Walked from a hotel? Here’s how much compensation you’re owed
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.
There are few travel experiences as disappointing as arriving at your hotel with a confirmed reservation, either excited for your much-anticipated stay or weary from a long travel day, only to be told that the hotel is sold out with no space for you. You read that right: it isn’t just airlines that overbook reservations, hotels do, too.
When this happens, many hotels’ standard practice is to pay for alternative accommodations and transportation costs to the new property, a process known as “walking” a customer.
Being walked from a hotel because it is full isn’t the same as being denied accommodations because your hotel is closed. Unfortunately, there have been many coronavirus-related hotel closures, and these types of cancelations typically don’t qualify for any compensation. That said, closed hotels often still try to rebook guests at nearby sister properties when possible.
Let’s dig a little deeper into what you’re owed (and what you’re not) when you arrive at a hotel only to be walked.
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Why hotels can become oversold
How can these situations occur? Well, hotels usually get oversold in one of four different ways.
Most commonly, there’s an administrative error, such as a group sales representative committing to more rooms than are actually available. This can lead to a thorny situation when the group is a professional sports team or a delegation of international diplomats. When this happens, individual customers will typically get walked instead of a higher-profile professional athlete, foreign official or a member of a larger group booked at the property.
If you booked your stay through a third party, such as an online travel agency, their inventory might not have been accurate and that could be another reason for reservation snafus.
Other times, the hotel may have a policy of intentionally overselling rooms to maximize profits in the face of inevitable no-shows, just like the airlines.
Finally, there are situations in which guests don’t depart on time because, for instance, bad weather (or illness) prevents their scheduled departure and the hotel allows them to extend their stay.
What the rules say
Unlike the relatively clear rules that airlines must follow when a flight is overbooked, there are no government regulations covering oversold hotels. On the contrary, many cities and states will actually prohibit a hotel from immediately evicting a guest who has overstayed their reservation, which can lead to issues for incoming guests.
Legally speaking, you aren’t entitled to much if a hotel fails to honor your reservation. Hotels can and do cancel “confirmed” reservations whenever they want. You’re entitled to a refund for a pre-paid reservation, and naturally, a hotel would have a tough time defending a credit card chargeback or a small claims case asking for a refund for services not rendered.
Long story short: you can usually get your money if a hotel cancels your reservation, but you may not get much more.
Marriott’s Ultimate Reservation Guarantee
The compensation policy varies by brand and by elite status, with compensation topping out at $200 and 140,000 points when Titanium and Ambassador Elite members are walked from a Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis property. (However, that also means that Platinum elites and lower aren’t actually guaranteed anything in this circumstance.)
Not all properties will proactively fulfill the guarantee, though. It’s important to know its terms and not be shy about claiming your compensation and following up with the property afterward. TPG staffers have also found following up with Marriott’s support Twitter account is an effective way to move the needle on compensation.
Note that to be eligible for this compensation, you’re required to have provided your Marriott Bonvoy member number at the time you make a reservation, effectively excluding third-party bookings.
Here’s how the compensation breaks down:
Edition, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, JW Marriott, Marriott Hotels, Sheraton, Delta Hotels, Le Méridien, Westin, Autograph Collection, Renaissance Hotels, Tribute Portfolio, Gaylord Hotels
$200 and 90,000 points
Courtyard, Four Points, SpringHill Suites, Protea Hotels, Fairfield by Marriott, AC Hotels, Aloft, Moxy Hotels, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, Element
(Platinum and Titanium Elite members also receive 90,000 points)
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis
Titanium Elite and Ambassador Elite members receive:
$200 and 140,000 points
As you can see, not all Marriott brands (or status levels) are included. Design Hotels, Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club and Vistana properties are excluded.
Hyatt reservation guarantee
According to the policy, if you book a room on Hyatt’s website and prepay with a credit card, in the event the hotel cannot accommodate you, Hyatt will provide a free night at a comparable hotel, free transportation to and from that hotel and — interestingly — a telephone call to your family to advise them of your whereabouts.
Now, there’s a lot to parse here, including what exactly a “comparable hotel” is. Before you agree to anything, make sure the new hotel suits your needs and you can always try to negotiate.
IHG Book With Us Advantage
IHG’s website states that the company will provide a room at and transportation to a comparable hotel if you’re walked from one of its hotels. Further, any advance deposit will be refunded. Note that this is only available if you book your stay directly with IHG on its website.
What happens if you’re walked at another hotel group?
