Marcie Derosas’s hotel problem was solved within minutes of contacting me.
She’d booked a nonrefundable room online without paying close attention to the fine print. An hour later, she returned to cancel the reservation, but was told she couldn’t.
“I’m hoping you can help me,” she wrote.
No problem, I wrote back.
Minutes later, Derosa told me not to bother.
“Fortunately, the hotel decided not to charge me,” she says.
Maybe that’s because the hotel knew that was the right thing to do. The domestic airline industry already has a federally mandated 24-hour rule for cancellations. Should hotels offer the same courtesy?
Many already do. Typically, hotel refund policies are far more lenient than airline rules. But not always. Some reservations, in exchange for a modest discount, are totally nonrefundable from the moment you click the “book” button.
The only real beneficiaries are hotels and their shareholders. Too often, the restrictions are buried in the fine print where inexperienced customers don’t bother to look. And too often, hotels are able to pocket the money for a “nonrefundable” room and then resell it to someone else, effectively double-dipping.
Consider what happened to Derosas. Her travel agent had recommended the Hilton Sorrento, but while she was browsing online, she found a better rate than her agent had offered.
“I couldn’t reach her and the site said ‘Book now, pay later and cancel at anytime,’ so I booked it to show her,” she remembers. “One hour later I went to cancel and was informed this was a nonrefundable rate.”
She was stuck with a $1,300 hotel bill.
A quick call to Booking.com, the online agency through which she’d made the reservation, and to the Hilton, fixed it. That’s the correct resolution. After all, hotels expect guests like Derosas to be understanding when they overbook and they have to “walk” them to another hotel, or if they have to wait a few hours while they prepare their room, or even if they can’t accommodate them because of an unforeseen event. Sticking it to Derosas after an hour would have been wrong.
Even the most ardent, rules-are-rules folks — the die-hard industry apologists who troll this site — believe some kind of leniency is called for in a situation like this. So why not codify it? Why not make it an industry standard?
I can think of two compelling reasons why it shouldn’t become a standard. The first, which will be raised by the pro-hotel crowd, is that this policy will cost money, which will mean higher rates for everyone. That is provably false. The airline industry didn’t collectively raise fares after the 24-hour rule became a federal regulation, nor did its profits suffer. There is no evidence a 24-hour rule would increase hotel prices.
A second reason: Adopting a 24-hour rule would open the floodgates for making more hotel rates nonrefundable. After all, the hotels have given customers a little, and by upping the number of nonrefundable rooms, aren’t they just responding to demand? That’s what hotels want to do — they want to keep your money and resell the room to someone else, as many times as they want. That’s a problem for another time, though.
I don’t think either of those arguments are enough to dissuade me of the obvious benefit to the traveling public of extending the 24-hour rule to hotels. The time has come. Hotels need to voluntarily adopt this rule, for the sake of their consumers.