It could be upsetting to find that the hotel you’ve made a reservation with, has sold your room to ‘someone else’, as Linda and Michael Morgan found out in 2010. The hotel, in this case, was the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan and the “someone else” was a group of royal family members from Saudi Arabia with their officials who accompanied the 86- year- old Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah who had arrived in town suddenly for surgery.
The Morgans had planned for a festive family gathering in New York, making their reservations in July for four rooms, including three suites, starting two days before Thanksgiving -which fell on November 24. Mrs. Morgan, who lives in Seattle, said that she and her husband learned only by chance that the rooms were not available when her husband called to make a last-minute change. “If he had not called, we would have all shown up at the Waldorf and effectively gotten kicked out,” she said. Reluctantly, the Morgans accepted the Waldorf’s offer of alternate accommodations, including a free night’s stay, at the nearby Hilton New York.
‘Walking’ the guest
In New York, famous hotels like the Waldorf are always heavily booked during holidays. Given a sudden demand for rooms from prominent customers like a valued foreign delegation, a hotel like the Waldorf can face a tough choice: accommodate individual guests who may have booked at discount rates that were widely available 4-5 months earlier, (as the Morgans did), or accommodate the last-minute, high-yield group that will pay a premium which, in the case of the Waldorf, can account for an estimated $80,000 to $100,000 in additional daily revenue.
" Research by TripAdvisor indicates that 30 percent of travellers have been bumped from a hotel at some point, despite having confirmed reservations"
The practice of providing alternative accommodations when a hotel is overbooked is called ‘walking’ in the hotel industry. Popular hotels often overbook, on the assumption that a certain number of reservations will be cancelled at the last minute, or result in some ‘no shows’. Research by TripAdvisor indicates that 30 percent of travellers have been bumped from a hotel at some point, despite having confirmed reservations. This practice is here to stay and the best advice is to routinely call any hotels you’ve booked in cities that are popular tourist destinations, before you arrive, especially during peak seasons, just to double-check that your room reservation is safe.
Be aware of your rights
While on holiday, a bad hotel room or negative impression can really spoil the experience. So, before you check in, it’s important to be aware of your rights as a paying customer. Most often than not, hotels tell their guests what not to do or dictate the rules and regulations the hotel guests is expected to follow. These are stated either in the Guest Registration Card or in the Guest Services Directory found in the room, or in both. Seldom is the guest told of his or her rights! Whilst the answers to your questions may vary depending on the circumstances, given below are some of the most common hotel questions and their answers:
" A confirmed reservation means that you have not yet paid, but the hotel agrees to hold the room for you based on some condition"
The difference between a guaranteed reservation and a confirmed reservation:
A guaranteed reservation is one where you have paid for your reservation in advance and the hotel must hold the room for you under any circumstance, unless you cancel the booking. Remember that a guaranteed reservation is also a confirmed reservation. However, a confirmed reservation may not necessarily be guaranteed owing to various conditions. A confirmed reservation means that you have not yet paid, but the hotel agrees to hold the room for you based on some condition. For example, in a typical confirmed reservation, the hotel may agree to ‘hold the room for you until 6.00 p.m. on a specific day. If you show up before 6.00 p.m. then the hotel must give you a room, but if you fail to meet a condition, then the hotel is not obliged to give you a room. Another condition is where the hotel agrees to hold your reservation for x number of days, during which period, the hotel expects an advance payment to ensure that your reservation is secure. The required advance payment may be a specified amount or a percentage of the room rate. Some hotels request full payment upfront to guarantee your room, i.e. the full room rate.
For example if the room rate is $100 per night, and, you plan to spend one night on a specified day, at the hotel, you may be asked to pay $100 in advance. Should you fail to arrive on that specific day you are considered a ‘no show’ and forfeit the advance payment. Let’s say you wish to stay four consecutive nights in this hotel. You may then be asked to pay $400 in advance to cover your full stay and be guaranteed of your room. Another hotel may treat your reservation for the four nights stay differently by requesting that you pay an advance for the first night’s stay only. I.e. pay $100 in advance to receive a guaranteed booking for your intended four nights stay.
Why do hotels have different rates for the same room type for the same specific dates?
Some hotels have dual rates for the same room type for the same specific day/s. In both instances an advance payment is called for to guarantee the reservation. Room rate A is for a booking where the advance payment is refunded in the event of a timely cancellation. Room rate B, which is less than rate A, is also for a guaranteed booking but in the event of a cancellation or an unforeseen shortened stay, there will be no refund whatsoever. For example, Thistle Hotels, UK indicate two types of rates on their website. A “Flexible Rate” - These are cancellable without charge up to 2.00 p.m. local time on the day of arrival. Cancellation and non-arrival charges apply after the relevant time and will be charged to the credit/debit card supplied at the time of booking. The hotel reserves the right to charge for one night’s accommodation per room booked if the above cancellation requirements are not met. For rates marked “Advance Saver” – the hotel will require full prepayment for the entire stay at the time of the Booking and this is non-refundable and the Booking non-changeable. Prepayment is charged to the credit/debit card supplied at the time of the Booking. Cancellation or non-arrival will result in the forfeiture of the prepayment.
