"Guaranteed late arrival" a sure thing for the hotel, less so for the traveler


There was a time, not so long ago, when many hotels would allow travelers to make reservations on a “6 p.m. hold.”

Without obligation hotels would hold a room until 6 p.m., or 4 p.m. at some properties. If guests needed to arrive later, the hotel would ask for a credit card to hold the room for “late arrival.”

These days, most properties ask for a credit card to make the reservation, regardless of arrival time. And if the reservation is not cancelled by a certain time, often at least 24 hours in advance in major cities, the hotel can charge the first night whether or not the hotels are full, whether or not the room is resold.

The advantage to the traveler is that a “guaranteed” reservation should be held all night, as the hotel will be paid for it in any case. However, “should” is the operative word.

Increasingly, as a travel agent, I’m hearing stories that this is not the case. One client, a Hyatt Platinum member, told me of arriving at 11 p.m. for a guaranteed booking at the Hyatt Lex 48 in New York and being told that the hotel had given away all the rooms, but the property would give him a “free room” at the Hyatt Grand Central.

Now, that’s a simple overbooking issue. But when I travelled to Orlando last year to the Hyatt Grand Cypress, and I had advised them of an after midnight check-in, my plane was late and I ended up arriving there at 2:30 a.m. The hotel wasn’t full. The desk agent gave me a room, but had listed me as a no-show.

Last week, another client booked a red-eye flight to the East Coast, which meant about a 7 a.m. arrival, and asked me to book the night before, a relatively regular occurrence for business travelers, especially those on a tight budget. This time, I sent the hotel, the Fairmont Washington, a message about a morning arrival. I also made a quick phone call to verify. Now, to be fair, the original booking was on a weekend, so I didn’t dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” by talking to a regular reservationist and/or making sure I had a confirmation email.

When the client arrived, sure enough, the hotel had given his room away. At first, he was told the property had no other rooms available. Because he is a persistent man, the desk agent found him a room. The hotel apologized later.

Had he actually no-showed the reservation, the hotel would have charged his credit card anyway and pocketed the money.

From a traveler and travel agent perspective, the best way to try to avoid this problem is to make absolutely sure the hotel knows the arrival time, and have it documented with a name and/or an email. Although even then I’ve had rooms given away. Or, in some cases, to use hotels’ online check-in, where you get your room number assigned ahead of time and the keys are ready. (Though that last option gives you less chance to ask about views, room floor and location, etc.)

The largest issue, however, remains “guaranteed late arrival.” If a hotel is going to charge for a no-show, then even in a sold-out situation hotels should hold the room. If not, hotels should not charge. Alas, as with so much else in the travel industry, the hotels want it both ways.