How to avoid getting ‘walked’

10 March 2023
How to avoid getting ‘walked’

Hotel overbooking is becoming a real problem lately, and there are new reports of hotels ‘walking’ guests—even those with confirmed reservations—and travelers are pissed!

‘Walking’ looks like this: a traveler with a reservation arrives at check-in only to be told there are no available rooms. The staff essentially turns the traveler away to ‘walk’ to other lodgings.

It stinks. It’s shocking, and it’s not new by any means.

In highly competitive markets, hotels strive to have zero vacancy. And just like the airlines, hotels will overbook knowing that some travelers won’t show up or they’ll cancel at the last minute.

And it’s legal. Hotels are under no legal obligation to the guests they walk. Hotels can and do cancel confirmed reservations anytime they want. You are entitled to a refund for anything that was pre-paid for, and that’s about it. It’s only industry policy that makes them book a traveler they have to turn away. There is no guarantee that they will even help you find alternative lodging. 

Many hotels’ standard practice is to pay for an alternative (hopefully comparable) property and transportation for the traveler to get there. From the guest’s perspective, however, the alternate hotel may be less than comparable and not worth the free night. 

Here’s how to avoid getting walked by your hotel.

Only book directly with the hotel

Hotel management and the staff in front of you are more likely to be interested in helping you in an overbooking situation. You’re less likely to be able to get timely support through a booking site that may not even be open when you contact them (even if there is a way to contact them).

Pro tip: hotels prefer to work directly with their guests too. If you see a deal on a third-party site, contact the hotel directly and ask them to honor it. In most cases, they will.

Communicate with staff

The first and most important method to avoid getting walked is to be communicating with the hotel before you arrive. It’s much harder to avoid getting walked once you’re standing at the front desk. 

Do these things to establish communication:

  • Watch your email. When an overbooking situation looks likely, the hotel may inform travelers with reservations, and you can get ahead of the situation.
  • Call the hotel a few days before your trip and confirm. At this time, make sure you’re getting the room you booked. One trick a hotel may try if you arrive and they are overbooked is to give you a lesser room.
  • Check in early using the hotel brand’s app, if available, and join the hotel’s loyalty program. The hotel is less likely to walk a traveler with some level of loyalty status.

If you think you may arrive later than expected, call the hotel and let them know. At that time, you can ask if the hotel will have availability and make arrangements if it seems like there will be an issue. Often, the hotel staff appreciate the advance notice and can help you with a new booking.

Arrive early

Guests who arrive late are more likely to face the oversold situation.

If you arrive early – even before the standard check-in time – you can get ahead of the travelers straggling in later. 

If you arrive early and your reserved room isn’t available, ask the hotel to watch your luggage and give them your phone number so they can contact you when it is ready.

Book a backup hotel

The average booking lead time has increased as the pandemic has become more manageable. Many experienced travelers who book early are also accustomed to booking rooms at more than one hotel to get the best deal and to have a reservation while they continue researching their trip activities. 

These travelers may cancel all but the reservation they want to keep, and often they do it late. 

It works, and you can do it too.

Pro tip: Book hotel alternatives on slightly different dates, like one day later than you intend to arrive. This will ensure that you have a room if you get delayed and have to cancel your first reservation.

Just don’t forget to cancel the hotel if you don’t need it!

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Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.