In a winter when terrorist threats, potential war, and a slumping economy have dominated the headlines, you might be more likely to change your travel plans than ever before. Knowing your hotel’s cancellation policy will ease your mind and may even save you money.
For most hotels, you can cancel up to a certain time on the day of your arrival, usually 6 p.m., without penalty. But when conventions are in town, or during holidays and other peak travel periods, cancellation rules are typically more severe.
For example, from March 3-5, which is during Mardi Gras, we found a rate of $209 for a double room at the Doubletree New Orleans-Lakeside, with 24-hour cancellation notice required. Then we tried booking the same room type at the same hotel, but this time for June 3-5, during New Orleans’ low season. Not only was the rate much cheaper ($116.50), but the cancellation requirement was also more relaxed. For those dates, cancellations are accepted up until 4 p.m. on the day of your arrival. In both examples, you have to pay the equivalent of one night if you don’t cancel in time.
The rules for cancellation are also dependent on the rate you’re paying. Usually, the lower the rate, the more restrictive the cancellation policy. For example, at the Hyatt Regency Tech Center in Denver, we found a low rate of $54 per night. However, if you cancel anytime up until 72 hours before your intended arrival, you’ll have to pay a $50 fee; cancel later and you’ll be responsible for a full night’s charge.
On the other hand, pay the standard rate and you’ll have the most flexibility. For the same night at the same hotel, we found that the high rate of $79 allowed you to cancel up until 3 p.m. on the day before your scheduled arrival.
Some hotel chains, such as Wyndham, offer discounted Web-only rates that do not allow cancellation at any time after you make reservations. Similarly, if you decide to book from Hotwire or priceline.com, discount or “opaque” websites that don’t reveal the name of the property you’re staying at until you’ve already paid for the room, know that these companies do not issue any refunds whatsoever. If you need the flexibility of being able to change your plans at the last minute, don’t book with these sites.
Also, remember that canceling doesn’t have to be difficult. Often, you can cancel online or by calling the hotel company’s 800 number. However, if you didn’t book through the hotel company’s website or reservations line, you’ll have to contact the individual property directly.
In short, always check the fine print for the room you’re booking, and decide if its cancellation policy is flexible enough to meet your travel needs.