Are We To Blame for the 48 Hour Cancellation Policies?


By Robert McGarvey


Read the recent Skift story about the Marriott and Hilton 48 hour cancellation policies – which we are on record blasting – and a quote jumps out. Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta put the blame for the policies squarely on our shoulders: “customers, many of them, ultimately have been trained to do multiple bookings and do things that have created a scenario where cancellations have, in some markets, skyrocketed. They’ve got, they’ve gone way up.”

Have you made multiple bookings on business trips?

On vacations, yes, sometimes we all do this – and maybe we also monitor price fluctuations and will cancel a rez to re-book at a lower price.

I don’t recall ever doing this on a business trip though.

I have asked frequent fliers in my circle if they are guilty as charged and to a person they say no, at least as regards business travel.

I am not disputing that what Nassetta said may be true in some holiday markets. I’d say it’s true because hoteliers have trained us to expect price fluctuations. You know the Trivago ad claim – that different sites show different prices for the same room – and probably, like me, you think it’s true. Probably like me again you don’t know why that should be but we have come to accept that there is the appearance of irrationality and arbitrariness in much hotel pricing.

The hoteliers have in fact trained us to shop around. In assigning blame for a spike in cancellations- assuming there is such – then hoteliers needs to look at themselves and their own erratic pricing policies.  Just watch the Trivago ad again. 

But, frankly, I am lazy when it comes to business travel. I will look for a good price on a room that works for me and falls within the client’s budget and when it’s booked, that chapter is closed. I don’t keep shopping.

So again I ask, do you often make multiple hotel bookings for business travel and why? I just don’t get it.

Look, I accept that many, many resorts have long cancellation clauses – a week isn’t uncommon, 72 hours may seem downright kind. And, yes, I think those policies are bad for guests, who typically get whacked with a penalty of a night or two when cancelling outside the permitted window. But I also know that, generally, resort reservations, once made, will be honored, certainly among the people I’ve asked. It’s hard enough to get agreement on a vacation date and once made, nobody wants to break it.

I know I have never paid a resort cancellation fee if only because I stick with my reservations.

Business travel is different. Often my travel involves a meeting with a very senior executive and stuff happens in their world. I have found them as a group to resist changing meetings for frivolous reasons but I also have had many meetings shifted at the last minute – same day of travel – because something big came up for my guy.

Sure, I’d bill the cancellation fee through, just as I bill airline change fees, but I don’t want to. I want hotels in particular to accept that occasionally I have to cancel late and they give me a pass because usually I honor my reservations.

Is that asking too much?

Apparently at Marriott and Hilton it is. Ditto Intercontinental, although it has imposed a 24 hour clock which is significantly more reasonable for business travelers.

Still, I say: book elsewhere or wait until the last minute and book the room you want (and always look for a discount because that last minute room would be empty without you).  

The numbers are on your side. Nationally, occupancy in 2016 came in at 65% and that means your chances of getting the room you want are good.  Sell outs are rare for most hotels.  Many never sell out, not even once a year.

There are plenty of rooms for last minute bookers.

I am looking at Hotel Tonight for rooms in San Francisco. JDV’s “The Marker” in Union Square is $189. The Petite Auberge on Nob Hill is $155. Hotel Zoe on Fisherman’s Wharf is $189. All same day bookings.

In Manhattan the Michelangelo is $179, Gild Hall is $179, the Tuscany in Murray Hill is $299. Same day bookings.

Hoteliers are playing a game of chicken with business travelers but the reality is that the math is against them. Know that and you know you can win this duel – especially when you understand this is all their own making.


2 thoughts on “Are We To Blame for the 48 Hour Cancellation Policies?”

  1. Well…you’re right. The hotels are to blame. The hospitality industry is secondary to them, the first loyalty is to the almighty dollar. One hotelier used to famously say to take care of your employees and they would take care of the guests. Now, it seems to be that it is take care of the shareholders and to heck with the guests.

  2. I think I can go you one better when it comes to hotel cancellations. We reserved the Radisson Park Inn in Antwerp for three nights in May. We made the reservation on February 10 and when our trip plans changed we had to cancel it on February 21…..three months ahead….. We were told that this room had a no cancellation policy. If we had reserved a more expensive room, we could have cancelled it… other words, buy cancellation insurance. We were out $363! I tried to tell them, I was not aware of this policy. They said it was written on the confirmation. Yes it was…at the very bottom! I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been bitten by this…..

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