“Stuck Overnight? The Shocking Truth About Airline-Provided Hotel Rooms

When your flight is cancelled and you’re stuck somewhere overnight, the airline might give you a hotel room for the night. It frequently depends on whether the delay is ‘their fault’ – for instance, the plane had a mechanical problem, or they didn’t have pilots or flight attendants available to work the flight – or whether they consider the issue beyond their control such as weather or air traffic control issues.

If they give you a room, it’s often after a long wait, eating into the time you’re able to sleep. Even airlines that will provide you a room automatically through their app may not have any rooms available (at their discount rate) to provide you. And the room you get may not be the kind of place you want to sleep.

One passenger documented the hotel that American Airlines provided them when they were stuck in Charlotte. It appears to be the Wyndham Garden Charlotte Airport Southeast. This is not your average Hilton or Marriott.

[T]his room smells like I could chain smoke in it all night long and it wouldn’t make a difference because somebody has been chain smoking in this room for the last 20 years.

…I have to be back in the airport in 3 hours and there’s no way in $!&# that I’m sleeping in this hotel. I’m just going to sit up..

The walls, bathroom, and furniture look… disgusting. And the bedding, “I don’t even know if that’s vomit, or, I don’t know what that is.” Don’t walk barefoot in there, either! Another passenger left the property for another hotel because “her feet were literally sticking to the floor.”

Still another passenger was given a key to an already-occupied room, where the person sleeping there “jumped out of bed” when they walked in. Public spaces at the property actually look even worse.

@kadiprescott I am disgusted. @Wyndham Hotels & Resorts ♬ original sound – Kadi

What’s more, this is actually very common. And airlines will keep using the same hotels, even after conditions like this are reported. While they may outsource distressed passenger hotel inventory, they should be aware of conditions at airport hotels in their hub cities.

This is not just a U.S. airline issue. Air Canada has sent a man and a woman, who didn’t know each other, to a hotel to share a room. And in China, Hainan Airlines put passengers up in an S&M-themed hotel.

If you are in a position to do so, consider taking matters into your own hands even at your potential expense (though there are ways of minimizing the expense). If you rely on the airline for accommodation, you’re likely to wind up somewhere that you really do not want to stay. And it may take a significant amount of time to get even that – taking away from the limited time you may have for rest before returning to the airport for an early flight the next day. So what do you do instead?

  1. Rely on your credit card coverage. Pay for your ticket with a credit card that offers trip delay coverage, book your own room and save receipts for it, along with ground transportation and meals. If the airline is offering you a room that could obviate coverage. But you’re assured the property you are comfortable staying in. You won’t wait. And you can look farther afield if need be. Sure, airport hotels might well all be booked. But if you aren’t spending an hour in line to get the room is a 20 minute drive away from the airport (also billed to trip delay coverage) so bad?

    Some readers might say that ‘you’re obligated to minimize the insurer’s loss, and foregoing a room offered by the airline fails to do that and obviates coverage’. I do not believe you are obligated to take any room, of any quality offered. And I have never seen coverage denied for this when claimed properly.

  2. Request a distressed passenger rate. If you don’t have credit card trip delay coverage, and you can’t find a good rate on your own that you’re willing to pay, one alternative to the long line may be the baggage office. Ask there about distressed passenger rates for hotels. If the line is long at your airline’s baggage office, or it isn’t staffed, be friendly and ask at another airline’s baggage office.

  3. Use points. Airline hotels often are great deals on points, with reward costs based on a hotel’s average daily rate which tends to be brought down by large airline contracts for housing crew. A few thousand points from your stash can get you a far better night’s sleep, more quickly, than relying on the airline.

Airlines may give you a free room when you’re faced with a controllable overnight delay. But you get what you pay for – you probably don’t want to sleep in the room they’re going to give you. There are exceptions, but it can be very much worth venturing off on your own rather than rolling the dice on free.

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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Comments

  1. No one should think an airline is going to send you to a 4-star hotel for lodging compensation, or even a 3-star property, as sad as that may seem. Either stay in the airport of find your own accommodations for your own health and safety; it’s not even a conversation.

  2. When I traveled extensively (which I’m now, happily, not) and had a connection, especially if either the inbound or connecting flights were late in the day, I often made a guaranteed reservation at an airport hotel. Yes, I sometimes paid for a room I didn’t use. Like any insurance, it was worth it for the times I did need it. The schlep to what this passenger got and then the experience and then the schlep back to the airport would “do in” even the best and most experienced delayed traveler.

  3. I typically book a reasonable room myself and submit the receipt to airline. Was always reimbursed, no questions asked, when I was a Diamond with Delta. Haven’t had the need since dropping to lower status.

  4. Just before the pandemic, Alaska Airlines was great. They canceled the last flight of the day. The line to get vouchers was long. I left the line and checked into a Hampton Inn, which is a budget hotel but not too bare bones. The next day, the ticket counter at the airport cut me a check for the hotel. Sweet.

  5. Worst hotel I ever **did not** stay in had a bathroom where the toilet that was full of crap had overflowed and was **all over the floor**. They offered to move me to another room, but I passed.

    Second worst had a used condom on the floor next to the bed.

