COVID-19 Hotel flexibility policies compared for future trip planning

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As travel restrictions ease domestically, many readers are likely planning future trips. I know I’ve been thinking about where I want to go and itching to make reservations; I haven’t gone this long without a tripped planned in many years. Unfortunately, COVID-19 isn’t yet gone and we continue to see upticks in cases in different places. I’ve never been a big fan of locking in money on advance purchase hotel rates, but now more than ever flexibility is key to many of us when considering future travel plans. In response, many hotel chains have instituted flexible cancellation policies, even on their “nonrefundable” advance purchase rates. Surprisingly, I found a good deal of variance among how hotels are handling flexible cancellation policies, particularly for new reservations. This post lists the major US hotel chains in alphabetical order, with details on their cancellation policies for new and existing reservations as well as my brief commentary on each. Note that any hotel will be subject to local laws/restrictions, which prevent refunds in some jurisdictions (I don’t think this is common and don’t think it will apply to reservations within North America, but I know that it applies in some situations abroad).

Best Western

  • New and existing reservations: For any future arrival date, guests may cancel without penalty up until 24hrs before arrival provided the cancellation is received by June 30th, 2020.
  • Exceptions: Applies to hotels in the US, Canada, and the Caribbean. A more restrictive cancellation policy may apply to a limited number of high-demand dates at individual hotels. Cancellation policies outside of the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean may vary, so you’ll need to contact your hotel for details.
  • Link: https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/notice/covid-19-response-cancel-policy.html

Best Western reservations in North America are flexible as long as they are canceled by June 30th. After that date, I expect you will be subject to the cancellation policy that would ordinarily apply to your booking — so if you want to make changes to a future booking, do it now.

Choice Hotels

  • Existing reservations: Can be changed or canceled up to 24 hours prior to arrival as long as the change or cancellation is made by June 30, 2020 (includes non-cancellable / pre-paid rates)
  • New reservations: “For a limited time”, new reservations can be changed or canceled up to 24hrs in advance of arrival date
  • Link: https://www.choicehotels.com/support/travel-alerts

The Choice Hotels policy is wonky. While the policy for “existing” reservations is clear enough, it isn’t clear what makes a new reservation “new”, nor is there any indicated cutoff date for the new flexible policy. While I imagine they intend to keep things flexible indefinitely for as long as necessary, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether or not they will give notice when they intend to end this flexible policy. I’d definitely recommend keeping screen shots of your hotel rate details and the flexible policy page in case that policy changes before your scheduled arrival. That said, as long as you keep those screen shots, you should have excellent flexibility with Choice.

Hilton

  • Reservations made before March 12th: Can be changed or canceled without penalty up until 24hrs prior to arrival date (for any future stay, including “non-cancellable” / advance purchase rates) as long as the change or cancellation is made by August 31st, 2020
  • Reservations made between March 12 – Aug 31, 2020: Can be changed or canceled without penalty up until 24 hours prior to arrival date for any future stay (includes “non-cancellable” / advance purchase rates)
  • Exclusions: “In lieu of a refund, guests at select hotels may choose to receive a hotel voucher redeemable toward a future stay at that hotel.” (It’s not clear to me whether this is due to local restrictions prohibiting a refund or just an additional choice. Unless they offer a voucher worth considerably more than the cost of the stay, it probably wouldn’t make sense to take this option if a refund were available).
  • Link: https://www.hilton.com/en/corporate/coronavirus/

Hilton’s policy looks great: if you already had future travel on the books prior to March 12th, you can still cancel it up until 8/31/20 (provided you do it at least 24hrs in advance). If you book a new reservation for any future date by 8/31/20, it’s cancellable up to 24hrs in advance. That’s exactly the kind of flexibility I want.

Interestingly, I also saw this potential gem in the Hilton policy:

“If you are a Hilton Honors member and cancel an Advance Purchase rate, you may be eligible for a free night certificate for each cancelled night. Free night certificates can be used at our more than 6,100 properties worldwide. Stays must be completed by August 31, 2021. “

After noticing that, I saw that Loyalty Lobby wrote about this a couple of months ago, speculating that these are actually something called a “Be My Guest” certificate and that it may be restricted to a hotel of the same brand you had originally booked. I think Hilton has removed complete advance purchase rates for most hotels, so this potential gem will likely only be valuable if you already have a future cheap advance purchase rate (and even then, you’ll have to contact Hilton to see if the offer applies as it’s not clear when or where it does).

