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February 24, 2013 11:21 AM   Subscribe

How does it work when people check into a hotel under a pseudonym?

I hear it in countless movies: "Oh, I'm staying at this hotel under X name" - where X is not their real name.

How does that work? When they (or their assistant, more like) book a room, I assume the 'false' name is given at that stage? Does it matter then if the name on the credit card is different?

When checking in/out or ordering room service, I assume staff call them by the fake name? And nobody corrects them, right? Just nod and smile?

They use the fake name even when they're signing into the hotel gym/spa, too?

[I am not famous enough to even consider doing this, I just always wondered how it worked]

Also, if you have any first-hand experience, I'd love to hear
posted by Chorus to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I assume they pay in cash, generally.
posted by capricorn at 11:31 AM on February 24, 2013

FWIW, the name I use in everyday life does not match the name on my credit card or my DL.* Hotel clerks have never once batted an eye when I check in under EverydayName and hand them OtherName credit card for room incidentals. They always refer to me by EverydayName as well. At hotel spas, poolside, bars etc, I use my hotel room# and sign with EverydayName and again, no one cares because I'm not challenging those room charges at checkout.

*I am not famous, just somewhat inconsistent
posted by jamaro at 11:38 AM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you are famous enough to need this you probably have people to handle it for you. Corporate cards won't necessarily have personal names on them. And a lot the billing is done with accounts not payment at the time of stay.
posted by Mitheral at 11:38 AM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding Mitheral: corporate cards and assistants and suchlike. Also, I'd guess that the hotels will willingly go along with it, even when they know John Doe is actually Jack Megastar. You've got to figure that the very rich and famous people who would use pseudonyms aren't staying in your local Best Western: they're staying in very expensive five-star hotels with concierges and extra layers of service personal to smooth a guest's stay, and if that means fake names, who cares as long as the bill gets paid?! Plus, of course, going along with Jack Megastar's fake name means he's going to be a repeat customer, and will also hopefully recommend you to lots of his rich & famous friends.
posted by easily confused at 12:07 PM on February 24, 2013

I used to know a person in a band that was/is famous enough that it apparently required him to check into hotels under a false name -- it was usually the same name, a particular literary reference he thought was especially cheeky and sly. (Whether this policy was enacted due to an actual "OMG, it's _____!" incident or simply because he wanted to feel more famous is anyone's guess.)

I presume he was allowed to do so without further questioning because, as Mitheral mentioned, band management would pay for all of the band/crew members' hotel rooms with a single corporate card; the hotel staff were given the accompanying false name(s) at check-in. Room service would be charged to the same corporate card, so there were no worries there, either, although the person I knew did sign any/all room service or hotel bar/restaurant bills with his actual name even though the fake name was usually printed on the slip. No one ever corrected him or acted like anything was unusual about it.

When he was out on tour, he would insist that I call the front desk of whatever hotel he was in (instead of, y'know, his cell phone); rather than asking for his room number, he wanted me to ask for the pseudonym he had provided. It worked every time -- from Tokyo, Japan to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania -- so it seems to be a fairly widely accepted practice that rarely alarms or alerts the desk staff.
posted by divined by radio at 12:07 PM on February 24, 2013

How does that work? When they (or their assistant, more like) book a room, I assume the 'false' name is given at that stage? Does it matter then if the name on the credit card is different?

I think we have at least one top-tier concierge on MeFi, so perhaps she or he can speak to the practicalities of managing celebrity guest privacy. On a personal level, I have booked hotels as follows: "Hello, I'd like to book a suite for two nights for Mr. X. The card will not be present but I'll accept all room charges on my credit card. Email me your form and I'll fax you authorisation."

Done - easy. This is how it's managed for things like Cannes when the production company is footing the bill for their leading cast members.

However, I think you're missing an important piece here. The hotel will know what celebrity is booking in and who they're expecting. It's not a surprise when the celeb turns up and indeed the suite will have been detailed to the nth degree, right down to their preferred brand of water. The "staying at this hotel under X name" is just a screening mechanism. I can reach George Clooney if I ask for George C. Scott, but I will be told Mr. Clooney is not at the hotel if I ask for George Clooney. Nobody at the hotel is actually pretending George Clooney is not George Clooney in front of Mr. Clooney.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:07 PM on February 24, 2013

