Travel agents and consumers are barely paying attention to Marriott International’s decision to move its cancellation policy out to 48 hours from 24 hours.
The new policy, enacted for reservations beginning June 15, was implemented at properties in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, and at all Marriott brands with the exception of Design Hotels.
The policy is “absolutely problematic for business travelers. They change hotels frequently because their plans change,” so 48-72 hours’ notice “is nearly impossible,” said Joe Brancatelli, editor of the weekly business travel newsletter “JoeSentMe” and former executive editor of Frequent Flyer magazine.
Brancatelli said, "the outrage isn't as high as it should be, but that's because there are options. Hilton and Hyatt are still at 24 hours."
"It’ll obviously affect our corporate clients who have to make last-minute changes on a fairly regular basis. With that being said, I do expect Marriott will waive these penalties for their top corporate accounts. It’s the small to medium-size companies that will be affected. However, overall I don’t expect there to be a huge shift in corporate business away from Marriott with the change in their cancellation terms. Since airlines have been charging change fees for years, most businesses are well-versed on having to pay change or cancellation penalties," said Jay Johnson, president of Coastline Travel Advisors, Eldorado Hills, CA.
“While I understand Marriott's desire to reduce the number of unsold rooms at the last minute, having the policy imposed at midnight 48 hours prior to the guest's arrival date puts the chain's Courtyard by Marriotts and Fairfield Inns at a disadvantage when compared to Choice Hotels, for example, which allow cancellations until 4 p.m. or 6 p.m. on the day of arrival, or 24 hours prior to arrival,” said Rob Stern, of RobPlansYourTrip, in Raleigh, NC. “Unless more major chains start to follow this 48-72 hours cancellation policy change, clients seeking limited service hotels and scheduling flexibility will ask agents to find properties with less restrictive time frames.”
Stern said his clients tend to be advance planners and pretty brand loyal, so they will probably groan and accept the changes most of the time. “It will cause me to spend some more time reminding them of the policy, and it could be a headache when doing rate comparisons for some clients, since the terms will vary more from chain to chain.” But he has only had to explain the change to one client so far, "and she accepted it,” he said.
“The confusion will be for less frequent leisure travelers who don't realize or remember the cancellation policies in general. Just as for years we've had to explain to infrequent fliers that the airline change fees are no longer consistent, we'll have to do this on the hotel side,” Stern said.
Betty Krystyniak, travel consultant at Tips On Trips Travel in Hackensack, NJ, said, “My first thought is ‘What, are we going the way of the airlines? The standard 24 hours has been there for so long, and it is a reasonable amount of time for hotels to get new bookings. Especially for business travel, this is another nail in the coffin for booking in advance.”
But many leisure agents are unfazed. Lengthy advance notice cancellation policies, many at 60 and 90 days, are fairly common on tour packages and for certain rates at popular destinations during busy periods, agents told Travel Market Report.
“This happens a lot with leisure, especially with hotels in New York City during peak holiday season,” said Beverly Gallant, VIP vacation travel specialist at Travelink, American Express in New Jersey.
In a statement, Marriott said hotels where cancellation policies “allow guests to cancel their room reservations on the day before arrival without incurring a fee are faced with a significant number of unsold rooms due to last minute cancellations. Guests will now be required to cancel their room reservation by midnight 48 hours prior to arrival to avoid a fee. This will allow hotels a better chance to make the rooms available to guests seeking last minute accommodations.”
Marriott has been urging agents and travelers to check hotel terms and conditions, as cancellation policies may vary by property, and one media outlet even reported seeing cancellations being required 72 hours in advance.