Don’t Be Disrupted by Overbooking: Know Your Rights When Your Hotel Overbooks

Audrey Fairbrother
December 22, 2021
Don’t Be Disrupted by Overbooking: Know Your Rights When Your Hotel Overbooks

If you’re a frequent flyer, you’ve probably seen at least a few travelers get bumped from an overbooked flight. It’s frustrating and stressful, and it’s a situation that no one ever wants to be in. And while flight overbooking is a common occurrence, the airline industry isn’t the only one that partakes in this practice. Hotel overbooking happens as well — and it happens more often than you may think. Hopefully, you’ll never experience overbooking at a hotel. But if it does happen to you, you need to know the rights you have as a traveler. Planning a vacation or a business trip out of town? Here’s how not to have your travel plans disrupted by hotel overbooking (and the rights you do have if your hotel overbooks).

Table of Contents

1. Why Do Hotels Overbook? 2. Who Gets Walked? 3. What Happens When Your Hotel Overbooks? 4. What Rights Do You Have When Your Hotel Overbooks? 5. How to Avoid Being Walked as a Business Traveler

Why Do Hotels Overbook?

So why exactly do hotels overbook? The answer is simple: Money. Hotels sell one product — hotel rooms. And since they have a limited number of rooms, they need to keep occupancy rates as high as possible every night to make the most revenue they can. Overbooking is a revenue management strategy that hotels use in order to account for last-minute cancellations and no-shows. Empty rooms bring hotel revenue down, and there’s no way to make up for rooms that go unsold, especially if the hotel has flexible cancellation policies. If a room is vacant tonight, the hotel cannot make up that lost revenue by selling that room twice tomorrow. Hotel management teams rely on historical data to create an overbooking strategy that works for them. The problem is that what works for them doesn’t always work for you. This revenue management strategy may be to overbook by 2% or 3% or 10% … Every hotel has its own approach to the practice of overbooking. And even if they only overbook one room each night, you could be the unlucky traveler who ends up without a bed to sleep in. In fairness to the hotel industry, overbooking sometimes happens due to a situation outside the hotel’s control. For example, if the air conditioning isn’t working on the third floor or the fifth floor doesn’t have any running water, the hotel may have no choice but to block rooms off until the problem is resolved. When travelers arrive at hotel check-in, and there are no available rooms, they get bumped to a different hotel. In the hotel industry, this is what’s called being “walked.” When you’re walked, the hotel you booked your room in transfers you to a room in a different hotel. For most travelers, this is not the ideal way to kick off a trip. Discover: 5 Must-Have Apps for Managing Business Travel in 2022

Who Gets Walked?

Some travelers are more at risk for getting “walked” than others, such as:

  • First-time guests
  • Guests only booked for one-night stays
  • Guests who are not members of their hotel loyalty program
  • Guests that have reserved rooms at discounted rates

Walking guests is common practice in the hotel industry, but it can be especially problematic for business travelers. When traveling for business, you often have a set schedule or book a hotel room because it’s near where you have to work the following day. Late check-ins are also at risk for being walked, as the later you arrive, the more likely it is that the overbooked hotel is already full. Checking in late is common for business travelers who fly in the evening hours. For this reason, business travelers should keep this practice in mind and know what rights they have if and when overbooking happens.

What Happens When Your Hotel Overbooks?

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For hoteliers to be successful, they must focus on the guest experience. And turning a traveler away because they’ve overbooked rooms is about the worst guest experience they can create. The hotel business relies on positive customer reviews and customer satisfaction. The last thing that any hotel wants is negative reviews on social media or 1-star ratings on Google or Yelp. Real-time remediation that gets you in a room, with as little frustration as possible, is the only thing that most travelers care about in the moment. Hotels know this, and most are quick to remedy an overbooking situation and get you into another room as quickly as possible. Why? Because bad reviews and angry customers can destroy a hotel’s reputation. In most cases, your overbooked hotel will arrange a different room for you at a nearby alternative hotel. In most cases it will be comparable to the room you reserved. In some cases, it might even be an upgrade to a larger room or a suite for no additional charge. Most overbooked hotels will also provide you with free transportation to the other hotel. Sometimes they’ll also provide you with a free meal or a free night stay to compensate for the frustration. With major hotel groups that operate many hotels in the same city, they’ll most often walk you to a comparable property with a similar nightly rate. Smaller (or boutique) hotels that operate independently may have no option but to walk you to a less expensive room in a lesser quality hotel. If you get walked, you could be at the mercy of the overbooked hotel and have no choice but to stay in whatever hotel they choose to transfer you to.Related: 5 Ways to Take the Stress Out of Managing Hotel Bookings

What Rights Do You Have When Your Hotel Overbooks?

