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BE CAREFUL: Don’t Assume That All Hotels Are Still Offering Free Cancellations – They’re Not!


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Update 1 October 2020: Hilton has updated its policy.

When the major hotel chains realized that no one was traveling and that no one was making any plans to travel, they all brought in policies that meant that travelers could cancel or change their bookings without fear of penalty (regardless of the type of rate they were booking) as they attempted to persuade people to make plans for the future. A number of these policies are now either no longer in place or are in danger of expiring.

Here are the current cancellation/refund policies of the five major hotel chains that feature most prominently in the lives of miles & points fans:


Hilton

Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah – Image courtesy of Hilton

As of 1 October 2020, this is what the Hilton website says:

  • All our hotels offer fully flexible booking options with free changes and cancellations. Most hotels even give you flexibility to change or cancel up to 24 hours before your arrival day*. ​​ Also, any individual reservations made prior to October 1st, 2020 are eligible for free changes or cancellation up to 24-hours before your arrival day.​​
  • *Some exclusions to the 24-hour window may apply. Please refer to the property’s Rate Details for applicable terms or exceptions, if any, when booking or changing reservations.​

Before the 1 October update, Hilton’s Covid-19 cancellation policy was very clear in saying that all bookings made by 30 September 2020 were eligible for free changes and cancellations up until 24 hours before check-in. Now, as of 1 October, things are considerably less clear…especially on the Hilton page that most people will view (the wording you see above).

While I have yet to find a Hilton property where the cheapest rate offered by a Hilton property isn’t offering free cancellations until 24 hours before check-in (I’ve checked approximately 10 properties), the phrase “All our hotels offer fully flexible booking options with free changes and cancellations” doesn’t offer much comfort. It’s simply stating a fact that was true before Covid-19 – hotels have always offered fully flexible booking options but they also often offer considerably less-flexible options too (the cheaper rates).

The policy is a lot clearer on this Hilton website where it reads as follows:

As of September 30, 2020

– Reservations made on or before September 30, 2020 can be changed or cancelled at no charge, up to 24 hours before scheduled arrival date. This includes reservations described as “non-cancellable” or Advance Purchase.
– Reservations made on or after October 1, 2020 will be subject to the cancellation policies at the time the reservation is made. Most hotels have flexibility to change or cancel up to 24-hours before scheduled arrival date.*

If you cancel a rate which required an advance payment or deposit, we will do everything we can to process your refund as quickly as possible. Due to the influx of cancellations, it may take up to 14 days to complete your request.

So, it would appear as if most of Hilton’s properties are still offering free changes and cancellations but the updated policy opens the door for hotels to go back to offering less flexible options when the mood suits them.

Advice: If you’re considering making any Hilton bookings for the future, make sure you read the cancellation terms for the rates you’re booking very carefully – they may not be as flexible as they have been in the recent past.


Hyatt

Park Hyatt Mendoza – Image courtesy of Hyatt

As of 29 September 2020, this is what the Hyatt website says:

  • Existing reservations booked prior to July 1, 2020 – With some very limited exceptions, 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. This includes Advance Purchase Rate reservations. 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. 
  • New reservations booked July 1, 2020 or beyond – With some very limited exceptions, 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.Reservations made after April 1, 2020 at select Destination properties or under Special Event Rates, after June 3, 2020 at Hyatt Residence Club properties, and any other 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. Please visit the Change and Cancellation Fee Waiver Exceptions for a list of excluded Destination and Hyatt Residence Club properties.

This wording was last updated on 15 September 2020 so it doesn’t look as if Hyatt has any intention of making any changes to its current customer-friendly cancellation policies.

Advice: At the time of writing, Hyatt has the most customer-friendly cancellation policies out of all the major hotel chains so this is probably the hotelier most people should be rewarding with their business. 


IHG

InterContinental Sydney

IHG changed its official cancellation policy back at the end of August and it was the first (and currently only) hotelier to confirm that all bookings made after 30 September 2020 will be subject to the terms and conditions of the rate booked (i.e the terms and conditions will go back to being the same as they were pre-Covid-19).

As of 29 September 2020, this is what the IHG website says:

  • For existing bookings made up to and including September 30, 2020: With continued changes of government travel advice, guests who have made non-refundable/pre-paid reservations may want to consider changes to trips already booked. Please note, all bookings (made directly with IHG), including non-refundable/pre-paid rates, can be changed without charge – although changing the date on any reservations may result in different pricing. Please see the booking information on your booking confirmation for details on the time period for any changes to bookings.
  • For bookings made prior to April 6, 2020: Any non-refundable/pre-paid bookings for all future arrivals can be cancelled without penalty (up to 24 hours before arrival) up until September 30, 2020.
  • From October 1, 2020, all non-refundable/pre-paid bookings will be subject to the terms and conditions of the rate booked.

