Stealing from hotels: What guests are taking and how they're getting away with it

Benjamin Netanyahu probably didn't realise it when he allegedly stuffed a month's worth of his smalls into a bag before jetting to the United States, but the Israeli prime minister had just passed the first of many tests that, should he feel the need to change careers, could make him a bona fide travel journalist.

I see you, Benjamin. And much as I'm startled by reports that you and your wife, Sara, have been known to haul suitcases of dirty laundry across the Atlantic to have them washed and ironed courtesy of a Washington DC hotel, I'm afraid I bring bad news. Because, much as this act of Daz-ception (sorry...) has raised questions of moral probity, when it comes to the art of the blag, Netanyahu is a mere novice.

Because, as a travel writer - a profession almost entirely populated by the perennially tipsy, the lonely or the obsessive - I have witnessed in the world greatest hotels the noble redistribution of wealth and the kind of asset-stripping that would make even Philip Green feel a little queasy.

It appears that some travellers truly believe that something being nailed down is a challenge, not a notice to desist.

Leaving every pair of shoes you can pack outside the hotel door to be polished overnight for free, or getting housekeeping to refresh your tricky-to-clean cashmere cardigan on expenses, is one thing. I have seen guests in top-flight hotels in the Maldives steal towels.

I've seen a mantelpiece clock from a Rocco Forte hotel make its way into a suitcase.

And I have heard the one about the female journalist who brought curtains from her home on an all-expenses-paid trip so the Milan hotel would dry clean them for free.

There are, of course, other trades in which the dubious skills of the blag is alive and well.

Take my mate's father, for instance, who, when he went away on conference trips in his days as a rep for a well-known maker of instant coffee, made sure to swipe at least three pieces of cutlery or crockery from the buffet at every meal. By the time he retired, he had a collection of 45 different types of salt and pepper pot.

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And then there's the near endless tales of holidaying couples who, when unexpectedly bumped up to business class for the first time, treat the executive lounge (quite rightly, in my opinion) as a kind of Supermarket Sweep of canapes and Scotch.

One friend of mine who used to work the Virgin lounge at Heathrow asked to check a customer's strangely bulky luggage when they staggered their way out of the lounge to catch their flight. She found three cushions, a bottle of champagne and, bizarrely, a dozen eggs swiped from the kitchen. Was the plan to fry an omelette at 30,000 feet? We shall never know.

That act of egg theft does say something about the liberties that some of us take. Because most acts of random, semi-legal acquisition of stuff aren't done with any kind of rational forward planning.

At least, that's the defence I'll give in court if a certain hotel in Scotland ever wonders what happened to two of their bathrobes.

Because when we take a trip, whether it be for business or pleasure, we're experiencing a small rip in the time-space continuum. It affects everything, from our appetites ("Sod it, I'll have a full English and a fruit platter while I'm here...") to our morality: why else does "business trip" translate as "dirty weekend" in the minds of so many, probably rightly, suspicious spouses.

And so it is with acts of minor-to-moderate theft. When it comes to travel, there's still a part of us that thinks we're in a Gary Cooper movie.

We ride into town, take what we want and then get the hell out of Dodge before the sheriff (or, rather, area manager) gets wind of anything.

It's the thrill of getting away with it. It's an adrenaline rush that cuts through social class barriers, from parasite to potentate.

I'm thinking in particular of the very junior travel journalist who confessed to me that he was once so hungry on an assignment that he carefully peeled back the lid of the tiny tube of Pringles in his mini-bar, ate them, filled the empty cylinder with leaves and placed it back in the fridge.

He got away with it - but later told me he was thinking of quitting journalism. "How can I continue in an occupation where I'm so poor that I can get a free hotel, but can't afford a mini tube of Pringles?" he wailed.

Me? I think he's on his way to a Pulitzer.

Strange steals: The 10 of the oddest items lifted from hotels

  1. Stuffed boar (Hotel du Vin, Birmingham)
  2. Sex toys (The Residence, Bath)
  3. Curtains and mirrors (Travelodge)
  4. A chandelier (Shangri-La, Hong Kong)
  5. A marble fireplace (Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire)
  6. The room number (Franklin Hotel, Knightsbridge)
  7. Busts (Chesterfield Hotel, Mayfair)
  8. A medieval sword and a 4ft wooden bear (anonymous)
  9. A $300,000 Andy Warhol artwork (W Hong Kong)
  10. A grand piano (Starwood Hotels)

The Telegraph, London

See also: Don't fall for this trap when you stay at a hotel

See also: Australia's and world's best hotels named in TripAdvisor awards

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