Can hotels cancel confirmed reservations?

A reader emailed asking what he was entitled to when he had a confirmed reservation at a new hotel, but it didn’t open on time. This is an interesting question, and I thought it was worth addressing on a broader level, as there are several reasons why you might not get the hotel room you have paid.

What can cause a hotel to cancel your reservation?

You’re probably assuming that if you have a confirmed reservation at a hotel, you’re actually, you know, confirmed. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple, as sometimes you will find yourself in a situation where a hotel is unable to accommodate your reservation. The three most common reasons for this are:

  • You book a stay at a new hotel, and the opening is delayed (which happens all the time)
  • Just like with airlines, hotels can overbook, and there are situations where their projections don’t work in their favor, and where they actually have to “accompany” people.
  • A hotel may decide that they no longer wish to honor your reservation after selling you a room, either because of a major event (a concert, sporting event, solar eclipse, etc.) or because a large party wants to buy the whole hotel
New hotel openings are often delayed

Are there laws regulating hotels that do not honor reservations?

When flights are oversold, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has laws in place regarding legally required compensation, although the airline and passenger can often come to a “voluntary” agreement. However, no government organization in the United States regulates hotels that do not honor reservations in the same way.

This is at least the case in the United States, although there may be other countries that have stricter laws for innkeepers.

When there are no laws explicitly regulating this sort of thing, it simply amounts to a contractual dispute, which means the only legal recourse you have is small claims court. However, realistically, it’s something a vast majority of us would never pursue, because it’s probably not worth it.

Unsurprisingly, the terms you agree to when booking a hotel are usually quite one-sided. They talk about the penalties that apply to customers if they cancel outside the acceptable window, but say little about the obligation of hotels.

Hotel conditions are usually quite one-sided

What happens if a hotel “walks” you?

Major hotel chains have policies regarding walking guests (when there are more people trying to check in than rooms available). In general, you can minimize your chances of being walked on:

  • Have status with a chain of hotels, as they will usually accompany guests with status last; additionally, many hotel “preferred partner” programs have no-walking policies
  • Book directly with a hotel chain, as they are likely to prioritize third-party bookings over those who book direct
  • Let the hotel know if you plan to arrive late, as they will often walk people around in the order they show up (in other words, if you plan to arrive at 1am, let the hotel know) .

For example, Marriott publishes guidelines for this purpose, called the “ultimate booking guarantee”. It is available to all elite members and clearly outlines the compensation guests can expect if a hotel accompanies them. I appreciate Marriott’s public transparency, whereas most other hotel chains only have internal (unpublished) policies.

With Marriott’s policy, you can expect to be accommodated at a nearby hotel, and compensation can range from $100 for the low end to $200 plus 140,000 Bonvoy points for the high end, depending on your status and location. Mark.

IHG has a guarantee that promises to provide you with a room and transportation to “another convenient and comparable hotel,” and the property will pay the full cost of the first night’s accommodation.

Although the policy differs from hotel to hotel, you should generally expect to be accommodated in a comparable hotel and get some sort of compensation beyond that. Just keep in mind that, as with so many things in space travel, you’ll probably have to defend yourself.

If you are not satisfied with the resolution, ask the service manager or general manager. And if the establishment is not able to help you and you are staying in a large global hotel group, contact the customer service of the company. Finally, you always have the possibility of a credit card dispute if you don’t get what you paid for.

Most hotel groups have specific “walking” policies

What happens if your hotel reservation is canceled in advance?

For most hotel chains, internal guidelines regarding non-compliance with reservations are specific to walk-in customers. In other words, this only applies if the hotel picks you up on your day of arrival, not if your reservation is canceled on you in advance.

What happens if your reservation is canceled in advance, either because a new hotel does not open on time or because a hotel decides not to honor your rate due to an event major in town, or because the hotel may be closing due to a buy-out?

This situation is a little trickier than being tricked, as it is largely a negotiation process. Most hotel groups don’t have published policies on this for hotels to follow, so unless you go the small claims court route (which most of us wouldn’t), it’s just a function of being persistent and clear about your expectations.

In general:

  • At a minimum, you should expect accommodation in a comparable property on the same dates
  • If the replacement hotel is not better, personally I would also ask for compensation beyond that, because you probably chose a hotel for a reason; this could include bonus points, resort credit, etc.
  • If not, you may be happy with a future stay at the hotel, in which case I would expect at least one or two nights to be free, or the rate reduced.

In general, you should expect to have more leverage in a situation where the hotel accepts a buyout, rather than in a situation where a hotel opening is delayed. If you plan to book a hotel before opening, keep in mind that hotels have been known to open later than expected, so this is very common.

Meanwhile, a buyout is underway because the hotel is trying to maximize profits at the expense of customers with confirmed reservations, so confirmed customers should be treated accordingly.

Finally, if a hotel decides to cancel your reservation simply because they think they can now charge more, this is completely unacceptable. That’s when I would immediately contact the company’s customer service, or even local information.

Hotels canceling a confirmed booking is a negotiation process

At the end of the line

It can be frustrating when you confirm a hotel reservation in advance, only to have the hotel cancel it on you closer to your arrival. This can happen for a variety of reasons, and the lack of consumer protections generally in place can leave consumers with little influence (other than going to small claims court, which most people won’t do).

You can expect major hotel groups to have policies in place for walking guests, which are usually fairly fair. However, you may sometimes be required to defend yourself in order for these policies to be honored.

What is much trickier is when hotel stays are canceled in advance. I would expect the hotel to go the extra mile in case there is a buyout which results in a cancellation, when unfortunately with delayed openings many hotels are not particularly generous.

Just keep in mind that this is usually a negotiation, so persistence pays off if you think a hotel’s resolution isn’t fair.

If you had a hotel reservation canceled (either in advance or on the day), what was your experience?

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