Hotels cancel their old cancellation policies

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.

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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.

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But historically, hotels have balanced their need to protect their revenue with guests’ circumstances, allowing them to cancel or postpone their stays when needed. The latest policies, which are being applied more uniformly, make some travelers wonder whether these hotels still think they’re in the hospitality business.

Owen Compher, an assistant admissions director for a college in Charleston, S.C., was shocked to discover the cancellation policy for the Autograph Collection hotel in the British Virgin Islands. Under the terms of his reservation, he’d lose everything if he canceled anytime within 30 days of check-in. Compher was surprised, because Marriott owns the upscale Autograph Collection as well as many budget brands that have neither resort fees nor onerous cancellation policies.

“Marriott’s lower-end brands usually let you cancel by 6 p.m. on the day of your arrival,” he says.

Marriott spokesman John Wolf said that franchise properties typically set their own cancellation fee policies, while hotels managed by Marriott allow guests to cancel before 6 p.m. the day of arrival. “Our resorts typically require more notice because of leisure booking patterns,” he says. In other words, at resort hotels, most reservations are made farther in advance, and a canceled room may not be resold.

As of now, no one’s actively tracking hotel cancellation policies or estimating how much the rule changes potentially cost guests. Rather, hotels are silently deleting their old policies from their Web sites and reloading new ones both online and into their reservations systems. And until guest challenge these rules, there’s no way to tell how strictly they’ll be enforced.

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Guests do have options, ranging from the obvious to the ethically questionable. Elite-level membership in a hotel’s loyalty program can get the policy waived, although once you’ve factored in the cost of reaching elite status, it may not be worthwhile. A reliable travel insurance policy may protect you, too. You can also ask politely for a refund of your hotel charge, even when you’re not entitled to one. That’s been known to work.

There are two other ways around a cancellation fee. You can dispute the charge on your credit card, as long as you present adequate evidence that the policy wasn’t properly disclosed. Or you can try to reschedule your visit, moving it forward in time by a few days until you’re outside the cancellation window, and later calling to cancel. But to me, that’s as bad as pocketing a guest’s money even when another customer reserves the previously canceled room and the hotel loses no revenue. It’s morally problematic.

Unfortunately, a consumer advocate like me can’t successfully mediate a case such as Li’s or Farrell’s, because technically, the hotel is right. The rules are clear. In hindsight, there’s only one certain way to prevent losing your money: Read the restrictive cancellation policy before making the reservation, and then book somewhere else.

Are hotel cancellation policies becoming too restrictive?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • m11_9

    Yes they are, but it is understandable that a resort that provides full services such as an all-inclusive has certain fixed costs which occur regardless of whether every particular guest arrives.

    I would support a mutual win win, where a guest attempts to re-schedule the stay (but not as a method of later canceling as you suggested was a possibly immoral route to a refund.)

    I don’t get why the source of this story did not arrive late and complete the rest of the (week?) ? A delay is not a complete loss, so that does not make sense. How many days remained on the $1600 reservation?

  • Curtis

    So if I cancel and the hotel keeps my money, they darn sure better not rent the room out and double their income. I might just decide to show up past check-in time and demand the services I purchased! Would this tact work?

  • bodega3

    If the OP prepaid their stay, did they not still go, just forfeiting a night’s stay? What am I missing? Did they just cancel due to a delayed flight?

  • Alan Gore

    Since the OP in this case had a week’s stay prepaid, a phone call to the room a day or two after the reserved check-in might work. If that call reveals a checked-in guest, the hotel is committing fraud and you should be able to do a chargeback.

    Better stull, never prepay a whole vacation. Mexico is hurting for your business right now, and you should be able to easily find a hotel where no more than the cost of your first night’s stay is at risk.

  • TonyA_says

    It is a RESORT, that’s why.
    Their T&C:
    2.7 Cancellation by user
    Cancellation of your booking must be made by means of filling in a form on the Site. Once the booking is cancelled, you receive a confirmation by e-mail which contains a cancellation number. This cancellation number acts as proof of your cancellation in the event of a dispute.

    For cancellations of bookings received 7 days or more prior to arrival, no cancellation fee is due. Cancellations of bookings received within 6 to 5 days prior to arrival will result in a cancellation fee equivalent to an average two nights stay from the booked period. Cancellations of bookings received within 4 days or less prior to arrival will result in a cancellation fee equivalent to the full amount due for the entire booked stay.

    Please be aware that no refunds will be issued for any unused portion of your stay. Our cancellation policies are applicable at all times without exception.

  • No, their flight was canceled and they couldn’t get to Mexico. They lost the entire stay.

  • sirwired

    While I have some sympathy, if not a solution, for people that get hit by a fee at hotel that offers no option, I have considerably less sympathy for people that are offered pre-paid and non-prepaid rates, choose the pre-paid one (because it’s cheaper), and then complain they can’t get a refund. Of COURSE the hotel is going to make sure no refund gets handed out (and double-dip if possible); it’s the whole reason the rate is cheaper.

