Know Your Hotel’s Cancellation Policy

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Going, going, gone are the days when a business traveler can call a hotel and cancel a room for that night without penalty if the call is made by 6 p.m. Hoteliers have figured out they can monetize your booking even if you don’t want it by imposing arbitrary deadlines for cost free cancellation.

Worse, the policies are all over the map. Most hotels want 24 to 72 hours notice. I have seen some that insist on a week’s advance cancellation. There is no consistency or uniformity, often none even within a specific chain.

That has to be a major worry for many business travelers.

How often do you have a business trip cancelled the day before departure?  It happens. I’ve even have had cancellations on the day of! Not often but sometimes and, until now, I have been able to cancel hotel rooms without any penalties. (I also have always been able to cancel flights without penalty because I insist on booking fares that allow for that.)

Know that, below, we provide you with a cheat sheet that will help you know when your hotel’s deadline is for fee free cancellation.  Sometimes.  Not always because, again, there’s no real consistency. This isn’t a game rigged in our favor.

For starters, however, why have hotels overturned long established policy that allowed that fee free cancellation up to 6 p.m. the day of arrival? Hoteliers will tell you they can’t book rooms cancelled at the last minute. They also say a cancelled booking costs them money.

Rubbish.

A good travel agent, by the way, often can cancel a room with little notice and no penalty for a client. Meeting planners almost always can.

Why can they do it and you can’t?  Again: the hotelier wants to grab your dough whether you want the room or not.

The blunt fact is that – with or without your unwanted room – the typical hotel will have lots of empty rooms that night. The average hotel occupancy rate in the United States is 68%. On any given night one in three rooms goes unsold.

A different data set claims that in 2018 hotel occupancy hit a 30 year high when it reached 66.1%.

Anybody who tells you that if you had only cancelled your room earlier, then they could have sold it to another guest but your late cancellation costs them money is blowing smoke.

They don’t want to let you cancel scot-free because they hope to be able to shake some coins from your pockets.

Don’t let them.

A starting point is knowing what you are up against. Here is a chain by chain breakdown compiled by Travelmarket report:

  • Marriott – 48 hours. If you want to cancel a room for Wednesday night, do it by mid-day Monday to be safe.
  • Hilton – 48 hours. Some resorts impose a 72 hour cancellation policy. Always check when reserving.
  • Hyatt – 48 hours – except “some” ask for more notice. Again, always ask.
  • IHG – 24 hours at Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites. Kimpton wants 48 hour notice.
  • Ritz-Carlton – 7 days notice of cancellation. That’s right. A week.
  • Fairmont – no set policy. Varies by property.

Frustrating? You bet. The bottomline is that it is incumbent on you to ask when booking.

Plenty more hotels now want cancellation penalties too. NYU professor Bjorn Hanson, who tracks hotel fee income, has said he sees many more hotels climbing on the cancellation fee bandwagon.  For the hotel this is essentially expense free income. An unccupied room that is paid for is pure profit.

No wonder hoteliers love this fee.

What’s a traveler to do?

My advice has been and remains: don’t book until the same day of travel.  No, you won’t have to sleep on a park bench. I have often checked availability in prime cities – Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, New York – and always find availability at the last minute.

Always.

The HotelTonight app is your friend. Use it.

Or TripAdvisor. I just looked for a room in Chicago tonight and TripAdvisor said about 75% of its hotel inventory had availability.

Don’t some hotels sell out? You bet.  Very occasionally and not very often but some hotels do sell out. Many resorts definitely sell out for prime dates (good luck booking a July 4th stay in desirable Cape Cod even this early – many of the swankiest joints already have solid books of business).  And I don’t think I have ever found availability at Marriott Marquis adjacent to McCormick Place in Chicago so, sure, sometimes even meetings hotels fill up.

But I have always found rooms in Chicago. Just not in walking distance to McCormick Place.

Ditto San Francisco.

Etc.

So the prevailing rule is that if you hunt and if you have some flexibility, you will find a room and probably it will be convenient.

Paranoid? A day before travel – when that trip looks to be solid – check for rooms. If you fear scarcity, book then.  You will probably travel the next day and not have to worry about cancellation fees.

But to be really safe here’s the three part rule book: Just say no to hotel cancellation fees. Book on the day of travel.  Never pay a cancellation fee again.

 

The Priority Pass Restaurant Play

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

I like it. That’s my verdict on the Priority Pass  expansion into airport restaurants. Necessity doubtless mothered this invention and I’d had a healthy skepticism about it. But after a lunch stop at terminal 8 at JFK, where Bobby Van’s was my only club option, I’d give this gambit a qualified thumbs up.

