Can you swap bottles from the hotel minibar?

Minibars can generate more disputes than profits.
Minibars can generate more disputes than profits. Photo: Viki Yemettas

Late at night after a wedding we drank a bottle of wine from our hotel room minibar. It was such a common brand and at such an inflated price I went out to replace it the next morning before checking out. I put the ''do not disturb'' sign on the door to make sure no service staff came in while I was gone but the desk clerk gave me a funny look when I said ''nothing from the minibar''. Could they have known?

This substituting-stuff-from-the-minibar caper requires nerves of steel, blithe disregard for luxury hotels' bottom lines and - quite often - more creativity and subterfuge than you have demonstrated here. I hate to break it to you, but you are not much of a minibar heist-meister; you're a largely law-abiding citizen who has endeavoured to replace what he took with an identical item.

More ruthless folk take it further. When surveyed 500 major hotels around the world a couple of years ago, 84 per cent said guests had refilled bottles from the minibar with water. Whiskey pilferers favour refilling with cold tea. Let us not think too hard about what might make a convincing substitute for sauvignon blanc and move swiftly on to reports that some hotel chains - having had enough of guests' attempts to evade gobsmacking minibar mark-ups - are abolishing the minibar.

Despite the prices, minibars generate more disputes than profits; some hoteliers believe they're better off supplying empty bar fridges. If you're a wine drinker that might be no bad thing. One of the things that irritates me most about those miniature fridges is the lack of space for the full-sized wine bottle of something decent you had the foresight to bring with you; you have to shuffle everything to fit it in.

Worse are sensor minibars, which don't let you shift a can of tonic water by a millimetre without automatically charging it to your room. If your wine came from one of these the desk clerk would definitely have known and given you more than a funny look. If you find yourself confronted with a sensor fridge, ask for an ice bucket. If a sensor system prevents you from putting anything of your own in the fridge, this (or a portable chiller), should be provided free.