You've booked your flights, hired a rental car, and selected the best accommodation options for your upcoming business trip. After receiving your confirmation emails, you will likely assume you are all set and can focus on prepping for your meetings.
Sadly this is not always the case, and sometimes travelers will find themselves in the tricky position of having their reservation canceled after confirmation. Not only is this disappointing, but it can also cause severe problems if alternative arrangements are fully booked or significantly more expensive.
After the generous hotel cancellation policies during the coronavirus, it will undoubtedly be a shock to the system to return to the days of non-refundable reservations. As travelers, not only will we need to get used to contending with T&Cs and cancellation fees again, but we may see an increase in hotels overbooking to recoup occupancy rates.
So why do hotels cancel guests' bookings, and what rights do you have as a consumer?
Why do hotels cancel confirmed reservations?
There are a variety of reasons hotels cancel confirmed bookings. On the whole, these typically boil down into three categories;
- Cancellations can occur when the booking is for a hotel that is new or undergoing renovations. If there has been a delay, the hotel can end up in a situation where they cannot accommodate guests on their travel dates and needs to cancel the booking.
- Hotels also cancel if there has been a change of circumstances. Perhaps a group wishes to hire the venue exclusively, or the hotel wishes to change the rate after a big sporting event is scheduled. Unfortunately, hotels will likely never confirm this is the reason behind the cancellation, and it is practically impossible to prove a booking has been annulled for financial gain.
- Like airlines, to keep occupancy rates high, hotels tend to take a gamble and overbook their rooms on the assumption that several guests will cancel before their check-in date or be a no-show on the day. On occasion this backfires, and hotels find themselves in the position of needing to cancel bookings. This practice is known as "walking" and, regrettably, is more common than you might think.
What rights do you have if your hotel cancels your booking?
In contrast to airlines, the laws around hotel cancellations are woefully lacking. In the United States, there are no federal laws that apply to hotels canceling a confirmed booking, and the situation is similarly vague across Europe.
Hotel cancellations can be considered a breach of contract law, but few travelers will have the resources or the inclination to go through the hassle of going to small claims court. While there may not be much legal recourse, as a traveler, you can use other methods to recoup some of the costs and protect yourself from being walked on future bookings.
What can you do if your hotel "walks" your reservation on the day?
Although there isn't a legal path to compensation, most chains will have clear guidelines for walking guests. Mostly these are kept internally, but some brands like Marriott are rebranding these policies as perks for their elite members to increase transparency and win customer confidence.
Having a read of any fine print before you arrive is always a good idea. If there are any disclaimers concerning being walked on the day, you can ask staff to go through the process outlined in their own T&C's.
If you find yourself without a clear policy to follow, don't worry. On the whole, hotels will inform staff to apologize to guests and assist them in making alternative arrangements at a nearby hotel. In addition to a full refund on their initial booking, hotels should cover the first night's stay at the new accommodation and pay for any out-of-pocket expenses.
Ultimately if you are unhappy with the alternative arrangements, the staff of your original hotel should strive to find a suitable solution. It's not good for their image to have you walk away dissatisfied with their service. However, internal policies are also no guarantee to the experience you will have with an individual property. If you are finding yourself at an impasse with the hotel manager, ask to speak to customer services while you are on-site.
Another point to note is that hotels are aware of potential safety concerns if they turn away disabled guests or solo female travelers at the last minute. If you find yourself in this situation, don't be afraid to point out that the industry standard is to prioritize such bookings.
What can you do if your hotel cancels your reservation in advance?
When hotels cancel with warning, it can be trickier for guests to obtain any compensation. Most hotel guidelines apply only in cases where guests are walked on the day. However, you can take steps to recoup some of your losses and make up for the inconvenience.
If you can be flexible, ask the hotel to honor your booking at a future date. However, be sure to total up any other expenses for changing your arrangements and outline these to hotel staff. Hotels should cover these costs as a gesture of goodwill for your understanding. If you are a loyalty club member, ask for a few thousand bonus points to be added to your account as well to cover the inconvenience of having to rebook your plans.
If you cannot change the dates of your trip, be sure to let the hotel know the extent of your travel plans and the expenses you will incur for this cancellation. If you are satisfied staying at a comparable hotel, do some research before speaking to the hotel manager so you can suggest your own alternative. Hotels will typically pick a replacement of a slightly lower standard, so this way, you can make your case for a more appropriate consolation.
If a different hotel has a higher rate than your initial booking, ask your original accommodation to cover the additional costs. If your new lodgings come with a lower price tag, ask the hotel to cover an upgrade to a room type that at least matches the price of your initial room or reimbursement for the difference. Alternatively, if the booking is with a large chain, you could ask for a voucher for a free night's stay to cover the inconvenience.
Most reputable hotels will gladly agree with these terms, especially if you're a loyalty points member. If the hotel refuses to offer compensation, ask for the phone number for customer relations and be sure to get the names of the front desk staff.
How can you best protect yourself from being "walked"?
While there is no guarantee that you won't fall foul of hotels overbooking your room, there are straightforward steps you can take to minimize your chances of having your booking canceled.
1. Advise the hotel if you will be arriving late
Once their check-in opens, hotels will be weighing up the likelihood of guests being a no-show for their reservations. Sadly it is often a case of first come, first served, but this doesn't help travelers arriving on later flights or who can't check in to their hotel room until the evening.
If you plan to arrive late, it's worth dropping your hotel a quick email with your confirmation number. Advise them of your estimated arrival time a couple of days before and follow up again on the day to make sure they know you intend to uphold your hotel reservation.
2. Belong to a hotel loyalty program
If you are a frequent traveler, there are a host of reasons why you should sign up for hotel loyalty schemes. But even if you think you won't accrue many points, attaching a membership number to your hotel booking is another way to reduce your chances of being canceled.
Many hotel chains such as Marriott and IHG have policies that clearly state they won't cancel confirmed reservations from loyalty club members. Other hotel brands guarantee to find points members alternative accommodation for overbooked rooms and offer them additional compensation for the inconvenience.
Check out the point schemes of your favorite hotel chains to see which offer the most generous guarantees. Hyatt's loyalty program is an excellent option for travelers who might not rack up enough stays for elite or platinum status. From their mid-tier, Explorists members can avail of guaranteed availability up to 72 hours in advance.
3. Book through preferred partners
When a hotel overbooks, a crucial component when deciding which guests to walk is their booking method. Third-party bookings made through the likes of Expedia, Booking.com, or Hotels.com are often the first to be canceled as these reservations tend not to be prepaid and offer no mention of membership status.
Hotels have little incentive to go the extra mile for these reservations as algorithms rather than recommendations control their ranking. On the whole, hotels tend to prioritize bookings through online travel agencies (OTAs) instead.
Customers who book through these preferred partners often receive their priority status because the hotel wants to keep racking up a high number of room nights with that travel agent. Guests booking through OTAs can also let hotels know if they belong to their loyalty program, bumping themselves even further up the list. With the most extensive travel inventory on the planet, TravelPerk is a preferred partner of many of the world's top hotel chains. On top of offering the best rates in the industry, TravelPerk also provides a personalized level of service for business travelers. From managing memberships numbers to preferential treatment for executives, we can help ensure everything runs smoothly. Plus, with our 24-hour support, travelers can speak with our team of human customer care agents 365 days a year.
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