How to Overcome Hotel Cancellation Fees

Cancellation fees are on the rise, but we tell you how to get around them.

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The days when most hotels would allow you to cancel a reservation without penalty until 6 p.m. on the day of your scheduled arrival are fading fast. To contend with a growing number of guests who cancel their stays, hotel companies are making it more difficult and costly to back out of a reservation. Most have stiffened their policies to require 24 to 48 hours’ notice and typically charge a flat cancellation fee; resorts or hotels that receive few walk-in guests often require even longer notice and charge a steeper fee or the cost of a one-night or two-night stay. Some hotels offer better rates to travelers who lock in a reservation with a nonrefundable booking.

Expect more changes as hotels test different policies. Tiered systems, allowing free cancellation a week or more in advance but charging steeper fees as the date of your arrival approaches, may become common, says Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. Be sure to read the fine print. The rules can differ among hotels in the same chain or even at the same hotel from one month to the next.

Even the best-laid travel plans can hit a last-minute snag. If you’re faced with a pricey cancellation fee, consider posting your reservation for sale on a site such as Roomer Travel or Cancelon. You’ll set your own price, but don’t expect to recoup the total cost. Roomer suggests listing rooms for at least 20% below what you originally paid, and the site will take a 15% cut of your sale price. Cancelon suggests selling at about half the room’s original price and keeps 10% of the selling price. Roomer takes care of transferring the reservations from your name to the buyer’s, but Cancelon requires you to make the switch.

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If you’d rather play it by ear than worry about cancellation fees, look for last-minute deals with mobile app HotelTonight. Or browse Roomer Travel or Cancelon and let someone else off the hook.

Kaitlin Pitsker
Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Pitsker joined Kiplinger in the summer of 2012. Previously, she interned at the Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and with Chronogram magazine in Kingston, N.Y. She holds a BS in magazine journalism from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.