  6. Wyndham Garden Inn is not a bad chain at all — although Wyndham’s brand standards are lower than IHG, Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, etc. Unless an airline is going to restrict hotel participation to hotels that get at least a (say) 3.5 on google, you’re going to get a few lemons. But, look, unless the hotel is unsafe — or you’re particularly high maintenance — you’re still going to be fine. You’re just spending a night. You obviously could do your own research, pay your own way (and hope for reembursement), or you can sometimes get unlucky and rough it a bit. I’m not that sympathetic to the problem. People who take the last connection of the day are the ones who are going to have this problem the most, and even then it’s not that common (unless you’re trying to fly into a snowstorm or something).

  7. We were stuck in Montreal for two days flying back from Morocco on Air Canada. Line to customer service was 6 hours at 3 am when we arrived. All hotels within 20 minutes of the airport were booked solid. Found hotel in Downtown Montreal, booked the eight of us into it at some obscene rate like $500 for a best western. Air Canada reimbursed us for hotel, meals and transportation to and from the hotel, about $2000 all together.

  8. Gary, I would like to see a post on here covering the piles of paperwork needed to file a claim for trip.delay with Amex, Chase or maybe Capitol One. I am yet to successfully claim an overnight delay so I am sure that this would be a helpful post especially if you could detail where to find the paperwork and the limitations of the delay insurance and what lines you need to wait in to get proof of delay caused by the airline.

  9. I second Greg’s comment. A rundown of how each major card covers hotels and other costs on trip delay, plus real persons’ experiences with them would be pretty handy.

  10. The number of people who defend the airlines, and the hotels, for this is just amazing. They always, without fail, blame the customer in some way.

  11. Wyndham has had bad properties since the HFS/Days Inn era. The WSJ covered this in 1991. They do have standards… but they aren’t always followed and there doesn’t seem to be significant consequences for not meeting them. As far as I can tell the only sure way to lose your franchise is to stop paying royalties, or for the building to be condemned.

    It should be possible for cheap hotels to be fresh low-frills properties rather than old, high-frills ones. But nobody really seems to be able to make it happen in this country.

  12. When you demand and receive free, you get what you pay for. Demand compensation instead and lay it on thick: YOU have been inconvenienced; not the airline. They bear at least the bulk of the burden when they cancel flights–no matter the reason. YOU can’t make the decision: only they can.

  13. I’d point out that you can always book a hotel and then ask the airline for compensation. They might or might not pay for the whole cost of the room (I’ve run into both for airline-induced cancellations), but that can pair off nicely with credit card coverage.

  14. I agree a step by step guide for each credit card issuer would be helpful.
    Have to say in my decades of travel I’ve not had much of an issue when the airline put me up.
    Usually ask what the options are and if there is a minute look them up to see ratings. Then make my choice. Overall my experience even with American which seems to be most disorganized of the lot were good. So I think you have to compare time involved making your own arrangements, dealing with the credit card claim, vs staying at an ok to good hotel.

  15. I booked a room recently because it was late and raining and I figured the cancellation was weather related. Turns out it was not a weather cancellation, and Jetblue happily and seamlessly reimbursed me for the hotel and some meals too. One of the best airlines I’ve had to deal with regarding a cancellation and compensation for it.

  16. The airlines are in a ever spiraling decline of service. Do not expect to see better service or comfort in any aspect of traveling. Costs will increase. Passenger satisfaction will decrease. Airline perks will continue to erode. After traveling on airlines for over 50 years I never look forward to the flying experience even in first class.

  17. I was once told by a Delta rep “Based on your status, you will not want to stay at any hotels which we have any availability tonight”. I appreciated the honesty and booked a room at a nearby Hyatt Regency, who upgraded me to a suite.

    I never bothered with airline reimbursement as this was for company business.

  18. We had a delay at CLT in August 23 with AA. The line was 2+ hrs long so we book a Holiday inn express at $175 plus taxi $24 and AA would only give me $145. But I got them to give us each a 12000 miles and $100 voucher that expires in one year and is non transfer able. Do not go to. CLT EVER.

    we missed our plane only because there was no gate available and the ground crew took forever to get the jet bridge attached

  19. In April of this year, Alaska Airlines put me up in the Comfort Inn SEA-TAC. I swiped the card, opened the door, and saw shoes on the floor. Then I heard both a male and female shout from further inside the dark room “Who is it?” I apologized, left quickly, and was glad I was not shot. I went back to reception, was given another key card and…it was to another already occupied room! The third time was an unoccupied room, thankfully. Software problems, I guess.

  20. Chase Sapphire Reserve has one of the best trip delay coverage. As long as you pay, using the card for the ticket, even taxes only on an award ticket, you are covered. The delay benefit kicks in a 6 hrs. The limit is $500 a person.

    You do have to provide thorough documentation. I usually find they automatically deny on the first round then pay up.

    It takes an hour or so to gather all the paperwork. So, I wouldn’t say it is seamless, but I’ve been successful on 3 events.

  21. Hey Dan, Thank you for that Chase Sapphire info. I have been trying without success for some time now to determine whether the benefits applied if I was traveling on an award ticket with only the taxes and fees paid by the CSR card.
    Did you actually have an experience where CSR covered you on an award ticket? How much hassle was involved? Thanks!

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