When heavy rain grounded Amy Li’s recent flight from San Francisco to Cancun, Mexico, she hoped that her resort would allow her to cancel her prepaid room. But it didn’t.
Instead, she received an apologetic e-mail from the Excellence Playa Mujeres, saying that while the hotel was “truly very sorry” about her canceled flight, it would be keeping her money. “They were unwilling to refund a penny,” says Li, who works for the city of San Francisco. “Not even in hotel credits.”
She and her husband lost $1,656, the entire cost of the hotel.
Li is one of many hotel guests who are discovering how restrictive hotel cancellation policies have become. She could have received a refund if she’d notified the Excellence Playa Mujeres a week in advance, according to the resort’s rules. After that, the all-inclusive property begins to charge her even if she doesn’t show up — an average two nights’ stay from the booked period if she canceled within five or six days prior to arrival, and the full amount if she canceled within four days.
“Hotel cancellation policies have been getting more strict than they used to be,” says Bjorn Hanson, a professor of hospitality and tourism management at New York University. The changes vary by market and hotel. At some properties, you can still cancel your room by 6 p.m. on the date of your arrival without getting charged, but in some parts of the country, the cancellation window is being pushed back to within 48 or 72 hours of your arrival, Hanson says.
And often, hotel companies bury their cancellation terms in the fine print. That’s what Dan Firth alleges happened when he recently reserved a room at a Super 8 property in Pittston, Pa., through its Web site. “My travel plans changed, and two days later, I called the hotel to cancel the reservation,” he says. Not possible, a Super 8 representative told him. His online reservation was nonrefundable, as disclosed on its site.
But Firth, who works for a jewelry company in Fairlawn, Ohio, says that he was “distinctly under the impression that I was making a reservation. Not buying something.”
Hotels have assumed a hard line when enforcing their new policies. Taking a page from the airline industry’s post-9/11 “no waivers, no favors” playbook, some refuse to bend a rule even when a guest can’t make it for reasons beyond his control.
Joe Farrell, an attorney based in Los Angeles, recently planned a stay at the Villas of Grand Cypress, an Orlando golf resort, but was unable to get there because of a storm so severe that parts of Central Florida were under a state of emergency. “I was not all that hot to trot for a refund,” he said. “A night at some point in the future would be fine — we’d be there.”
But the hotel denied his request, claiming that the storm was just a “bad rainstorm.” It kept his money.
You don’t have to be a lodging industry insider to know why cancellation policies exist. A hotel room, like an airline seat, is considered a “perishable” commodity, which means that if you don’t check in when you’re supposed to, the hotel doesn’t make money.