Even occasional travelers are familiar with the wide range of rates a hotel offers for each type of room. Typically the lowest price – the one that draws you in – is a prepaid and nonrefundable rate that you have to book in advance. More flexible rates, which usually don’t require a deposit up front and allow late cancellation, inevitably cost more. It’s a rule of the travel industry that paying more buys you flexibility, whether for a flight or a hotel stay.
The most generous of the flexible rates have often allowed cancellations up until afternoon or evening (typically 6:00pm) on the day of arrival. This flexibility is very important to business travelers, whose plans often change at the last minute. By agreeing to pay a little more for their stay, these travelers had the peace of mind that they wouldn’t be hit with a hefty cancellation charge if their plans changed at the last minute.
For travelers using Hilton or Marriott properties, those days have come to an end. Effective January 1st of this year those chains now require a minimum cancellation of one day prior to arrival, even for the most expensive/flexible rates. The penalty if you miss this deadline? One night’s room charge.
The remaining member of the hotel world’s Big 3 – Starwood – followed suit in mid-January. All bookings at Hilton, Marriott and Starwood properties now require a minimum cancellation of one day to avoid a penalty.
It’s always smart to check the fine print for hotel bookings to make sure you understand the contract you’re agreeing to. Know that going forward, any booking at any Hilton, Marriott or Starwood property is going to have a minimum cancellation of one day prior to arrival (some properties may require additional notice – check your rate’s fine print before booking).
One quick tip: If you find yourself with changed plans last minute or say a cancelled flight, try calling the hotel’s front desk directly, explaining your situation, and asking nicely if they would cancel the reservation without a penalty. It always helps to have elite status with the hotel chain in question. But a quick and polite phone call may be all it takes to save you a one night penalty on a room you can no longer use.