Remember when the standard was that hotel bookings could be cancelled with 24 hours’ notice, with no penalty? Those were the good ol’ days.
On June 19, Marriott imposed a new cancellation policy: Travelers booking stays at Marriott brands in the Americas must cancel their reservations by midnight 48 hours prior to arrival or else be charged a fee. While rules varied by brand and individual property before the change, most hotels only required 24 hours’ advance notice for no-fee cancellations. So the new policy was a significant downgrade for Marriott customers: less convenience, more fees.
Marriott justified the change as follows: “The revised policy allows us to make rooms available to guests that would have otherwise gone unoccupied due to a last-minute cancellation.” Of course that’s true; the new policy will indeed enable Marriott to sell more rooms, as well as rake in more fees for last-minute cancellations. It’s a great move for Marriott’s bottom line. But it’s a thumb in the eye of Marriott’s customers.
To no one’s surprise, Hilton will follow Marriott’s lead, imposing its own 48-hour cancellation policy beginning July 31. According to hotel trade publication Hotels Mag:
In a letter to owners issued yesterday, Hilton highlighted a trend in rising cancellation rates and its intent to update cancellation policy guidelines in an attempt to better serve guests, hotels and owners. Effective July 31, the default house cancel policy will be 48 hours (72 hours in select locations). This is a mandatory update for all Hilton managed properties, while franchise properties are eligible to opt out.
With Marriott/Starwood and Hilton in accord, the 48-hour cancellation rule can now be considered the industry standard, albeit a standard that many travelers remain unaware of, to their detriment.
Predictably, Marriott made no public announcement when imposing its harsher policy. Travelers were left to discover the new rule on their own. So far, Hilton is similarly mum on its upcoming policy change, adding insult to injury for customers accustomed the current more lenient rules.
The takeaway for hotel customers: Pay strict attention to the hotel’s cancellation policy when booking, and be sure to abide by the stricter rules to avoid paying penalties.
Reader Reality Check
The hotels claim that these harsher policies benefit consumers. Do they benefit you?
After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.
This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.