Whenever I book accommodations, the first thing I look at is the hotel cancellation policy. Although my travel plans are usually set, I want to make sure that the rooms I’m booking are flexible in case I change my mind. Fortunately, hotel cancellation policies are pretty generous, but if you’re not paying attention, you could be locked into paying the rate even if you don’t show up.
For some people, getting the lowest rate is more important than a fully refundable hotel cancellation policy, but that mindsight has likely shifted due to COVID-19. While many hotels have been accommodating during the pandemic, it’s important to understand how your hotel cancellation policy works as there are many different variables.
Booking directly online
Generally speaking, booking directly online will always give you the best hotel cancellation policy. In most cases, your room will be fully refundable as long as you cancel within 24-48 hours of your stay. It’s even possible to get a refund within 24 hours if you call the hotel and have a valid reason.
For example, years ago I was caught in a snowstorm in Amsterdam which cancelled my flight to Scotland. This storm appeared suddenly and I didn’t learn about the cancelled flight until a few hours before departure. I immediately called my hotel in Scotland and they cancelled the first night with no penalty to me. Not all hotels do this, but if you need to cancel due to an extreme circumstance, many hotels are understanding.
It’s important to note that when you book online directly, the parent hotel cancellation policy will usually apply. However, the room rate you book and the property you’re booking may have its own policy which would take precedence.
Read your rate details
Many hotels offer different rates for the same room. There could be the regular rate, a member rate, 60-day in advance rate, prepaid rate, etc. Every one of those rates have their own hotel cancellation policy. This can confuse some people as you might be looking at the details of one rate, but when you’re ready to book, you choose a different rate.
In many cases, the regular rate or member rate will give you the best hotel cancellation policy but you may end up having to pay a bit more. That’s because early booking rates are usually non refundable and they may require you to pay the full balance right away.
If you want full flexibility, make sure you’re booking a rate that allows you to cancel with a full refund. That said, if you’re booking during certain holidays or specific time periods, the hotel cancellation policy may be even more strict. Basically, make sure you’re reading the terms and conditions of your rate details.
Know the property details
Despite the fact that a specific property may be part of a large hotel chain, they may have their own hotel policy that differs. For example, Design Hotels and Homes & Villas by Marriott International (HVMI) are excluded from the standard Marriott cancellation policy.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the cancellation policy is worse, it’s just likely different. This may seem odd, but hotel chains have different brands with different policies. It’s really no different from other major corporations that have different lines of business.
Timeshares that are operated by major chains but are available to the public when they’re not booked by owners would also have their own hotel cancellation policy based on the rate details. However, if you’re an owner of a timeshare, your hotel cancellation policy would differ from the one available to the general public.
Any group bookings made directly with a property usually have their own hotel cancellation policy which may or may not affect your decision to book with them.
Booking via a third-party site or travel agent
Here’s where things can get a bit complicated. When you book your hotels via a third-party website or travel agent, your hotel cancellation policy is based on who you booked with. Most travel agents and many third-party travel websites will only issue a credit that must be used within a certain period of time.
It doesn’t matter if the room you booked had an open cancellation policy, you’re at the mercy of the refund policy which you booked. To complicate things, every website and travel agent has a different policy so you need to know the details before you book.
Booking.com is one of the more popular third-party hotel reservation websites and they have a pretty generous cancellation policy which is why consumers love them. However, they clearly state that the refund policy is based on the trip provider’s policy (including hotels), so you need to know what you’re getting before you confirm.
Booking with points
The nice thing about booking with loyalty points is that they usually have the most flexible cancellation policies. Free nights booked with Marriott Bonvoy are fully refundable as long as you cancel at least 24 hours before the day of your arrival. Many other hotel loyalty programs have a similar cancellation policy.
However, let’s say you’re booking a hotel with American Express Membership Rewards, BMO Rewards, Scotia Rewards, CIBC Rewards or any other bank travel loyalty program, you need to read the fine print. Generally speaking, the hotel cancellation policy is based on the rate details available.
What makes things complicated is that bank travel portals don’t have access to all the different rates, so you might only have one option available to you if you’re looking at a specific hotel. On top of that, you may not be getting the best price. If you do need to cancel your hotel reservation, your points used would be refunded to you.
Using travel insurance to cancel a hotel
Although some hotel cancellation policies may be strict and non-refundable, you might still be able to get your money back if you have travel insurance. As you can imagine, you would only get a refund if there’s a qualifying reason for your travel insurance to apply.
It’s also important to note that if you’re using a credit card with travel insurance, you’ll need to charge part (or even all) of your hotel stay to your credit card for your travel insurance to be valid.
When it comes to getting paid out, you would only be reimbursed for the portion that’s not refundable. For example, let’s say you’re booked for 5 nights and you need to cancel less than 24 hours before you arrive. Depending on the rate details, you might only be charged for one night. That means your travel insurance would reimburse you for that single night.
