Have you ever been told you were over your credit card limit, or had your debit card declined, even though you knew you had available credit, or money in your bank account? If this happened shortly after you stayed in a hotel or rented a car, the problem could have been card “blocking.”
When you use a credit or debit card to check into a hotel or rent a car, the clerk usually contacts the company that issued your card to give an estimated total. If the transaction is approved, your available credit (credit card) or the balance in your bank account (debit card) is reduced by this amount. That’s a “block.” Some companies also call this placing a “hold” on those amounts.
Here’s how it works: Suppose you use a credit or debit card when you check into a $100-a-night hotel for five nights. At least $500 would likely be blocked. In addition, hotels and rental car companies often add anticipated charges for “incidentals” like food, beverages, or gasoline to the blocked amount. These incidental amounts can vary widely among merchants.
If you pay your bill with the same card you used when you checked in, the final charge on your credit card, or final amount on your debit card, probably will replace the block in a day or two. However, if you pay your bill with a different card, or with cash or a check, the company that issued the card you used at check-in might hold the block for up to 15 days after you’ve checked out. That’s because they weren’t notified of the final payment and didn’t know you paid another way.
Blocking is used to make sure you don’t exceed your credit line (credit card) or overdraw your bank account (debit card) before checking out of a hotel or returning a rental car, leaving the merchant unpaid. Blocking is sometimes also used by restaurants for anticipated sizeable bills (like large groups at dinner or a party), by companies cleaning your home, and other businesses to ensure credit or account money will be available to complete payment.
If you’re nowhere near your credit limit or don’t have a low balance in your bank account, blocking probably won’t be a problem. But if you’re reaching that point, be careful. Not only can it be embarrassing to have your card declined, it also can be inconvenient, especially if you have an emergency purchase and insufficient credit or money in your bank account. On debit cards, depending on the balance in your bank account, blocking could lead to charges for insufficient funds while the block remains in place.