The reader had a confirmed reservation at a new hotel but it didn't open in time. Since there are several reasons you may not get the hotel room you paid for, I thought it was worth discussing.

What can cause a hotel to cancel your reservation?

If you have a confirmed reservation at a hotel, then you are, you know, confirmed. Sometimes you will find yourself in a situation where a hotel is not able to accommodate your reservation. Three of the most common reasons for this are listed.

  • You’re booking a stay at a new hotel, and the opening is delayed (which happens constantly)
  • Much like with airlines, hotels may overbook, and there are situations where their projections don’t work out in their favor, and where they actually have to “walk” people
  • A hotel may decide they no longer wish to honor your reservation after selling you a room, either because of some huge event (a concert, sporting event, solar eclipse, etc.), or because a big party wants to buy out the whole hotel
New hotel openings are frequently delayed

Are there laws regulating hotels not honoring reservations?

Even if the airline and passenger can come to a voluntary agreement, the DOT still has laws in place regarding compensation when flights are oversold. There is no organization in the US that regulates hotels for not honoring reservations.

That is the case in the United States, but there may be other countries that have more strict laws for inns.

Small claims court is the only recourse you have when there aren't laws regulating this type of stuff. It's probably not worth the effort since most of us wouldn't pursue it.

The terms you agree to when booking a hotel are usually pretty much the same. They talk about the penalties that apply to guests but don't mention the obligation of hotels.

Hotel terms are typically pretty one-sided

What happens if a hotel “walks” you?

There are policies about walking guests in major hotel chains. You can reduce your chance of being walked by.

  • Having status with a hotel chain, since they’ll typically walk guests with status last; furthermore, many hotel “preferred partner” programs have no-walk policies
  • Booking directly with a hotel chain, since they’re likely to walk third party bookings before those booking direct
  • Letting the hotel know if you plan on arriving late, since they’ll often walk people in the order they show up (in other words, if you’re only planning on arriving at 1AM, let the hotel know).

Marriott publishes guidelines for this called the "Ultimate Reservation Guarantee", which is available to all elite members, and outlines the compensation guests can expect if a hotel walks them. Most other hotel chains only have internal policies, but Marriott makes this public.

With Marriott's policy, you can expect to be accommodated at a nearly hotel, with compensation ranging from $100 on the low end to $200 plus 140,000 Bonvoy points on the high end.

The property will pay for the full cost of the first night's lodging if they promise to provide you with a room and transportation.

You should expect to be accommodated at a comparable hotel if the policy is different by the hotel. You will probably have to advocate for yourself in the travel space.

If you're not happy with the resolution, ask for a manager. Corporate customer service can be reached if the property isn't able to help you. If you don't get what you paid for, you have the option of a credit card dispute.

Most hotel groups have specific “walk” policies

What happens if your hotel reservation is canceled in advance?

Guidelines about not honoring reservations are specific to walking guests. It only applies if the hotel walks you on the day of arrival and not if your reservation is canceled in advance.

If your reservation is canceled in advance because a new hotel doesn't open on time, or because the hotel closes due to a buy-out, what will happen?

This situation is difficult since it is a negotiation process. Unless you pursue the small claims court route, it's just a function of being persistent and clear about your expectations, because most of us wouldn't do that.

It's generally speaking.

  • At a minimum you should expect lodging at a comparable property over the same dates
  • If the replacement hotel isn’t better, personally I’d also push for some compensation beyond that, since presumably you selected a hotel for a reason; this could include bonus points, a hotel credit, etc.
  • Perhaps otherwise you may be happy with a future hotel stay, in which case I’d expect at least one or two nights to be complimentary, or the rate to be reduced

You should expect to have more leverage in a situation where the hotel agrees to a buy-out than in a situation where the hotel opens late. Hotels are notorious for opening later than expected, so if you're going to book a hotel before the opening, make sure you know that.

The hotel is trying to maximize profits at the expense of confirmed guests so a buy out is being done.

If a hotel cancels your reservation because they think they can charge more, that is completely unacceptable. I would reach out to corporate customer service at that point in time.

Hotels canceling a confirmed reservation is a negotiation process

When you confirm a hotel reservation in advance, it can be frustrating when the hotel cancels it on you at the last minute. The lack of consumer protections generally in place can leave consumers without a lot of leverage.

Major hotel groups will usually have policies in place for walking guests. You may have to advocate for yourself in order to have these policies honored.

When hotel stays are canceled in advance, it is difficult. If the hotel has a buy-out that causes a cancellation, I would expect them to go the extra mile.

If you feel that a hotel's resolution isn't fair, persistence will pay off.

What did you think about the hotel reservation cancellation?