Of course, it works the other way around. I had a (non-famous) friend who had the same real name as a very famous person. All too often, he would book a room but, on arriving, found the room had not been reserved for him, as the hotel thought it was a joke.
posted by TheRaven at 12:23 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tangentially related, but in a two-part episode of the Tobolowsky Files, character actor Stephen Tobolowsky discusses a bit the odd experience of using a pseudonym when he has surgery (including forgetting he was using one). It might answer some of your questions about this phenomenon in general. (Plus, he's just a really engaging storyteller.)
posted by pitrified at 1:02 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work in a hotel and yes if you provide one name and the credit card has another, we don't generally pay attention/care as long as we can preauth the card. If you are paying cash, different story. We require photo id, cost of the room and a deposit. You'll also need to provide your home address for both c/c & cash stays, primarily for security purposes but also if the room is damaged (holes in walls, TV stolen etc) we can attempt to recoup the losses.
posted by googlebombed at 3:25 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a good friend that works for a very well known band. Checking in under an assumed name these days is really just used as a qualifier for those interested in getting in touch with famous person while he is at the hotel.

When the Band travels as a band, although they don't publicize where they are staying, it is not a state secret either. A lot of people stay in the same hotel, a lot of people who work for people who work for the band stay there and friends like me might get a room at the discounted corporate rate. In the hotel registry, they know exactly what room Dave is in or what room Boyd is in or Carter is in. The hotel operator and staff are given other names so that if a fan called the hotel and asked for Boyd Tinsley, they would be told there is not one at the hotel by that name, but the front desk, concierge, manager etc are all aware and will call the band members by their correct names. These days the use of an assumed name is really about security and privacy for the famous person.

The hotel and the famous person's security staff can usually provide that regardless of the name on the register. Bills are paid with corporate cards or are sent to the manager's office who then pays them. I once accidentally had my room put on the do not take a credit card list when I was staying with the band. After a lot of insisting, they took my money.

The assumed names are used so that those who know the assumed names can contact the person although a lot of these folks just tell the front desk NO CALLS through the hotel system. Take a message. They use their cell phones. If you really know famous person, you know how to get in touch with them.

For example, one time famous band leader asked me to call him in the morning about something we were talking about the night before. We shared a common interest and I was going to tell him where in the town he could see something he wanted to see. He told me to call the front desk and ask for Fake Name. He also told me if they questioned that to give them a four digit number. I have no idea if that was a 2nd check because I was never asked for it.

I am told that when band leader travels on his own or with his wife and twins, he uses his real name and asks the hotel to respect his privacy. They will deny having a guest by that name, they will provide some security or work with his staff. Sometimes, if the reservations are made by his personal assistant or by the management company, it will simply have the corporate name on the registration. For example if it was Ringo Starr, the reservation might just say Apple Records.

I have no idea if this is the way it is with most celebrities or just with this band or with this band management company.

I imagine that when the NY Yankees come to play the Cleveland Indians that the Yankees stay in one of a possible handful of 4 star hotel in the town. A fan could easily find out. But, the hotel is protective about fans asking to speak to Derick Jeter or Alex Rodriguez. They simply do not put calls through. If there are a lot of fans hanging out in the lobby waiting for the players, they would ask them to either leave or to wait in a special roped off area and maybe the players will or maybe they won't come by and sign an autograph.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:39 PM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have firsthand experience with this. Not with being a celebrity traveling under a fake name, but with working with celebrities who do so and having to deal with some of the stuff you talk about.

Firstly, booking. Yes, when you book the person the room, you use the fake name. You say, "Hi, I'd like a room for 4 nights for Josephine Bleaux." And you book it just like Josephine was her real name, and it totally wasn't Julia Roberts at all.

Now, payment. In my experience working on large budget studio-funded films and television shows, the payment isn't expected to come from the celebrity at all, so this really doesn't matter. They either bill the production and are paid with a check via accounts payable, or they are booked on a company credit card that in no way has anything to do with the celeb and will have a totally unrelated person's name on the card.

I also have a little experience working as the assistant to someone who books their own travel, and then is later reimbursed. My particular someone isn't famous and doesn't travel under a pseudonym, so no big deal. I imagine that celebrities who travel under pseudonyms are paid on a credit card with their assistant's name -- I have a "company" credit card through my boss, who again is NOT a celebrity or even really much of a VIP. It's not hard to set that up at all.

When the celebrity arrives at the hotel, they check in as the pseudonym, and they do all their business under the fake name. When I've had to leave packages at the front desk for people in this situation, I address the package to the pseudonym.

