A Non-Refundable Hotel Award Booking — Reader Mistake Story

Aug 10, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jody, who made an unfortunate discovery after making a hotel reservation far in advance. Here’s what she had to say:

The most spectacular view of watching the iconic Wat Arun during the sunset.
Jody found out her hotel reservation in Bangkok can’t be changed. Image courtesy of Seng Chye Teo via Getty Images.

My husband and I are planning a dream vacation to Thailand in May of 2018. I have lots of Hilton Honors points thanks to our honeymoon at the Conrad Bora Bora, and to celebrate our anniversary, we decided to use them for five nights at the Conrad Koh Samui and two nights at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok. I tend to book vacations far in advance, and in this case I started by reserving our hotel rooms. We hadn’t booked our flights, but I figured changing our hotel dates wouldn’t be a big deal since you can always change points reservations … or so I thought.

After making the reservations, I clicked on some of the provided links to check out more details of the hotels. That’s when I noticed a line across the top of the Millennium Hilton Bangkok reservation stating that the booking is non-refundable and may not be changed or cancelled. I figured that was a mistake, since the Koh Samui reservation didn’t have a similar line and I’ve never seen that in writing before, but I called Hilton to verify.

Sure enough, it wasn’t a mistake. The Hilton agent I spoke with didn’t offer much help; she simply told me I should have read the cancellation policies before booking, because sometimes cancellations are not allowed. I explained that I had only ever seen this when booking an advance purchase rate. She replied that our rate technically qualifies as an advance purchase since we booked it so far in advance and the rates could still go up. Even with my Hilton Honors Diamond status, there was nothing I could do.

Even worse, if we don’t show up, not only will we lose the points from our reservation, but also they’ll bill our credit card for whatever the going rate is on the day we’re scheduled to arrive. In other words, we could end up paying for the room twice even if we don’t use it! Hopefully we won’t have to change our dates and I will have made a stink over nothing, but it’s still a terrible practice. I’m just glad that policy only applies to our cheaper 46,000-point reservation, and not the more expensive one for 380,000 points in Koh Samui.

The policy makes no sense to me and I doubt I’m the first person to experience this, so I hope you can help warn fellow travelers!

One common lesson in these mistake stories is to always read the fine print. I don’t blame Jody for thinking her reservation could be changed, since most hotel awards are fully refundable. Hilton recently revised its cancellation policy to require that travelers cancel reservations at least 48 hours in advance (up from 24 hours). That applies to nearly all award bookings, but the Hilton Honors terms and conditions also state that “Additional cancellation policies are established by each individual hotel and may differ from the general cancellation policy; in that case, the hotel’s individual cancellation policy applies.”

The Millennium Hilton Bangkok happens to be one of those properties with its own cancellation policy. Awards there are non-refundable, so if Jody needs to change her dates, she’ll forfeit the points she redeemed. I agree it’s a terrible policy, but it’s plainly shown under the reservation summary during the booking process, so she doesn’t have much recourse other than to ask nicely and hope a friendly agent takes pity on her. If Hilton representatives are unable or unwilling to help, she could try calling the hotel to plead her case directly.

Hotel reservations are generally more flexible than airfare, so it’s a good idea to book your rooms first when you’re planning an award trip. Just be sure to check the cancellation policy before you book any travel, especially if you’re planning far in advance or your itinerary is in flux.

Fortunately, the no-cancellation policy doesn’t apply to Jody’s more expensive stay at the Conrad Koh Samui.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Jody for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

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