Hyatt

  • Existing reservations booked before July 1, 2020, for arrivals through July 31, 2021: Can be cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival. Hyatt notes that this policy applies “with limited exceptions”.
  • New reservations booked on July 1, 2020 or beyond for arrival dates through July 31, 2021: Can be cancelled at no charge up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival — again, “with limited exceptions”.
  • Exclusions: There are several:
    • Reservations made after April 1, 2020 at Destination Residences or under the Special Event Rates are subject to the cancellation policy disclosed at the time of reservation.
    • Reservations made after June 30, 2020 that disclose a different cancellation or refund policy at the time of booking are excluded from this policy and subject to the cancellation or refund policy disclosed at the time of booking
    • Hotels may adjust this cancellation policy during some high-demand periods (e.g., holidays or special events).
    • This page has a list of specific properties are are exceptions: Reservations made after April 1st for those Destination properties or after June 3rd for those Hyatt Residence Club properties are excluded from change/cancellation waivers

Let me sum it up: check the cancellation policy shown on the booking page for any new Hyatt reservations, because the policy leaves all the room in the world for hotels to except themselves from it. It’s disappointing to see so many caveats on Hyatt’s policies.

IHG

  • Existing bookings made through April 6, 2020 for stays until June 30, 2020: Can be changed or cancelled for stays up to June 30, 2020
  • New bookings: IHG has stopped selling advance purchase rates until later this year, so new bookings are essentially subject to the policy associated with the rate you book.
  • Exclusions: Exclusions may apply for time periods with special event restrictions or peak demand weeks. Also, IHG notes that local laws and regulations may supersede a refund in some circumstances.

IHG is keeping it simple: they just aren’t offering advance purchase rates for the time being, which means you’ll be subject to the cancellation policy associated with the rate you book. That makes it relatively easy to book future travel, though it may mean missing out on the potential savings offered in some cases by advance purchase rates.

Marriott

  • Existing reservations: Can be cancelled up until 24hrs prior to arrival date for any future stay as long as it is changed or canceled by July 5th, 2020
  • New reservations: Reservations made by July 5th, 2020 for any future arrival date can be canceled up to 24 hours prior to arrival day without penalty (including prepaid rates)
  • Exclusions: May exclude periods with special event restrictions or peak demand weeks (it says to see the property’s rate details for full details). Also, Design Hotels and Homes & Villas by Marriott International (HVMI) are excluded from this policy.
  • Link: https://marriott-re-2019ncovc.com/

Marriott’s policy looks decent, though there are some ambiguities. I’m not sure what separates an “existing” reservation (which must be canceled by July 5th) from a “new” reservation (which can be canceled up to 24hrs before arrival as long as it is booked by July 5th). Whereas Hilton clearly defined a “before” and “after” date for new and existing reservations, I don’t see that in Marriott’s current policy. The lack of dates is probably just an oversight, but I’d recommend keeping screen shots of the rate details page and the policy page above for any new reservations you make just in case.

Motel 6

True to its name, Motel 6 will leave the light on for you: they allow cancellation even as late as the day of arrival, for all reservations through July 6th. I assume that means for arrivals by July 6th rather than for future reservations.

Radisson

  • Existing reservations: If you reserved before April 1 for stays until June 30: Can be modified (you’ll pay the rate difference) or canceled for free. However, if you paid a deposit, you will get a credit/voucher valid at the same hotel for one year – if you are unable to use that hotel credit after one year, you will get a refund.
  • New reservations: If you reserve between April 1 – June 30: Can be changed or canceled without penalty up until 24 hours prior to arrival date. If a deposit has been paid, a refund will be made to the credit card used (may be issued in the form of a voucher/credit where required by local laws)
  • Link: https://www.radissonhotels.com/en-us/covid-19

The policy for existing reservations made between 4/1 stinks: if you have to cancel, you are locked into leaving the money tied up for a year. That policy only applies for stays until June 30th — if you have a prepaid rate for July that you reserved before April 1st, it doesn’t appear to be covered by the flexible policy.

New reservations made by June 30th enjoy the flexibility one would expect in that they can be canceled up to 24hrs prior to arrival date, so that’s good news for those looking to make future plans now.

Wyndham

  • New or existing reservations for arrival by June 30th: Cancellation or change penalties waived as long as you request it at least 24hrs prior to arrival
  • Reservations made before June 6th for arrivals after June 30th: All properties are required to accommodate non-cancellable rate reservation changes if the request is received at least 48 hours prior to arrival and the same number of room nights or more are booked for a future stay.
  • Reservations made on or after June 6th for arrivals after June 30th: Subject to the cancellation policy for the rate you book.
  • Guests who are prohibited from traveling to their booked hotel under applicable law will have their cancellation or change penalties waived on direct bookings.
  • Link: https://www.wyndhamhotels.com/about-us/faq-covid-19

Bottom line

As noted in some of the summaries above, I highly recommend keeping screen shots when you make reservations as policies are likely to change over time. I always make a habit of taking screen shots when reserving things, but with policies subject to change over the coming months it may be particularly important to be able to show the policy as you saw it at booking. Personally, I’ll be taking a closer look at Hilton for future reservations given the extended period to make flexible bookings. I think it’s possible that we’ll see others extend flexible policies as the current ones expire, but that’s not something we can count on. Again, keep those screen shots and keep an eye on the fine print.

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Mark

We’re planning a cross country road trip for early July, so this is very helpful! Thank you.

Radha
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Radha

Thank you for sharing an interesting and helpful blog. This blog post really helped me a lot. I really appreciate this post. Thank you for sharing these types of posts.

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