Stricter Day Before Cancellation Policy: Starwood Joins Hilton and Marriott — But Is That Bad News?

ffective as of Thursday, January 15, 2015, you must cancel a reservation as of 6:00 in the evening local time of the hotel property on the day before arrival at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide properties globally which currently offer a cancellation policy on the same day of arrival.

This stricter global cancellation policy is similar to those of two other lodging companies which became effective as of Thursday, January 1, 2015: as per the change in the global cancellation policy of Hilton Worldwide — announced back in November of 2014 — you must cancel a reservation as of 11:59 in the evening local time of the hotel property on the day before arrival as the latest time for cancellation without penalty; and as per the change in the global cancellation policy of Marriott International — announced back in October of 2014 — you must cancel a reservation as of 11:59 in the evening local time of the hotel property on the day before arrival for hotel properties located in the United States, Canada, Caribbean, Central America and South America.

“This change will impact about 35% of our hotels, which currently allow for same day cancellation without penalty”, posted FlyerTalk member Starwood Lurker IV — who is also known as Christopher Carman, social media specialist and one of the official company representatives of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide on FlyerTalk. “The majority of Starwood hotels already have a cancellation policy of at least one day prior to arrival or greater.”

Reservations made under negotiated contracts will be honored and governed by their negotiated terms.

“This is the biggest move yet by hotels to move toward the airline model of nonrefundable fees”, opined Ric Garrido of Loyalty Traveler, who also wrote that “The cancellation penalty amount is still a hotel decision at the local level. Some hotels charge one night’s room and tax and others may even charge the entire stay cost as a penalty for late cancellation.”

He may be correct about the ancillary fee aspect; but I view this change in policy differently.

For one thing, a seat on an airline is more perishable than a room at a hotel property. After departure, any empty seats aboard the airplane remain empty; while a hotel property can still accept guests who arrive at the last minute well through the night and into the early morning and still be able to charge the room rate for a full night.

Unless you have a fully refundable airfare, if you miss your flight, you have already paid for it; whereas unless you booked a room rate where you had to pay in advance and it was not refundable, if you did not show up at the hotel room which has a cancellation policy of 6:00 in the evening on the day of arrival, you could just simply call at 5:59 in the evening and say that you are not arriving after all and cancel your reservation without penalty.

I have to admit that even though I rarely ever did that, I thought it was not fair to the management of the hotel property if someone did that when the hotel was completely booked. What if someone else could have used that room but was denied the ability to book the reservation — only to have that room possibly unused due to a cancellation at the last minute?

My experience with hotel properties is that — again, on extremely rare occasions — if I ever needed to cancel a reservation beyond the deadline, I have never had to pay a penalty. I usually had a good reason — such as a canceled or delayed flight — and the representative had always been understanding. That is not to say that that would be the scenario moving forward nor would I expect that level of service; but as long as lodging companies empower their employees with the ability to implement logical decisions, I generally do not expect this “unwritten policy” to change.

Call me crazy; but I believe that this policy of cancellation by 6:00 in the evening local time of the hotel property on the day before arrival is justified and not unreasonable to the consumer — especially if employees of the lodging company are empowered to override this policy on a case-by-case basis as necessary, for as Ric Garrido said: “Of course, most guests will know to cancel day before arrival, but in case of travel mishaps you are pleading on a case-by-case basis for leniency in cancellation fees if travel woes keep you from reaching your hotel on the planned day of arrival.”

I agree. If most guests will know to cancel on the day before arrival, that suggests to me that any abuse of the policy moving forward will be few and far between, which to me further suggests that pleading for leniency will likely continue to be successful — especially if you are a regular customer of the lodging company or hotel property.

Here is one final thought: hotel properties within the same lodging company having their own cancellation policies — where the deadline of the cancellation policy of one hotel property might be 48 hours before arrival; whereas another might have a deadline of 6:00 in the evening on the night of arrival, for example — could potentially lead to confusion. This can especially be true if the hotel properties are part of the same itinerary. A standardized global cancellation policy might actually reduce missed deadlines for cancellations while simultaneously opening up more rooms for guests — and that is a good thing for both the lodging company and the consumer, in my opinion.

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