Those are just some of the published examples of these policies. Some chains and online travel agencies that don’t publish theirs are still likely to have procedures in place, so if you find that your hotel cannot accommodate you, it’s worth asking about their relocation policy.
With limited official guidance, what can you expect when your room is not available?
In theory, the hotel should offer an apology, pay for your transportation to the nearest hotel with an available room of equal or higher quality and pay for your room there. For instance, if you booked a large room at your original property and the only comparable option at the new hotel would be two separate rooms, the oversold hotel should accommodate that.
If your treatment falls below that standard, you should kindly ask to speak to a manager or even engage the hotel chain on Twitter. If they’re not available, you should ask for a follow-up and they’ll likely offer some additional form of compensation. You should also suggest being walked to a property of your choosing, so long as there’s an available room.
You may have a better shot at compensation if you have elite status with a hotel group. Since most hotels are franchises, it’s also in your best interest to contact corporate when you’re walked. This has helped some TPG staffers get compensation in the past, especially if they’re top-tier elite members.
What you can do to reduce your chances of being walked
Unfortunately, unless you’re getting a digital key to an actual room, checking in online typically isn’t enough to ensure you don’t get walked from an oversold hotel. However, there are some other steps you can take to reduce your chances.
Book your reservations directly through the hotel
Hotels really do treat customers differently when they see them as their customers, not those of a third party like Expedia or Orbitz.
In many cases, this means the hotel may prioritize your reservation over others, making you less likely to be walked. You should also make sure to join the hotel’s loyalty program and add your member number to your reservation, even if you don’t have elite status. This could lessen your chance of being walked and you’ll earn valuable hotel points in the process.
Leverage your elite status
If you do have elite status, you should be given a higher priority in a sold-out situation and several major chains have room guarantees for elites. These policies typically guarantee availability for higher-tier elites with 48-72 hours’ notice, depending on the program. However, they come with lots of exceptions and can be quite pricey.
For instance, Hilton’s policy doesn’t apply when hotels are overbooked by 10% and some properties are excluded once overbooked by more than 2%. Meanwhile, Hyatt excludes Destination Residences or Hyatt Residence Club resorts, any Hyatt hotel with a casino and any Hyatt resort from this policy.
If you suspect the hotel is sold out and you’re planning on a late arrival, it’s in your best interest to call ahead. This solution isn’t foolproof, as the front desk managers at night aren’t likely to be the same as those during the day. But, calling a few hours before your late arrival to have a better chance of reaching those who will be on duty when you arrive.
If you find out the property is oversold, try and have the front desk manager book you at a nearby hotel before you arrive. This will make your travel experience much more seamless, especially if you’re exhausted after a long road trip or international flight.
Checking in earlier in the day, when possible, may make you less likely to be walked.
This is because other guests may not have made their way to the hotel yet. So if you’re traveling during a peak time, consider dropping by the hotel and checking in before an event or before hitting the town. And even if you can’t be physically present, as mentioned, many hotels now allow you to check-in through their mobile apps and request digital keys.
Once you have a key in hand (or on your phone), you really can’t be walked.
Suggest your desired alternative
If you really need to stay at that property and they don’t have a room, there could be alternatives.
For example, some travelers have even been offered rollaway beds in conference rooms equipped with a bathroom and shower before.
Likewise, consider making a list of acceptable nearby hotels before you arrive. If you’re walked, you can ask to be rebooked at one of your desired alternatives. This could prevent you from being booked far away or at a lower-tier property.
Points are a great insurance policy
Unfortunately, you may encounter a hotel that refuses to rebook you nearby on its own dime either because of bad training, bad luck or an unfriendly policy.
Of course, this is an unacceptable practice that you should bring up with the hotel group’s corporate support line after the fact. But if you can’t get in touch immediately and need a place to stay, having a stash of hotel points or free-night certificates on hand can help you avoid an expensive rebooking.
Instead of spending hundreds of dollars to rebook yourself, you can simply redeem points.
Hotel reservations are never truly guaranteed. As frustrating as getting walked from a hotel can be, it doesn’t have to spoil the rest of your trip. You just need to familiarize yourself with your hotel chain’s policies to ensure you have a place to sleep and get the compensation you deserve. In some cases, assuming the new hotel you’re walked to isn’t too inconvenient, you might actually come out ahead after factoring in possible compensation.
Additional reporting by Jason Steele and Andrew Kunesh.
Featured photo of the AC Hotel Wailea Maui Marriott by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.
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