    Quality trip insurance (it is out there!) can help out in both instances, especially for carrier or weather delays.

  • Tamara Murphy

    Re: The Super 8 in Pittston. They clearly have two rates. Advanced purchase save 15%. “Cancellation Policy: There will be no credit or refund for early departures, cancellations, no shows, or changes in your reservation for any reason. Guests will not receive any refund or credit.” Or, Best Available rate, no discount, no penalty to cancel up to 4pm on the day of arrival. Seems clear to me.

  • EdB

    But how do you know what room would be assigned to you? I have not been to this resort but I have never seen or heard of hotels assigning a room before you arrive. Even if they did, and you canceled, what is there to prevent the hotel from moving a guest for the same room type into the one you were originally assigned? They are not committing a fraud as they are not getting double payment for any one room.

    Also, in regards to charge backs, it has been discussed on here before that a credit card issuer doesn’t have an obligation to do a charge back if the charge is made out of the country. There is also something about a mileage radius limit. The credit card issuer could do a charge back if it wanted, it is not required to.

  • Asiansm Dan

    I think the problem here is not the Hotel. A simple understandable travel insurance cover an event as travel interruption and cancellation, airline interruption by weather is the legitimate cause. Don’t complicate an issue of travel planning. Buy a travel insurance next trip who cover most events.

  • For resorts like the Excellence in Mexico – travel insurance would have ensured the travelers had some sort of protection for cancellations occurring within the resort’s penalty timeframe. There’s really no excuse to pay $1600+ for a vacation and not have travel insurance, unless one can afford to lose that $1600.

    For smaller hotels like the Super 8, people need to stop looking ONLY at the price of the room, and consider the rate as well. Many hotels offer an Advance Purchase rate that is cheaper than any other rate offered by the property. The trade off is you pay for the room up front, in full, and have no opportunity for refund or cancellation.

    Yes, hotel cancellation policies are becoming more restrictive, but I can understand why. Booking a hotel room or a stay at an all-inclusive resort requires careful attention to detail and understanding of what options are provided.

    Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA |

  • backprop

    I think the question might be…..weren’t they able to take the next flight? Or wasn’t there a next flight? (Or was it a once-a-week charter type deal?)

  • Deb Kelly

    I travel to this part of Mexico on a regular basis and all of the resort’s policies are VERY clear, which is why we always purchase insurance. Live and learn. It’s our responsibility as consumers to read EVERYTHING so that there aren’t any surprises when things like a grounded flight happen.

  • Deb Kelly

    So there weren’t any flights the next day or the next? Seems like we’re not getting the entire story from the OP.

  • Deb Kelly

    I agree with you 100%….I never understand the thought process of people who spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on a vacation and then deny the travel insurance which is usually only a couple of hundred dollars more.

  • m11_9

    If you are flying from a major city like that, the airline can accomodate people on another flight. I could see this if they were using a “vacation airline” with weekly flights from Cedar Rapids, not San Fran.

  • Thomas Ralph

    Exactly this. I voted no because in my experience, most hotels have a choice of cancellation terms, at least between “full prepayment, no refund, no way, no how” and “cancel until 4pm day of arrival”. Some have intermediate options. But the more flexibility you want, the more you pay for it.

    In Germany, fully nonrefundable rates are illegal, interestingly.

  • Cam

    Read the rate rules when you buy, people. It’s fairly simple.

  • Deb Kelly

    I’ve flown charters to Mexico from Boston and if they cancel for mechanical reasons they do their best to get you there on another airline. (it’s happened to us coming back from Cancun we were put on another flight that wasn’t a charter) If they can’t fly due to weather they have insurance in which you can file a claim. If the OP was indeed on a charter flight he/she should contact that company and file a claim.

  • But couldn’t the airline send them the next day or another flight that day?

  • The flight was during the holidays, and there was no availability for the following week.

  • I don’t think it can be made more clear that one should read the cancellation policies and if you are pre-paying for more than a night’s stay, you should be getting travel insurance.

  • MarkKelling

    So you are saying that if I miss my first night at this particular hotel and arrive the next day I will not have a room to check into even if I contact the hotel and tell them that I will be late?

    I know the OP wanted to cancel the entire stay due to no available flights (which I find difficult to believe there were absolutely no seats available on any airline at all given the lack of tourists going to Mexico at present), but the question asked by bodega was about arriving a day late. I would hope that a hotel I have prepaid for would not cancel my entire reservation if I was a day late and I let them know I still planned on getting there.

  • Joan Eisenstodt

    Will be curious to see if there is an impact on meetings contracts that spell out cancellation (for individual rooms) fees and procedures that have been the same as those for leisure guests.

  • Michael__K

    Quality trip insurance (it is out there!) can help out in both instances

    Not exactly. If Amy Li’s flight was cancelled for reasons that were entirely the airline’s fault, but not covered by some named peril — like an airline bankruptcy, or a named storm, or a complete cessation of service by the airline — then she gets absolutely nothing for her lost hotel stay.

