WE all know how difficult it is to make a business trip these days, with pared-down airline capacity, higher fares, crowded planes, tight connection times. But who knew it would be such a problem to cancel a business trip?
Recently, I had to reluctantly cancel plans to attend the Boyd Group aviation forecast conference, held Oct. 5-7 at the St. Regis, a Starwood hotel in Aspen, Colo.
The conference rate for two nights at the hotel was $414.29. I called the hotel to cancel on Oct. 4, a day before check-in time, and was informed that the cancellation fee would be — $414.29.
“That reservation had to have been canceled as of the 21st of September to avoid the forfeiture of two nights, so at this time the canceling will result in the forfeiture of the two nights,” the reservations clerk said.
Yep, there it was in the small type on the second page of my reservation printout. They had me. I had to cancel two weeks in advance or pay the whole enchilada.
Usually, I stay at one of the convenient midlevel chain hotels, like Hilton’s Hampton Inn, that accommodate a lot of business travelers. There, and even at four-star business hotels, canceling a reservation is no big deal. Usually, you can do it on less than a day’s notice — and your credit card isn’t charged.
So why did the St. Regis in Aspen charge my American Express card the full $414.29 promptly on Sept. 21? After all, it’s sleepy October in the Rockies, well before ski season.
“We work really hard to ensure that our guests understand our cancellation policies, and of course we are sympathetic to those who have to cancel things at the last minute,” said Jenni Benzaquen, a Starwood spokeswoman.
Stiff cancellation fees are “now more commonplace,” said Scott Booker, the chief hotel expert at Hotels.com, the online hotel site of Expedia Inc.
“As a consumer, you have to really look out for that kind of stuff,” he said.
Mr. Booker said that hotels are looking to raise revenue with “not just cancellation fees, but extra-person fees, resort fees, parking fees and Internet fees.”
With more business trips likely to be canceled or modified at the last minute in the current uncertain economic climate, it is increasingly important to read the fine print. Had I known that the St. Regis in Aspen confiscated the full two-day rate, I would simply have made a reservation elsewhere.
Years ago, after business travelers complained loudly about the proliferation of fees, many hotels reduced or eliminated some of them. But that is changing again and extra fees are coming back, Mr. Booker said.
“It’s kind have been floating under the radar a bit because the spotlight has been on the airline industry,” he said. “But it’s definitely happening in the hotel business as well.”
Mr. Booker said that 24 to 48 hours before check-in time is usually the deadline for canceling without charge at hotels that do charge a cancellation fee. Hotels .com does business with about 70,000 hotels worldwide and, for those who book through the site, “we will act as an advocate in your behalf” in negotiating with a hotel over any disputed charge or fee, he said.
Joe Brancatelli, who publishes the business travel Web site Joe SentMe.com, said that some hotels had become more aggressive in adding extra charges. “Hotels saw the airlines getting away with it, and they’re just doing what airlines do,” he said.
Airlines, of course, have been raising or adding fees, including fees for changing an advance-purchase restricted ticket.
For my aborted trip to Aspen, I’d booked on Continental from Newark to Denver. The round-trip advance-purchase fare was $375. Reusing the ticket later will incur a $150 change fee, leaving me with $125 to apply toward another ticket.
From Denver to Aspen, I’d booked a round-trip flight on Frontier Airlines for $159. The cancellation fee on Frontier is also $150.
Of course, I could have done what the airlines want us all to do, and paid extra for a fully refundable ticket. On Continental, for example, that unrestricted fare was $718 on Monday round trip from Newark to Denver.
How much did my change of plans cost? Plenty. Including the hotel and the airline change fees, the total came to $714.29.
6 months ago