How to Avoid Hotel Cancellation Fees

How to Avoid Hotel Cancellation Fees

Hotels Cancellation Fees Can Range from 1 Night + Tax to the Entire Stay. And confusingly, sometimes the deadline is simply worded as the day before arrival, with no exact time given as the cancellation deadline. Here are my tips for avoiding hotel cancellation fees, including the hotel retaining your deposit or charging other fees as part of the cancellation.

1. If the Cancellation Policy Isn't Clear, Clarify It Before Booking

I've sometimes come across attractive packages that are confusing when it comes to what the deposit and/or cancellation penalties are. If that's the case, always check directly with the hotel or resort before booking.

2. Look Out for Hotels That Charge an Administrative Fee or a Percentage for Any Cancellation

For example, Amangiri in Utah has the following policy:

“Within 30 days of arrival/ Early departure/ No show – the deposit is non refundable. Any refund of credit card deposits due to cancellations, amendments or partial refund would be subject to a 3% non-refundable processing fee. 50% deposit plus tax charged at time of booking, balance charged 30 days prior to arrival.”

It's important to be aware that in this case, you don't receive all of your deposit back, even if you cancel well before the 30 day cancellation deadline; you end up forfeiting the 3% credit card processing fee.

3. Read the Small Print

Often the deposit and cancellation language is is small print, and you may need to click on a link labeled “Policies,” “Terms and Conditions,” or similar to read it. If so, be sure to click on the link and familiarize yourself with the deposit and cancellation policies before booking.

4. Advance Purchase Rates are Virtually Always Non-Refundable

There can be exceptions, but usually, when a rate is described as “Advance Purchase,” it is also completely prepaid and non-refundable. Keep that in mind when deciding whether the savings are worth it.

5. Get to Know Which City Hotels Offer 24 Hour Cancellation Policies

While it's important to always check the specific hotel you're booking, since certain rate packages could be non-refundable or have more restrictive cancellation policies, in general the hotels of these brands that are located in major cities offer 24 hour cancellation:

  • Four Seasons
  • Mandarin Oriental
  • The Peninsula
  • Shangri-La
  • Rosewood
  • Most international Ritz-Carlton hotels
  • Some international St. Regis Hotels, for example the St. Regis Moscow, St. Regis Beijing
  • Some international Waldorf Astoria hotels, such as Waldorf Astoria Beijing

In contrast, these city hotels typically have a 48 hour cancellation policy:

  • Park Hyatt
  • Some international St. Regis hotels
  • Most U.S. Waldorf Astoria city hotels

And these hotels tend to have a 72 hour cancellation policy:

  • Most U.S. Ritz-Carlton city hotels
  • Most U.S. St. Regis city hotels
  • Some Waldorf Astoria city hotels, such as Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam

If cancellation flexibility is important, choose one of the hotels that has a 24 hour cancellation policy, instead of a 48 hour or 72 hour cancellation policy.

6. Expect Resort Hotels to Have Stricter Cancellation Policies

As mentioned, the above rules of thumb were for city hotels; for all luxury resorts, cancellation policies tend to be stricter because it's much harder to replace cancelled reservations with a new booking shortly before arrival. Expect several weeks to several months, depending on the property and whether you're attempting to reserve during peak holiday season, which may require full prepayment 3-6 months prior to the stay. If you don't like such stringent cancellation policies, be a more spontaneous traveler, and make plans only when you're certain of going, of course avoiding the peak demand times when such resorts are booked out.

7. Use the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred to Reserve Your Stay

While many of my clients reserve with an AMEX Platinum card out of habit, the AMEX Platinum and AMEX Centurion cards don't come with any built-in travel insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred do, which makes it better to reserve with them in case a family illness disrupts your plans.

8. Contact the Property Directly If You Do Need to Cancel, Not Central Reservations

It's best to cancel directly with the hotel in question, just as it's best to ask the hotel (not Central Reservations) if you need any clarification on the hotel cancellation policy before booking. The hotel will be more familiar with its own cancellation policies than Central Reservations is, and if you need to ask for leniency, for example being a minute or two after the cancellation deadline, or asking the hotel to waive its cancellation policy due to a flight delay, your best bet is via the hotel.

9. Keep a Good Record of the Cancellation Policy

It occasionally happens that hotels change their cancellation policy, so be sure to keep a copy of the confirmation email you were sent, with the cancellation policy of your reservation.

What's been your experience with avoiding hotel and resort cancellation fees?

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