    Now you might say she could have gotten Cancel for Any Reason coverage. Sure, but unless she knew her flight was cancelled more than 48 hours in advance and immediately notified her insurance, then she still most likely gets absolutely nothing. And even in the unlikely case that she meets the Cancel for Any Reason cutoff deadline, she only recovers about half of her hotel costs.

  • This is nothing new. Restrictive cancellation policies have been the norm in resort or other extra high demand areas for years. My family and I went to Yellowstone for the first time 20 years ago this summer, and even then, the park resort we booked at required a substantial deposit upfront, and escalating penalties beginning 90 days out. A 7-day advance notice requirement referenced by the OP actually isn’t that bad for a resort area during high season.

    In my opinion, the larger source of confusion and problems has been the proliferation of nonrefundable, prepaid rates offered by the OTAs and now the hotels directly. People either don’t read or fully comprehend the T&Cs, and then get surprised when they can’t cancel.

  • I wouldn’t think you would lose your entire stay if you just arrived a day or two late because of a delayed flight. They might still dock you for the penalty, but usually the hotel will hold the room for you, as long as you call and let them know.

  • Charles Owen

    From my TravelGuard policy: The Insurer will pay a benefit, up to the Maximum Limit shown on the Schedule, if an Insured cancels his/her Trip or is unable to continue on his/her Trip due to the following Unforeseen events: (d) Inclement Weather causing delay or cancellation of travel;

    He did say “Quality” trip insurance. It would have definitely covered this incident.

  • Michael__K

    And if her flight was cancelled because of (say) a mechanical failure or because of crew availability, then she wouldn’t be covered. Even by what you are calling “Quality” trip insurance.

  • John Keahey

    I needed more explanation in this report, as did many commenters it seems, about why they couldn’t fly in the following day, only missing one night of lodging. Did they lose their air fare as well? Of course, the story is about hotel cancellation policies, but a one- or two-sentence explanation about why they didn’t try to get there the next day would have avoided a lot of confusion among commenters. And, YES, always, always get trip-cancellation insurance and read that fine print as well!

  • Joe Farrell

    I Just wanted to point out that my ‘rainstorm’ was Hurricane Fay and a) the Florida governor had a state of emergency for the Orlando area, B) warned tourists to sty away, and C) for two of the four nights of our planned trip winds were in excess for 60mph and the resort golf courses and all amenities were shut down.

    I did not ask for a refund. I merely asked that my one night deposit be applied to another night.

    For the last 5 years I have actively told people not to go to this place. I hope they choke on that $150 because it cost them more in lost future business than they will ever know.

    This was not a prepaid rate or non-refundable. I tried to cancel the morning of departure when the track was certain and the governor had acted.

  • sirwired

    Errr… TravelGuard also covers mechanicals if it leads to the loss of more than half the trip. And Trip Delay benefits apply for any Common Carrier delay. (And most airlines except, say, Spirit or Alligiant, will do a decent job of getting you to your destination with no more than a day’s delay.)

  • Bill___A

    I always read the cancellation policies. For some reason, the cancellation policies at some Marriott properties in Germany were unreasonable and not consistent with the other properties. I took my business elsewhere.

  • bodega3

    Deb, we don’t have charters to CUN from SFO. We did at one time, but most charters are from the midwest, not the west coast….thankgoondess!
    Why was the holiday travel period not mentioned in the article? Heavy travel periods do make a difference for reaccommodating. This also explains the tight nonrefundable cancellation on the hotel.

  • bodega3

    Actually travel to Mexico has remained steady and this, as Chris has since provided, was over the holidays, so space can be very problematic. I have had flights canceled and my clients have had no problem getting air for the next day and still having their room available. It just depends on season, how this is booked and who you know to call/use to get this handled.

  • bodega3

    We now know the time period of the travel. Mexico isn’t hurting in resort destinations and especially not over holidays. CUN is extremely popular with Europeans and Canadians. Don’t forget that oveselling also takes place as incidences like flight cancellation happen.

  • bodega3

    Most carriers do the same, but over holiday time travel, availability becomes more of an issue to reaccommodate.

  • Michael__K

    Travel insurance does provide SOME sort of protection, but no policy covers all the scenarios completely outside the traveler’s control that could result in them losing the full $1600.

    So what you’re really saying is: “there’s really no excuse to pay $1600+ for a vacation unless one can afford to lose that $1600.” (Period).

  • Danielle

    For all you guys who are recommending travel insurance – which ones do you recommend? Under what circumstances would you recommend buying it?

  • Carchar

    I understand that one will lose money for not using prepaid hotel rooms, when the rules have been spelled out. I do have a problem with the fact that, when you can’t get to that hotel, and you’re not using any of the facilities or amenities, and your room may be sold anyway, they will not give you any of your frequent stayer program points that you would have gotten if you had been able to get there.

