Airlines are responding to the coronavirus outbreak by waiving change fees for passengers who want to postpone their trips. But they're still making it difficult to get a refund, even when flights are cancelled. What are hotels doing to help travelers in the face of the global pandemic?
Several of the world's biggest hotel companies have instituted special coronavirus policies to make it easier for guests to change or cancel reservations — even for hotel stays originally booked as non-changeable and nonrefundable. But each company's policy is different. And most companies have expanded their refund policies as time has passed and the coronavirus pandemic has spread.
While some hotels are letting guests cancel and get a full refund, others were first only giving rewards points in exchange for cancellations. Some of the big hotel company's coronavirus cancellation policies have changed and become more generous as the outbreak has spread. Weeks ago, some brands were limiting their coronavirus cancellation policies only to specified parts of the world, such as Asia and the Middle East, but most have generally expanded to include the U.S. and North American. Still, other lodging booking sites have no particular coronavirus cancellation policies at the moment, meaning that the normal restrictions about cancellations, fees, and refunds apply.
We've rounded up the coronavirus cancellation policies from major hotel companies below. But first, it's important to understand that hotel reservations are different than airline tickets. Whereas most flights are nonrefundable, and under normal circumstances they can only be changed after paying a fee (upwards of $200), hotels typically allow guests to cancel room reservations and get a full refund, provided the change is made in advance (generally 24 or 48 hours before check-in).
While that's the policy for the typical hotel reservation, many chains also sell a different kind of hotel booking, in which guests receive a discounted rate on reservations that are prepaid in advance — with no cancellations, changes, or refunds allowed. Holiday Inn Express, for example, has a "Book Early and Save" option that'll give you up to 15% off the normal rate, but here's how the brand explains the tradeoff: "Once a reservation is confirmed, your credit card will be charged between time of booking and stay of arrival for the total amount shown, regardless of whether or not the reservation is used."
If you have such a nonrefundable reservation, your hotel may now be waiving its usual rules so you're able to cancel and get a refund. Take note that things may be especially complicated if you made your reservations through a travel agent third-party booking site like Priceline or Hotels.com, instead of reserving directly with the hotel company. If you're in this boat, hotels will steer you back to the place where you booked to change or cancel reservations. We would expect confusion and delays when making these requests.
The rules are different when it comes to cancelling Airbnb or vacation rental reservations because of the coronavirus, but there is generally increased flexibility lately. Airbnb's coronavirus cancellation policy states that if a reservation is cancelled due to "extenuating circumstances," refunds will be granted and neither the guest nor the host will pay any fees. Among the qualifying circumstances are if the host or guest live in areas deeply affected by the coronavirus outbreak, or if travel restrictions or medical issues make it impossible for guests to complete their trip. As of Friday, March 13, Airbnb had updated its list of areas that qualified as extenuating circumstances to include the United States alongside mainland China, South Korea, and Italy.
Airbnb also lets you filter searches specifically for reservations with flexible cancellation policies. The coronavirus cancellation policy at vacation-rental site vrbo.com, meanwhile, states simply that if the owner or manager agrees to refund a booking, vrbo will also refund any fees paid by the guest.
For the most part, guests can expect to be able to cancel hotel reservations in severely affected countries (like China, Japan, and Italy) and get full refunds. But many hotel chains are offering increased flexibility and refund options for reservations closer to home too. Here are the most updated hotel coronavirus policies we know about:
As of March 23, Best Western announced that all future reservations could be cancelled, with no fees, as long as the changes are made by June 30, and at least 24 hours before scheduled arrival.
Choice, known mainly for discount chains like Econo Lodge and Comfort Inn, was initially only allowing guests to cancel prepaid nonrefundable reservations in the U.S. and Canada in exchange for Choice Privileges rewards points. As of April 3, however, the company says "as long as you submit your request by June 30, 2020 and it is compliant with hotel country regulations, we can cancel your reservation without a charge up to 24 hours prior to arrival."
Hilton, which operates brands like DoubleTree, Hampton, and Embassy Suites in addition to its flagship hotels, says that all reservations — even those booked at an advance purchase discount and originally sold as non-cancellable — scheduled for arrival by June 30 can be changed with no fee or cancelled for a full refund. Also, all new reservations with any Hilton hotel made now through June 30 for arrival at a future date can be changed or cancelled without penalty. In both cases, changes or cancellations must be made at least 24 hours before scheduled check-in.
Hyatt has made changes to its cancellation policy regarding prepaid "Advance Purchase Rate" reservations, which are normally categorized as nonrefundable and non-changeable. As of April 3, Hyatt says guests with these reservations scheduled for arrival now through June 30 can change or cancel at no charge, provided the change is made at least 24 hours in advance. What's more, any reservation made now through June 30 for a future Hyatt hotel stay can be cancelled or changed at no charge up to 24 hours before scheduled arrival.
Intercontinental, the owner of brands like Holiday Inn, Kimpton, Candlewood Suites, and Crowne Plaza, is waiving cancellation fees on its hotels worldwide, for bookings made by April 6, for reservations now through June 30.
Marriott says it is allowing changes and cancellations for all existing reservations, "including reservations with pre-paid rates that are typically more restrictive," so long as Marriott is notified by June 30. The other requirement to get a full refund, even on prepaid reservations, is that the change or cancellation must be made at least 24 hours before the scheduled arrival. Marriott runs its signature hotel brands, as well as Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, Le Meridien, Sheraton, Westin, Courtyard, Residence Inn, and SpringHill Suites, among others.
As of March 31, Radisson policy stipulates that it will allow "free modifications or free cancellations for all existing and new reservations (in all countries and all RHG hotels worldwide) for stays until June 30, 2020," and that "new reservations made between April 1 and June 30, 2020, for any future arrival date (all countries and all RHG hotels worldwide) can be changed or canceled at no charge, up to 24 hours before the arrival date."
In the most recent statement from Wyndham, the company says: "Guests traveling with new or existing direct bookings for stays in any of our hotels through June 30, 2020 will have their cancellation or change penalties waived if the request is received at least 24 hours (or less if permitted by the hotel’s policy) prior to arrival." Also: "For new or existing direct bookings with arrivals after June 30, 2020, all of our properties are required to accommodate non-cancellable rate reservation changes if the request is received at least 48 hours prior to arrival and the same number of room nights or more are booked for a future stay."
Wyndham is one of the world's biggest hotel companies, operating chains such as Days Inn, Ramada, Super 8, Microtel, Travelodge, and the flagship Wyndham brand.