a pool with palm trees and chairs and a deck chair

You plan and plan, dream and dream and then finally your trip is on the horizon. You can smell the fountains of Rome, er maybe something nicer, like lovely fresh croissants in Paris, or the surf of Sydney. Roasting nuts in New York?

But then, out of the blue, an unexpected email arrives stating that your hotel reservation has been cancelled. Or worse, it happens when you arrive at the hotel!

These days, it happens more often than many would like. With ever changing prices, a last minute replacement could cost hundreds more, or worse, the entire city might be sold out.

These travel mishaps happen for millions of reasons, from intentionally overbooking to temporary construction shutting down the hotel, but what matters most is how the hotel handles the situation and makes sure you still get to enjoy the trip.

Most hotel chains actually have locked in policies which clearly explain what’s owed, or should happen, if your stay can’t go ahead as planned for any reason. Even then, they don’t always honor their policies, and some hotels try to claim things are different for advanced cancellations.

Here are the policies or each major hotel chain, if they cancel your reservation, walk you at check in, or can’t deliver a hotel booking as promised, for a reasonable reason.

These hotel policies matter, because without confirmed booking guarantees, hotels could constantly cancel reservations on people, up to the day of travel, to get better rates. That just wouldn’t be ok.

a pool with palm trees and a body of water

Each Hotel And Online Travel Agency Is Different

When booking hotels, the simplest way to keep things clean and easy in the event of changes or cancellations is to book directly with the hotel or hotel group. Like booking a Ritz Carlton Hotel stay via Marriott.

Online travel agencies (OTA’s) like Expedia, Hotels.com and others quite often have tempting rates or packages which make that tough to stick to, but when cancellations happen, you end up playing ping pong between the two companies, whereas when you book direct, there’s only one.

Every hotel group, such as Accor, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, Marriott, Radisson, Four Seasons, Peninsula and Viceroy each have their own policy as to what they’re bound to do when a fully confirmed hotel reservation cannot be honored as booked.

Getting Walked – AKA Hotel Overbooking

The vast majority of hotel issues stem from when a hotel takes more bookings than it has rooms for. These issues generally only flare up in the hours before arrival.

This happens because hotels believe a certain number of people typically won’t show, or groups will cancel, so they take more hotel bookings than they can accommodate.

If the numbers are off, this can mean certain guests will get “walked”, which is where they show up and there’s no room. In this post, you’ll find each brand policy, so that you know what’s owed or expected when things go wrong, whether it’s the day of the stay, or a few weeks before.

Ways To Avoid Getting Walked Or Cancelled

Yes, it’s true, there are ways to avoid getting “walked” by a hotel.

A hotel will always prioritize its elite members, direct bookings and corporate channel clients over people who booked through a super discount site, or third party online travel agency (OTA).

Some rates via luxury travel agents and corporate bookings even specify a no walk policy when you book. GSTP Royal Suites members are able to book rates at select chains with ‘no walk’ policies, meaning the hotel will need to make other people find accommodations. They simply cannot walk a guest through that booking channel.

Keep in mind, these policies should apply for reservations made directly with the hotel or hotel group when fully confirmed online with a confirmation number, or via a luxury travel agent.

This should apply if the hotel you book temporarily closes, needs to accommodate a larger group instead of you, or any other reason that a confirmed reservation cannot be honored, up to the last minute.

Policies Apply, But They’re Not Law

Hotels have policies, but they’re just policies. Unlike flights, which have legal protections in many areas, hotel stays typically don’t have legal protections defined by governments. Therefore, these aren’t legally enforceable rights, but rather hotel policies from the hotel chains themselves, to create booking confidence.

Angry, pedantic “forum crowd” people often like to pretend that being “walked” from a hotel only applies when you’re physically there, and therefore these policies would not apply for cancellations by the hotel made in advance. For the most part, that’s not true.

‘Reservation guarantee’ policies such as the ones below exist to give customers full confidence to book in advance, knowing the hotel brand will do the right thing, if for any reason things can’t be delivered as planned.

Being “walked” is an industry term for this, and there’s typically no timeframe dictated, so an early cancellation is the same as a late one. The only things which may not apply to a booking cancelled by the hotel well in advance, would be the things like transport from one hotel to another.

Here’s each hotel reservation guarantee slash cancellation policy as its shown online…

a swimming pool with palm trees and a beach
Intercontinental Hayman Island

IHG Reservation Guarantee // Canceled // Walked Guest Policy

IHG’s policy is pretty clear when they can’t honor a reservation you’ve confirmed on the IHG website for their many brands. If this happens, IHG will comp your first night and get you setup at another hotel of similar level.

If you’re already at the hotel when this happens, they’ll help cover transport costs between the two. It’s a solid policy, when hotels honor it.

“Booking on IHG.com is the best way to guarantee your room. If for any reason your reservation cannot be honored, IHG will provide you with a room and transportation to another convenient and comparable hotel. And, we’ll pay for the full cost of the first night’s lodging price, plus tax. Any advance deposit will be refunded to you.”