  • KarlaKatz

    Yes, hotel cancellation policies ARE becoming more restrictive. However, every property mentioned in this column has a “clickable” TOS, which clearly outlines their cancellation rules. Sadly, most folks just click the little box that indicates they “agree” with the TOS, and then move on.

  • DavidYoung2

    I agree that there should be a ‘win-win’ solution, but often a very late cancelation results in the hotel ‘eating’ a room that could otherwise be sold. A lot of hotels now offer a non-refundable, pre-paid rate and a deposit-only cancelable rate. I think that’s fair — the guest can buy ‘cancelation’ insurance if they want and the hotel uses the extra fees from a cancelable rate to offset the foregone revenue from people who do cancel.

    Foregone revenue, or opportunity costs, ARE real costs for a hotel. I think so long as they offer both rates, and the guest can choose which one they want, it’s fair. Remember, you can always book the refundable rate and then rebook the non-refundable rate and cancel the old reservations once your plans firm up. But it’s not fair to complain about getting a cheaper, non-cancelable rate and then complaining when you have to cancel. Just so long as it’s offered as an option, it’s fair to both sides.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I don’t have a problem with a hotel having a strict cancellation policy and enforcing it. I would have a problem with a property which either makes that policy difficult to find. Or difficult to read with the verbage consisting of circuitous legalese. The policiies should be as simple and straightforward as possible.

  • Thank you for this reminder to always know what you’re buying online. It’s so easy to be inattentive to the small stuff and end up losing money. In the case of a resort who keeps all your money from the 29th day out, don’t give them your business! One night’s cost is all any property should be able to charge when there’s a problem. You may be stuck in an airport, but the hotel has an empty room, unfair to think they should ignore the loss.

  • Yes you can get impacted in a major city. I remember one New Years where I was flying from Detroit to San Jose. An unexpected blizzard hit Chicago (my transfer point). My flight was cancelled and it was 3 days before I got a standby seat out. If there is a weather issue it is likely to affect more than one flight for a carrier. Other carriers are affected too. So that means a lot of passengers trying to get on to other almost full flights.

    If they were only going for 4-5 days, that would be almost all of the trip.

  • Boring but true travel insurance is the way to go. The insurers have more clout than the consumer so if they continue to lose mo eh from restrictive policies, maybe they will pressure hotels.

  • andrelot

    Accommodation in national parks are a very special case. It works like that because of government interference (assuming your hotel is located within the park).

    Hotels that operate concessions within National Parks are not entirely free to set up their fares. The NPS (National Parking Service) requires some notice and “justification” for maximum fares. They could charge $ 1000/night at some Yellowstone properties and still be fully booked (since the season is so short and the place so unique). However, they can’t do so.

    Then, you end up with situation where people booke these rooms months in advance, then the hotel has the upper hand on asking for deposits and what else.

  • andrelot

    Contrary to airlines, most hotels offer a reasonably priced “second-best” alternative with cancellation terms far more lenient than their best no-cancellation-no-matter-what prepaid fare. The difference I find is usually not that big, 15-20%.

  • Michael__K

    What’s annoying is that they default to the non-refundable advanced purchase rate when it’s available and it takes extra clicks to see that there are refundable/cancellable rate options.

    That doesn’t excuse people from reading the terms carefully, but Super 8’s website could do a much better job of disclosing it’s flexible rates. IMO, better practice would be to force the user to explicitly choose the non-refundable option with the refundable option visible alongside.

  • Jayson

    To me, it seems better to vacation onshore and jump on the train. It’s more reliable and you see so much more of the countryside you’ll miss by any other modes of transportation and you can take more luggage.

  • BMG4ME

    The hotel is not to blame. It’s a prepaid room. Why should anyone expect the hotel to refund a prepaid room? They probably got a special deal that they would have not have got had they not prepaid.

    The issue is that really the airline should have paid, but airlines are allowed to blame the weather and get away without it. In this case I think the airline should have paid up.

  • Jack Norell

    I’m voting “Yes” – not really because of the policies themselves (RTFM people…) but because they’re usually well hidden, and at times really unclear on aggregator websites as well. I don’t think they’re clearly disclosed, and therefore probably aren’t all that enforceable. But who wants to go to small claims over a hotel room?!

  • Boomer Traveler

    Jack. Your use of “RTFM” is really not necessary (or permitted).


  • Guest

    And what exactly is wrong with “Read The Freaking Manual”? As for what is permitted, that is really for the moderators to decide. If you think his post is out of line, flag it like I have with yours.

  • Boomer Traveler

    As I’m sure you know, the “F” does not stand for “Freaking”. Chris has made it clear that cursing, including symbols and abbreviations are not permitted. Rather than flag Jack’s as inappropriate I posted a polite reminder.

  • Hal

    That F means different things to different people. And if you had read the link you posted, you either missed this or just chose to ignore it… “If you see something objectionable, please flag it. That sends an email to the entire moderation team, and the comment will be reviewed.”

    So according to the very link YOU posted accusing Jack of violating the posting policies, you have also violated them. Anyways, I will flag your follow up message and say no more least I be accused of feeding the trolls, also something prohibited.