The U.S. Department of Transportation has established a series of laws regarding how airlines compensate and handle passengers on overbooked flights. But when hotel rooms aren’t available, and you’re walked to a different hotel, there is no federal law to protect you. However, all hope is not lost. While there aren’t federal guidelines for hotel overbooking, some states have laws in place to protect you from being denied a hotel stay. Should you happen to be traveling somewhere that doesn’t have a state law in place for hotel walking, you do have another form of legal protection: Contract law.

Your Rights Under Contract Law

When you reserve hotel rooms for a specific date and give the hotel your credit card to hold your reservation, you’ve entered into a contract. And that means that both parties are expected to uphold their end of that contract. As the traveler, your end of the deal is to show up and pay the predetermined rate as stated in your original hotel booking confirmation. The hotel must supply the service they’ve contracted to provide and give you access to the specific room type that you’ve booked. If the hotel can’t provide you with a room, they’ve broken the contract. Or have they? All contracts contain fine print. Before giving a hotel your credit card number, read the contract to ensure that you’re not giving up any rights you deserve. For example, some contracts may state that you need to check-in by a certain time. Some may specify that the hotel has the right to cancel your reservation without cause or reason. Some may state that the hotel does NOT have to refund your money if they cancel your reservation or “walk” you to a different hotel.

When reviewing your contract, pay special attention to who you’ve contracted with. Booking through certain third-party travel sites means you’ve entered into an agreement with the third party — not the hotel itself.

Protect yourself by using reliable booking sites, such as Hotel Engine, that support your rights as a traveler and will work on your behalf if you experience any issues with your reservation.

How Much Can You Recoup Under Contract Law?

Keep in mind that the protection of contract law won’t help you in the moment when the front desk clerk is apologetically turning you away. It won’t get you in a room that’s already filled with another guest. It can, however, help you recoup your damages in civil court against the hotel. Unfortunately, contract law doesn’t offer compensation for any aggravation you’ve endured or inconvenience you’ve had to suffer. There is no pain and suffering in contract law. But you will be entitled to compensation in the amount of any excess money you had to spend as a result of being overbooked. Under contract law, you’re entitled to be “made whole,” which means that you’re entitled to recoup monetary damages related to the breach of the contract. For example, say you intended to pay $200 per night for your hotel room but they transfer you to a hotel that costs you $300 per night. You’re entitled to the additional $100 you had to spend above and beyond what you expected to pay under the original contract. And if your hotel walks you to a hotel that’s further away from your destination, forcing you to spend more on transportation costs? You could be entitled to that amount of money as well. See also: 5 Best Tips for Avoiding Fraud While Booking Travel

How to Avoid Being Walked as a Business Traveler

Woman standing outside hotel

Hotel overbooking happens, and there’s no way to 100% guarantee that it won’t happen to you. But there are some things that you can do to be proactive in this situation and prevent yourself from being walked to a hotel that you don’t want to stay in.

Reservation Confirmation

It never hurts to call and double check your already confirmed reservation. A simple phone call to the front desk to let them know that you’re on your way can make all the difference. After all, if they’ve overbooked out of concern for no-shows, letting them know that you will be showing up will make it more likely that your room will remain reserved for you. The later your arrival time, the more crucial this phone call becomes, as late check-ins are more likely to get walked than guests that check-in early.

Customer Loyalty

If you travel frequently, consider staying at the same hotel chain whenever possible. Repeat guests are less likely to get walked because the hotel knows they can rely on their continued business. Business travelers who frequent the same hotel chain should also join the hotel’s loyalty program (if they offer one). Hotel loyalty programs allow you to rack up points, which can sometimes turn into:

  • Free nights
  • Free meals
  • Room upgrades
  • Benefits through travel partners, such as rental car or rideshare services

Join Hotel Engine

Another way to lower your risk of being walked is to book your hotel reservations through Hotel Engine. Our customer support team is available 24/7, so if you ever find yourself in a frustrating overbooking situation, we’ve got your back. If you show up to check-in for a confirmed hotel reservation and the front desk doesn’t have a room ready for you, we can assist you in getting a room ASAP. We can also advocate for you getting your account refunded right away, so you don’t have to worry about doing it on your own. It’s free to join Hotel Engine’s platform and you can save up to 60% on business lodging at over 700,000 hotels worldwide! You may also like: 15 Travel Gifts for Frequent Business TravelersHotel overbooking happens. But if you know your rights and how to take precautions, it doesn’t have to happen to you. For more information on making business travel easier and protecting against overbookings, contact Hotel Engine now!

Article written by
Audrey Fairbrother

Audrey Fairbrother is the Content and SEO Manager at Hotel Engine. She spends her days writing about all things business travel, researching topics that are important to Hotel Engine's audience and cultivating the company's brand voice.

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