THAT'S RIDICULOUS! WHEN A CONFIRMATION ISN'T REALLY A CONFIRMATION

     
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If you know – và stick up for – your rights, you’ll have few problems with hotels refusing your confirmed bookings.

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I wrote recently about the law relating to airlines bumping passengers & the compensation you are due if that should happen.

Hotels sometimes overbook their rooms, the same as airlines oversell their flights, và occasionally they kết thúc up being caught short và having too many guests show up & too few rooms khổng lồ accommodate them all (again, the same as airlines sometimes having oversold flights và having to lớn bump passengers).

Hotels sometimes find themselves with a problem for another reason, too. Maybe a room or rooms have to lớn be taken out of inventory due to lớn problems in the rooms. If they suddenly have a fault with one of their services that makes several rooms unserviceable, they’ve got a problem, just the same as if they’d oversold their rooms.

But while we are given some rights and protection against airlines bumping us off flights, we have no such formal rights or protection if it happens lớn us with a hotel reservation. And if we had to lớn choose between being a few hours late khổng lồ get khổng lồ my final destination, or finding no room available at the khách sạn once we got there, most of us would probably prefer being late to lớn not having a room for the night upon arrival.

Happily, that’s not entirely the kết thúc of it – the law of contract imposes duties on hotels, even if the government doesn’t. Và that leads to lớn the first thing you should do any time you book a hotel. Read the fine print of the reservation ‘confirmation’ you receive khổng lồ make sure that there aren’t any escape clauses allowing the hotel to cancel at any time và for any (no) reason và with no obligations other than to refund any money received. If there’s a ‘must checkin by’ time on your reservation or any other obligation on your part, be sure khổng lồ conform with that requirement or else the hotel will be ‘off the hook’ and be able khổng lồ cancel your reservation without incurring any obligation khổng lồ you.

Although there are no federal obligations on hotels và how they handle bookings once accepted, there are also no federal blocks on bringing legal action against hotels locally in your friendly local district or small claims court, so as least you vì chưng have convenient accountability if it all becomes irretrievably bad. Lưu ý that this assumes you can convince the court that the proper jurisdiction is where you live rather than where the hotel is located or where the khách sạn group’s head office is – this is usually something you can bởi in small claims court, but it is something you need lớn pay attention to.

Furthermore, although there are no federal rights, some states vì impose obligations on hotels. How bởi you find out? You could ask the hotel manager ‘Can you tell me please what your obligations are under state law?’. If he lies, or truly doesn’t know, & says ‘I don’t know’ or ‘You have no rights’ that will count against him if you subsequently find that there is a state obligation.

You could subsequently ask the state’s Attorney General or Consumer Affairs departments, if that becomes necessary.

Reading the Fine Print

I’m getting lots of questions from people who have suffered from having apparently confirmed bookings either cancelled or changed or in some other way varied by the hotels. The question is always the same – ‘What can I do?’ and/or ‘Can the khách sạn do this?’

Sorry, but I can’t answer these types of questions, and neither could a high paid attorney, without seeing the exact & complete details of your booking confirmation và all correspondence exchanged between you và the hotel, plus any related contractual language on the website & booking page that the supplier (whether it be the khách sạn or a middle-man booking service) may seek to include into the actual & implied terms of the contract associated with the booking.

The answer khổng lồ your question may well be lurking in the booking terms & conditions, but without seeing a guaranteed complete mix of all such actual và implied terms, I can’t express an opinion. Plus, I’m not an attorney, and so shouldn’t be expressing opinions in any case!

What Hotels Normally (and Should) Do

If a khách sạn knows about an overbooking problem in advance, they will probably ‘protect’ the overbooked guests by arranging alternate rooms at some other nearby hotel and then ‘walk’ them khổng lồ a comparable hotel when they check in, and will have this all in place for when you arrive. Such an arrangement might include providing a taxi fare to get lớn the next hotel, or maybe a free meal or something as well, và if you’re lucky, a room tăng cấp or a nicer khách sạn than the one that couldn’t accommodate you.