  • EdB

    Boomer, I don’t know where you are getting the idea that Chris has made it clear the symbols and abbreviations are not acceptable. All he has said about it in the guidelines is, “No #&$*(& swearing! This is the comments section of a consumer advocacy blog, not a high school locker room.” You can read into it that since he used the symbols that maybe they are not allowed, but that is not clear based on his description. And there is nothing about acronyms or abbreviations not being allowed.

  • This thread has been flagged, so here I am!

    I’m usually OK with terms like freaking, frickin’ and even effing. (But is it really necessary to make the point?) The moderator team may feel otherwise. A few days ago we deleted “STFU” — and I thought that was an appropriate action in the context of the discussion. This is definitely a gray area as far as comments go.

    I think the reason for the flag may have been an “off topic” discussion. Anyway, I think we should move on, please.

  • ChBot

    I kind of like that in his article, Chris paints your more than 5 years old bad experience as “recently planned”. Refreshing …

  • casa mariposa panama

    As an innkeeper of a small hotel, we are particularly sensitive to cancellations because it is a serious loss of revenue to us. I understand guest frustration with cancellation policies, but people need to understand better that hotels depend upon reservations as their revenue stream. I suggest to all that some hotels are tightening their cancellation policies more and more because there is a growing trend in short-time reservations, possibly associated with a growing trend in mobile applications that folks can use to make reservations “on-the-go” so to speak, which gives the hotel much less lead time to refill a cancelled reservation. In the case of Ms. Li, it seems logical to me that she should have purchased insurance to cover the possibility of a flight interruption. While I cannot debate policy types and coverages, the fact that she did not seems to me to be the issue at hand in her case, not the hotel’s policies. Why should the hotel suffer a loss because of a) bad weather causing the airline to ground its flight, and b) the guest not taking sufficient precautions to protect a reservation with a value in excess of $1600? In the case of Mr. Firth, the hotel’s cancellation policy was made clear to him, so why should the hotel suffer a loss because his travel plans changed? And furthermore: Mr. Firth didn’t realize that making a reservation constitutes a promise to pay, as in “buying something”? Please, folks, let’s have a little common sense. In Mr. Farrell’s case, I think the hotel should have accommodated him. I believe he was being reasonable with the hotel, and given the situation, the hotel could have been more flexible. After all, when the Governor declares a state of emergency in the face of a named storm, that to me is a bit more than a “bad rainstorm”. This suggests to me that the hotel COULD have been more flexible, but perhaps Mr. Farrell was too diplomatic to escalate the thing further. In any case, I think the hotel dropped the ball in his case. In the case of Mr. Compher, I think it would have been prudent to check with the hotel about the cancellation policy rather than assuming something based on past experience with a connected property somewhere. The hotel (in the BVI, or the one in Mexico) probably has such restrictive policies because getting to these locations can be a challenge, and given their location, storm activity can, and often is, a real problem. Again, in this situation, if Mr. Compher did not take reasonable steps with insurance (or some other venue) to cover a potential problem like this, why should the hotel suffer the loss?

    I suggest to all that many travelers make travel plans without stopping to think about possible problems interrupting that travel plan, and thus do not take proper precautions to protect themselves, especially when the value of the reservation may reach several hundreds ( or thousands) of dollars. In addition, I believe there is growing trend among travelers in general to use questionable websites to book hotels and flights where they are lured in by “cheap, cheap deals”. Cheap cheap deals often means no-frills, and no protection. If something goes awry, people who book under these circumstances often cry foul and see the hotel or the airline as the culprit. As with all things in life, there are many times when things happen beyond our control. But when people book a holiday, they need to take more responsibility in understanding exactly what they are buying (and yes, making a reservation is a “purchase”), and how they can protect themselves against an unforeseen event personal, inclement weather, or otherwise. By taking better responsibility, guests will be much happier (especially if something does go awry). It normally means spending a little more time, and perhaps a little more money, but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

  • Joe Farrell

    Not sure why time matters to the story. It’s still about unreasonable hotel cancellation policy. I’m usually pretty hard core on cancellations but when public officials ask you to stay away, and you are willing to let them keep your money and apply it to a future night, I though they were incredibly unreasonable since they had closed all their amenities and sent their employees home, leaving management on duty.

  • Daddydo

    This ia a prime reason for travel insurance. You never know what is going to happen. Marriott as well as many other chains offer non-refundable rates that are deeply discounted and discount rates that are nicely discounted. In most of the better resort hotels, this amounts to $15-200 per day. Choose wisely. I have no chance of having an emergency just is untrue.

  • pauletteb

    No buttons showing up to vote . . . another glitch?
    You’d think that properties such as Excellence Playa Mujeres would be more concerned about the damage that bad publicity can do to their bottom line. With so many other accommodation options available in most cities and vacation destinations, a property’s cancellation policy (and after this article, I’ll be checking even more closely) is yet another decision factor.

