China Eastern Airlines Shanghai to New York
Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

14 Tips on How You Can Prevent Theft in Hotels and Aboard Airplanes

If recent reports are any indication, theft of the property of travelers while aboard airplanes and staying in hotel rooms have been increasing — but while no method is foolproof, there are ways in which you can help to mitigate yourself from becoming a target for thieves.

How You Can Prevent Theft in Hotels and Aboard Airplanes

Here are five ways in which you can prevent yourself from being the target of a thief both aboard airplanes and in hotel and resort properties:

  1. Do not dress for success — rather, be as inconspicuous as possible. Wear jeans and a T-shirt when checking in to the hotel; or nice jeans and a polo shirt if you are conscious about your appearance. There is no need to appear slovenly and unkempt; but try not to stand out, either. Whether the duration of the flight is short or long, be as comfortable as possible with how you are dressed. Ensure that your belongings do not look valuable — for example, using a duffel bag implies that you are not carrying anything valuable.
  2. Always be as alert and as aware of your surroundings as possible — starting from when you leave your home until you return home. Especially be aware of your immediate surroundings once in your seat aboard the aircraft. Never say your name out loud at the front desk when checking in for your hotel stay; and — despite protests by some frequent travelers — be prepared to show your official identification when checking in to avoid audibly revealing any personal information which other people will be able to hear.
  3. Pack light. I typically carry only one piece of baggage with me; and sometimes with a small personal item. I believe that the fewer items you carry with you when you travel, the less about which you have to be concerned pertaining to your personal belongings — and your chances of being the target of a thief will most likely be lower as well. Carrying fewer items means easier to carry and store them — whether aboard an airplane or inside of a hotel or resort property.
  4. To help prevent someone from taking something out of your bag, place your more valuable items deeper inside of the bag so that they are more difficult to access. Placing them zippered pockets located inside of the bag is a bonus for slightly greater security.
  5. If you can, separate your valuables — such as cash or jewelry — and do not keep them consolidated in one place. This way, if anything is stolen, the chances of all of your valuable items being stoled are decreased. Better yet, never carry any item which you cannot bear to lose — rather, leave it secured at home.

How You Can Prevent Theft in Hotels

A hidden investigation recently conducted by producers of Good Morning America — a television program aired by the American Broadcasting Network — uncovers how two thefts can be brazenly successful despite otherwise normal conditions at hotel properties in an experiment accompanied by a person who is knowledgeable pertaining to safety and security. Video of the hidden investigation is included in the report.

In addition to the aforementioned advice, here are five ways you can prevent theft in hotels — four of which were originally offered by the original article but modified by me:

  1. When you are in your room, always keep the additional lock engaged at all times. At the very least, this will prevent mistaken entry by a fellow hotel guest who might have been given the wrong key by the front desk; and at best, you help to prevent a crime from occurring.
  2. If you lose the key — typically a plastic card with a magnetic strip — to your hotel room and need another one, ensure that the first set of keys are disabled when you receive a replacement set of keys. Using a method of digital key using your portable electronic device can be a way of bypassing this issue.
  3. When you do leave your room, always give the impression as though the room is occupied by leaving the television and lights on to give the appearance that someone is in your room. If you happen to be in a room which requires a plastic key card to be inserted into a slot near the door in order for certain electrical functions — such as lights and climate control — to operate, request a spare key.
  4. Before you go to a hotel, check about what is their liability regarding personal property loss in the state in which the hotel is located. If it is possible, do not travel with valuable jewelry or lots of cash with the real possibility that you may have little or no recourse if your valuable property is lost or stolen — leaving it locked at home is your best bet; and along with 11 other essential hotel room safety tips, certainly do not count on the safe in your room to be of much value.
  5. I will add a fifth tip; and that is to store your property of reasonable value in places in your room where either a thief would not initially think of searching; or stack items. You can also consider storing items deep in your bag. I have heard of people storing items in the tank of the toilet in the bathroom of the room — something I would personally not consider doing; but different strokes for different folks.

How You Can Prevent Theft Aboard Airplanes

“But traditionally airline cabins have offered refuge from thieves. After all, passengers are logged and named and hand luggage is rarely more than a few metres away from its owner under the watchful eyes of other passengers and a professional crew”, according to this article written by J.C.C. for The Economist, which deals with items in the cabin with you aboard an airplane and not checked items, as authorities are reportedly repeatedly warning that passengers are being targeted by professional criminal gangs. “Spare a thought then for a Turkish businessman who had HK$2m ($260,000) in cash and luxury goods stolen on a recent flight to Hong Kong, the largest reported pilferage of its kind to date. The haul comprised $200,000 in cash along with two luxury watches, highlighting a growing number of inflight thefts taking place, especially it seems, to and from greater China.”

The number of robberies in airplane cabins has increased by 25 percent in 2015 — with 60 reported incidents — as recorded by the police in Hong Kong. “Gangs are now thought to have identified targets before even boarding”, according to the aforementioned article. “Calls for greater vigilance are also perhaps unfair. Passengers are required to put bags in overhead lockers, sometimes rows away. On long-haul flights sleep is often a necessity and few can be vigilant the entire time. One solution might be to ask flight attendants to stow precious items in a safe place but this will become unworkable if every passenger wants that. On the other hand perhaps more vigilance is required, especially in this case. Not many people would dream of letting $260,000 worth of valuables out of their sight.”

A number of incidents involving theft having been reported over the last year, according to this article written by a writer known only as Ellen for Corporate Travel Safety.

