Only the truly saintly among us have never stolen the odd thing from a hotel room. Yet while most of us find ourselves sticky-fingered around miniature toiletries, a survey of hoteliers has declared that eyes are now on a significantly bigger prize: luxury mattresses, which are increasingly being lifted from five star hotels.
You might imagine getting a super king size mattress through reception would be conspicuous, but researchers said the risk of being caught lugging a mattress down the corridor barely registered as a deterrent. In hotels with lifts directly serving underground car parks, all thieves do is wait until the dead of night, then replace the mattress with an old one, drag their loot into a lift and down into a waiting van.
When it comes to stealing and what's merely included in the room cost, the lines are, admittedly, blurred. "The salt shaker is off limits but the salt..." says Ross in one episode of Friends, pouring salt into his hand while surrounded by other pilfered goods. "Hairdryer: no, shampoos and conditioners: yes. The lamp is the hotel's but the bulbs..."
Mattresses are not the only unlikely items to go missing. The study, by Wellness Heaven, the luxury hotel guide, found expensive bathroom fittings such as "rain effect" showerheads had been unscrewed, and TVs, iPads, artwork and coffee-makers had all disappeared from hotel rooms. One Austrian Spa hotel had a pine bench stolen from a guest's private sauna. The crime was only discovered when another guest complained that there was nowhere comfortable to sit. John Keating, the general manager at five star Fairmont St Andrews, says while working as a duty manager in a luxury London hotel, three men in white overalls came in one morning and stole the grand piano from the lobby. "It was a Steinway [estimated worth 60,000 pounds] that had been there since the hotel opened. And not only did we open the doors but we actually helped them to take it out. We thought we were helping because it had all been arranged, and they had a removal lorry and uniforms," he remembers.
"The police stopped them later in central London, found the piano and brought it back. Otherwise, I would have probably lost my job."
British guests are apparently less likely to help themselves to in-room goods than most: Italians prefer wine glasses as a souvenir, while hairdryers rank high up with the Swiss, and the Dutch are keen on swiping light bulbs and toilet roll. Wherever they are in the world, Keating says most luxury hotels are used to people lifting what they can. Anything with a logo on it will usually be the first to go, he explains, like plates or cutlery, or "things that are small enough to pop in someone's bag when they leave". Tea strainers with logos "tend to be a big one", while one well-heeled guest once "walked in [to the hotel's restaurant] and helped herself to one of the ashtrays," he recalls. "I followed her and said, 'Madam, if you'd like to pay for the ashtray, we sell them in the gift shop'. And she said, 'Oh there's no fun in that', and handed it back to me."
There is something about hotels that makes us feel entitled to more than we have paid for. Oliver Smith, general manager at The Samling, a luxury hotel in the Lake District, says they often have to ring guests to ask them to return expensive soft furnishings. "If it's worth a fair bit of money, we do have to phone them up and say, in the politest possible way, 'I think you must have accidentally slipped a pillow into your handbag, could you kindly give us the money?'"
Meanwhile, at the De Vere Wokefield Estate in Reading, its multimillion-pound refurbishment last year has been such a hit that "we have had the same mirror taken from bedrooms on three separate occasions", Peter Sangster, its venue director, says.
At Brimstone, a luxury spa hotel in Cumbria, "loo seats, in-room telephones and light shades" have all been pinched. Seeing your hotel stay as a personal refurbishment jolly is increasingly common.
So much for good British manners. But at least we can retain our reputation for eccentricity: the survey found that one guest from these isles, apparently unimpressed by the offerings inside his room, unscrewed the numbers from his door to take home.
It is, I suppose, a holiday keepsake of sorts.
The Telegraph, London