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Hotels go high-tech to stop towel thieves

Hotels, facing higher replacement costs as cotton prices rise, have turned to RFID chips to track the theft of linens.

By Karen Datko Apr 21, 2011 12:28PM

Those big hotel towels are so soft, so absorbent -- they're like Bounty on steroids. No wonder you're tempted to take one home when you check out.


Be forewarned that when you and your pilfered towel walk out the lobby door, an alarm may go off somewhere.


At least three U.S. hotels are using radio frequency identification chips sewn into the fabric to track their towels, bathrobes and sheets.

One reason is better management of inventory. But there's also the human factor:

Hotel guests steal a lot of towels.


A Honolulu hotel that uses RFID chips to track linens saw the theft of pool towels drop from 4,000 a month to only 750, The New York Times reports, reducing replacement costs by $16,000 monthly. William Serbin, executive vice president of Linen Technology Tracking, which makes the chips, said the theft rate for hotel linens and robes is 5% to 20% a month. 


According to a 2004 survey by Orbitz, 18% of hotel guests admitted taking towels. Only 2% took bathrobes or bathmats. (Bathmats?)


Replacing these items has gotten much more expensive because the price of cotton has jumped 150% since August. It's so high that clothing manufacturers are incorporating more synthetics into fabric,  raising prices -- look for increases of 10% to 20% for cotton apparel this year -- or using less of it.

"Aeropostale is reducing the size of tags in garments, saving five cents on each piece of clothing," Justin Rohrlich wrote at Minyannville.


What's behind the new price of cotton? The Boston Globe explained:

The apparel industry was hurt after poor weather hurt cotton crops in China and Pakistan over the past several years and speculators then cornered the market. Demand far outstripped supply, and prices skyrocketed. Cotton hit a record high of $2.44 per pound on March 8: last year, cotton averaged about 77 cents a pound.

Before RFID technology was available, hotels had no simple solutions for stopping the theft of towels and other linens. Put your crest or logo on the towel, and those who wanted a memento of their special trip would swipe them. Leave the logo off, and they're a tempting target for those who are too cheap to buy their own towels. Count the towels and bill the guest's credit card? That can lead to a hassle.


What possesses people to steal hotel towels and other linens? Would the possibility that an RFID chip lurks within be a deterrent?


More on MSN Money:

Apr 21, 2011 11:43PM

It would be hilarious if the towel, pillow and blanket thieves took home a nice load of bedbugs!  

Before I checked out of a birthing center, a nurse came in to tell us which items were gifts from the hospital and what was not included.  She said that they had caught people stuffing their bags with bedding, pictures, wall clocks and anything else that wasn't nailed down.  They had even tried to take the bassinet.  They asked her "What is my baby supposed to sleep in at home?"

I worked in a residential retirement facility where friends and family would regularly come in and steal towels and sheets.   Gross and embarrassing.


It seems that when cheap, low-class people go to nice places, they don't know how to behave themselves.


Apr 21, 2011 9:19PM

i work at a hotel and im sick and tired of you stupid cheap people like cost us more than you imagine, youre a burden to a hotel like ours instead of a benefit. our rooms range around $40 night, they have microwave, fridge, hot tub/pool, breakfast and internet at no extra charge, we put PLENTY of clean nice fresh white towels in the rooms, 4 large ones, 2 mediums, 2 minis and a foot matt......too much for one room, most hotels only put TWO large ones and maybe 1 foot one. yet, some guests are so cheap, demanding, have this superiority complex! they demand more towels, blankets, coffee, etc. at no extra charge...what other hotel does this??? ive stayed at places that charge $150+ a night with no fridge, micro, internet, and breakfast, charged extra for extra everything and did not complain!


stupid cheap people like lexip who force hotels to drive prices up. please stay at home, do not come to our hotel! and i wish stupid cheap people would STOP STEALING OUR TOWELS, its a big burden on the hotel!

