, if not done carefully, [it could drop] the approval, so we have to start over again, and we have to go back with that card and go for $500 [again]† At some point, the guest may see $1,500 in approvals because there’s a time lag when we only needed $500.”

He recommended guests tell the hotel when they arrive that they want to split the bill to forestall these hurdles.

“It has to be handled very carefully because of the nuances of people’s credit handled through the banking system, especially if it’s a debit card,” Miller said.

As you can see, these transactions are not always simple. Beyond negotiating with the hotel, guests have to figure out some splits among themselves. Should three people who slept in two double beds share the bill equally? Or, what happens when one person pays for the room with hotel rewards and the second person has to figure out how much is owed to the account owner?

I asked a few South Florida hotels how they handle this issue. Some said bill-splitting requests are easily accommodated, while others admitted they can prove gnarly.

“We can split the hotel bill between how many cards guests would like,” said Chelsea Todaro, spokeswoman for the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa in Riviera Beach.

The Seagate at Delray Beach said the same.

“It is not uncommon for us to welcome friends/family who share rooms and want their bill split, and we can easily accommodate them,” spokeswoman Gianna Caserta said.

The Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale usually can divide a bill, but there are exceptions, general manager Heiko Dobrikow said.

“It gets tricky if the reservation was made through a third-party online travel agency, then the hotel cannot assist in the same fashion, as the monies were collected by the travel agency,” Dobrikow said. “Another situation could be with a group or conference room reservation, where the billing was set up to go to a master account. The guests would have to coordinate the split of the bill with the approval of their meeting planner.”

A good way to approach this challenge is for all the parties to download one of the apps that make splitting travel costs easier. One favorite is Splitwise, which allows you to put together a group and upload bills on the go “before you forget who paid.” It’s good not only for travelers sharing expenses but also for large groups at restaurants and roommates dividing up utility and grocery bills. There are several other apps you can try, including Settle Up and Tab.

The issue of splitting bills at restaurants, especially for large parties, is especially animating for diners who have strong opinions about who should pay when someone else drinks a lot of alcohol or orders lots of appetizers that no one else at the table wants. In the Sun Sentinel’s Let’s Eat, South Florida Facebook group, a diner recently criticized a restaurant server for not splitting the check correctly for his party of six. Many readers defended the server.

“As if the waiter at this busy restaurant didn’t have enough to do. Now he needs to compromise his time for other tables to figure out your split checks. This is a HUGE pet peeve for servers,” one reader wrote.

It’s definitely frustrating when we can’t just pay the bill and leave, but we all need to sympathize with hotel and restaurant employees when there’s bureaucracy behind the scenes that is not only exasperating to us but to them, too.

Send me your questions about Florida travel. I’m at [email protected]