Usually if the person is famous enough to use a fake name, they are recognizable to the average person anyway, so eventually hotel staff figures it out. But in my experience they are pretty cool about it. I've never dropped something at the front desk for "Josephine Bleaux" and had the staff be like, "OMG YOU MEAN JULIA ROBERTS RIGHT HEHEHEHE OMG I LOVE HER SO MUCH SQEEEEEE". They might smile a knowing little smile. That's about the extent of it. It's their job to protect people's privacy, and at least in the cities where I've dealt with this, they seem to be pretty savvy about it.

(All uses of Julia Roberts are just as an example of a household name celebrity who likely travels under a pseudonym but whose existence at the hotel isn't going to start a paparazzi riot or anything. I have never met, worked with, or dealt with the travel plans of Julia Roberts.)
posted by Sara C. at 4:36 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Re the credit card and what happens when a person checks in and isn't carrying that credit card -- this could be different under different circumstances, but when I have booked entertainment industry travel (whether for celebrities or just the rigging grip who has a three hour commute and needs to crash at a Motel 6 near the set) I usually lead with what the situation is. I'll say something like, "I'm working with a film crew shooting nearby and I need to book a block of rooms on my corporate card..." A lot of hotel business, in general, is business travel, so this is a thing they are prepared to deal with no matter who the room is for.

Usually it involves filling out a boilerplate credit card authorization and faxing it back. I also make sure to mention that the guest won't be carrying the card, just in case the hotel desk staff is 100% looney tunes. There's never been a problem, though -- a lot of being an entertainment industry underling is covering your ass in case the person you're dealing with happens to be incompetent.
posted by Sara C. at 4:51 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to work at a casino hotel that was part of a very large, well known chain. We frequently booked celebrities, both those who wanted to come on their own and those who were performing at the hotel. This is how it worked at my particular chain, which was exceedingly strict about ID and names and rooms (running a casino in that state was a bit of a legal gauntlet so they were stricter than most hotel chains by far).

At my hotel, any famous celebrity who was performing there would be booked by our Events staff under a standard fake name. The standard fake name would be checked into a room or set of rooms at an appropriate time, room keys made, and luggage sent upstairs--all without the celebrity ever actually showing up themselves.

Once in a while, a celebrity would opt to check into through our VIP area (a separate, enclosed room) and once in a great while, in public with the peons. The latter was always a madhouse (I've got a particular celebrity in mind here) and the hotel did its best to discourage that.

If the celebrity and entourage did opt to check in at the public front desk, the Events staff would be hovering over our shoulder and the hotel managers as well. No IDs would be exchanged (because the Events staff were vouching for the person checking in) and there may or may not have been a credit card exchanged (the rooms were usually comped, and sometimes a credit card would be added for incidentals and sometimes not). In that particular case only, the name on the credit card was not important because the Events staff were vouching. Even so, we occasionally had billing issues with these rooms after check-out.

Any famous celebrity who wasn't performing (and whose room therefore wasn't likely to be comped) would typically check in through the VIP area and arrange for credit card authorization in advance if needed (we had a standard form for this, as Sara C. notes). At that point, if they hadn't already been in contact with our Host staff, they would be introduced to them (the Host staff handled VIP gamblers of all stripes and it was their job to cater to whatever needs the VIP might have. Um, that got tricky sometimes).

I have handled the credit cards of some very rich people (often, it was those ridiculously heavy titanium American Express Centurion cards) through various jobs in the tourism industry. I never blinked an eye--not at the names and not at the cards. Not my business. Same deal with calling for front desk assistance or whatever under a fake name--I just didn't (and don't) care who I was dealing with.

I suppose I should mention that I'd already put in three years at Fairly Famous Amusement Park (not that one) so I was pretty inured to celebrity appearances at my job. It's a handy skill to have, and seems to be appreciated by most of the genuine celebrities (the C-listers might pull a 'don't you know who I am?' tantrum occasionally).
posted by librarylis at 7:41 PM on February 24, 2013

I hear it in countless movies: "Oh, I'm staying at this hotel under X name" - where X is not their real name.

In addition to the actual practical answers in this thread, I'd assume that a lot of movie cliches are based on practices that made sense in the past, but perhaps not now. Before credit cards became ubiquitous in the mid-late 20th century, a hotel guest would just have paid cash as a matter of course.
posted by hattifattener at 12:38 AM on February 25, 2013

I use a pseudonym not because I'm famous but because I hate my given name and am too annoyed with the legal process of changing it.

The answers above are correct, of course, but I'll add regarding signing: my signature is illegible and isn't really even letters. It's a scribble and cannot be read as either my real name or my pseudonym and I use it for everything I sign for. It is verifiable on all my ID as a "match". I've used it since I was 14.
posted by dobbs at 9:19 AM on February 25, 2013

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