Things like cancellation fees—and any difficulty in getting those fees waived—might make guests and particularly loyalty members a bit less brand-loyal overall.
A friend shared her recent hotel reservation and subsequent cancellation experience over lunch the other day. She had to make an overnight reservation at a hotel a few days before the stay, falling within the 48-hour window for the hotel brand’s cancellation fee. As it turns out, she didn’t need to stay there after all and had to cancel.
First, her call went to an overseas call center where the employee indicated he was working at the hotel, even though it was obvious he wasn’t. When she explained she needed to cancel, she got the normal spiel about the cancellation fee. Not wanting to be charged for the fee, she said someone in her family got sick. An added complication is she had booked with her membership program points and wanted them refunded. After some hemming and hawing, the call center employee put her on hold and then transferred the call to the actual property that held the reservation.
The hotel employee answering the call had no idea why she was calling, so she had to explain her situation again. As before, she heard about the cancellation policy. She gave the same story about a sick family member, and once again, the employee had to think about it before transferring the call over to a manager. The manager, after hearing the story, was completely cooperative and appeared confused why the other two employees couldn’t have handled the situation and refunded the points, too.
I understand why hotel brand companies have strengthened their cancellation fee policies. It helps make up a little bit of revenue from a lost reservation and can deter some guests from canceling if they don’t really need to. It gives owners inventory control.
But for guests, it’s a cause for some anxiety when they book a trip ahead of time. When planning a vacation last year, my wife and I looked at the different booking options available to us and made sure we had one that was refundable. We have two kids and numerous family members who live around us. Sometimes things just happen and you have to cancel.
Guests won’t like the cancellation fees, but that’s to be expected. No one, from hotel guests to hotel owners, wants to pay more for something if they think it’s unnecessary.
Some will suck it up and pay because they don’t see any other option. Others will argue about it with hotel employees who didn’t make the decision to implement the fees but nevertheless have to enforce it until the guest either relents or the employee decides the hassle isn’t worth it and drops the fee.
My guess is most guests will just lie about why they canceled and hope that whatever story they concocted will meet some hidden criteria to forego the fee. However it ends up, those people who need to cancel won’t exactly call this a great guest experience.
Back to my friend’s experience. She’s been a years-long loyalty program member, but while she has banked a number of points, she hasn’t hit the elite status. Despite all this, she expected being a member of the program would have had a quicker effect in the conversations. Although she ended up having her points refunded and faced no fee, she also got the feeling that maybe loyalty programs don’t mean as much to her anymore.
That’s probably not the end result brands are going to want from guests. There’s already plenty of talk about brand disloyalty among guests, but this feeling that hotel companies still put up an argument over a cancellation fee, even though loyalty program members have spent who knows how much money at their hotels, isn’t going to sit right with guests.
Look at the airlines. There are plenty of fees and nonrefundable ticket policies at just about every airline. Unless someone is an elite member of an airline’s loyalty program, I don’t imagine most people feel absolute loyalty to any one airline. Most probably look to whichever is cheapest and/or has the fewest layovers on the way to their destination.
Look at how many hotel options are out there for guests. There are quite a few hotel brand companies, each with their own almost-never-ending list of brands underneath them. Now throw in all the independents out there. And Airbnb.
Hotel brand companies tried to give guests a choice for whatever hotel stay they’re looking for, meeting whatever niche demand is out there. They’ve achieved their goal, but at the cost of brand differentiation.
That’s where loyalty programs should come into play, to make it more enticing to stick with a particular brand. If brands don’t treat their members like the special guests they say they do, those members are going to feel as loyal to the brands as they perceive the brands to be loyal to them.
Is my assessment of guest behavior wrong? Is something like this enough to make you feel less loyal to any brand? Let me know in the comments below or reach to me at email@example.com and @HNN_Bryan.
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