Silly travel rules we hope will end in 2017

By | January 5th, 2017

If the consumer-unfriendly ticketing restrictions quietly added by the three major domestic airlines this year don’t win the Worst New Travel Rules of 2016 award, they’re definitely strong contenders.

This spring, you might recall, American, Delta and United changed the way they price multicity tickets online, displaying dramatically higher fares than they used to. Airlines claim they were just closing a little loophole, but advocates cried foul.

You can’t leave your home without encountering a stupid travel rule these days. Fixes are a little harder. But as we head into 2017, there are a few possibilities. Here are the most absurd rules of the year — and their chances of being repealed.

Wacky multicity ticket restrictions. Odds of dying in 2017: 0%.

Airlines say their move to raise ticket prices, made virtually at the same time, is nothing more than a routine system change dictated by a competitive marketplace. There’s no law against raising ticket prices, and since the government didn’t take them to task for collusive behavior, the increases have stuck.

Turns out there may be a way to reopen that loophole and save money. A new travel start-up called SQYGL (sqygl.com) promises a way to beat the system. “We’re effectively bypassing the airlines systems and still allow travelers to book — in seconds, not hours — complex multicity itineraries,” says Ron Ben-Zeev, SQYGL’s founder. The service, which is still being tested, launches in early 2017.

Resort fees. Odds of dying in 2017: 20%

Airlines have their funny pricing rules, hotels have theirs. They’re called resort fees, and they’re mandatory charges added after you get a price quote for your room. Tricky, isn’t it? Since the beginning of this year, resort fees have surged 9% to an average of $19.74 per night at the hotels charging them. The markets with the biggest increases: Panama City, Fla. (24%), the Florida Keys (22%), followed by San Diego., (21%) and Miami (20%).

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“Travelers are often blindsided by a mandatory fee they are forced to pay when they show up at their hotel,” says Randy Greencorn, publisher of the site Resortfeechecker.com. “Hotels are generally unwilling to waive the fee, leaving little recourse for consumers.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has signaled that it’s about to change its disclosure requirements for resort fees, which would effectively kill these dishonest charges. (Hotels would be required to display the total price at the beginning of the booking process.) Of course, that assumes there will be an FTC in 2017.

Non-cancellable rooms. Odds of dying in 2017: 0%.

Hotels have always had restrictions on room cancellations, but lately those restrictions have become even more restrictive. For example, if you need to make a change close to your arrival date, you can’t do so without losing your room. In extreme cases, your reservation is completely non-refundable. These prepaid rooms offer a modest discount in exchange for giving up the ability to cancel and receive a refund. Result: more money for hotels, while guests sometimes walk away with nothing.


“One way around this rule is to call the hotel and ask to have your reservation moved further into the future, rather than canceling,” says William Beckler, co-founder of the hotel site AllTheRooms.com. “Then, later on, call again and try to cancel, which is less likely to be blocked since you’re outside of that no-cancellation window.” The strategy doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try.

Antique, outrageous protectionist laws. Odds of dying in 2017: 5%.

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Cabotage laws were created more than a century ago to protect American shipping interests. These archaic rules prevent foreign carriers from offering domestic service and foreign-flagged vessels from making more than one domestic stop before heading out to sea.

“Today, nearly every cruise ship is operated under a foreign flag,” explains Tanner Callais, founder of the cruise website Cruzely.com. “That means they can’t pick you up in say, New York, and let you leave the ship permanently in Miami.”

With ostensibly pro-business Republicans in control of Congress and the executive branch, it’s possible that cabotage could go buh-bye, if not next year, then soon. These obsolete laws don’t help consumers, and removing them would significantly increase competition.

Of course the thing that really needs to go away in 2017 isn’t an old law or a new policy (although that would be nice), but rather the travel industry’s outdated and often consumer-unfriendly loyalty programs.

David Cumpston is fed up with ridiculous points schemes. He just tried to redeem his frequent-flier miles for a “free” British Airways ticket and had to pay an additional $600 in taxes and fees. Then the airline asked for another $95 for a seat reservation. So much for “free.”

“There’s no common-sense reason for that,” says Cumpston, who works for a marketing agency in San Francisco.

Then again, there’s no common-sense reason for any of these rules. They’re just there because no has said “enough.” Maybe it’s time for travelers to say it.

How to get stupid rules reversed

Complain. Companies listen when you speak up, and if they believe enough customers might take their business elsewhere, they’ll change their unfriendly policies. Tip: Put your grievance in writing and make sure you receive a written response. If you don’t, forward it to an executive to ensure it’s viewed promptly.