It is unclear when this wording was last updated (I think it was at the end of August) but that doesn’t take away from the fact that IHG has essentially called time on its flexible reservation policy. Going forward, the only bookings that will have an element of flexibility to them will be the more expensive rates which have always been flexible (to a degree).

Advice: As IHG has decided to stop offering any flexibility on its cheaper rates from 1 October 2020, anyone looking to save money and maintain a degree of flexibility to their plans should probably steer clear of booking with IHG.


Marriott

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel

Around the same time that IHG was quietly updating its cancellation policies for the worse, Marriott was doing the same and at one point, Marriott’s policy mirrored that of IHG. Since then, Marriott has rolled back the negative changes a little but its cancellation/refund policies are still not as flexible as they once were.

As of 29 September 2020, this is what the Marriott website says:

  • In general, 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 with reservations made on or after July 6, 2020, for arrival dates through December 30, 2020, 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 and other limited exclusions 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 December 31, 2020, individual hotel cancellation policies in place at the time of reservation will apply.
  • Please note that this policy does not apply to travel associated with a Group booking. For guests with Group reservations (e.g., for meetings, events or conferences), please review the booking rate rules and contact the group organizer for more information.
  • Guests who booked via online travel agents or other third-party travel professionals are advised to contact their booking provider directly for further information.

It would appear as if this wording was last edited on 13 September 2020 and the key takeaway here is that any new reservations made from that date onwards will fall under Marriott’s regular (non-Covid) cancellation policies if the stay has an arrival date in 2021. Most bookings made for stays with arrival dates in 2020 still maintain their flexibility (as long as they’re not pre-paid bookings).

Advice: if you’re a Marriott loyalist, it looks like you can continue to make bookings for stays in 2020 without having to worry about the hotel’s cancellation policy as Marriott’s Covid-19 flexible cancellation rules are still in place. If, however, you’re considering making a booking for 2021, think hard before you book with Marriott as the cheaper rates on offer will probably not offer any flexibility at all.


Radisson

Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel Stockholm

It was only recently that Radisson made some significant changes to its cancellation policy and, unsurprisingly, they’re not changes that favor the customer. Moreover, the Radisson now has one cancellation policy for its properties in the US, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean and a separate cancellation policy for all of its other worldwide properties.

As of 29 September 2020, this is what the Radisson website says:

For any RHG hotel in Europe, Middle East, Africa, India and Asia Pacific, the below cancellation policies will apply.

  • Individual reservations:
    • For existing reservations made prior to April 1, 2020, for stays until October 31, 2020, subject to local regulations and variations applicable to the hotel legal entity, we allow:
      – Free modifications subject to availability and/or any rate differences 
      – Free cancellations with the following exception: If a deposit has been paid for an existing reservation, we will credit you the full amount to redeem with your next stay at the same hotel within one year after your cancellation date. If you are unable to redeem, we will refund you after your credit has expired.
    • For new reservations made between April 1 and October 31, 2020, for any future arrival date, we allow:
      – Free modifications up to 24 hours before the arrival date. Any modifications are subject to availability and/or any rate differences 
      – Free cancellations up to 24 hours before arrival date
          ○ This includes reservations on advanced purchase rates described as noncancelable
          ○ If a deposit has been paid, the amount will be refunded to the credit card used (or maybe in the form of vouchers or credit, where required by local regulations) 

For any RHG hotel in the United States, Canada, Caribbean and Latin America, the below cancellation policies will apply.

Individual reservations:

For new reservations made on or after September 1, the individual hotel cancellation policies in place at the time of booking will apply (please contact the hotel/s directly).

Note: Please visit the Radisson website for cancellation policies relating to groups, meetings, and events.

This wording was last updated on 23 September 2020 its about as up to date as it gets. Essentially, any reservations made for Radisson properties in North America or the Caribbean no longer offer any flexibility unless the individual rate that’s being booked specifically offers flexibility.

Reservations made for all of Radisson’s properties elsewhere in the world will continue to offer good flexibility through 31 October 2020. No statement has been released to let us know what will happen after 31 October but it’s probably safe to assume that more negative changes are on the way.

Advice: If you’re looking to make a booking for a stay in the US, Canada, Latin America, or the Caribbean you should be avoiding Radisson properties unless you’re happy to pay extra for whatever flexibility you need. If you’re considering making a booking at a Radisson property anywhere else in the world, make sure you make your booking before 31 October or you may lose the chance to book a cheap rate while keeping all your cancellations options open.


Bottom Line

If you’re considering making a hotel booking you should be very careful not to assume that the generous cancellation policies that most hotels have been offering for the past few months are still in place. While some major hotel chains are still offering a lot of flexibility to their customers (well done Hyatt), others are being considerably less flexible and, a little shamefully, they’re being considerably less vocal than they were a few months ago now that the changes they’re making are considerably less customer-friendly.

Moral of the story: Don’t rely on the hotels to inform you when they roll back any of the positive moves they made earlier in 2020 – make sure you read all the current terms and conditions carefully.

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