How to Dodge Hotel Cancellation Fees


by Robert McGarvey


You read it here first. Last week, Joe Brancatelli dropped the bomb that Marriott (and Starwood) were switching to what appears o be a chainwide 48 hour cancellation policy.  Cancel after that deadline and you pay a penalty of one night’s rate.

In a statement, Marriott said: “Guests will now be required to cancel their room reservation by midnight 48 hours prior to arrival in order to avoid a fee.”

Marriott explained it was making the change because of more lax current policies -generally allowing cancellations up to 24 hours before – there have been “a significant number of unsold rooms.”

I admit, I started business travel when free same day cancellations were the norm. Usually up to 6 p.m. the day of arrival.  Some homes  might have nudged it up to 4 p.m.  Either way, hotels – at least the ones that catered to business travelers – understood that plans change, often at the last minute, and we need flexibility in our hotel bookings.

Airlines of course in effect sell flexibility. Tickets that don’t allow for changes are much cheaper.  But I have long believed that I should fly with tickets I can change, easily and at no cost, and that’s my policy unless a client wants the cheaper fare and accepts the consequences.

For years, resorts have imposed onerous cancellation policies. I have seen some that require a week’s advance notice.  But, arguably, vacations are planned farther in advance and usually won’t be changed at the last minute.

Regular rooms at regular hotels booked by business travelers are a different matter.  With many clients, a Heraclitean flux is the norm. Hotels generally understood that.  Until recently.

It was back in 2014 that Marriott instituted the 24 hour cancellation policy.

Now it is upping the ante.  It got away with the switch to 24 hours, now it is banking on acceptance of 48 hours.

Watch other hotel operators do likewise.

But you don’t have to take it.

I won’t.

Understand this: in a number of key business travel cities, hotel occupancies are running high. The most recent figures I saw for Manhattan pegged average occupancy at78%.  Numbers are similar for Boston and Washington DC.

In San Francisco occupancy averages over 80%.

On some nights just about every month at least some hotels will sell out.

That’s why you are seeing hotel trade magazine articles like “How to Walk Guests” – and, by the way, what that means is that you may have a reservation you cannot cancel without penalty but the hotel may still not have a room for you.

Know that there are services – Johnny Jet in a recent piece fingered Roomer and Cancelon as such services — that, for a fee, will help you unload hotel reservations you cannot use. That’s an option for some.

Personally, what I plan to do is to not make reservations until the last minute.

The math is on our side.  Yes, there are those rare sell out nights but mainly we will have lots of choice.  When it comes to flying from Phoenix to Atlanta I have a handful of palatable choices so the power is with the airlines.

Not so with hotels.  The numbers favor us.

I am looking at Hotel Tonight and in Phoenix tonight I can book the FOUND:RE ($123), the Hyatt Regency ($149), or the Kimpton Palomar ($172).  There are many more hotels with availability.

Maybe Phoenix is an unfair example. It will be 116F today and 120F tomorrow and, yes, the city is empty.

In San Francisco tonight, I can sleep at my standby, the Hotel Carlton, for $149. Or I could try the Petite Auberge for $155 on Nob Hill. There are at least six more acceptable options in Hotel Tonight.

In Manhattan, the picking are slimmer but I would not sleep on a plastic chair in Port Authority.  I’d book into 6 Columbus for $155 or maybe Yotel, where I have planned to stay for some years but never quite have, for $119.  The options are acceptable.

In Washington D,C, four Kimptons have availability in Hotel Tonight. Stay in the neighborhood you prefer.  Dupont Circle, downtown, and more.

In Boston, Hotel Tonight splashes many choices on my screen. Personally I’d go for The Verb at $184. How can I resist an active part of speech?

Yes, I understand that for some trips we want to be in a specific hotel.  In those cases, if the reasons are good enough, I will suck it up and reserve in advance. Usually that’s for a meeting or for proximity to a specific executive.

But in most of my travel usually I only am looking for a specific neighborhood – and judging by what I see on Hotel Tonight I will do fine with same day booking.

What if – shudder – everything is sold out and I need a room in Manhattan? I’d book in Jersey City or Brooklyn.

Bottomline: we don’t have to be pushed around by aggressive hotel cancellation policies. We can resist.

I know what I will do.




2 thoughts on “How to Dodge Hotel Cancellation Fees”

  1. I’m booked at the Marriott Marquis in Union Square, San Francisco in October. Having booked it recently for a conference (it’s the conference hotel), I’m under the new cancellation policy. There is plenty of availability at other hotels (with more character) on Union Square at better prices — no more than 500 feet away. I think I’ll reserve one of those and then cancel the Marriott just outside of their draconian free-cancellation period. When people start to cancel 73 hours before scheduled arrival, maybe they’ll get the idea that something is afoot.

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