If you’re a frequent traveler, this scenario might be all too familiar. It’s late. You stagger to the front desk of your hotel, bruised and battered by the horrors of modern travel, only to be welcomed with the words, ‘I’m sorry, but we don’t have a room for you.’
“What?” you cry. “But I have a confirmation … here! … It says my reservation is guaranteed!”
Silly you. Don’t you know that the credit card number you provide at time of reservation guarantees one thing only: that the hotel will charge you if you don’t show up?
As hotel occupancies climb, relocates are making a comeback. As a long-time hotelier, I have the dubious distinction of having performed scores of relocates in my career, and I know how inconvenient and frustrating it can be for travelers.
But you’re not as helpless as you might feel. While there’s no surefire way to avoid being relocated, there are ways to fight the odds – and, if your number is irrevocably up, to negotiate the most favorable terms.
What exactly is a relocate? Also known as walking or bumping, relocates occur when a hotel has more reservations than rooms. Like airlines, hotels overbook in order to maximize occupancy, banking on cancellations and no-shows, and sometimes we get caught with our pants down. Unlike airlines, however, we don’t announce overbookings to a holding lounge full of travelers or ask for volunteers. We handle relocates discreetly, swiftly dispatching you to another hotel while giving you little choice in the matter.
The early bird catches the room. Hotels typically assign rooms as guests arrive, so our options decrease as the day progresses. If we’re sold out and you arrive late, you’re vulnerable. But then you also might be upgraded, since suites are often the last to go. Not a gambler? Call the hotel in advance to say you’ll be arriving late and ask them to hold your room. And always do your homework; if a hotel is a chronic walker, you’ll read about it in online reviews.
You are what you pay. I didn’t tell you this, but the higher your rate, the more preferential your treatment. Reserve the presidential suite, and we won’t dare walk you. Book through an online travel company, which keeps up to 30% of your rate, and you’re vulnerable. Book through an opaque website, and you’re a walking target. It’s not that we don’t love you, we just love our more loyal and lucrative guests better.
Are you on the no-walk list? The truth is, sometimes we do have a room – just not for you. Depending on the hotel, certain guests never get walked, like loyalty club members, frequent guests, corporate clients, VIPs and tattooed bikers. If you don’t qualify, you can always try pleading your case; in cases of undue hardship rooms can miraculously materialize. You can also try arriving in a wedding dress or clutching a heart monitor. But if there’s no room, there’s no room.
Trade up, not down. The good news is the hotel will pay for your room that night, plus taxi fare and a long distance call. But here’s a dirty little secret: hotels prefer to relocate to a slightly inferior hotel, hoping you’ll come running back into our arms on your next visit. You have the right to insist on a comparable hotel. Hell, we’re paying, so why not ask for the Four Seasons? But if the city is full, you might well be cozying up with the farm animals at the Barnyard Inn.
You’ll never believe this, but … It’s hard to admit we had the gall to sell your room to someone else, so some employees invent little white lies like burst water pipes, electrical problems or guests who refused to check out. A truly unscrupulous hotel might try to foist the blame on you, claiming your reservation was mysteriously canceled or booked for this date five years ago. Always get an email confirmation at time of reservation, check it for accuracy, and bring it with you. If you mixed up the month and year, that’s your bad, not ours.
Now don’t get all huffy. Yes, relocating is evil, unforgiveable really, and hotels do it largely out of greed and incompetence. But it’s not a conspiracy, and we’re not singling you out for having cheap luggage or travel hair. Mostly it’s a numbers game. Chances are the long-suffering graveyard agent who relocates you had nothing to do with overbooking the hotel. So cut him some slack, be firm but pleasant, and resist the theatrics and hostage-takings. If you need to vent, save it for the general manager.
Do you have a relocate story? Share it on OPUS Hotels’ blog: www.opushotel.com/blog
Daniel Edward Craig is a former general manager turned hotel consultant and the author of the Murder at the Universe. His articles and blog about issues in the hotel industry are considered essential reading for hoteliers, travelers and students alike. Visit www.danieledwardcraig.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: dcraig.