Oversold Hotel Strategy and Room Guarantees By Elite Status
In order to ensure as close to 100% occupancy as possible, hotels routinely oversell a property, since cancellations and no-shows are common. Unlike when a flight is oversold, a hotel oversell situation is less understood. The process to rectify the situation and the written policies for preventing such a situation aren't very well known. Based on TPG's recent experience at the Renaissance Philadelphia Airport , we wanted to revisit what room guarantees are available to those who hold hotel elite status, as well as discuss strategies to employ when you face an oversold hotel.
If you arrive and a hotel is oversold with no room for you, the common saying is that you were "walked" because of often having to physically walk to another available property in the general area. This can be one of the must frustrating travel situations because of the simplicity of the reservation process. In good faith, you use a credit card to reserve a room and the property in turn designates a room with your name.
You can't fault hotels for trying to occupy each and every room, but when staff communication breaks down and suggested fixes only make things worse, it's tough not to get frustrated. After TPG's experience in Philadelphia, the general manager offered the following statement:
Mr. Kelly’s experience with us Monday night was unfortunate and we apologize. A series of communication breakdowns during the shift change led to the room that was originally booked for Mr. Kelly not being available; and then the room provided, not being up to the standards we set for ourselves and for our valued guests. We take this situation seriously and will use it as an opportunity to review and update our internal procedures to help ensure that it does not happen again. – Roger Life, General Manger, Philadelphia Airport Hotel
If you're in a situation where you're going to be walked, make sure a few things happen:
- Before being walked, politely, but assertively, push for any available room on property regardless of room type. Suggest that if there are dirty rooms you are happy to wait for housekeeping or front desk staff to clean the room.
- The oversold hotel should pay for your room in a close-by property of equivalent or higher service/star rating regardless of brand. Be cognizant of how many people are in your party and the room occupancy of the new hotel. If you need two rooms at the new property instead of one at the oversold original hotel, the oversold hotel should take care of it.
- The oversold hotel should pay for your cab/Uber ride to the new property.
- Ensure you will not be charged anything including a cancellation fee that may auto-post by the oversold property.
- Politely request the rooms manager of the oversold property contact you for a follow up explanation/discussion. I find this helps me learn why I may have been walked over other customers and they'll typically offer some form of compensation, even if you are not elite.
One thing I've found that doesn't help in oversold situations is calling the 1-800 number or asking the Twitter team to help. It's usually late at night when this occurs and all they can do is contact the property themselves. You then have a further- frustrated front desk agent who has received a call from corporate asking the same thing you are asking and giving the same answer in return.
If it's after midnight, you may find yourself in the same position as TPG reader Chris Bergstrom who called the Marriott Platinum line and was told they were only booking rooms for the following night and couldn't help him for the current night. He was hung up on by the elite line and then walked from the Fairfield Inn and Suites New York Midtown Manhattan/Penn Station after pre-paying a $500+ room for the night. The front desk staff ended up finding him another room but not after he received no help at all from the Platinum line.
Keeping your cool and staying as polite as possible, however difficult, will only help further your case with the hotel which also doesn't want this situation. With the basics of getting walked covered, let's look at what kind of room guarantee and possible written compensation major hotel chains offer.
Set Room Guarantee
Many chains offer elite-status holders the ability to book an oversold hotel, as long as you book within a set time frame before arrival. In practice, I haven't found set room guarantees to be very valuable. You're typically charged a very expensive rack rate for an oversold hotel. Each chain also has language that gives properties a type of escape to make the guarantee not applicable.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the properties do invoke this language. The guarantee can be helpful if you're on a corporate-funded trip or the property doesn't substantially raise the rate. If you're very loyal to a brand, this gives you the ability to force a booking at a hotel that's sold out to non-elites.
