SpringHill Suites Chattanooga North/Ooltewah
Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Read Your Hotel Cancellation Policy Carefully — Especially When Free Cancellation Expires

This could save you money and time — and headaches.

Whether — or, perhaps, especially if — you are a seasoned frequent traveler, you should always take a moment to check and ensure that you understand the cancellation policy of the hotel, motel, resort, or other type of lodging property at which you plan on booking a reservation and staying.

Read Your Hotel Cancellation Policy Carefully — Especially When Free Cancellation Expires

TownePlace Suites Chattanooga Near Hamilton Place
Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Numerous articles at The Gate state that the official expiration policy of a promotion or lodging reservation end on a certain date — usually followed by a phrase as to the specific time at which the period ends. As an example, the cancellation policy of a room rate could be “Free cancellation until Wednesday, September 1, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time.”

When you see enough of those, you might automatically be jaded and simply quickly read what could seem to be a similar phrase every time you book a reservation for lodging…

…and here is an example of what sounds like the same phrase — but read the entire statement:

You might automatically be lulled into thinking that “Free cancellation until Wednesday, September 1, 2021” means that the free cancellation policy ends at 11:59 in the evening on that date — so you should be able to simply cancel your reservation with no penalty…

…but the next statement reads “If the reservation is cancelled on or before Wednesday, September 1, 2021, you will receive a full refund.” No exact time is specified; so you might want to double check with the property or lodging company to determine exactly at what time — and, just as importantly, in which time zone — the free cancellation policy expires.

Sometimes — albeit rarely; and depending on the lodging company — the phrase “Free cancellation until” a specific date could mean that the free cancellation policy actually ends the night before at 11:59 in the evening, as the word until technically means up to a specific date or time. This scenario is one for which you need to especially watch.

Final Boarding Call

Holiday Inn Express Kimball
Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

One might argue that certain terminology should be shared by an industry as a standard — similar to a matrix which was created by the rental car industry that is known as the Association of Car Rental Industry System Standards — so as not to confuse customers; and arguably, the terms of the duration of a cancellation policy should be more standardized by the lodging industry…

…but all you really need to do to protect yourself in most cases is to read the official terms and conditions as carefully as possible — especially as cancellation policies vary since the days when most cancellation policies had no penalty up until 6:00 in the evening on the day of arrival.

By the way, did you know that some lodging companies build in an unwritten “grace period” so that if a cancellation of a reservation does occur shortly after the official end of the free cancellation period, you will likely not be penalized?

Even still, cutting a cancellation of a lodging reservation that close is typically not a good idea. Ensure that if you need to cancel a reservation, give yourself enough time so that it is not disputed by the lodging company.

Past articles at The Gate whose topic is the cancellation policies of lodging companies include:

All photographs ©2020 by Brian Cohen.


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