IHG Rewards

Marriott Reservation Guarantee // Canceled // Walked Guest Policy

Marriott has a great cancellation and walked guest policy, which helps to create real confidence when booking a hotel directly with Marriott. Basically, you’re going to be well taken care of.

“If for some reason we’re unable to honor your reservation, we’ll pay for your accommodations that night at a nearby hotel and compensate you for the inconvenience. To be eligible, you must provide your member number when making a reservation. Compensation varies by hotel brand.

Marriott International

If for any reason Marriott cannot honor the reservation, the brand will cover your first night, but also compensate for the inconvenience. Each Marriott hotel brand has its own compensation amount, which you can find on the Marriott website.

Hilton Reservation Guarantee // Canceled // Walked Guest Policy

Hilton doesn’t do a great job with its walked guest policy. Mainly, because there’s no easy public way to access and reference it, if things go wrong.

It’s actually pretty much the same as the other chain policies though, which means anyone impacted should get the first night settled by the hotel and moved to an alternate hotel for the rest of the stay.

The guest must be relocated at other Hilton branded hotel if possible. The hotel must pay the full cost of the first night’s stay including any expenses incurred such as transportation and phone calls to family members and business associates.

Hotel must complete an online form and send it to Hilton to ensure that the guest receives the stay/night credit and all the points associated with the stay had the guest not been walked.
Hilton Hotels

a tall building with hexagons and palm trees

Hyatt Reservation Guarantee // Canceled // Walked Guest Policy

Hyatt’s policy is pretty great, but also subject to a bit more imagination than the rest. In a positive, Hyatt doesn’t bury their generosity deep in the T&C’s, and instead the policy is right there to see on Hyatt.com.

The only potential negative is that it leaves vague language, which is somewhat open to interpretation as to when things kick in, and that it only applies when a hotel guest prepays with a credit card.

What is Hyatt’s reservation guarantee?

If you book a room on hyatt.com and prepay with a credit card, Hyatt will have a room reserved for you when you arrive, or will provide, at no cost to you:

• A free night at a comparable hotel
• Free transportation to and from that hotel
• One free telephone call to advise your family where you can be reached
Hyatt Hotels

In never ending travel forum wars, frequent Hyatt guests have shared data points, which tend to suggest Hyatt does the right thing even for bookings well in advance.

Accor Reservation Guarantee // Canceled // Walked Guest Policy

Accor has an official policy for when “things happen”, and it’s pretty clear. The hotel needs to get you another hotel of similar equivalent and cover any extras, such as the difference in price, if this happens.

Unlike many of the other brands, there’s no “free night” if this happens though. Per the Accor T&C’s, the hotel must consult the guest at all junctures and cover extras, but that is it.

“In the case of a force majeure event, an exceptional event or impossibility to carry out the Service and, in particular, making the room of the Establishment available to the Customer, the Establishment may reserve the option of providing accommodation to the Customer, in whole or in part, at an Establishment in the equivalent category or perform a Service of the same nature, subject to the prior agreement of the Customer.

The reasonable expenses relating to the transfer (additional cost of the rooms, transportation and a phone call) between the two Establishment shall be payable by the concerned Establishment in accordance with the existing standard procedure of the said Establishment.”
Accor Hotels

Hotels May Still Ignore What’s “Right” Anyway

There are plenty of examples where hotels and hotel chains do the right thing, right away. Typically, the hotel lets you know there’s an issue, and comes right out with what they’ll do to make it right, even specifying the alternate hotel option.

Other times, they will duck for cover, or just unilaterally cancel the reservation without helping you to secure the same rate at another property, or comp your first night as an apology, which many of these policies dictate should happen.

When this happens, the best thing to do is to contact the general manager and reservations team at the hotel which cancelled on you.

Share any policies which you believe apply, such as the ones found above, and be very clear in what you’d find as agreeable solution to put an end to things.

If you find availability at a comparable hotel, make that known, and inquire about how the rest will be handled. It’s not always easy, but a policy is a policy, so it’s great to remind hotels of what they’re supposed to do.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Just in time for the cancellation I received today from the Crowne Plaza at Manchester Airport. They just cancel my booking with the following explanation “ We are writing you regarding your upcoming reservation for the Crowne Plaza Manchester Airport, checking in on August 14, 2021. The safety of our guests is the number one priority and we regret to inform you that the hotel has to temporarily close until August 15, 2021 in support of the city’s effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, thus the cancellation of your reservation.

    We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this unexpected situation has caused. All fees and penalties will be waived and refunded (which may be vouchers where required by local law) and will be processed directly by the hotel as soon as possible.

    If you any questions or needs further assistance, please contact our Reservations or Customer Care team or you can also opt to book a new reservation by calling the numbers listed below. You can also opt to book a new reservation by visiting our website at http://www.ihg.com or our mobile app.

    As an IHG® Rewards Spire member and valued guest, we realize you have many choices when it comes to your travel needs. We thank you for your patronage and look forward to hosting you with IHG® Hotels & Resorts again soon.“
    So, according to this article, should I be entitled to be rebook at a comparable hotel and get the night for free (the booking was for one night)?
    The thing is that I book it 10 days ago for Aug 14, so I don’t understand why they were selling the rooms if they don’t have plans of reopening the hotel.

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