In addition to the aforementioned advice, here are four ways you can prevent theft aboard airplanes:

  1. Although not always possible, try to keep your belongings as close to you as possible — such as in the overhead storage bin directly over your row; or for better visibility but without irking the occupants underneath it, in the overhead storage bin over the row across the aisle from where you are seated for improved visibility. Better yet, keep them under the seat in front of you if the space is accommodating enough, where you will be able to best keep an eye on your belongings — but possibly at the cost of leg room and increased comfort.
  2. Place your most valuable items — such as a wallet or passport — in the front pocket of your pants or in your purse in front of you instead of storing them in your carry-on bag or in a garment being hung in a closet away from your seat and out of your view.
  3. Keep access to the inside of your baggage as difficult as possible for a potential thief. For example, I always place access to my bag either on the bottom or behind the bag when it is stored in an overhead storage bin and not out in front. Having that access readily available to you during a flight may indeed be more convenient for you — but it also means that access is easier for anyone else as well. If your bag is equipped with a lock, even better: lock your bag — especially when heading to the lavatory or another part of the airplane.
  4. Window seats offer slightly more security than aisle seats, as stealing items stowed under an aisle seat is easier because it is more readily accessible than under the seat by a window.


“Even the most careful traveller has tales of stolen bags, picked pockets or hotel-room burglaries.” Not me. I have been very fortunate that I have never suffered from being the target of a thief — at least, not to my knowledge, as I cannot recall ever having anything stolen from me during my years of travel — so I thought that adding advice based on my experience would be helpful to you.

While none of the items of advice offered in this article are foolproof in and of themselves, a combination of them can significantly increase the chances of ensuring that your items will not get stolen — or lost, for that matter.

Keep in mind that this article is only for better securing your items either aboard an airplane or in a hotel or resort property. Preventing theft from checked baggage or at an airport security checkpoint are not addressed in this article.For additional advice on what you can do to reduce your risk of being the target of identity theft and credit card fraud, please refer to this article.

If you have any advice to add, by all means please post it in the Comments section below to assist fellow readers of The Gate.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Most of these “tips” are self evident.
    A better airplane idea: get a Scottevest and put your valuables in the pockets – sleep with it or on it. For hotels that don’t have a safe, hide laptops in drawers under a pile of clothes. Most hotel thefts are crimes of opportunity. Aisle seats are better than window because somebody can grab your stuff from overhead while you can’t move. Also good reason not to use bins in front of your row.

    1. You are correct on all points, Boraxo.

      Yes, most of the advice in the article is self-evident — perhaps to you and I — but I am hoping that the advice helps those to whom it may not be so self-evident.

      I have heard good things about Scottevest for years; but I have never owned or even tried one — hence, no recommendation from me because I am not experienced with one.

      Window seats are more secure when it comes to storing items under the seat in front of you; but yes, aisle seats are indeed better when items are stored in the overhead storage bin.

      I do not place laptop computers in the same place in every hotel room: sometimes it is buried in my bag on the top shelf of the closet with items on top of the bag; and sometimes it is buried under a pile of clothes or towels as only two of many examples.

      Thank you, Boraxo.

  2. How safe would be the hotel room safety box. I always use that for my passport and cash currency but I always doubted its safety.

    1. You are correct to doubt the effectiveness of a safe in a hotel room, caveman, as using it is only slightly more secure at best — if that.

      Please follow the links found in number 6 in this article for additional information:

      However, sometimes there is a false bottom in a room safe. If your passport and cash are thin enough to fit underneath the false bottom of a hotel room safe, you might consider trying that — but I personally would not recommend it.

      I carry my passport, credit cards and cash on my person at all times — with no exception whatsoever — while I am traveling. I carry the plastic key card to my hotel room as well — but not in the jacket which has the room number printed on it.

  3. Brian, you really need to consider removing your giant forehead from you website graphics. Not only is it physically unsettling, but I doubt it is appropriate for small children.

    1. That explains the blood-curdling screams of horror parents have as I walk down the street near their children, Charles Deegan.

      Thank you for clearing that up for me.

  4. Wow, really disappointed in you, Brian. Censoring your blog lately!! So much for free speech…

    Giant foreheads unite!!

      1. Not a problem, Charles Deegan. You are welcome to comment anytime you like…

        …and with the exception of obvious spam, I have not once in ten years censored any comment posted to The Gate — and I am rather proud of that.

        For the record, my forehead really is not that large…

  5. Having travelled extensively, I learned that travellers assume that they can leave their iPads or purses on their seats when they head for the toilet…not a good idea! Safeguarding your belongings is paramount no matter where you are.

    1. I completely agree with you, Shirley — not a good idea at all; and I have seen that countless times by fellow passengers.

      If I am using my laptop computer or other portable electronic device while aboard an airplane, I secure it before I head to the lavatory; or I do not take it out to use it until after I have returned from the lavatory.

  6. You made me think of movie “The Accidental Tourist”.

    “And most importantly, never take along anything on your journey so valuable or dear that its loss would devastate you.”

    1. I will take your word for it, Carl P, as I never saw that movie.

      Would you recommend watching it?

  7. Put locks not only on your checkin bags but also on your carry on bags. Cheap insurance.

    “Robberies” generally do not happen on an airplane Robbery is a crime committed against a person with use of force and/or weapon. It would be theft or larceny.

  8. Even in the rooms in which you have to put a key card in a slot by the door to enable electricity, I’ve never encountered one where it actually reads the card. In my experience, a key card from a previous stay (in the same or a different hotel), a credit card, or my AAA card will always work, and usually even a business card.

    1. I usually do not keep key cards from previous hotel stays nor I have never tried a business card in the slot, Rich; but I certainly would not want to leave a credit card in the room while I am out…

      1. Sure, I’m just noting that they physically work. And I’ve already used canceled credit cards that i happened to still have with me. There are other solutions when you don’t want to bother getting a new key card at the front desk.

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