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One of the often-mentioned major benefits of making a hotel booking with points is that points bookings are usually considerably more flexible than the cheaper cash rates on offer. Where a discounted cash rate is often non-refundable once booked, a points booking is usually considered to be cancelable, without penalty, until a few days before arrival. This, however, is not always the case so it pays to read the small print carefully before you make an award booking.
Seasoned miles & points enthusiasts will probably already know all about the pitfalls of hotel cancellation policies but as not everyone reading this post will be a miles & points expert, I think it’s worth demonstrating just how varied hotel cancellation policies can be even when considering properties in the same portfolio.
It has already been well documented that some high-end Marriott properties have some truly egregious award cancellation policies (the St Regis Aspen will happily charge you 99% of your reservation’s entire cash rate if you cancel an award booking outside of its cancellation window) but this post isn’t aimed at highlighting the cost of canceling an award booking, it’s aimed at highlighting the different cancellation windows that you can find within a hotelier’s portfolio.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to use Hyatt as my example but what you’ll see below could easily apply to properties managed by any of the other major hoteliers.
Hyatt’s varying cancellation windows
The impression that I’m often given is that a lot of people assume that most hotel award bookings allow guests to cancel without penalty between up to 24 – 48 hours before the official check-in time and while that’s certainly the case for some properties, it’s definitely not a hard and fast rule.
Here, for example, are the Andaz 5th Avenue and the Hyatt Regency LAX both showing a 24-hour cancellation policy …
… and here are the Grand Hyatt Tokyo and the Hyatt Regency London both showing a 48-hour cancellation policy:
So far, things are as a lot of people would expect them to be and that’s because these are all city-centric properties.
When it comes to looking at resort properties, things start to look different and we start to see more variation in the cancellation windows on offer.
Here, for example, are the Alila Ventana Big Sur and the Hyatt Regency Aruba both displaying a 14-day cancellation policy:
And here’s the Andaz Maui with a 21-day cancellation policy:
At this point, it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you can see where things are going – award bookings at city-centric properties can be canceled up to 24/48 hours before check-in and award bookings at resorts can be canceled up to 14/21 days before check-in – but that’s not necessarily the case.
Here, for example, is the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa showing a 48-hour cancellation policy …
… and here is the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa showing a 72-hour cancellation policy:
Not all resort properties require guests to cancel no later than 14/21 days before check-in if they are to get a full refund.
I’d love to be able to say that that’s where things end…but it isn’t.
Not only can cancellation windows vary wildly from property to property even if the properties are all linked to the same hotelier (in this case, Hyatt), but an individual property’s cancellation window can vary too.
Earlier, I showed the Hyatt Regency Aruba displaying a 14-day cancellation window, but take a look at what you’ll find if you try to book this property for ultra-high season (e.g. around Christmas/New Year):
The screenshot above shows a genuine reservation for the Hyatt Regency Aruba and you should be able to see that the 14-day cancellation policy has disappeared and been replaced with a 60-day policy.
I wonder how many people who have made multiple award bookings outside of ultra-peak season at the Hyatt Regency Aruba actually realize that the property will, in some cases, change a 100% cancellation fee if a booking is cancelled within 60 days of check-in?
Nothing in this post will be groundbreaking or surprising to people who have been making award bookings for years, but it’s important to make sure that everyone (regardless of experience) realizes just how widely hotel cancellation windows can vary. It’s easy to assume that a city-center hotel will allow you to cancel an award booking without penalty up to 24 hours before check-in and that a resort will allow you to do the same up to 14 days before check-in but as you will have seen above, that’s definitely not the case. Be careful!
Never assume anything when it comes to hotel cancelation policies and always read the small print before you book.