They’ll also traditionally allow you khổng lồ make a không tính tiền long distance gọi to tell someone that you’re not in the khách sạn you said you’d be in, but these days, we all have cell phones with effectively free and unlimited calling, so who cares about that any more.

Sometimes the khách sạn will not have alternative accomodation already arranged, particularly if it is late at night & they’ve decided you’re simply not going khổng lồ turn up, & particularly if there is a shortage of other rooms at other hotels, making it hard for them to lớn hold rooms elsewhere ‘just in case’ you bởi arrive. But that is their problem, not yours, & if you’ve a guaranteed anytime-checkin reservation, then you absolutely should not feel apologetic at checking in ‘late’ because there’s no such thing as ‘late’ for that type of reservation.

You would not (should not) be charged extra for the alternate accommodation even if it costs more. If it is less expensive than the room you booked at the original hotel, you could fairly ask for a refund of at least the difference in cost, and perhaps extra to compensate for not getting the room or comparable room to that promised & confirmed.

It is of course hard khổng lồ establish exactly what the respective rates are – expect the hotels to play games with you on that point. They might compare rack rates rather than real rates – ie, maybe the hotel you booked in has an official ‘rack’ rate of $200 a night & the hotel you ended up at has a rate of $250 a night, so in theory, you have been ‘upgraded’.

But what say you actually paid $150 for the room you didn’t get, & the alternative room you were moved khổng lồ could be bought through a last minute discount website for only $125. What might you be entitled to then?

There are many different scenarios depending on what rates the khách sạn chooses khổng lồ use lớn ‘prove’ its calculation, & as a practical reality, as long as the rooms & hotels are of reasonably comparable standard, and the room rates more or less in line, it probably would become more trouble than it is worth to demand too much compensation.

The khách sạn also might, if they know sufficiently in advance, pick và choose who they’ll walk & who they’ll keep in-house. It is probably true that they’d most want khổng lồ look after their frequent guests & known VIPs, and they’d prefer lớn look after guests who paid more money and who booked directly, than khổng lồ look after guests who bought discounted rooms through a wholesaler. If the hotel had to lớn choose between outright refusing/refunding a booking that was offering them $50 of revenue for the khách sạn room for the night, or a booking that would net them $100, it is obvious which one they’d rather accept.

But there’s almost certainly nothing in your booking terms and conditions that says ‘Hey, guy – you’ve got a second class low priority reservation và we might change our mind và bump you if we can sell the room for more’. So no matter how the hotel picks và chooses its favorites, if you’re the one they refuse, you have equal và full entitlement to lớn as much compensation as their most jewel-encrusted ultra-elite frequent guest program member.

It is not unheard of for hotels to try & ‘guilt’ their guests by saying something lượt thích ‘Oh, you should have booked direct’ or ‘Well, you’ve got a discounted room’ or something similar to lớn suggest that their booking has a lower entitlement than other bookings. That is nonsense. Unless the reservation says on it ‘Because you didn’t book directly with us, we reserve the right to cancel your booking at any time for any reason’ or unless it says ‘You paid less for your room than some suckers did, so we might decide to lớn cancel your booking if we think we can sell it for more money to lớn another sucker, và tough luck to you if we do’, then your reservation has all the rights và entitlements of any & every other reservation.

If a hotel doesn’t like selling rooms at lower rates, & if the hotel doesn’t want khổng lồ sell through third buổi tiệc nhỏ websites and agents, then no-one is making them bởi so. They are không tính tiền to mix their rates any way they wish, and to choose who they allow khổng lồ resell their rooms. But if they agree to accept your booking, then it is a confirmed booking with all the entitlements of any other confirmed booking, unless it has some special exceptions attached khổng lồ a conditional confirmation.

Ask the khách sạn ‘So where on my reservation does it say that my reservation is inferior to other reservations? Where does it say you might decide to lớn cancel it, and if you do, it becomes my fault not your fault?’

The key issue to concentrate on is not the status/’quality’ of your booking, but how the hotel ‘makes you whole’.

