You’ve made it to your destination, you’re tired, it’s late, and you can’t wait to get settled into your hotel room. You get to the front desk only to be told there are no rooms available. How can that be? You have a reservation. You could also run into a scenario that happened to me a couple of years ago. Two weeks before I was leaving on a business trip, I received an email from the hotel stating that they cancelled my reservation. No reason was given. It was just cancelled and I had to scramble to book a room somewhere else and ended up in a hotel quite a distance from my meetings.
Unfortunately, there are no federal laws that require that a hotel honor a reservation (although some states do). In fact, unlike in the case of an airline overbooking, if the hotel is overbooked, your only recourse with the hotel, technically, is to take them to court for a breach of contract and even that’s not a sure thing. Plus, that’s not really much help if you have nowhere to stay or you’re stranded in a strange city.
Fortunately, most hotels have adopted a policy to “walk” guests to another hotel if they can’t honor a reservation. That means that you’ll have a place to stay, but it may or may not be as nice as the place you booked and it may or may not be close to the place you booked. Typically, hotels will walk guests to another one of their properties. This could mean that you booked a room in downtown Phoenix by the convention center but end up in a room in Scottsdale 20 miles away, not much help if your meetings are all in the convention center.
What can you do to prevent being walked to another hotel? First, join the hotel’s loyalty program and be loyal if you can. Many hotel chains actually have policies guaranteeing rooms for their loyalty program participants. Even if they don’t, if they know it’s someone likely to book at their hotel or hotel brand again, they’re less likely to walk that guest. Second, book directly through the hotel. If your room was booked elsewhere, especially at a deeply discounted rate, it’s not a huge loss of revenue for them. If you’re attending a meeting or convention, book through the arrangements they’ve made at their rate. When I contract with hotels for company conferences, there is a clause in our contract that protects our attendees in the case of overbooking. The organizers of your conference or convention may have done the same. Finally, arrive early. Many hotels give out rooms on a first come, first served basis and those that show up last get walked. If you can’t arrive early, call the hotel and speak to the front desk to confirm your reservation and let them know you will be arriving late and ask about a room assignment. With the advent of online check in, arrival time may be less important than making sure you check in online early. I am discovering that more and more hotels are allowing me to check in online 24 hours in advance. The online check in often allows me to choose my own room (meaning I will have a room assigned to me; less likely to be walked) and some now even allow guests to use their phone as a room key so you can bypass the front desk altogether.
What if all that fails and I get walked anyway? Before traveling, arm yourself with knowledge. Google the state’s innkeeper laws to see what your rights are in the case of overbooking. Most guests have no idea and sometimes, neither do the people working the front desk. That being said, first and foremost, and I cannot stress this enough, be nice to the front desk agent. He or she is just the messenger of bad news, but more importantly, he or she is the first in line to be able to help you. Find out if they’ve already made other arrangements for you. It is likely they have. Also find out about payment. It is possible that you will still pay the hotel you originally booked and they will pay for the room in the second hotel. Sometimes as an apology, the hotel will also comp your first night or provide you with meal vouchers or additional hotel points. At the very least, the hotel will usually provide transportation (a cab voucher or shuttle) to the other hotel if it’s needed. If they have not provided alternate accommodations and transportation to the new property, ask if they will. Also find out if you can move back to the original property once a room is available. If the hotel is not providing alternate lodging and transportation, ask to speak to a manager. A manager can’t make a room magically appear for you, but they do have more leeway in assisting you.