  • ChBot

    Well, writing about a new trend of tightened cancellation policy citing as an example a 5 years old story shows that it was already tightened at that time !!!… So I would guess that in the context, time matters !
    And yes, this singular hotel application of its cancellation policy is more than unreasonable (in fact, it would even qualify as highway robbery !!!…).

  • I think you’re right, and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have said “recently” in the story. Truth is, when I looked at Joe’s case, I didn’t do the math and count the years and I also felt guilty that I wasn’t able to help him when he first contacted me, so I wanted to include his case. The truth is, hotel cancellation policies have been getting more restrictive for a while, and experts like NYU’s Hansen say that it is getting worse. Thank you for caring enough to say something.

  • bodega3

    Over holiday time periods, flights can be full even from a major airport/hub.

  • SoBeSparky

    As long as people refuse to: 1. Read clearly stated terms and conditions, including items labeled “Caution,” “Important” or “Read carefully,” and 2. Believe the rules apply to them and their situation, then they will always scream cheat, scam and unfair. Consumers have an obligation to read clearly stated terms and conditions before they buy anything and understand they are not the exception to the rules.

  • Charles Owen

    Michael, I get the idea you don’t like or use travel insurance. That’s fine, but you keep informing people of all of the things that are not covered and, in every case, you are being corrected. I would suggest you read a policy before you make more claims about what is covered or not covered. What is not covered is very clear for the TravelGuard policy I use. There is a big list, but they are things like suicide, pregnancy, professional sports, mountaineering, crime, war, etc. And before you scream “pre-existing medical condition”, if you buy trip insurance within ten days of your deposit my policy waives the pre-existing condition.

    Frankly, I think anyone who travels outside the US without buying travel insurance is taking an enormous risk. I don’t buy it because I might lose money on a trip. What I have paid for TA over the years would pay for any trip I have taken. I buy it because I don’t want to risk bankruptcy every time I go on a trip. Think of what it would cost if you had a major medical condition in, say, Mexico and had to be medivac’ed out.

  • bodega3

    Travel Guard has a medical Evac policy, that can be taken out separately, which we took out last year. We didn’t need to worry about cancellations as our air was refundable, the hotels all had 48 hours cancel policies but we didn’t want to be so far from home without coverage to get us home if we got injured. Cost was less than $100 and hundreds less than taking out regular travel insurance. You get a policy that meets your needs.

  • Michael__K

    I have nothing against travel insurance per se. I have something against promoting travel insurance as something it absolutely isn’t.

    Whenever Chris writes an article like this, then there are always lots of “[s]he should have gotten travel insurance!” comments. Then when Chris writes about a travel insurance claim denial (and FYI, there have been a bunch, and I’ve read the policies involved almost every time) then many of the same commenters sing a very different tune. And your assertion that what’s covered is “very clear” melts away when messy real-life events collide with neat boiler-plate language that could be interpreted multiple ways.

    You admit that you don’t buy travel insurance to protect your deposits — then it’s hypocritical for you to promote it for a purpose you don’t even believe in yourself!

    Getting coverage for big catastrophic expenses like medical evacuation has some merit — but then promote that for it’s own sake and don’t mislead people into thinking they must also get other coverages (at a higher price) — especially when those other coverages don’t even cover as much as you imply they do.

  • There should definitely be certain situations where you can cancel your reservations. For instance, when you book a room at a hotel in the wrong state…

  • EdB

    If you catch a booking error within say 24 hours, I would agree with you. However, if the error is not caught for several weeks, then why should the hotel have to bear any financial burden because of your error?

    I think a better example would be if a state of emergency in the area is declared, then you should be able to cancel and get a full refund.

  • Lindabator

    Hmmm…never thought about that! I guess you COULD argue that since they received payment for the room, it really SHOULDN’T matter whether or not you stayed – you SHOULD get the points!

  • Lindabator

    TravelGuard has a very comprehensive policy, and we sell it to our clients all the time – it definately helps when this issue comes up – just remember to buy the policy from the insurance company, NOT the travel provider.

  • Hotel should consider some things that cannot be avoided. I wish this would happen. I’m hoping one hotel would serve religiously in time.

  • Charles Owen

    ” I have something against promoting travel insurance as something it absolutely isn’t.” And then you twice in this conversation erroneously tell people things that won’t be covered. I’m not promoting trip insurance. Did you even read my posts before you called me a hypocrite? I’m pointing out misinformation you are stating and a general concern that you are arguing against purchasing trip insurance based on reasons that are not correct. Yes, there have been articles where trip insurance has been denied, often unfairly. There are unscrupulous operators in any industry. There are “travel protection policies” that are not really trip insurance and there are policies sold by travel providers that are designed more to protect them than you. You have to be careful, as with any product. That is why the first post you responded to specifically said “quality” trip insurance.

