After a long drive from Buffalo to Gananoque, Ont., Adam Cole’s hotel told him bad news: his reservation was “gone.”
“I got confirmation from my travel agent,” says Cole, principal of a music school in Atlanta, “but there was no room.”
The Coles needed a place to stay, and the independent motel was full and suggested he try his luck elsewhere. “I had a toddler and a 12-year-old in the car, and we had just spent the whole day in the car, including a long delay at the Canadian border,” he recalls.
The missing hotel reservation problem
What didn’t go well? Cole suspects the hotel has sold more rooms than it had. A property typically oversells its room by 2% to 10%, depending on the time of year, anticipating that guests will cancel their reservations. But when everyone shows up, the hotel can’t accommodate all the travelers who have booked rooms. A smaller percentage of reservations are lost by the hotel or an intermediary such as a travel agent or website.
Missing hotel reservation is a common travel problem with a little-known solution. While overbooking is perfectly legal, the hospitality industry also has standard policies in place to prevent guests like Cole from being kicked off the streets. If you know the rules, along with a few insider strategies, you’ll never be roomless.
What to do if your hotel reservation is “lost”
A hotel should never send you to pack your bags when your reservation goes missing, especially if you have a record of the reservation. And if he tries, you should hold on and ask the hotel to fix the problem. That’s what Cole did when his motel tried to fire him.
“After a while, they offered to send me to another hotel,” he says. “It wasn’t the prettiest place, but it worked.”
Without knowing it, he had discovered an industry-wide policy called “walking.” If a hotel refuses you even though you have a reservation, it is customary to send you to a comparable establishment. In addition, it can pay for your first night’s stay, cover transportation to the new hotel, and any phone calls you need to make to let your friends or colleagues know.
I’m just asking this question: “Can you escort me to another hotel?” – usually enough to set the wheels in motion. No need to provoke a scene. No need to negotiate.
What if the reservation had never been made?
But what if the hotel never heard from you or your travel agent? What if the reservation never existed? It’s a bit trickier, and it’s a problem I’ve encountered on several occasions as a consumer advocate.
“Often the computer systems do not match, so the confirmation number of the site used to book your stay does not always match the reservation number issued by the hotel, which causes even more confusion”, explains Michael Sheridan , Assistant Professor of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Temple University.
But there are other ways to lose a reservation. Small hotels with less reliable computer systems can lose bookings, especially those made through a third party such as an online travel agent or agency. The technology is far from perfect.
“Booking directly with the hotel, airline or car rental company avoids any problems that may arise with a third party or intermediary,” Sheridan adds.
Whether you are booking through a third party or not, it is a good idea to keep a copy of your booking on your smartphone or on paper. If your reservation goes missing, you have proof that you have at least made one reservation.
How to handle a missing hotel reservation
If you ever find yourself in the same situation as Cole, stay calm. It doesn’t matter who lost the reservation. Assigning blame will not give you a room for the night. If anything, it could guarantee that you don’t have a room. Or, in the worst case, have a hotel representative call the police to escort you off the property.
“Stay polite,” advises Billie Jean Bateson, frequent hotel guest and Houston fashion consultant. “Try to convince the clerk to give you a room. If the clerk seems helpless, be polite and ask for a reservations manager or general manager. Calmly explain the situation and your desire to stay put.
Also, call your travel agent. Even an online travel agent should offer a 24 hour phone number where a representative can find a room in that hotel or a comparable room. If you have the documents you need and neither your agent nor the hotel will help you, politely ask to be “driven” to another hotel. The hotel staff will know what to do next, and if they don’t, you are probably not in a hotel.
Tips for avoiding a missing hotel reservation
• Call to confirm before your visit. Yes, even if you have booked directly with the hotel. Check and confirm your reservation number. If possible, get the name of the employee you are speaking with and write it down. That way, if something is wrong, you can say, “I spoke with such in your reservation department. She confirmed it.
• Check your dates. Even seasoned travelers get the hotel dates wrong. The confusion arises from the fact that you are spending at least one night, so your check-in takes place one day and check-out is the next day. I’ve seen professional travel agents confuse these two times, leaving me standing at the front desk without a reservation.
• Make an impression of your reservation. The paper print remains the most reliable proof of your reservation. Plus, you don’t want a stranger rummaging through your smartphone while you’re standing across the counter.