Lastly in this section, here’s a fascinating article that managed to lớn obtain an internal document that explains the Holiday Inn (IHG) official policy and internal procedures for overbooking. It is very interesting to lớn read through the document to the point, towards the end, where they danh sách who they do và don’t ‘walk’ when full, and what their policies are for compensation.

First In, First Served

To a certain extent, it is a case of ‘first in, first served’. If a hotel has, say, 200 rooms, và for tomorrow night has 100 guest rooms with the guests staying over, & another 110 guest rooms checking in, in theory this suggests they will be 10 rooms short.

However, they’ll probably not panic, and hope that some of the 100 rooms with guests already in them will have guests kiểm tra out early, and some of the 110 new guest room arrivals will either cancel or simply fail to turn up. These two factors mean it won’t be until late on the check-in day that they start khổng lồ have a feeling for if they’ll have a problem or not – particularly with rooms that are merely held to lớn 6pm rather than ‘guaranteed’ for late check-in.

So, if you have a choice as between checking in khổng lồ your khách sạn earlier in the day or later in the day, và it is important to lớn you that you’re in the hotel you expect to be in, you should of course check in earlier rather than later.

Here’s a useful tip : If you’re going to lớn be checking in late, hotline the hotel, before 6pm, & tell them ‘I want you khổng lồ know that I am in town và I will be checking in, I just have wall-to-wall meetings (or whatever) và won’t be arriving until (whenever). Please hold my room for me – vị you want lớn take my credit card details now?’ And, after concluding the call, ask ‘And what is your name, please?’.

That way if the hotel knows it will be walking some guests, it is more likely khổng lồ treat you as if you’d already checked in & hold a room for you, even if you arrive late.

It is also true that if you belong lớn the hotel’s loyalty program, you’ll be less likely to lớn be walked. Even ordinary rather than elite members still have a higher priority, so it pays khổng lồ belong lớn the loyalty programs of all hotels you stay at, no matter how often you stay at them.

Not All Confirmations are Equal

Here’s something to lớn be aware of. If you are booking through an online travel service, maybe the confirmation number you get is not a confirmation number from the hotel, but rather from the online travel service. If you wave the wrong confirmation number at the hotel, you’re giving them a huge excuse to lớn turn you away.

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‘Oh, that’s not our confirmation, we never confirmed the booking’ is what you’re inviting them to say. They’ll mutter something about it being the booking service’s fault; maybe they’ll deny ever getting the booking from the booking service, or maybe they’ll say ‘you are their customer, and they are obliged to make other arrangements and compensation for you, not us’.

You know what – they might even be correct when they say that! But good luck trying lớn get something sorted out with a customer service agent from your online travel agency (quite possibly located in a far away country) when you find yourself stranded late at night. So make sure that your online booking includes a confirmation number direct from the hotel.

Then you can say ‘It is true I booked through another service, but this is your confirmation number, not theirs. You confirmed my booking, through the other service, và so you are required lớn honor your confirmation.’

There are two more very important related things you need, in addition lớn a confirmation number.

First, you need a mô tả tìm kiếm of the room that has been confirmed, along with the rate payable and what is included/excluded. If you booked a premium room or whatever, it should say so, lớn avoid you being downgraded khổng lồ a standard room. If you booked a room for three people, it should say so, again lớn avoid being charged extra or being told that your room is only for two not three people.

Second, you need details of the hotel you are booked/confirmed at. I’ve seen examples in the past where a guest was indeed officially confirmed, but at the wrong hotel. ‘I’m sorry sir, but that confirmation number is for the other Marriott, on the other side of town – you must have booked the wrong Marriott’.

Your Rights và What lớn Ask For

But what about your rights if the hotel turns you away? What can you insist upon? Here’s an interesting story of a Hilton that apparently simply unilaterally cancelled an otherwise confirmed reservation, albeit two days in advance of checkin. (If you can’t open the link, tìm kiếm for the text “The Mystery of Vanishing hotel Reservations’ on Google and open up the Wall St Journal article that will appear at or near the top.)

