How To Avoid ‘Getting Walked’ By A Hotel

Many airlines, hotels, and rental car companies all ‘overbook’ meaning they sell more seats, rooms, and cars than they have. That usually works out just fine. They know some people will cancel or no show, and they want to use up all of their inventory.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and too many people show up. They have to turn away some people who have reservations. Jerry Seinfeld famously parodied this with rental cars. Hertz once told me they ‘cannot guarantee any reservation’ though I pushed and they eventually refunded the difference between my reserved price with them and what I paid Avis.

Here’s what to expect if your hotel is overbooked, and how to avoid getting ‘walked’ in the first place.

Hotels Overbook – And You Could Get Caught With No Place To Sleep

Hotels ‘walking’ guests – not honoring a reservation, and moving the guest to another hotel – is the subject of a TikTok video where a woman received a call from the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square asking whether she’d be showing up for her booking. If she didn’t answer, she feared her booking would have been cancelled. What if she’d been on a flight, and couldn’t call?

“They called me not even an hour after check-in (4 pm) to see if I was still coming or they’d give my room away. Excuse me. Like, gimme a sec, bro,” the TikToker continued. “This has literally never happened to me before, and I’ve checked in some places at midnight without letting them know ahead. Since when is this the norm?”

@raegoesglobal i’m gonna be nervous ab hotels forever now #traveltok #traveltiktok #solofemaletraveler #solofemaletravel #travellife #travelersoftiktok #travelquestions #marriott #marriotthotel #hotelroom ♬ Confusion or something else – Ron

The hotel was clearly overbooked and looking for guests who hadn’t checked in yet, to identify any that might not be coming, in order to know how many guests they’d need to walk (if any).

In this case the guest showed up and was given their room. Perhaps the hotel didn’t wind up with more guests than rooms after all. But it does happen, all the time. Usually you can get moved somewhere, though it’s a hassle to waste time going to a hotel you can’t stay at and then going somewhere else. This is especially onerous late at night when you only have a few hours to sleep.

What Happens When You Get Walked

Generally when you’re ‘walked’ by a hotel (declined a room despite a reservation) you’ll be entitled to be put up at another comparable hotel. The hotel you’ve booked won’t charge for the room you did not get, and should cover the cost of the room night they arrange for you somewhere else, plus cover the cost of transportation to that other hotel.

That’s true at most chain hotels. Independent hotels may not handle it the same way, unless they’re luxury properties. And at best Airbnb might give you a $100 credit towards another property for the night.

Once your hotel has rooms available, they’ll expect you to return. If you have a 3 night stay and they’re only overbooked the first night, you get one free night somewhere else not three.

Elite members of a hotel loyalty program who get walked can usually expect points for an additional free night.

Sometimes there simply won’t be any rooms available nearby, or the hotel won’t bother to book you somewhere else (for franchise properties they might just be avoiding the expense) you’re on your own, and will need to complain to the hotel chain after the fact seeking reimbursement.

How To Avoid Being Walked

Whenever I review contracts for events, I always insist on a ‘no walk’ clause in the agreement. We’ll be paying the hotel enough money that – as long as you know to ask – they’ll generally agree to refuse reservations to other guests, and not event guests.

The next best thing to a contract that forbids the hotel to walk you is having elite status with the chain. The hotel then has a contract with the chain itself. They’re usually supposed to avoid walking you, bouncing reservations of non-status guests first (and probably guests booking through third party websites like Expedia). This is backed up by higher costs to the hotel for walking an elite guest, like offering not just a free night elsewhere but also enough points for a free night back at the hotel as well.

You can reduce the likelihood of being walked by checking in online or via the chain’s app. A checked in guest may be less likely to be walked, especially if you get a room assigned and can use mobile key!

Checking in earlier in the day helps avoid being walked. The hotel might plan in advance for being overbooked, and walk non-status guests earlier in the day. But often they don’t know yet just how overbooked they’ll be, and those who check in later when the hotel has given away its rooms face the greatest risk. Earlier in the day the hotel may still have rooms and discretion about whom to walk, so if the front desk clerk is denying you a room, escalate.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Omg being walked is an absolute dream. Marriott owes big to titanium and ambassadors when the walk you. I want that to happen

  2. That it literally never happened to her before suggests it had figuratively happened to her before. I want that story.

  3. For direct bookings, booking the room with less than 18-24 hours to check-in seems to increase the odds of being walked over having booked the room 2 or more days before check-in. I also seem to hit walks more often on award nights than on regular paid nights even when controlling for chain.

  4. I’ve only been threatened once with a walk and I used social media to counteract the proposed walk. In 2012 Seattle Pan Pacific. They called the day before, said they would need 10 rooms to open up, I countered that no they only needed 1 room 😉
    Then I blasted then on the hotel’s FaceBorg and website Next morning I got a call that they’d found a room – corner suite with Space Needle view 🙂
    After check in, the manager nicely asked me to update my posts
    Not sure this would work again, but fortunately not needed yet

  5. I’m a 2,800 night Marriott Lifetime Titanium. I, and a friend I was traveling with who is also Lifetime Titanium, were walked by a Springhill Suites property last October 2nd. They sent us to a property next door they also owned (Hilton brand). After dragging my luggage across a completely unlighted parking lot, they signed me into a room which I promptly found to be complete torn apart by housekeeping. Beds stripped, sheets and towels in piles on floor. The story is longer still, but in the end I never heard from anyone at the property. I hounded Marriott Corporate for two months. Finally got 90,000 point credited, but never got the $100 check from the hotel property. Frankly, Marriot sucks at enforcing policy at their branded properties. And the free night I received that night was totally worthless to me—I was billing a client.
    Marriott, a once prestigious brand has fallen below the lowest Holiday Inns. I’m certain Mr Marriott would rollover in his grave if he could see what’s happened.

