A reader contacted me several weeks ago about a fairly traumatic situation. She had booked an award stay over the phone at the Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica for the end of December. She made the reservation by phone nearly a year in advance. Then in May she figured out she couldn’t make the trip work, so she cancelled the booking. A month later she discovered a $7000 charge on her credit card from the property.
- The reservation, made nearly a year in advance was not cancellable
- She made the booking by phone and says she was never told this (upon contacting Hyatt once of the answers she was given is that ‘guests agree to this policy with a check box on the screen’ which couldn’t be true in this case)
She got bounced around with Hyatt customer service, e-mailed me, and I escalated things with Hyatt. The hotel was insistent on getting paid a full forfeiture amount, even though they had about 7 months to resell the room. Ultimately World of Hyatt stepped in and issued an award to the hotel (so they get paid by the program) and let the member keep her points (which was above and beyond, she was happy to give up the points if need be).
I thought Hyatt did an amazing job for this customer more than making good, but I also thought it’s important to highlight that there are some award reservations which are fully non-cancellable and that if you don’t show up you’re charged a huge cash penalty instead of losing your points. This is not unique to Hyatt.
Back in March I wrote about the St. Regis Aspen charging points guests $1000 a night for cancelling reservations within 60 days of arrival. Even customers whose flights were delayed or diverted, and showed up the next day, were getting hit with $1000 charges for their missed nights.
- When a guest doesn’t stay on an award, the program doesn’t pay them for the award stay
- The hotel instead goes back to the guest to charge them a forfeiture instead
St. Regis Aspen, credit: Marriott
That’s how Marriott works, it’s how Hyatt works. Starwood used to have a policy that you could email and request to have your points forfeit instead of cash, which is how most members assume this works — if you have a non-cancellable booking made with points and you don’t show you lose the points.
What’s interesting is both that hotels get actual cash from the member, but also that it’s in an amount which is never disclosed up front to the member. And in the case of the Andaz Papagayo they also get to re-sell the room because the guest cancelled rather than no showing.
While we think of most award reservations as fully cancellable, in fact awards usually carry the same cancel rules as paid rates. So if standard paid rates at a property come with a 60 day cancellation policy, not uncommon for remote resorts during peak season, award stays may also. I do not recall ever seeing an award stay that wasn’t cancellable at all booked 11 months in advance.
Unfortunately I don’t think hotels do a great job of disclosing non-standard cancellation rules. Even if guests book online where there’s something to click through, we naturally assume a booking works the way bookings of the sort usually work unless we’re beaten over the head with it. Non-standard cancellation policies, whether on points or cash, should be flagged in a different color or with a popup to click through.
Always check cancellation policies and if you book by phone specifically ask about cancel penalties. In my experience the phone agent won’t even be able to tell you how much you’ll pay if they actually know that you’ll pay cash. Generally they just know what they read on the screen about how far in advance a reservation must be cancelled, if it can be cancelled at all.
Hyatt thanked me for bringing the situation with their member to elevated attention so they could solve it. They shared, “We continuously evaluate the program, cancellation policies and disclosure practices – and will continue to do so. We also appreciate receiving guest feedback that may help us improve our processes”
I’d point out that three Hyatt executives running loyalty come from Starwood where they had a friendlier policy. Hopefully this is something they’ll address, and an area where they can further differentiate themselves from Marriott.