Long before the general public had to deal with COVID-19 halting or changing their travel plans, travel managers everywhere were united in deadline with the frustrations of hotel booking changes and cancellations.
Whether the trip plan has to change due to a worldwide pandemic, or it is simply collateral damage to changes in an overall project plan, travel managers still have to figure out what comes next—often for hundreds of travelers at once. But changing a flight can cost up to $200 depending on the airline, and you’ll often have to forfeit at least the cost of one room night to modify your hotel booking.
As hotel booking policies are changing, travel managers must find bookings that’ll take it easy on their travel and expense (T&E) budgets. Utilize these six ways to find the most flexible hotel booking policies every time.
Book a hotel’s flexible rate
Many hotels already have a flexible rate options built-in. These rates are specifically for business travelers who often modify their stays, but they come with a catch: the rate is often a little higher than their best available. But when you consider the possibility of paying a fee equal to at least one night just to make a change, that bump in the nightly rate might be well worth it.
Reach out to the hotel directly if you don’t see a flexible rate option in their booking engine. They might be able to work with you, especially if you regularly plan trips to that destination. If the first hotel you find doesn’t offer up a flexible rate option, don’t be afraid to shop around. Many hotels do try to be flexible, so don’t be afraid to search for the policies that suit you best. You can also use a hotel booking platform that allows you to filter by flexibility and will work on your behalf to get flexible rates, like Hotel Engine.
Opt for hotels that have flexibility built into their booking policies
You don’t have to haggle to find flexible hotel booking policies. Some hotel chains build flexible booking into their rate plan. This makes it easy to book hotels because no matter where your business travelers need to go, you’ll be able to find a hotel with booking policies that are as flexible as you need them to be.
IHG Hotels and Resorts, for example, always offers a Best Flexible Rate Offer. You might find a lower rate on their website, but those rates often require you to pay in-full at the time of booking or are completely non-refundable. Their Best Flexible Rate Offer means your hotel booking can evolve along with your business travelers’ itineraries. Red Roof is another hotel chain with highly flexible booking policies. They pride themselves on offering one of the most flexible rates in the industry, accepting changes up until 6 p.m. on your day of arrival.
Plan trips when travel demand is otherwise low
Hotels want to see their beds filled with travelers, whether that’s business people on-the-go or families on a much-needed vacation. But just how full a hotel is can often change with the weather. Every hotel typically has a high season—when their rooms are in demand regardless of their own promotions—and a low season—when they almost always have low occupancy rates.
If your travelers aren’t attached to certain dates or times, consider planning trips when travel demand for that destination is otherwise low. This will keep costs down overall, but it might also make hotels more apt to negotiate. Since they have beds to fill, they’ll be more likely to offer a flexible rate than if you’re vying for the only available room in their inventory. Not all travel managers have the luxury to plan based on seasonality, but if you can, there may be savings in store.
Reschedule rather than cancel
A 2019 study by D-Edge Hospitality Solutions reported that the overall hotel industry cancellation rate reached 46.7% in 2018. Stays booked more than 60 days out were also 65% more likely to be cancelled later on. Though the study attributes this to the flexible booking policies made popular by online travel agents (OTAs), it still represents a significant cost for hotels.
Try to avoid being part of that statistic. Though sometimes cancellation is really the only option, do what you can to reschedule rather than completely take that trip off the books. Rescheduling is still a win for hotels because they do get to retain the revenue from your booking plus any change fees and increases in room rate. As a result, these fees might be easier on your T&E than if you were to cancel your booking outright.
Utilize credit cards that come with travel perks
Hotels and airlines aren’t the travel industry’s sole source of perks. If you already use a credit card to manage your business travelers or you’re considering incorporating one into your travel management program, consider a card that has its own travel benefits. Though credit cards are known for rewards points on travel, there are cards on the market that offer flexibility when you use it to book your hotels.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® card, for example, offers world-class travel benefits and perks, one of which is trip insurance. Every trip you book is automatically subject to their Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, so you’ll be able to recoup much of what you spent should you need to cancel or change your plan.
If you select a card with built-in flexibility, you won’t have to negotiate with every individual provider, saving you time and stress when you’re notified of itinerary changes.
Join loyalty programs
Hotels extend the best perks to their most loyal guests, both to thank them for their support and to incentivize them to keep coming back. Why stay anywhere else if your hotel chain of choice can give you discounted rates, ultimate flexibility, and even complimentary meals and WiFi? Though loyalty programs are popular among leisure travelers, they’re equally as important for travel managers.
Enroll your individual travelers in loyalty programs so that they’ll rack up perks wherever they go, one of which is flexibility. Business travelers will view this as a benefit because they can use it on personal trips, but it’ll also benefit your T&E by keeping costs low. Book your travelers at affiliated brands and you’ll be able to make changes without stressing over hotel booking policies.
And if you use a hotel booking solution like Hotel Engine, you can benefit from a double-rewards program – earning HE Rewards points on top of your other hotel loyalty program points for even more savings.
When it comes to business travel, change is one thing you can count on. Though hotels might not seem the most accepting of change, your hotel bookings can be a lot more flexible than you might think. Whether you simply book a hotel’s posted flexible rate offer or take the back door via credit card perks, it’s 100% possible to minimize costs and maximize flexibility for each and every hotel booking.
If negotiating flexible rates still isn’t your strong suit, lean on the experts at Hotel Engine. Not only can we help ensure you receive the most flexible rate possible, but if your plans do change, our member support team can help negotiate refunds on your behalf!