Why Are Hotel Rooms Airlines Give You On Overnight Delays So Bad?

When a flight in the U.S. delays or cancels due to weather, an airline doesn’t owe you anything. They might help you in some way, but they aren’t required to.

Generally speaking when your flight is cancelled and it’s the airline’s fault – mechanical, lack of crew – their responsibility grows. If they’re stranding you away from home that usually means providing you with a hotel for the night if you’re going to have to wait until the next day to fly.

However you may have to wait in long lines (with all other passengers) to get the room – if you can get an employee to help you, and if the systems they use have any rooms to offer. And when you finally get the room that’s being offered, it may not be up to your standards.

Air Canada placed a woman with a younger man in a single room during an overnight. Hainan Airlines passengers once found themselves placed into an S&M-themed hotel on Valentine’s Day and forced to share a room during a delay.

And American Airlines sent 3 passengers to a single room without enough beds. But then even American Airlines pilots may not get rooms.

  • Airlines look to spend as little as possible accommodating passengers
  • They outsource availability and booking engines, and lowest-cost providers may not do a good job
  • Especially since when airlines are providing lodging it’s often to a lot of people, soaking up all of the low-end demand
  • And when demand is high hotels may be unwilling to take cheap negotiated rates

You’re much better off taking matters into your own hands if you can, recognizing that you’re not likely to get reimbursed by your airline.

Use a credit card that offers trip delay coverage when booking tickets, and use that coverage to get reimbursed for the cost of booking your own room at a hotel likely better and cleaner than what an airline will provide, plus cover your ground transportation and meals too, usually up to $500 on a qualifying delay.

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. […] Airport hotels tend to get a bad name. Of course, there are exceptions like the TWA Hotel at JFK and this Hyatt at Orlando Airport. They serve a purpose, giving passengers a place to stay when they have an early flight or overnight layover. If your stay is planned, you can research and find a place that has recently undergone renovations and has a reliable hotel shuttle. However, if your flight is canceled or you miss your connection due to weather delays, you’re at the mercy of the travel gods. If the delay is the airline’s fault, they may provide a voucher for a night at a local hotel. If you’ve ever wondered, here are some reasons why airlines send people to the worst hotels. […]


  1. @ Gary — We just usually book a Hyatt or IC where we will need a QN for the year anyways and just pay ourselves. Much more pleasant.

  2. When American Airlines stranded me in OKC a couple of months ago, I received a text while standing in line to get a hotel at the airport, giving me a choice of 3 hotels that I could book through their link, hotel paid by American. I chose the Home2 Suites, but when arriving at the hotel at 1 am, they refused to honor the booking and made me pay for the room myself, despite having both a text and email confirmation that the room was covered by the airline. Definitely a flawed system that American has.

  3. When I was 10 years old, my connecting flight was cancelled. I was flying alone. Luckily, the airline (Northwest) gave me a hotel voucher and the hotel accepted it.

  4. Happened to me 5 years ago. Mechanical failure led to replacement plane late evening getting into Houston Bush Airport to late to connect to Austin. American put me up in a 5 star hotel miles away. I mean the place was gorgeous but it was Christmas Eve and all food options were closed.
    Still, from the friendly models working the front desk to the gorgeous room I was quite accommodated. Guess I got lucky…..

  5. It’s funny, I’ve only ever had great experiences with airline hotel stays.

    The Sheraton in Boston given by Virgin Atlantic, and the Hotel Sky in Barcelona from BA.

  6. Speaking from personal experience on the airline side, sometimes the optimal hotel is one that has enough rooms to handle all (or at least most) of the passengers in one place. That makes transportation, communication, billing, etc… so much easier for all concerned. And usually the hotels which have 50+ rooms available at short notice are the fleabags that aren’t exactly top of everyone else’s list.

    Additionally, a number of premium hotels simply don’t want to deal with airline distressed passengers because they believe that demographic dilutes the experience for their other paying guests. So they will not deal with the airlines on group booking basis but rather insist on rack rates which winds up deprioritising them when an airline is considering options.

    Finally, there are some hotels whose entire business model is based upon distressed passengers and associated business lines (eg. parking, airport stopovers, etc..). They do bulk contracts at highly discounted rates with the big room providers that service the airlines, so they invariably wind up being the first rooms filled. Since they are in the B2B business rather than B2C, they really couldn’t care less about the quality of service provided to the customer since they know they are captive.

  7. There is that godawful Hyatt at ORD that AA once put me in.

    And anytime I hear Sheraton by the airport I cringe.

  8. When my Copa Airlines flight to Nicaragua several years ago missed its connection in Panama, (due to it leaving more than 3 hours late from O’Hare) we all were offered a voucher for what looked to be at best a two star hotel, and a bus ride to said hotel. As the gate attendants worked to to finish processing people, I asked how long until the bus arrived, and was told “maybe 90 minutes.”
    I looked around at the ever growing crowd of people waiting for the bus, including a couple with a caged dog and several with increasingly restive children, and left to find a taxi to take me to the Hyatt downtown. I paid 5,000 Hyatt points and was upgraded to a junior suite with two walls of windows overlooking Panama City. $60 and 5,000 points, but no animals and no crying children.
    Sometimes free just isn’t worth it.

  9. @ Jorge, five years ago you were connecting on American at IAH going to AUS? You sure that wasn’t United, because I’m pretty sure that AA has never flown IAH-AUS.

  10. Randy, I flew from Laredo to Bush Airport on a regional AA carrier.
    It’s funny, my Dad warned me the little planes always broke down!
    I went from Austin to Laredo on a Greyhound bus to see my parents and the bus seats were so bad for my back (I’m disabled) I flew back.
    Granted, AA only had about 20 pax to accommodate so I guess that’s why the nice hotel. I remember flying in the 1980’s when all the seats were nice, big and comfy.
    I miss the Amtrack train that used to go between Austin and Laredo.
    That was living!

  11. Maybe AA put me on another carrier for the flight to Austin from Houston.
    That morning I was so tired and dazed it’s all a blur. That flight was continuing on out west. I did get to experience being crammed into a middle seat. Never again…..

  12. I’ve only been discomboobulated a few times over the years. First time it happened, Continental gave me a voucher for a Howard Johnson Hotel in Newark New Jersey. 10pm on New Year’s Eve. Uh, thanks, but the Hilton is calling my name. I’ve just made my own arrangements since. All this whining about food and hotel ‘owed you’ by the airlines is tiresome. If you can’t afford to pay for a hotel yourself if you are stranded by an airline, you probably shouldn’t be travelling.

  13. You suggested that “Use a credit card that offers trip delay coverage when booking tickets…”, but what about flights booked with award miles? Is there a way to protect oneself?

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