How to get the best hotel cancellation policy
By now, you likely know you need to read the terms and conditions before you book anything. I typically follow these steps to ensure I give myself the most flexibility:
- Book directly with the hotel website
- Read the rate details
- Only select rates that offer a cancellation policy that is satisfactory
- Use a credit card that has travel insurance
Unless I know for sure that there’s no chance that I’m cancelling, I typically book rooms that are fully refundable. That said, there has been more than one occasion now where having the ability to change my dates or cancel without any fees would have been handy. I’m fairly positive that I’ll only book rooms with a good cancellation policy moving forward.
Hotel cancellation policies
As mentioned, every hotel chain has their own hotel cancellation policy so you need to read up on them. COVID-19 has forced many hotels to change their policies, but note that many of those changes are only temporary. In the end, knowing the rate details is the most important thing, but it’s a good idea to know the general cancellation policies before you book.
Hilton cancellation policy
Cancellation of reservations for which payment was guaranteed or for which a deposit has been sent must reach the destination hotel by the local hotel hold time on the cancellation date indicated to avoid your credit card being charged or the forfeiture of your deposit.
Hyatt cancellation policy
Cancellation and deposit policies vary by the hotel and confirmed rate. The policies regarding your specific reservation are provided at the time the reservation is made. They are also provided in online, email, written and faxed confirmations.
Holiday Inn cancellation policy
- Book Now, Pay Later: This new rate offers flexibility and savings. With no deposit required and cancellations possible up to 24 hours before your stay for direct bookings, travel planning is commitment free. Guests benefit from 5% or more off our Best Flexible Rate for bookings made up to September 3, 2020 for stays until December 30, 2020 (excluding Greater China).
- Best Flexible Rate: This rate offers maximum flexibility to change or cancel your reservation. For direct bookings this rate can be fully changeable or refundable up to 6pm (local hotel time) on the day of arrival (dependent on the hotels’ individual house policy).
- IHG Rewards Club nights: You can change or cancel these bookings with no penalty prior to the time period set by the hotel.
These rates, and others, have their own terms and conditions. This may include non-refundable pre-payment or other restrictions. Please refer to specific rate information when booking for further details – including cancellation terms. Changing the date on any reservations may result in different pricing.
Best Western cancellation policy
Best Western reservation cancellation policies vary by location. Please review the policies of each individual Best Western hotel when confirming your travel reservation during the online reservation process.
If you do not cancel online reservations based on the individual hotel’s cancellation policy, you will be charged for one night’s hotel stay unless your online hotel reservation required a full payment in advance or a minimum length of stay.
When full payment is required in advance, you will be charged for the entire reserved stay unless you change or cancel your reservation within the requirements of the individual hotel’s cancellation policy. During certain travel periods, such as holidays and special events, a minimum stay may be required. For minimum length of stay reservations you will be charged for the entire reserved stay if you check out prior to the reserved departure date.
AccorHotels cancellation policy
To change or cancel a reservation, you must first read the sales conditions for the reserved rate because some rates have specific conditions for changes or cancellations. To find out more, please refer to the terms and conditions of sale
Marriott cancellation policy
- For guests with existing reservations for any future arrival date, the policies that were in place at the time of reservation, or as previously communicated, will continue to be honored.
- For guests making new reservations on or after July 6 for arrival dates through September 30, we will allow the reservation to be changed or cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before the scheduled arrival date.* Reservations with pre-paid rates will be subject to the rate offer rules communicated at the time of reservation. Please note that changes to the reservation will be subject to availability and any rate differences.
- For guests making new reservations for arrival dates on or after October 1, individual hotel cancellation policies in place at the time of reservation will apply.
Choice Hotels cancellation policy
Cancellation policies vary based on your reservation and/or rate. You can review this information on your check-out page, before confirming your reservation.
Wyndham Hotels cancellation policy
Reservations must be canceled in accordance with the cancellation policy outlined by the hotel for the rate and dates booked
Motel 6 cancellation policy
If it becomes necessary to cancel a prepaid or guaranteed reservation, you must cancel the reservation through our Site, contact our Call Center or the property directly by 6:00PM hotel time (4:00pm at some locations) on the arrival date and receive a cancellation number. (Times and dates to cancel without penalty may vary by location, on Special Events, Holidays and/or Weekends.)
Contact the location or the Call Center for cancellation policies that may affect your reservation. If you do not cancel your guaranteed reservation within the applicable cancellation window, your credit card will be charged for the first night plus all applicable taxes or services charges/fees, and the remainder of the reservation will be cancelled (if more than 1 night).
Booking.com cancellation policy
By making a Trip Reservation with a Trip Provider, you accept and agree to the relevant cancellation and no-show policy of that Trip Provider, and to any additional (delivery) terms and conditions of the Trip Provider that may apply to your Trip (including the fine print of the Trip Provider made available on our Platform and the relevant house rules of the Trip Provider), including for services rendered and/or products offered by the Trip Provider.
The relevant (delivery/purchase/use/carrier) terms and conditions of a Trip Provider can be obtained with the relevant Trip Provider. The general cancellation and no-show policy of each Trip Provider is made available on our Platform on the Trip Provider information pages, during the reservation procedure and in the confirmation email or ticket (if applicable). Please note that certain rates, fees or special offers are not eligible for cancellation, refund or change. Applicable city/tourist tax may still be charged by the Trip Provider in the event of a no-show or charged cancellation.