This is how to spot bed bugs in your hotel room

Bed bugs won’t just ruin your stay—that bad luck could follow you home, because bed bugs can latch onto your clothes and hitch a ride back in your luggage. Here's how to avoid bringing these unintended souvenirs back from your next vacation.

You don’t have to make the bed. You can get fresh towels every day. There’s no need to set your alarm. When you check into a hotel room on vacation, you don’t have a care in the world—well, except for bed bugs. Nothing can turn a relaxing vacation into a traveler’s nightmare quite like sharing the bed with creepy crawlers. Find out what the dirtiest spots in hotel rooms are, too.

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Warning signs you're about to have a bed bug problem
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Warning signs you're about to have a bed bug problem

People you know have had bed bugs

Bed bug infestations can spread from home to home, especially in apartment buildings where they don't have far to travel. "We have more people affected by bed bugs in the United States now than ever before," says Ron Harrison, PhD, Orkin Entomologist and Director of Technical Services. "They were virtually unheard of in the U.S. 10 years ago." If you know someone who has had a bed bug problem, be safe and check your home for intruders. Try this DIY guide to getting rid of bed bugs.

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There are small, itchy bites on your body

Bed bugs can leave small itchy and inconsistent bites on your body. If you've found clusters of bites, especially if they are in straight lines of three, checking for bed bugs might be worth it. It isn't a sure sign, though. Some people won't show any signs of being bitten by bed bugs. "People may have bed bugs and not know it because many people have no physical reaction to bed bug bites," Dr. Harrison says. "That's why it's important for people everywhere to inspect for bed bugs regularly." Here's how to recognize bed bugs if you suspect you have them.

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There are dark stains on your sheets or pillowcases

Because bed bugs are messy, they can leave behind small stains in places they've lived. Any odd stains on your pillowcases or sheets should be inspected and not written off. If you find stains and you spot bed bugs, check out our 16 expert tips on how to get rid of them altogether.

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You frequently stay in hotel rooms

Hotel rooms are one of the primary ways that bed bugs spread. Orkin recommends that people who use hotel rooms often use the S.L.E.E.P. method to inspect for bed bugs. The method involves surveying the hotel room for infestation signs, checking the bed before you use it, and examining luggage when repacking. Don't miss this guide for spotting bed bugs in your hotel room.

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There are skin flakes on your bed or clothing

Skin flakes from bed bugs are small, brown, and oval, and they are one of the signs you have bed bugs. If you find any of these small casings around your home, you might have bed bugs. Don't be too discouraged, though, by the presence of bed bugs because they can happen in even the cleanest homes. "Anyone can get bed bugs in their home. They are not a sign of uncleanliness. Bed bugs only need blood to survive," Dr. Harrison says. "We have treated for bed bugs in everything from million dollar homes to public housing."

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You've only looked for bed bugs in your bed

Despite their name, bed bugs can thrive in multiple locations outside of a bed. According to a 2015 "Bugs Without Borders Survey" by the National Pest Management Association, nearly all (99.6 percent) of pest professionals nationwide have treated bed bugs in the past year, up from five, ten, and 15 years ago, and many of these cases did not involve beds at all. If you're looking for bed bugs, check the seams of chairs and couches, drawer joints, and areas of loose wallpaper too.

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There are brownish-red stains on your shets that smear when wiped

As gross as it is, bed bugs can leave clusters of their poop on sheets, and these clusters can be how to know if you have bed bugs. If you find small stains that smear when wiped with a wet rag, it might be evidence of bed bug fecal matter. If you find this alongside mattress seams or box spring edges, you might have a bed bug problem. Find out how bad it is not to wash your sheets weekly.

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You've recently purchased secondhand furniture without washing it

Getting a great deal on furniture is awesome, but secondhand furniture can invite unwanted pests like bed bugs into your home. Orkin recommends thoroughly inspecting any furniture that comes into your home for bugs before agreeing to purchase it. Next, don't miss these 13 secrets about bed bugs, termites, and other creepy pests.

