The hotel industry writ large has a pretty forgiving general policy when it comes to canceling a hotel stay. In many cases, canceling 24 hours in advance allows you to walk away without penalty at all. Now, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you book a hotel stay during a peak event like ComicCon or the Superbowl, you may be expected to put down a deposit for your room and have to forfeit it should you choose to cancel. But these are special situations. As long as you keep the booking agency informed, you can usually walk away without taking a financial hit. However, a no-show is a different story.
What happens if you no-show for your hotel stay?
A no-show is exactly what it sounds like. When you book a hotel, and just fail to show up, the penalties can be severe. A lot of people book hotel stays through websites like CheapAir.com or Expedia. While we do our best to work with a customer who has to cancel, if you just don’t show – your contract with the hotel usually defaults to whatever cancelation policy the individual hotel has. And that policy will nine times out of ten mean that you forfeit some amount of money. Sometimes it’s the cost of one night – but it can be for the entire stay.
But what if I no show because I got my dates mixed up?
We’re all human. Stuff happens. But here’s the problem. Let’s say you thought you booked a weekend stay at a beach hotel in San Diego during the busy summer season. You actually booked for a Thursday arrival. The booking agency sent you a text or email reminder that your hotel stay was coming up and you saw it – but still didn’t realize that you had your dates wrong. You’re human.
In the meantime, Thursday comes and goes and the hotel is already overbooked for the weekend. So on Friday morning the front desk manager gives your room to someone else who calls looking for a last minute booking. As far as the hotel is concerned, you no-showed and never even called.
So they can sell your hotel room to someone who will pay twice what you agreed to 3 months ago. And, just for good measure, they’re going to charge you for that first night’s stay anyway. Ouch!
But I mixed up my dates! What happens when I show up on Friday afternoon?
Honey, your original room is long gone. The worst case scenario is that you show up, the hotel is still overbooked, the manager had a bad day and plans to charge you for that first night. That’s the worst case. This usually doesn’t happen. The hotel management wants to keep customers coming back, so they will usually look for a way to help out a customer who made a mistake in good faith.
Does the hotel have to honor my original booking?
Heck no! Now you’re solidly in compromise territory and the hotel holds all the cards. Let’s say you booked an Ocean View room originally. On the day you show up, there are no Ocean View rooms available. In addition, the regular Garden View rooms cost 40% more (in fact, 25% more than the rate you booked for the Ocean View).
Again, the hotel would be within the terms of the contract to ask you to pay the difference (because you voided your original terms with the no show). Most of the time, the hotel will try to appease you.
“I’m so terribly sorry Mr. Forgetful. We sold out all our Ocean View rooms. We only have Garden View rooms available for a very steep price. Now, I know this was all a mistake on your part, and we don’t want to add insult to injury here, so I will be happy to give you the Garden Room art the price you were originally contracted for in the Ocean View room you forfeited. Because of your forgetfulness and not anything we did to harm you intentionally. Will this work for you? If an Ocean View room opens up, I can certainly let you know later on this weekend.”
This good news/bad news will usually suffice, especially if every other hotel in the area with an Ocean View situation is also sold out.
What happens if I no show and it’s not a mix-up? Can I get my money back?
If you just don’t want the room anymore or forget you booked it, you might be up a creek without a paddle. The booking agency has your credit card, they will usually charge for at least the first night, and sometimes the entire stay.
If you get your credit card statement and see a charge from that hotel, it can be very difficult to get that charge reversed. As mentioned earlier, you effectively entered into a contract at the time of booking, and according to the law, didn’t keep up your end of the contract. Maybe the hotel’s kindly manager held that room for you and lost a bunch of money they could have made off another customer.
And it’s not just the room rate. Most people who stay at a property use and pay for other amenities – spa services, restaurant/bar/room service – you get the idea. Not to mention the staff who depend on tips for things like maid service, bag service, room service delivery, concierge, etc. Can you see now why it’s in your best interest to double-check your fates and let the hotel know if you need to cancel.
Read the fine print at the time of booking – usually you can cancel up to 24 hours prior to your stay without penalty – but you should double-check. It’s a good idea to set a calendar alert a day or 2 before the cancellation deadline so you can give yourself enough time to cancel if you have to do so.
Other benefits to being proactive with your hotel reservation
It’s also a very good idea to reconfirm with your hotel about 48 hours from your booking. This can be useful to double-check the room type you booked. I like to reconfirm that I am in a non-smoking King room. I prefer a King bed even when traveling alone, so I try to make sure I have that sorted out in advance.
It may help you to remember that the hotel is running a business, often juggling hundreds of rooms and personal preferences (and trying to run at capacity). Even one booking over a busy weekend can throw a monkey wrench into the works if you simply bail on your reservation. And it’s much easier to negotiate with the hotel before you no show.