Apr 21, 2011 9:30PM
I've never stolen a towel, or anything else for that matter from a hotel.  Why?  Because it's STEALING.  It may be 'just a towel' but that towel is there for you to use while there, not to take home.  The hotel is LENDING you use of the towel.  Do you steal silverware from restaurants?  What about the floormats from a rented car?  No?  So what makes hotel towels so different?
Apr 21, 2011 8:50PM
This is another instance of how stupid people are.  They don't realize when they steal from hotels, insurance companies, etc., they are stealing from themselves and all of us.  We have to pay higher prices for everything to cover the cost of the theft and the increased cost of insurance.   Stupid, stupid, people.
Apr 21, 2011 9:45PM
And the ones that get caught need to be forced to wear just a towel and stand out side of the hotel with a picket sign with I'M A TOWEL THIEF on both sides
Apr 21, 2011 9:56PM
18% of hotel guests steal towels?  That's almost 1 in 5!  I had no idea so many Americans were morally bankrupt.  (Some, yes, but that many?)
Apr 21, 2011 8:35PM
If I should go to hell, it won't be for stealing a hotel towel.
Apr 21, 2011 9:11PM
What a place. TV's chained up in motels, no checks and now the towel with the thief chip. It sure dose not say much about the morals of Americans.  Were certainly going backwards in moral evolution. Lie, cheat , steal and it's not my baby. I'm not paying is the battle cry of the dishonest.
Apr 21, 2011 8:38PM
Freakin thieves I've heard about this for a long time. I can't believe people do this how pathetic.
Apr 21, 2011 9:39PM
15 years on the road traveling to nice hotels at the end of the day - at least 150+ nights per year and....I have never even thought of being a Towel Pirate.  WTF....I would like to rat tail up a nice wet tipped towel and sting the **** of every thief like Lexip.  Lexip -  You are the very reason we have to pay 150.00 for a 100.00 room.  Idiot dink wad.
Apr 21, 2011 9:01PM

Hey everyone... "Lexip" is your classic hotel thief. That's the type of person who causes your prices to rise. Let's give him/her a round of applause while he or she continues on to loserville.

Apr 21, 2011 8:17PM

Towel thieves. Lord. That is so tacky. Buy them new at the hotel shop.

Apr 21, 2011 10:15PM
Hotel towels used to be big and fluffy.  Now they are small and stiff.


Apr 21, 2011 9:16PM
Years ago, and I mean many, many years ago, hotels expected guests to take towels, and sometimes even encouraged the practice. Why? Cheap advertising. But as the cost of replacing those towels increased exponentially, many hotels stopped putting their names and/or logos on the towels, providing just plain white linen, hoping that less people would take them. I suspect that the poor economy has led a lot more people to consider tossing them in with their dirty clothes as they check out.. I never knew about the chips in the towels, but I had heard that the maids are supposed to count the items every day, so I always made sure we left as many in the room as they put there. Besides, we never stay in 4 star hotels anyway, so the towels we get are always scratchy. (LOL)
Apr 22, 2011 2:26AM
I must go to bad hotels, because I have never looked at some old used towel in one and thought "I know dozens of other people have used this, but I just have to take it home with me." 

Don't get why people want used towels and robes.
Apr 21, 2011 10:15PM
I think that's why other hotels also will charge you for them if they have your CC on hand and you steal them out of the room.
Some hotels even have the price list for everything, so that if you like the linens you can just buy them all.

Apr 21, 2011 9:57PM
A number of years ago, an editor from a magazine mentioned during a tv interview that she always took towels from the hotels she stayed at and encouraged others to do the same.. She claimed that the hotels put them in the rooms for that purpose. The interviewer was shocked.
Apr 21, 2011 9:01PM
Of course chopin47, but then people don't think anything of sneaking food  out of an all-you-can-eat restaurant, or swiping condiments emass either. I've seen people who should know better justifying it under, "they'll throw it away anyway", or "I paid for it anyway". Tax time just passed, and how many either didn't declare what they should have, or overstated something to get a larger deduction"? Petty thievery is the unremarked social cancer because "everyone's doing it" until the consequences come home to roost and then it's, "someone else's fault".
Apr 21, 2011 11:43PM
Lexip, The strong magnet will not work on an rfid chip. Ocean's Eleven is way old news... Better plan---stop stealing
Apr 21, 2011 10:26PM
Why, why, why does someone steal a stinky old towel that they can buy at Wal Mart for $3? Just another thing the honest people have to pay for in their increased room rates.
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