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And bed bugs can run rampant in any hotel room, regardless of location or price. “Bed bugs don’t care about socioeconomic status—they just want a warm food source,” Ken Unger, the president of Suburban Pest Control, told Reader’s Digest. “Even the nicest hotels can have a case of bed bugs.”

Thankfully, pest control experts Rentokil.com have a comprehensive guide to checking your hotel room for bed bugs. The most obvious place to find bed bugs is—you guessed it—the bed. Start by searching along the mattress seams, as well as under the mattress. The frame’s joints, crevices, and slats could provide an ideal place for bed bugs to hide, too. Similarly, bed bugs find cozy nesting places along the seams, inside the covers, and around the zips of sofas and chairs, too. Bed bugs can also hang out in rather unlikely places, including cupboards, nightstands, and luggage. Before you start checking, make sure you know what bed bugs look like!

As you search, keep an eye out for other warning signs that aren’t the bugs themselves. Anything from shed skin to blood smears to small black marks might signal a bed bug infestation. If you think your place has bed bugs, report it to the hotel staff immediately and request a change of rooms—but avoid getting swapped directly beside, above, or below the infested room, as it’s likely that the bed bugs could spread. And you should advise the hotel to seek professional bed bug treatment.

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15 red flags to watch for when booking a vacation rental
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15 red flags to watch for when booking a vacation rental

1. No Reviews or Ratings

Reviews and ratings can provide invaluable details about the property and what it’s like to rent from the property owner. If a listing appears too good to be true or looks like the average listing but has zero reviews and ratings, it could be a sign of a scam. Although a listing might be brand new and have no rental history, consider speaking with the owner about why it hasn’t been rented before.

2. Unclear or Inaccurate Fees

When property owners list vacation homes on sites like Airbnb or HomeAway, they’re required to disclose all fees upfront. If you use a third-party site to book the rental it might impose hidden fees that could be listed somewhere else. If fees for vacation homes are not listed — or the listing states that additional fees will be calculated later — consider this property a risky rental until you can verify the bottom line price.

3. No Cancellation or Rebooking Policy

Sites like HomeAway provide travelers with booking guarantee, but independent vacation property owners might not be so generous. Verify what the cancellation policy is to see if there are any rebooking fees should you need to change your reservation.

Everything needs to be disclosed up front and in writing when you sign the rental agreement. If these important details are missing it could mean you’re working with someone who won’t follow through with the rental agreement — or honor a cancellation or rebooking request without a hassle.

4. Ridiculously High Cleaning Costs

Property owners set the cleaning fees for vacation rentals. Generally, studios and small apartments cost about $100 to clean and larger spaces might be as much as $200.

If you notice cleaning fees are much higher than expected — with no explanation why — you are likely paying more than necessary. Don’t be afraid to ask the property owner what cleaning service he uses — you can request a quote on your own for an estimate.

5. No Deposit Required

If you stumble across the perfect property and find out the owner isn’t asking for a deposit for your reservation, you might be walking straight into a scam. Legitimate property owners will ask for a deposit to make your reservation and will request full payment before you arrive, according to VRBO. Anything that differs from this standard process could be a major red flag.

6. No Address Listed

If you’re shopping independent listing sites or websites like Craigslist, you might come across vacation home rentals with professional-looking photos and clear descriptions. If there is no address listed, however, you might be looking at a property that doesn’t really exist on the rental market.

One easy way to verify if it’s a real property is to contact the owner and ask for the address. Do a Google Earth search for the exact address so you can see the physical building and determine if it’s the same one you saw in the listing.

7. Absurdly Low Prices

Very low prices for a vacation rental compared with similar properties in the area could be a sign of a scam. Like hotel rooms, vacation rental prices can fluctuate with the season, so any major price drops or increases should occur across all properties in the area.

If you find one property owner is listing a rental at a very deep discount, don’t be afraid to ask him why the rate is so low compared to other prices in the area. If the owner can’t provide a legitimate reason or you can’t get an answer, it could be a scam.

8. Property Owner Requires a Wire Transfer Deposit

If a property owner requests a wire transfer of funds to cover your deposit, it means you would be sending cash without any payment protection — the money is going straight from your bank account and your bank can’t protect you if you’re the one authorizing the transaction. If the property owner refuses to accept a credit card or PayPal payment — or use a service like DepositGuard to eliminate the risk of a bad transaction — it might be time to shop elsewhere.