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Let the government know you’re unhappy. In travel, two agencies are responsible for the bulk of regulations: the Department of Transportation and the Federal Trade Commission. You can complain to both online, and in writing. Tip: If you want to have a real voice, be on the lookout for proposed rulemakings, where public comments are invited. They’ll be taken into account when regulators make a final rule.

Vote with your wallet. The most persuasive way to effect change is to stop doing business with a company. That’s difficult with an airline, since we’re down to just a few, but far easier with hotels. When there’s a resort fee on your bill, tell them you’re taking your business elsewhere and never coming back. Then watch what happens to the fee.



  • sirwired

    Why would we want non-cancellable rooms to die? I could see, perhaps, regulations on disclosure that a particular reservation is non-cancellable, but otherwise, why legislate them out of existence entirely?

    I haven’t seen a hotel yet that does not also offer a rate allowing cancellation for a modest price increase. Why would you deny the non-cancellable discount to somebody with set plans willing to take that risk?

  • Alan Gore

    Because cancelable hotel rooms, even when something like 24-hour notice is required, represent a little island of customer-friendliness left in travel. But we can’t have that, can we? Right now the cancelable rooms are only slightly higher than the non-cancelable rooms, but if they keep on getting away with it, watch for the cancelable option to quietly disappear.

    Travelers who cling to the old tradition of spontaneity in travel like road trips, which work really well if flexible hotel reservations remain possible.

  • sirwired

    Non-cancelable rooms represent an island of easily-obtainable cost-savings for the travelers whose plans dictate they can take advantage of them.

    “If they keep on getting away with it”… “Get away” with what? With offering an option for consumers to take on some risk in order to save money?

    General griping about “spontaneity”, or being disappointed with your options (which, I must note, haven’t actually disappeared yet), is not a job for actual legislation to fix.

  • Alan Gore

    Because I’m afraid that hotel rooms are going to end up like airline seats, with every decision frozen in place months ahead of time and customer service fobbed off with the all-purpose phrase “Get the insurance!”

    And we all know how that ended up, don’t we?

  • Michael__K

    The term “non-cancellable” room is imprecise, but Chris is clearly referring to more than just the pure “non-refundable” room-rates you refer to.

    He cites the specific example of refundable rates which do not allow date changes without losing the original room/reservation/rate (even for the overlapping portion of the revised stay).

    There are also plenty of rooms which cannot be canceled inside a certain window (24 hours, 72 hours, 7 days, etc.) even under the most flexible rate offered.

    There’s the issue of non-refundable reservations which cannot be corrected even immediately upon receipt of confirmation in case of an error.

    Not saying that all of these things could feasibly be or should all be legislated out of existence, but I do like the idea of at least having 24-hours after booking to cancel, like with airlines.

  • sirwired

    It ended up with ticket prices far, far, lower than anything during the days of airline fare regulation, which had none of the modern restrictions. Works for me. If you want all that spontaneity, well, fully-refundable coach is still there for you, if you want to replicate the 70’s flexibility and keep paying 70’s prices.

  • sirwired

    I could get behind a 24-hour window after reserving to make changes. But the rest? Let hotels and travelers make their own decisions.

    – I can see why a hotel might not want to preserve your rate for an overlapping change… if you were booked Friday-Sunday in a beach destination, I’m not letting you keep the same rate Friday-Saturday if you start your stay on Thursday, because it’s going to be hard to rent out that room Saturday night, since most travelers stay the weekend.

    – There are plenty of hotels/destinations for which a even a 7-day non-cancellation window is reasonable. For instance, a five-room B&B is going to have trouble landing a replacement booking quickly.

    (And Chris is ALSO clearly referring to the non-refundable rates I refer to, and is calling for those to disappear.)

  • Michael__K

    I don’t buy your beach destination scenario. In general, they will rent out Saturday night much more easily than Thursday night. Maybe there’s some other narrow scenario where it makes sense, but the vast majority of the time it doesn’t. This problem crops up even for purely *lengthening* a stay, forcing the guest to create a separate new reservation for the extra days.

    (And I’m not so sure if Chris is also referring to what you claim he is; non-refundable rates are normally non-changeable, and the examples and tip he provides involve changing dates).