    I teach Computer Science. I have to tell my students to be very careful about answers they find online on places like When someone asks a question there, they immediately get a bunch of answers; often from people who have no idea what they are talking about. This misinformation gets into student projects and assignments and causes them and me considerable grief. When you post comments like you did above, some will read them and think they are true and not decide to buy trip insurance when they should buy it. Making a decision based on your completely incorrect comments would always be a mistake.

  • Michael__K

    Erroneously? Really?

    The original claim was that “Quality travel insurance” will protect your nonrefundable deposit. (And actually, Steven didn’t even bother to restrict the claim to “quality” travel insurance)

    I cited examples of named perils that are not included on the vast majority of travel insurance policies.

    Then *YOU* cherry-picked Travel Guard. (Are you suggesting that the vast majority of travel insurance policies are “poor quality?” If so, that makes the original claim — which promoted travel insurance — a bit misleading, doesn’t it?)

    I pointed out that even Travel Guard — and yes I read their Gold Plan — doesn’t cover crew-max-out cancellations — do you disagree? Do you have any evidence to support your accusation that I made an error there?

    They don’t necessarily cover mechanical failures either. Sirwired clarified that they do cover it *only if* the delay is more than 50% of the trip. Does that offer you lots of comfort that your deposits are well protected? Is that the big error that you’re complaining about?

    I could have pointed out a bunch more unnamed perils:

    Do you think Travel Guard will cover you if your flight is cancelled for air traffic control issues? If you are IDB’d? If the airline makes a schedule change that prevents you from reaching your destination on time?

    You still think that you can just buy Travel Guard and not worry about losing your nonrefundable deposits?

    Who is promoting misinformation here?

  • bodega3

    Some do, but this is Xmas time and a traveler needs to think about what could happen and protect themselves, too. Don’t buy a nonrefundable product if you can’t afford to lose the money!

  • bodega3

    Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover everything either. With travel, there are ways to protect yourself and you take out a cancel for any reason coverage. Cancel waivers through TO’s offer lower cost for full refund BUT they don’t cover for default.

  • Michael__K

    Homeowner’s insurance (at least the policies I’ve seen) works very differently. It protects your home investment from catastrophic loss EXCEPT for named, common sense exclusions. You don’t need to think of everything that could possibly go wrong and verify that it’s covered in your homeowner’s policy (meteors, locusts, gas explosions, missile test crashes, etc.).

    The problem with the cancel for any reason option is that not only do you still forfeit about half of the deposit (best case), but by the time you find out your flight is cancelled you are almost certainly past the cancellation deadline (usually 48+ hours before departure).

  • bodega3

    I didn’t say cancel for any reason insurance, but cancel fo any reason waivers, available through TO’s.

    Any insurance with have something it doesn’t cover. I have sold travel insurance and waivers to a client to cover as many bases as they wanted.

  • Michael__K

    If you’re buying Open Perils insurance (not possible for travel insurance AFAIK), then you know EXACTLY what’s not covered because it’s spelled out in gory detail in the policy.

    If you’re buying Named Perils insurance then you really can’t fully appreciate what’s not covered without considerable expertise on the risks. And even then you can miss things.

    Suggesting that it’s all the same because no policy covers everything is more misleading then helpful.

    And what TO has a Cancel for any Reason waiver that doesn’t have a strict cancellation deadline? Flights are routinely delayed for as long as possible before they are cancelled.

  • bodega3

    Of course you will miss stuff, just like you will on any other type of insurance, as you don’t know all the questions to ask, nor would you know. Insurance is a PITA and I acknowledge that.
    Most waivers cover you up to time of departure, so if your flight doesn’t go, there is no departure.

  • Michael__K

    With Open Perils you don’t miss anything if you read the policy — the risks are spelled out. It’s NOT “just like any other type of insurance.”

    And every waiver I’ve seen covers you up to SCHEDULED departure. If your flight doesn’t go, but isn’t cancelled far enough in advance to meet that notification deadline, then as far as I can tell you are SOL.

  • Of course no policy would cover anything completely – the premium would be too expensive and no one would want to issue it! But, there are a variety of different insurance plans and coverages within those plans that it is simply stupid to not have some sort of coverage.

    Most travel suppliers mark all monies paid as fully nonrefundable within a certain time period before travel. If something happens during that time period that forces a cancellation, and that something is protected by travel insurance, you’ll lose that money. Of course, there are exceptions, but to NOT have ANYTHING at all is just like rolling the dice on a craps table – anything can happen. Sometimes nothing happens and all plans go off without a hitch.

    It comes down to, which is cheaper: losing $1600 or more on the vacation you can’t take now, or reschedule, or lose a couple hundred dollars on a travel insurance premium and get your money back in full?

  • Michael__K

    People want insurance to cover unexpected events that are completely outside of their control.

    If you claim that a travel insurance policy can’t cover all such events because that would be prohibitively expensive, then you are admitting that even with insurance, the traveler must be prepared for the very real possibility that they will STILL LOSE THEIR ENTIRE DEPOSIT through no fault of their own.

    You can’t have it both ways…

    I understand this message might not be great for business if you are a TA selling travel packages with nonrefundable deposits, but it’s the truth.