“Never pay by wire transfers, never follow instructions to pay into a bank account if the homeowner claims to be affiliated with the booking site and watch out for a change in the email address you’ve been dealing with,” said Laurel Greatrix, TripAdvisor Rentals spokesperson. “If any of these things happen, cease communication with the homeowner and contact the rental company immediately."

9. No Option to Tour the Property

If you live close enough to visit the area you plan to stay in, the property owner should be able to give you a tour of the property if it’s unoccupied. It never hurts to check out a listing in person, so if you can, schedule time to meet the owner and ask any questions in person. If the owner refuses to give you a tour, the listing could be fake.

10. High-Pressure Sales via Phone or Email

Booking vacation rentals over the phone or email is a sales strategy for many companies. It’s easy to be coerced into confirming a reservation that you might not actually want — or afford — when you’re dealing with a high-pressure salesperson.

Politely end the call if you feel the salesperson is being too aggressive. Don’t end up being charged for a booking that you didn’t really authorize and have a hard time getting a refund.

11. Nonexistent or Negative BBB Reviews

Not all listings reveal the name of the rental company or manager behind them. If you can’t verify whom the property manager or rental company is, confirm those details so you can check reviews and Better Business Bureau information.

A limited liability rental company — one that has the letters "LLC" after its name — will likely have a business description and some reviews on the BBB website. If you can’t find any traces of a business entity or come across bad reviews, it might be a sign to steer clear of the rental.

12. No Secure Website for Credit Card Payments

Even if the property owner isn’t requesting a cash payment, money order or wire transfer, paying by credit card through the rental company’s website might not be a good idea. Make sure you're providing payment over a secure payment portal or you run the risk of fraud.

Look for signs of a secure server and if you're not comfortable with making an online payment, ask the property owner to send you an alternative method of payment. “You can also look for vacation rental properties that offer a payment guarantee, like TripAdvisor Rentals’ Payment Protection,” said Greatrix. “This will ensure you are paying securely and will cover you in the unlikely event that something goes wrong with your booking.”

13. Owner Doesn’t Disclose His Name

If you can’t find any instances of the property owner’s name in the listing but it looks like an independent owner wrote it, you might be dealing with a scam. As a renter, it’s your job to verify the source of the listing and determine whether you are comfortable doing business with the person who claims to own the property. If you can’t find anything about the person through a basic Google search and he doesn’t share his history with the property, proceed with caution.

14. Property Photos With Markings on Them

Many scam artists use photos and descriptions of real home listings from realtor websites to create fake ads on legitimate booking sites like HomeAway and VRBO, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Once the scammers receive money through PayPal or other safe payment gateways, they simply disappear.

When it's time to book your vacation plans, look at the photos of a property very carefully. Any photos with the letters “MFRMLS” on them indicate they came straight from a realtor website, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

15. Multiple Listings in Different Cities or Sites

If you’re shopping around for vacation home rentals on sites like Craigslist — where it’s easy to post anonymously and often for free — check the web for duplicate ads and listings. Some scammers might post a copycat listing of a certain property in several different cities but change the location. You can find duplicates by doing a reverse Google Image search on the property photos or copying a portion of the ad text into the Google search bar to see where else it’s being posted.

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But there are also measures you can take to minimize your chances of encountering bed bugs in the first place. Inspecting every inch of your bed for bugs is one thing, but there’s an easy way spot major red flags even before you book. Sure, you could scan through reviews of each hotel in search of bed bug complaints, but there’s a faster way you’ll want to try instead. Bedbugreports.com compiles bed bug complaints into one handy guide. Just select the state and city you’re visiting, and the site will call up a list of hotels that guests have called out for bed bug sightings. If you find a recent complaint, stay far, far away.

Even if you don’t see your hotel on the list, you should still give your room a thorough check before getting settled, of course. And if you do spot a pest, do everyone a favor and file your own report on bedbugreports.com. Next, here are 16 more secrets bed bugs don’t want you to know.

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