When an airline overbooks a flight, they’ll tempt travellers with money, meals or overnight hotel stays in a last-ditch effort to avoid involuntarily bumping passengers. But how do overbooked hotels cope with this same problem?
Unsurprisingly, hotels, too, participate in the game of overbooking rooms to protect themselves in the event of cancellations — just check out this list of readers’ experiences over at the Points Guy. Worse, unlike airlines, hotels also aren’t under any legal obligation to provide any particular form of recourse in the event your room’s taken (though any decent hotel should try to accommodate you, anyway).
If you happen to check in at an overbooked hotel, a few things could happen. The best-case scenario is that you get the room you request (or another in the hotel) and some other schmuck will lose out. In the next, best-case scenario, you are that schmuck and you might be “walked” — a term for an overbooked hotel referring you to another hotel.
Depending on how last-minute this request is, as well as general demand, the replacement hotel room might even be an upgrade. (Judging by the response of readers from the Points Guy, however, that scenario seems more the exception, rather than the rule. They could just as easily move you to a smaller or lower-quality room than what you originally requested.)
The worst scenario you might find yourself in is that a hotel cancels your reservation altogether. A reservation isn’t a contract, after all, so a hotel could decide to cancel on you without so much as providing a reason.
What to ask for
If you’re standing at a check-in counter and told your room’s taken, there are a few things you should try to accomplish. First, as in the case of airlines bumping you from a flight, ask for as much compensation as you can. This means making sure they pay for your alternative hotel arrangements, and transportation there. They should offer offer you discounts toward a future stay or other amenities. (Depending on the hotel, they’ll field these requests on a case-by-case basis, so you might as well shoot for the stars. Just don’t expect everything.) As TPG writes, you might even request a specific hotel if they arrange a new one.
And always complain to the highest manager you can find, who might be more receptive to your complaint (or rather, more capable of offering you various forms of compensation). Lifehacker’s tech editor, David, had a friend who stayed at an overbooked hotel and received a different room than she requested as a result. She complained to both the hotel and the third-party booking site she used and received $75 and $175 in refunds, respectively. Like we said before, it never hurts to ask for any kind of compensation you can get when travel arrangements go awry.
As TPG also mentions, if you have loyalty status with a hotel, you might actually be guaranteed a room in the event of an overbooking. If that falls through, don’t be afraid to leverage your status when it comes to getting a sweeter deal.
Is there anything you can do to avoid being walked? Well, much of it depends on the demand for a room and that’s not exactly something you can predict — but it does help to check in early. Those who check in last tend to be walked more often, Reneta McCarthy, a senior lecturer at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, told the NYT. For this reason, if you’re running late, give the hotel a ring immediately to give them a heads up — and to minimise the chance you're left stranded at hotel check-in.