The amusing part of the WSJ story, & an angle it doesn’t explore, is that the Hilton cancelled the booking of an attorney. We hope he chooses khổng lồ use his own knowledge of recourses xuất hiện to him to lớn full effect.

Back khổng lồ what you can do. Assuming you have a confirmed reservation, and especially if you’ve made any sort of payment – full payment or deposit or anything – you’ve every right to lớn be given the choice of either a full refund or a substitute hotel being found for you.

If accepting a substitute hotel, you shouldn’t be required lớn pay any extra, và it should be of at least as good a quality, in at least as convenient to lớn you a location, & you can define what makes a location convenient. If you’re attending a convention & the convention khách sạn turns you away, then you’re going to lớn be up for hassle và transportation costs going khổng lồ the convention each day – clearly all other hotels will be less convenient (unless they are directly over the road!).

As long as you are ‘made whole’ you can’t really claim any substantial ‘damages’ because what really are the damages or losses you’ve suffered? In particular, most small claims courts will only rule on & award actual costs/losses, not on inconvenience or ‘pain and suffering and anguish and distress’ type factors. You need to go to lớn a district or superior court for those sorts of intangible claims. That’s not lớn say you’d not perhaps be entitled to such intangible claims, and maybe you’d even win your case, but you’d now be needing an attorney and what could have been simple and easy và with very little downside risk if you thua trận has now become potentially more costly và complex.

Generally when seeking compensation, you need to lớn keep two things in mind. Firstly (and see our article series on How khổng lồ Complain) you’ll get more compensation if you are positive và reasonable & show yourself as someone who can be ‘won back’ and made into a future loyal repeat guest. Secondly, it is always easier to lớn ask any supplier for non-cash compensation. Ask for a free upgrade on your next stay, or for a completely miễn phí stay.

If the hotel is a franchise hotel, it will probably be easier for them lớn give you a không lấy phí stay at their hotel rather than a free stay at any other thành viên of the chain, but if you’re not expecting to return back to that location, you could ask for a transferable voucher lớn give lớn someone else or you could see if they can give you a voucher for any other thành viên of the khách sạn group.

You could also ask for more points lớn be added lớn your frequent guest account, assuming you belong khổng lồ their program.

Sometimes it is possible khổng lồ ask for food and/or drink discounts/vouchers, but sometimes not. Some hotels have a funny accounting system which makes it easier for them lớn give away không lấy phí rooms than khổng lồ give free food & drinks.

A basic rule of negotiating, anything, anytime : The first person to lớn name their price invariably loses the negotiation. If you’re in such a situation, ask the hotel ‘what can you vị for me to lớn fairly compensate me?’. Whatever they offer is almost certainly a starting point for a negotiation, not the final/best offer. We know people who have managed to lớn increase the number of frequent guest points they’ve been given as an apology by over một nửa compared to lớn the first offer made. If you know in advance the value of the points, you will be able khổng lồ say ‘Gosh, that’s not even enough lớn get a night at your property, I think you should at least increase it lớn xx points so as to give me the equivalent of a không tính tiền night stay’.

One more thing. Don’t get upset at the front desk agent. It is not their personal fault, and you’d rather have them onside so they use their discretion in your favor rather than against you. They have some flexibility as khổng lồ how they will compensate you and which other khách sạn they’ll put you in. Treat these people well.

But, having said that, sometimes you might find yourself confronted with an unhelpful front desk agent. Maybe they are just having a bad day, or maybe they’re truly uncaring. But possibly also they don’t have much personal authority và are limited with what they can do. Whichever the reason, if you’re not being fairly/well treated, remain calm và cool but simply ask to speak khổng lồ the Duty Manager. That person will have more ability lớn be more generous, if you can so persuade them!

If the khách sạn is unhelpful (as was the case with the Hilton) then you should vì the best you can on your own và seek compensation from the khách sạn for the inconvenience và any extra above-the-line costs you incurred. If they don’t respond fully and fulsomely, then its off lớn your small claims court, plus complaints khổng lồ the relevant State Attorney General & to any franchising company the hotel belongs to & the Better Business Bureau and, why not, to the Federal Trade Commission too.