Does the hotel need a deposit or a payment in advance?
The actual terms are different with different hotels, but in the high season to ensure a room in many hotels you have to pay in advance. The rationale behind this is because hotels do not want a situation where they take a booking and then the customer doesn’t show up, and meanwhile they have refused other bookings. Understandable, when there is a demand for rooms during busy spells.
However, some hotels blindly follow this approach as I demonstrated to an operator with a ‘test’ call requesting for 3 rooms on a Bed and Breakfast basis, for two nights: and was asked to pay an advance by the front desk staff of his hotel. The hotel was averaging 38% occupancy at that time with over 120 empty beds each night. The same ‘test’ call made to a competitor hotel resulted in me been informed that my booking was confirmed subject to a 6.00 pm release proviso. No prizes for guessing where my six room nights went.
"A guaranteed reservation is one where you have paid for your reservation in advance and the hotel must hold the room for you under any circumstance, unless you cancel the booking"
I’ve pre-paid for my room; can a hotel refuse to give me a room?
If you have prepaid for your room it is guaranteed and the hotel must provide you the room you paid for, even if you show up late. If the hotel does not have a room for you then it has breached your contract and must provide you with a reasonable substitute.
Some hotels will upgrade you to a Suite, should the type of room you booked be unavailable. Count yourself lucky but be wary that they do not get you to pay the difference between the price of the room and the suite. The hotel cannot charge you any additional amount for no fault of yours. Should you create a noisy scene in the lobby, the hotel might suddenly discover that they have a room available. My advice is to first inspect the room that magically appeared.
It can be a room that was deemed ‘out-of-order’ (faulty air-conditioning for instance), hastily semi-repaired to please and keep you temporarily quiet. You might end up with a sleepless night! If there are no rooms, then the hotel may end up by sending you to another nearby hotel, even if it is more expensive, and pay for the transportation-including the phone call charges to let people know you’ve switched hotels.
Some hotels may have rooms available for the rest of your stay and may wish to bring you back the next day. Here too, the cost of transportation is met by the hotel. Should you return to a hotel after being ‘bumped’ to another hotel on the first night, expect the hotel to make a tangible ‘We do care’ gesture such as the offer of a free meal or spa treatment for the discomfort and inconvenience encountered.
Getting ‘bumped’ or being ‘walked’ to another hotel is by no means accidental. It is an outcome from a miscalculated business decision by the hotel. If you merely receive a flood of meaningless apologies and nothing else – my advice; take your business elsewhere in future.
I wanted a specific room; do I have a right to a particular room?
Typically, you do not have a right to a specific room unless you specified that room when making your reservation (for example the Penthouse suite).Accordingly, if you do really want a particular room, then you need to make that extremely clear when you are booking your room. Be sure to obtain written confirmation from the hotel that you booked that particular room. If, after then, the hotel fails to provide you with the specific room, then it has likely broken its contract with you.
Sometimes, a guest might request for a room that has a special view or a larger balcony due to its location. Some guests are reluctant to stay in any floor that is above the 3rd floor of a high-rise hotel block due to fear of fire. A seasoned traveller may seek a room close to the fire exit stairs.
In such instances, prudent hotels will only confirm these requests as’ subject to availability’, especially during high occupancy periods. It is however, the responsibility of the hotel to make note of these special requests as a priority and to ensure that it is made available as far as possible, particularly if it is from a regular guest.
This room is not what I expected, is there anything I can do about it?
The hotel room you end up with may not look like the beautiful room that was pictured on their website or in their brochure. The website or Brochure promised ‘Luxury hotel with modern air conditioned rooms, private bathrooms and Wi Fi “; in reality, ‘the hotel...’ had sporadic Wi Fi, poor and noisy air conditioning and the bathroom although private was unhygienic and the sanitary facilities were not operational’. While a certain amount of exaggeration is the norm in advertising, intentionally deceiving customers is considered fraud.
If the room you are given is substantially below what you expected based upon an advertisement, then speak to the Manager immediately. This also applies if the room has not been cleaned properly, or if the room is extremely noisy. You should request a better room, a discount or, if nothing else is satisfactory, then a refund – i.e. if you have paid an advance.
Should the hotel agree to make a refund, make sure that you have it in writing before you leave the hotel .You may be able to sue the hotel for the hassle of relocating, but this may not be feasible or even worth the expense in practice. However, with today’s technology, it can hurt the hotel, when bad experiences together with incriminating photos are posted on the internet – such as on TripAdvisor and other travel advisory sites including Facebook, etc.
To be continued
(Shafeek Wahab has an extensive background in Hospitality Management spanning over 30 years. He has held key managerial responsibilities in internationally renowned hotel chains, both locally and abroad, including his last held position as Head of Branding for a leading Hotel Group in Sri Lanka. A past President of the CHSGA, he can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.)