Priority Pass comes as part of my Platinum card perks via Amex.  I don’t mentally calculate it as costing me anything. And at participating restaurants it antes up $28 ($56 with a covered guest).

The one hesitation about the Bobby Van’s stop: lunch cost me around $55 for two but that included a couple glasses of decent red apiece – a Rosenblum Zin along with a turkey club, a veggie burger, fries and finishing with coffees. Total tab, with tax and tip, around  $112. Priority pass ponied up $56, I covered the rest.

Yes, a typical visit to an airport club costs me nothing but I also rarely see anything worth eating and I typically drink only coffee because, again, there’s nothing I want and the coffee isn’t any good either.

This way I got a pleasant lunch, in a quiet venue.  It made me forget that I’ve avoided JFK  for over 20 years because I find everything about it painful.  I still don’t like going to JFK but at least in terminal 8 I’ve found an option I like.

Of course I also could have cut my out of pocket to around zero with more frugal ordering.  But it was noon, I was in pricey New York, so why not eat well before a cross country flight where I could skip the inflight food without listening to my stomach growl.  

So I am okay with the Bobby Van’s deal.  

And the restaurant got a visit from a first time customer who may well return.  It also presumably gets a few bucks from Priority Pass.

Will I always want to drop $50 on a lunch for two, or $25 just for me? Probably no. But, again, I don’t have to.  Doing this just with the $28 per head credit is possible. Just order accordingly.

Buy a burger, a beer, and toss down $5 in cash as a tip and you are good with this deal even at JFK.

Meantime,  back at the standard airport club, mainly I am seeing crowds. Just getting seated is a hassle.

That’s true also at the Amex Centurion lounge which still ranks as my airport fave if I can get in.

But overcrowding has become a staple at Centurion.  Sigh. Amex is also putting restrictions on entry. A perfect airline club is becoming less so.

Even when I can get into an airport club I often wonder why I bother. Last week at the Priority Pass club lounge at Phoenix terminal 4 I got in at no charge and managed to get the last seats but there was nothing worth eating.

Free is not always the best deal.

Priority Pass, apparently confronting a lack of available club spaces at airports, has decided to hunt for restaurant partners and I am hoping it works for all – Priority Pass, the restaurants, and of course the travelers.  Want more info about Priority Pass, its challenges and opportunities? Read Joe Brancatelli’s column on this – it gives the full scoop.

Face it, we need more options at airports. I had become so cynical, I had even begun extolling the virtue of scorning clubs and sitting amid the ordinary passengers, with a Starbucks latte in hand.  But maybe things aren’t quite so desperate.

Looking at the Priority Pass restaurant options, there are around two dozen, with more to come, they say.

Many are modest – Johnny Rockets at Syracuse airport, for instance. In those joints the Priority Pass credit should go far indeed.

At Barneys Beanery at LAX, $28 should get you the chili sampler and a beer. Add a$5 in cash for the tip and you are good.

Bottom line: check the Priority Pass app because you just may find fresh options at the airports you find yourself in.

 

Politics and Your Travels

 

By Robert Mcgarvey 

New research from the Chief Marketing Officer Council’s GeoBranding Center and AIG Travel slaps me in the face with the unexpected. Just 8% of us take politics, ethics, human rights, and prejudices into account when choosing a destination.

92% do not apparently give a fig about ethics or decency when picking a destination.

Color me shocked.

About one fourth of the planet consists of places I would not go due to politics – Tibet, Burma, Sudan, Syria, Honduras, Saudi Arabia among them.

Nor would I stay at a Trump hotel. I would not even go to a meeting in one.

I do not seek to impose my views on others. But they are my views and I try to live them.

Part of living them is knowing where I won’t go.

Where won’t you go?

My list doesn’t have to be yours. But we all need a list of where we won’t go. And we need to know why we won’t.

Some years ago, much of the world united in boycotting South Africa. That included travel.  And when the country changed, the boycott ceased.

Some need similar today, Why isn’t it happening?

Ethics are not the province of a political party or creed or nation. But ethics also are quite clear cut. There usually isn’t much doubt or indecision. Some place or somebody is good, or bad, and that is that.

As Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living and core to living an examined life has to be integrating ethics into our decisions.

There are some countries and places that just are wrong. And I don’t want to support them with my time, presence, or money.

Security, stability and friendliness of a location rank as important to 36% of us in making travel choices, although I admit to some puzzlement how so many more say they value stability and security than ethics.  