    Implying that travel insurance solves the problem of someone who absolutely can’t afford to lose their deposit is highly misleading.

  • bodega3

    No Michael, it isn’t highly misleading. There are various ways to make travel purchase that minimizes your risks and travel insurance is one option, but not necessarily the best option. No one plan, or one way works for all, but the bottom line is what I have said and Steve is saying, if you can afford the lose money, don’t travel. Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to insurnace companies even when you think you have dotted all the ‘i’s’ and crossed all the ‘t’s’.

  • Michael__K

    I think you need to re-read Steve’s original post and my original reply.

    *I* said if you can’t afford to lose the money don’t travel. He said if you can’t afford to lose the money get insurance.

  • When you are discussing the DEPOSIT, that’s entirely different than the TOTAL COST. My earlier statements reflect the TOTAL COST. With a deposit, even a nonrefundable one, most travel suppliers provide a lot of leeway with how that deposit is applied – it’s simply a commitment to future business. I’ve had suppliers who will apply a nonrefundable deposit to another itinerary if something were to occur to prevent travel on the original itinerary, as one example. You don’t find the same flexibility when it comes to final payment. That said, it’s uncommon to have a nonrefundable deposit with a travel supplier, at least within my specialized niche.

    I do not advocate travel insurance for those who can’t afford to lose a deposit – I advocate insurance for those who can’t afford to lose the ENTIRE vacation investment. You can get travel insurance from the day you make the initial deposit up until the day prior to travel, and sometimes you can add insurance during travel as well. It’s up to the traveler to understand the risks and what is right for them. The earlier insurance is purchased, the more “coverage” they’ll have, especially with regards to medical situations.

    Obtaining travel insurance by itself does not solve the problem for someone who can’t absolutely afford to lose their money. If they are in such dire straits that loss of that money with nothing in return would be catastrophic, they have no business traveling anywhere.

    Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA |

  • Michael__K

    Your initial comment referred to the lost $1,600. And in this case that represents JUST THE NON-REFUNDABLE ADVANCE COSTS FOR THE HOTEL. That was NOT the total cost, which would have included airfare and possibly other costs.

    I don’t see how “final” nonrefundable advance payments are fundamentally different from earlier nonrefundable advance payments except for the fact that there’s is a little less time remaining for stuff to go wrong.

    The resort in this case takes 2 nights payment as of 7 days in advance of checkin, and full payment for the entire stay as of 4 days in advance of checkin. There’s no documented policy that any of that can be applied to a future stay. And they clearly didn’t offer that.

  • CW

    I don’t have an issue with a clearly-stated hotel cancellation policy – one that says, for example, “Cancel by (time) on (date) to avoid penalties.”

    What I’ve been noticing, though, are cancellation policies that say “Cancel 72 hours before arrival” which are enforced as “72 hours before DAY of arrival” (meaning before midnight of the 4th day prior) rather than as 72 hours before a 4:00pm or 6:00pm check-in time.

    I consider this a deceptive and misleading practice that I believe is becoming more and more common in the industry.

  • Marcin Jeske

    I have to respectfully disagree with the idea that a hotel reservation is a purchase. It is rather a distinctly different concept.

    A purchase is an exchange of some desired good for an agreed amount of money. There is no purchase until both the money and the good or service is provided.

    A reservation (in advance, since that is the only kind) is an agreement for a hotel to reserve (keep aside) a room so that when a customer arrives, they can provide the guest a lodging service, which the guest will buy and pay for on site. This works similarly to a car rental reservation, a restaurant reservation, and any number of other reservations.

    Now it is reasonable that a hotel reservation comes with some conditions to encourage both the hotel and the guest to follow through… that includes cancellation fees on the part of the guest, and best effort from the hotel to provide the service. And part of that effort should be to flexible when possible.

    The whole argument of lost revenue due to cancellations is an unwelcome transfer from the airline business. If a hotel is so full that they have to turn away customers, a cancelled reservation is an opportunity to sell the same room at a higher rate. If a hotel has plenty of rooms, then it was better to have at least a chance to earn the revenue from a booking, rather than not have the customer reserve at all. There is no lost revenue.

    And giving the customer a hard time in the very moment where they are asking you to help them out is losing the chance for a positive customer experience.

    As for those times when a natural disaster or other events beyond your control happens… I am sure all those recommending travel insurance to guests… will also insist on business loss/interruption insurance for hotels.

    Really, the logical result of more stringent cancellation policies is that fewer people will book far in advance, giving hotels a much worse idea of their future business. That’s no way to run a business.

  • Andy

    no! …if you disagree then try to understand the hotel’s point of view – late cancellations mean lost income, which could mean higher prices in the future. If you need protecting from unforseen reasons for canceling then take out the appropriate insurance cover …or don’t reserve in the first place.

  • Andy

    You are just being bloody-minded with your attitude. Why cancel and then turn up? …because you think you can? ….stay at home mate, you will be happier.

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