  • cscasi

    I am fairly happy with the hotel reservations being the way they are currently. A couple of years ago, I purchased two nights on a non-refundable rate. I used them and saved some money. Had I not been able to go, I would have lost that pre-paid amount. The hotel offered several rates for the room and it was my choice what I chose. If one cannot afford to pay for a non-refundable rate, whether totally non-refundable or the type which one forfeits the amount if the room is cancelled inside a certain window of time, then the person should not book that rate. The hotel is offering choices.

  • sirwired

    Saturday, in isolation, is not so easy to rent out for a hotel that has most guests check in on Friday. Yeah, Thursday’s harder to rent, but also goes for a much lower rate, so that doesn’t really help.

    And if you have to make a second reservation to lengthen the stay… so? That’s a little bit of paperwork, when you “check out”, nothing more.

    And when Chris says: “These prepaid rooms offer a modest discount in exchange for giving up the ability to cancel and receive a refund.” Well… that looks like a description of a standard non-refundable room to me.

  • Michael__K

    My comment was NOT about non-refundable rates….

  • cscasi

    Chris,
    Please explain in detail what you meant; for the benefit of us who are unsure. Thanks.

  • Michael__K

    “Saturday, in isolation, is not so easy to rent out for a hotel that has most guests check in on Friday. “

    I disagree. Plenty of beach destination hotels require 2-night (or even 3-night) minimum stays precisely *because* many guests would otherwise wait until Saturday to arrive.

    “if you have to make a second reservation to lengthen the stay… so? That’s a little bit of paperwork, when you “check out”, nothing more.”

    It can be a bigger hassle if wires get crossed and the hotel fails to arrange to keep you in the same room across reservations. Even if they do arrange it, it’s just a silly hoop to have to jump through.

  • Tracy Larson

    Resort fees, ugh! I am not a fan of them, but . . . We own a 2 bedroom condo in the Florida Keys that we rent out on VRBO. We are required, by association rules, to charge $6.50 per night and then pay that fee to the association to cover upkeep of the common grounds. Doing this allows the association to keep monthly HOA fees down, and also generates income that pay for improvements to the complex without having to levy a special assessment against the owners. We just did a complete remodel of the pool and the surround pool deck with this income, with no added cost to the owners. Mind you, this is in a complex where the majority of owners use the units for vacation rental income, probably 90% are rental units.

  • sirwired

    They have the minimums because one day is no good without the other. They don’t want to rent a Friday-only room for the same reason they don’t want to rent a Saturday-only room. They’ll have an “orphaned” room and nobody to occupy it. (They don’t necessarily balance-out.)

  • Michael__K

    In some cases the 2-night minimum specifically applies only to Saturday night stays (it’s never the other way around).

    Anyway, if a hotel had a minimum stay policy then of course I could understand why they wouldn’t allow changes which violate one of their requirements. But the problem Chris refers to is where hotels won’t allow any changes whatsoever without re-reserving and re-pricing the entire stay from scratch.

  • Johng

    Hi Tracey

    This may seem a silly question but why can you not charge the £6.50 in the price of staying. Why do you need to charge it separately?

  • jsn55

    All good points with one exception … frankly I didn’t realize how many silly travel rules there are. And I’m sure there are many more. However, I believe that any rule that increases revenue will not be rescinded without legal action. Making as much money as possible is the American way.

    The one exception here is loyalty programs. Loyalty programs should be restricted to … wait for it … frequent, loyal customers. Savvy travellers have no problems with their loyalty programs; we should not be punished by ‘dumbing down’ the programs or subjecting them to ‘government regulation’. We derive great benefits from our loyalty programs because we read all the information, ask questions and understand how the loyalty programs work.

    Hotels and airlines are coming up with mechanisms to suit the traveller who insists on the cheapest product possible. This is a good thing for budget travellers and should be encouraged. Leave the rest of us alone so we can enjoy our travels.

  • jsn55

    This is a good example of ‘common sense’ thinking. Few object to a $6.50 fee per night, it’s the hotels that charge huge fees like $35 per night when they’re thousands of miles away from a ‘resort’. As usual common sense will solve many problems, but can’t stand up to greed.

  • jsn55

    Because the owners want to keep rates realistic and not lose renters to the competition.

  • jsn55

    Yes, another benefit of loyalty programs and example of why they’re beneficial. I remember booking a non-ref Hilton room while showing my computer guru what my problem was with the website. I called immediately, some guy in India went on and on about what my choices were; finally I just said, “Look, I’m an HHonors diamond person, I want you to cancel this room”. Bingo, it was done.

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