  6. Between horrible hotels, airlines, and car rental companies, guess you have no choice but to always buy trip insurance. Or book the best and skip the deals…whichever is cheaper. Or burn the house down.

  7. @Gary, Is there any contract language to protect elite members of an airline from being walked (denied boarding due to overbooking)? If so which airlines?

  8. @ Matthee

    I worked for Marriott and Hilton properties, and walking a top tier rewards member was never the plan and only possible if there was a true disaster. My property definitely avoided oversell situations but reservations were ordered by status when it had to happen.

    If I had to walk an ambassador guest I would have quit on the spot. I can’t imagine the penalty if that happened.

  9. Marriott seems to be a serial offender in this dept. Lost my business permanently, and ive since instructed my sales team to book Marriott properties as an absolute last resort.

    I hit Bonvoy Gold Elite, so I stay a decent amount of nights a year. They walked me a month ago in Vegas at a Springhill Suites on a 3 night reservation i made 3 months prior. Did not book me at another hotel, no availability. Odd week in Vegas, as the city was almost all sold out. I ended up paying $320 a night at the Luxor, which is unfathomable to me. Marriott offered me absolutely no points or discounts for this disaster. Marriott is the Comcast of hotel chains these days.

  10. My experiences being walked have two characteristics: it happened from 5-10 years ago (so pre-covid) and in every instance (3-4 total?) I always ended up with a better room, free transportation, and a credit.

    Businesses have bad days, just like people. When they do, I respect and sympathize with the person trying to accommodate me, and realize it’s just a fact of life. Once, I was in front of a man who was terribly (and unreasonably?) mad at the situation and let him go ahead of me.

    We were both in the same boat. We both got canceled. Except I ended up in the king penthouse (OK, corner suite at the next door Marriott), and he ended up in the basement (ok, double bed 3rd floor).

    Being nice always finishes first in these situations, in my experience (and extends to 1st class upgrades, 10’s of thousands of points, and even cash vouchers).


  11. I’m paranoid about this happening, so whenever I am going to be arriving late at a hotel (whether just later than my estimated arrival time, or objectively late in the evening) I call the front to desk to tell them that I am running late, but that I am on my way and will be there for my reservation. I figure it’s a game of musical chairs, and the last to arrive, especially without any notice, is probably going to be left standing (or walking). I don’t know that calling ahead actually does anything, but I’ve also never been “walked.”

  12. Last weekend the Doubletree Baltimore North Hotel was hosting Farpoint 31. 4 days BEFORE the event began the hotel walked EVERYONE who had reserved an accessible room to the Hilton Garden Inn Owings Mills (4 miles away). Farpoint is a significant event (first time at this hotel) and they had a significant room block at discounted rates. Initially the Doubletree was asking guests who were walked to pay the higher room rate at the Hilton. This was done without consulting the event organizers who only found out after affected guests contacted them directly. Eventually the room block rat was honored.

  13. What irks me is the corporate entity once told me that they have no control over what their franchisee does. Really? The hell you don’t! They fly YOUR FLAG, they use YOUR RES system, they PAY YOU a franchise fee and have the license to rent rooms under your brand and you tell me that you have no control over what they do? BULLs*** That’s one reason I dropped Best Western and ALL IHG properties. I even got my company to move 30 rooms a night as soon as the contract was up. BUH BYE IHG.

  14. I’ve never had it happen in the USA or in other countries. I have been in rental rooms in the USA some (Airbnb, hotel, motel, etc.) but more in other countries (Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia.) This seems to be a problem with more elite rentals and I don’t do those.

  15. I know it would result in more draconian cancellation policies but for airlines, hotels, cruise ships, etc. it should be illegal to sell something they don’t have or can’t provide. Period. There is no reason they should be overbooked with very few exceptions. I’d say hotels and rental car companies at least have the excuse that someone won’t vacate a room or a person didn’t bring a car back on time but airlines and cruise ships have NO excuses in this space.

  16. As a former supervisor and Night auditor make sure your cards have funds on them, we never walk high status members. We check those cards on all three shifts to make sure they work and if you are checking in last you get walked but we do pay for the first night so it’s no big deal to be walked. I paid for ubers and all and given free points for 3 nights management don’t really care what we give for a recovery long as it’s explained.

  17. How does this work when you’ve already checked in (and provided an arrival time), and received a digital key via the app?

    I’m guessing the answer is: you’re in…with no fear of being walked?

  18. I have not heard that when you are walked, that you get a night free. Is this universally true? A Residence Inn where I was staying walked my friend (who was arriving later on a busy weekend in downtown convention area). They were going to put her in a hotel many miles away, but I told her to push for the Sheraton 2 blocks away. She pushed, and they put her in the Sheraton. BUT, she paid the same rate (her Residence Inn rate) for that night at the Sheraton & the subsequent night (she was walked for the entire weekend), she didn’t get it for free. I don’t think she got anything else either (she was not elite), oh, other than they comped her parking. If this free night for being walked is universally true, then I’ll be better informed for future.

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