Room Guarantees By Chain
If you're a Marriott Platinum member and make a paid (not award) reservation at least 48 hours before arrival, all properties (except Marriott Vacation Clubs) will guarantee a room available for you (studios only for Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites). Marriott has a disclaimer that "Guaranteed Availability may not be available on certain limited dates (e.g., special events). "
Marriott is unique in that it actually lists standard compensation in the case an elite is walked. If you hold Silver, Gold, or Platinum status and are walked, Marriott will pay you the Ultimate Reservation Guarantee compensation based on the chain within the Marriott portfolio that held the reservation. The property will pay for your night at a different hotel and compensate you based on the following chart:
Starwood Preferred Guest
Platinum members are guaranteed a room when they make reservations by 3pm, 72 hours prior to arrival. The following restrictions apply when trying to use the guaranteed room:
- Resort properties are excluded from this benefit.
- Blackout dates may apply.
- This benefit is limited to only one standard room occupied by the member.
- Room-upgrade benefits do not apply.
- The member must pay regular (RACK) rates. Free night and Cash & Points Award redemptions do not apply.
- Length-of-stay requirements must be met.
Top-tier Diamond members who book a room by midnight local time, 48 hours prior to arrival are guaranteed a room at any Hilton property. Hilton has made this benefit particularly complicated to the point I personally don't consider this a benefit of membership. Here is a simple break down of the exclusion language:
- When a property is overbooked by 10% or more
- Some properties are excluded once overbooked by more than 2%
- During “Extraordinary Demand Dates” determined solely by the hotel and Hilton Honors
- At Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites (periodic restrictions based on the extended-stay nature of these brands)
- At the Conrad Maldives Resort & Spa, Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort and Spa, Ho’olei at Grand Wailea, Kingston Plantation Condos, Royale Palms, Conrad Koh Samui Resort & Spa or Hilton Grand Vacation
I would image most properties during a busy time when a diamond member would need to invoke this privilege would be overbooked by at least 2%, if not much higher than 10%. Because of such low restrictions and the blanket "extraordinary demand dates" language, this guarantee cannot be counted on when you need it.
World of Hyatt
Explorist elite members must book 72 hours in advance and Globalist members must book 48 hours in advance in order to take advantage of securing a guaranteed room reservation at an otherwise sold out hotel. There is a lot of exclusion language again making fairly easy for properties to opt out, and in Hyatt's case even requiring a phone call to know the difference between a resort and regular Hyatt:
- The hotel must be entirely sold out, including all suites
- Valid for one standard guest room, and is subject to the applicable hotel’s reservation requirements (e.g., minimum length of stay, special packages and meal plans).
- Rooms secured under this provision are only available at the standard rate. Negotiated rates or other group, promotional, or discounted rates do not apply
- Free Night Awards may not be redeemed for a room
- Not valid during any period of extraordinary room demand and is subject to blackout periods set out by each hotel.
- Guaranteed availability is not valid at M life Resorts, or at Hyatt Residence Club resorts, any Hyatt hotel with a casino or any Hyatt resort.
My least-favorite language is the following: "The distinction between a Hyatt resort and a Hyatt hotel may not always be obvious and Members are encouraged to call Hyatt’s central reservation service for help determining a hotel’s or resort’s designation." In summary, it requires a phone call to decipher a properties' exemption status, and individual properties can designate any time period as a black out date or time of extraordinary demand to essentially nullify that benefit.
IHG Rewards Club
If you have Platinum Elite or Spire Elite status with IHG, you’re guaranteed one guest room for personal use when you make your reservation at least 72 hours prior to arrival. You can't use this program with award nights and there is again blank language allowing a property to opt out of honoring the benefit “during special events that result in extraordinary demand, as determined solely by the hotel.”
Finding yourself in an oversold situation that leads to getting walked from a hotel is a pretty awful experience. If you ever arrive in a city you know is busy with conferences, sports events or political rallies, check-in as early as possible to take the rooms while available. If you're about to get walked, remember to keep cool, ensure your new room is being covered and ask for a follow up conversation with the rooms manager. If you're going to try and invoke a room guarantee based on your elite status, make sure you understand all the terms and conditions which could render your effort unsuccessful and ensure you meet the booking time deadlines.
Have you had success invoking an elite status room guarantee?