Safety matters, absolutely. I would not go to Pakistan not because it is too lacking in ethics but because it just is too dangerous for me.  Its ethics are borderline but I don’t want to go there because of the lack of safety. If it were safer I’d have to give a harder think to ethics. But I don’t have to.

More puzzlement is that many in this poll cited anxieties about dangers as a top detractor to travel.

But maybe dangers to others – because of ethnic, religious or political differences – just aren’t a worry to some.

Nearly 50% of travelers told the pollsters that the internet and device connectivity make travel better and I agree but part of that better, in my mind, is more knowledge.  Including knowledge about ethics and local conditions. 

34% say that loyalty programs and perks matter when making travel decisions and that suggests a cruel dictatorship with a lavish loyalty program just might be fine for many of us.

Socrates never said ethical decision making would be easy. And of course he died because of his stubborn determination to hold to an ethical code.

Plato, Socrates’ student, enumerated four virtues- wisdom, temperance, courage and justice. When it comes to judging a place, justice has to be a paramount factor. Countries without justice are not places I want to visit.

Good news may be found on the generational front. Many millennials are keenly set on doing travel that is more responsible, more environmentally sound and, yes, more ethical. There is plenty of evidence to support the belief that millennials are rewriting the travel rules for the better, for all of us.  Just look at the wave of resorts that have banned plastic straws, for instance, and there is no good reason to insist on plastic straws. But it is millennials to whom we owe thanks for getting them banned.

Maybe millennials will succeed too in bringing us all to a higher state of ethical travel.

We can all hope. 

How Much Free Time Is There on A Business Trip?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

A survey from Jos. A. Bank, the clothier, offers up some of the most insightful data about business travel that I can recall seeing – starting with how little free time we have on a trip.

Per Jos. A. Bank we get about two hours a day of free time – and we log 14 hour work days.  Which is pretty much my personal reality on business trips.

As for the free time it amounts to one hour, fifty-five minutes daily for exploring the city, networking, etc. The rest of the day is prescribed – meetings, meals, and the other activities that fill days on the road.

It’s a bleak picture.  But also spot on.

Color me surprised by the accuracy of this portrait and, no, I’ve never shopped at Jos. A. Bank.

But I devour data about business travel and most of it, much of the time seems fictitious.

Yes, Jos. A. Bank is shilling suits – the survey even served up silliness such as this quote attributed to company president Mary Beth Blake: “While traveling for business can yield some unexpected obstacles, the one thing you should be able to rely on is your suit.”

It also noted that we fret about our clothes on road. 57% of us, said Jos. A. Bank, “have trouble keeping their clothes and suits tidy and unwrinkled while on a trip.”

Uh, okay, sure. (And, nope, I can’t recall worrying about wrinkles on the road. But maybe I’m just a slob.)

Let’s move on because there are lots of other insights that are quite to the point.

46% of us complain about the hassles of dealing with airports.

39% worry about how to stay fit and healthy while traveling.

36% say living out of a suitcase is a challenge.

And 34% say they work longer/harder on the road.

All sounds smart to me. Especially the observation that we work longer/harder when we travel.  When I first started to travel on business, decades ago, business travel was a cake walk – and often we took off the day after we returned home, just to catch up with life on the homefront and nobody complained.  Today is a very different environment. We fly out Sunday night (on our own time!) and basically are on the move from 8 a.m. Monday until we get home, typically late at night. It’s a grind and it’s tiring.

Why do we put up with it?

Partly because it may be mandatory. Also because there are benefits, tangible plusses to going on the road.

As for the benefits of business travel, Jos. A. Bank reports that we said we like air miles (48%) and hotel loyalty points (53%).

But the biggest single benefit – 56% of us say so – is seeing a new place.

And 55% like meeting people face to face.

49% say they enjoy good food and drink on the road. They must travel in different company than I because to me the best meal I get on the road often is an egg sandwich at Starbucks.  I cannot recall the last good meal I had on a business trip and I am not complaining, just reporting reality. But, no, I don’t count hotel meeting food as “good.”

24% also said it “feels like a paid vacation” – and I really have to question that.  Or, maybe, these poor souls go on really miserable vacations.

As for what we do with the limited free time we have on the road, 77% of us say we try out local restaurants. 67% say they explore the city.

Sift the data and a take-away is that, indeed, business travel is every bit as rugged as we believe it to be.  Glamorous? Don’t jest.

But, somehow, when it’s done we have that sense of accomplishment. And it is deserved.  Very much so.  The data prove it.