Photo: Mark Lennihan (Getty Images)
In June, American Airlines was forced to cancel 7,500 flights because of severe weather, mechanical issues, and the grounding of Boeing 737 Max planes. Together, these cancelations made up 4% of the airline’s entire schedule of flights that month—and likely annoyed a hell of a lot of travelers with other arrangements like hotel bookings.
What exactly do you do when a flight’s canceled but you’re still on the hook for a hotel reservation? If you plan to arrive a day later or you can’t make your trip at all, be sure to check your hotel’s change or cancelation policy in your reservation email and inform them immediately.
Research your hotel’s policies and contact them by phone
If you’re notified of a cancelation or severe delay early enough in advance, generally, you may be able to change or cancel your reservation without penalties. Major hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton offer free changes and cancelations between 48 and 72 hours before check-in, but that may depend on your room rate and the policy of the property you plan to stay it. If this is the case, just find your reservation online or contact the hotel to ask for your change and explain your circumstances.
If you’re especially down to the wire, however, you might be subject to some fees. In this instance, you should contact the hotel immediately by calling up the front desk or concierge, rather than a customer service hotline, and plead your case; show proof of a flight cancelation or delay and ask for a refund (and to adjust your dates, if needed).
If it’s a weather-related issue affecting an entire area, you might have luck canceling a room or changing dates without fees. “If the hotel is in one of the affected areas they may be grateful for the cancelation to free up rooms for guests who are stranded at their hotel, unable to return home,” ABC News writes. Politeness and good manners go a long way, too.
And if those don’t work, generally, you might be expected to pay for one night’s stay to cancel a reservation. If you decide to change your dates, the original rate you booked may change to reflect the shorter duration of your trip.
You might not be eligible for a refund for some bookings made through third-party sites
And what if you booked a hotel through a third-party booking site? We’ll be honest—it’s tricky, particularly if it’s a last-minute change or cancelation. You’ll likely have to jump through a few extra hoops to see any kind of money back, depending on your reservation.
Again, you should review your hotel’s cancelation policy, the third-party booking site’s cancelation policy, and confirm whether you booked a refundable or nonrefundable stay. If you booked a refundable stay, you could also search your inbox for an email that spells out how long you to change or cancel a flight before incurring fees. If it’s early enough in advance, you should receive a refund or be able to adjust your dates without issues.
“I work for a hotel and we deal with Expedia,” u/Fawxhox wrote on a recent Reddit thread. “Call their helpline number and ask them if you can cancel for free. As long as it’s not nonrefundable and before the deadline, they definitely should let you. Even if it is past the deadline, you can try asking them to ask the hotel to let you cancel anyways. We get calls like that every once in a while and generally approve the cancel.”
As for nonrefundable bookings, it’s a lot trickier (and maybe impossible). Some booking sites like Travelocity and Orbitz offer an option to purchase especially good discount rates for hotel rooms that are also nonrefundable. If you opted for the deal, it’s unlikely you’ll receive any money back for unused days.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to that third-party site through its customer service line to request a cancelation, offering evidence of your flight’s severe delay or cancelation. if that doesn’t work, reach out directly to the hotel, explaining the circumstances.
Whatever you choose to do, communication with your hotel during a delay or cancelation is key; in the event your flight does make it off the ground, you do not want to be labeled a “no-show” and risk losing your room by the time you arrive. So communicate and be polite when dealing with hotel staff as best as possible and you might not end up being charged unnecessary fees.