IHG Hotels Says Their Flexible Cancellation Policy Is Ending October 1

IHG hotels, the chain that includes Holiday Inn, Kimpton, Intercontinental, and related brands, is bringing its flexible cancellation policy to an end. All of the major hotel chains have sought to encourage new bookings by making them very low risk for consumers. IHG says, though, ‘no more’ after September 30.

  1. For bookings made prior to April 6, 2020: Any non-refundable/pre-paid bookings for all future arrivals can be cancelled without penalty (up to 24 hours before arrival) up until September 30, 2020.
  2. For bookings made from April 6 to September 30: Any non-refundable/pre-paid bookings for arrivals up to and including September 30, can be cancelled without penalty (up to 24 hours before arrival) up until September 30, 2020.
  3. All reservations made from October 1, 2020 will be subject to the terms and conditions of the rate booked

We’ll see if flexible cancellation only through September 30th can hold. There’s a huge desire to get hotel pricing and restrictions ‘back to normal’ but I don’t think the world is back to normal yet, and if other chains don’t follow IHG will be at a competitive disadvantage.

Flexibility Only Through September 30 Runs Against The Tide Of The Travel Industry

Back in April I wrote that airlines would have to keep waiving change fees for the foreseeable future. The world is just too uncertain now to make inflexible plans – indeed it’s the world that’s changing your plans more than your own preferences.

United Airlines is permanently eliminating change fees on domestic tickets (excluding basic economy fares). They recognize that Basic Economy is the new tool for segmenting business travelers from leisure travelers, change fees are no longer a key part of that, and this widens the gulf between basic and regular coach fares strengthening their approach.

Following Southwest Airlines in eliminating change fees is a step in the right direction from a public health standpoint, too. It makes no sense to incentivize someone that’s sick to travel. We want to make it as easy as possible for someone sick to reschedule their plans. That’s the best thing for a travel provider’s employees and for their other customers, who are better off not traveling with someone who is sick.

In the hotel industry, Hyatt has been the most aggressively allowing penalty-free cancellation of non-refundable rates up to 24 hours prior to check-in through July 31, 2021 – although individual hotels on specific dates are allowed to be more restrictive (so you can’t use this policy to squat on rooms around major events, to the extent those exist again).

Hotels Will Still Need Flexible Cancellation For Some Time

Hotels returned to 50% occupancy in the U.S. in early August but have ticked slightly down since then. We’re leaving the summer peak travel season, when hotel occupancy usually drops anyway and this year leisure travel won’t be replaced by business travel.

It’s frequently a much smaller upcharge to book a flexible cnacellation reservation. I’ve loathed advance purchase rates at hotels to begin with and often found cancellable rates worth the premium. In the current environment I couldn’t imagine booking a non-cancellable rate. The course of the virus remains an unknown, and the possibility remains of getting sick and having travel plans upended as well.

Customers need confidence to book, and one way to provide confidence is flexibility. As of now IHG is saying that if you book many of their rates starting October 1, and the world changes, you’ll be stuck. That makes IHG hotels that adopt stricter cancel policies uncompetitive with peers from other chains.

Of course if Marriott and Hilton follow (clearly IHG’s hope!) there’ll be fewer opportunities elsewhere, besides making cancellable bookings (or shifting business to a smaller chain like Hyatt).

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. I wonder if you could think of non-flexible cancellation rates as the new resort fee. Because the logic of both are more or less similar: hotels need to be able to display a rate as low as possible for people to consider them, then once the traveler decides on the property they are more or less hit with a mandatory fee/upcharge they would almost certainly buy up on. In this case you could almost make the opposite argument that for the average consumer, hotels might even be at an advantage having a lower base rate (noncancellable, undesirable) and be forced/encouraged to buy up

    Bad press aside, I guess only time will tell

  2. They are no longer extending Chase anniversary night certificates even if the reservation is for prohibited travel (Europe). I was then told by IHG CS to try the Chase Private client group and even they said it could not be done.
    I’m sure they are trying to look profitable before the sale/merger you mentioned a few days ago. I hope Chase dumps them as IHG has always been rude and incompetent when trying to resolve service issues.
    Scum bags!

  3. Bad for the consumer, but we have to credit IHG for giving us a month of notice. And I agree with the sentiment that a consumer should generally avoid nonrefundable hotel rates, COVID or otherwise.

  4. The differential between Nonrefundable rate and regular rates are not so big that folks have to buy non-refundable rates. A different story with the airlines were in full fare Y is 5 to 10 times more

    If they start putting seven day cancellation windows on there, that’s another story

  5. Gary – I agree completely that booking non-refundable hotel rates is a little crazy. In the past I did it and got lucky that I didn’t have to cancel many (all personal trips obviously) and even got all of them refunded (both advance purchase and points stays) during COVID with one exception. I booked a really nice hotel in Venice for 3 days as part of a planned 2 week family trip to Italy and Greece. Obviously with COVID we couldn’t go. The hotel was with Accor but I was only offered a credit only at that hotel, not any Accor hotel, through August 2021. Yes I fully expect travel in Italy to be available by August 2021 but it won’t work for my family due to other obligations. So I’m out $1500 because I saved $200 booking an advance purchase, non-refundable fare in a foreign country. Never again – I learned by lesson.

    BTW (and I’m sure most of you already know this) often when you select “special fares” (AARP, senior discount (usually 62), AAA, etc.) most may not have the cheapest rate as advance purchase stays but all can be cancelled (usually until the day before arrival) and don’t require an advance payment.

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