I’ve either personally or had people I’ve done bookings for occasionally experience such events, & happily, I’ve never had a problem with the overbooked khách sạn not doing all it could và all it should, but that’s clearly not what happened with this Hilton.

Full Refund Cancellations

What say the hotel simply cancels your booking, a week or more in advance, & fully refunds you any money you’ve paid? Is that the over of it?

The khách sạn might claim that by doing so, it has no further liability or obligation, & that’s what happened with the Hilton story mentioned above. But we disagree, because it truly is ‘all about you’ in such a situation và maybe their simply cancelling the booking và refunding any money doesn’t actually ‘make you whole’.

First, maybe you want/need to lớn be in the particular hotel that is now cancelling your booking. Maybe there is a convention/meeting in the hotel, or maybe your office/client is close by & there are no other hotels for several miles, or maybe you are part of a group and the rest of your group is all staying at the same hotel.

Second, maybe there are no other hotels now with vacant rooms. Or maybe the other hotels are now selling their rooms at higher rates than when you originally booked your preferred khách sạn – perhaps all hotels were discounting their rooms back then, but now, with the region’s hotels almost full, they are all raising their rates.

In both these scenarios, you’re the loser if the khách sạn simply cancels your reservation and says ‘you’re không tính phí to go anywhere else và book with anyone else, no harm, no foul’. Don’t accept that claim.

Most of all, you need lớn understand the reality of things from the khách sạn perspective. It has a choice of which bookings it cancels và which it honors. If it is important khổng lồ you that you stay at that particular hotel, don’t make it easy for them lớn cancel your booking, and help them lớn realize that everyone will be better off if they choose someone else to lớn cancel.

Tell them ‘Look – I know you have 100 rooms (or whatever the number is) & so you have 100 different guests to choose from when deciding lớn bump guests. I’m in a special situation, because I’m more dependent on the confirmed booking you have already issued to lớn me than some of those other guests, because (and now come up with your story), so I’d really appreciate it, and you’d save me a lot of extra cost & hassle, if you could honor this confirmed reservation and choose one of your other guests khổng lồ cancel instead’.

If that doesn’t work, you can then indicate that you will seek full reimbursement for the extra costs & a fair allowance for the time và inconvenience involved with the loss of the confirmed reservation. Tell them ‘maybe some of your other guests don’t have these same issues I do, and frankly, it would be cheaper for you to cancel them rather than me’.

The law of contract is clear – once a contract has been entered into, if one các buổi tiệc nhỏ then reneges on the contract, the other tiệc nhỏ has the choice of what way fairly makes them whole. The hotel might wish that all it has to vị is refund any money received, but if you now incur other costs, then as long as the confirmation terms and conditions don’t include a provision allowing the hotel to cancel, you can fairly seek lớn recover your extra costs from the hotel.

Using Overbooking to lớn Your Advantage

There’s a flipside khổng lồ this as well. Some hotels have relatively primitive inventory management systems, và you can use that lớn your advantage. If you need a room in a particular hotel, and if when you call the hotel directly they tell you ‘I’m sorry, we’re full that night, all rooms are sold’, don’t despair.

If it is a larger hotel, & if it is sold through online travel agencies & perhaps other wholesalers too, then often what happens is they’ve given allocations of blocks of rooms to these other outlets, & while the hotel has sold all the remaining unallocated rooms, it doesn’t yet know if the companies with reserved blocks of rooms are going to sell all their rooms or not.

I’ve sometimes had hotels that were officially full, but which still showed discounted rooms available on, eg, Expedia, so I’ve happily booked on Expedia.

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In other cases, hotels don’t so much block out inventory as have what are called ‘open sale’ or ‘free sale’ arrangements where they promise to accept bookings from places such as Expedia until such time as they advise Expedia they are sold out on the particular date being booked, & there’s often a day of delay between running out of rooms and officially ‘turning off the tap’ with resellers.

The net result is the same, whatever the inner machinations. You might still be able to lớn get a room validly confirmed at a hotel that is truly full. Just make sure you kiểm tra in early!