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What It Means to 'Get Walked' By a Hotel and How to Ensure It Doesn't Happen Again

June 26, 2014 at 10:31 AM | by | Comments (10)

He's told us how to effectively complain to the front desk and how to book a hotel room like a boss. Now our former front desk manager has returned with some helpful advice for a traumatic experience--getting walked at a hotel.

Missed flight. Second missed flight. Five-hour layover. Raining. No taxis. You finally get to the hotel 12 hrs later only to hear this:

" Good evening and welcome. Unfortunately we are unable to honor your reservation at this time however we haveÖ"

With the words slowly fading away, you see yourself follow the typical signs of grief: denial, anger, bargaining etc. Why did this happen? Why did it happen to you? Why today? These are completely understandable questions that go through every guestís mind when their reservation is not honored at a hotel, more commonly referred to as "being walked."

Below you will find a complete guide to the "Walk" process--from how hotels manage their revenue/reservation management system to the planning that goes into place on a sold-out day, to what you as a guest should expect when you are walked and finally, how to ensure (or at least try) it does not happen again.

PART 1: PRE-WALK, WHAT IS GOING ON AT THE HOTEL

Hotels have a unique business model. Because they work with perishable products, (once the room night is not sold, the hotel never gets back that revenue) hotelís must capitalize on every possible revenue option from discounted rates to hedging their bets by locking in some reservations with a "no-show" charge.

For any hotel, their daily or monthly seasonality clearly shows them the days they will be busy and which days will be light. On the days that are busy, hotels try to ensure the "perfect sell" (A night when every single guest room is booked and every guest has been checked into a guest room with no walks and no "no-shows." While this does not happen very often, hotels try to achieve this by creating a buffer with their reservations.

In most hotels, there is almost always an attrition rate where out of 100 reservations, maybe 10, where guests donít show up or they cancel. In order to make up for these "expected" losses in reservations, hotels allow for more reservations (often in line with the typical attrition rate) to be made than they have guest rooms. This, in some sense, allows protection from unsold rooms, a definite no-no at most hotels.

Most of the time, the hotelís revenue management team has more than enough experience to know what that attrition percentage is even down to the rate type i.e. ABC Group has an attrition rate of 5% while bookings under a corporate rate typically have a 15% attrition rate. Depending on the profile of reservations coming in, revenue management teams bank on allowing more bookings than the room inventory can withstand, with the hope that the attrition will kick in and the hotel, by the last night audit, hits the magic formula i.e. reservations checking in = number of guest rooms at the hotel.

It is when this formula gets out of whack, i.e. the confirmed reservations checking in are greater than the number of guest rooms at the hotel, when there is a potential "walk" situation which leads us to Part 2.

PART 2: THE WALK--HOW DOES A HOTEL DEAL WITH GUESTS?

On the day a hotel is fully sold out, the property ensures that all guest rooms are fully suitable for occupation and tries to make sure that all reservations are confirmed and if not, are immediately canceled. Additional steps are also made to check the status of the hotels nearby to identify whether the sell-out is hotel specific or citywide. This helps when trying to identify suitable alternative accommodation in order to make the guest experience as smooth as possible.

As the evening goes on, the hotel develops a better sense of the reservation situation and the potential for an over-booked day. When this situation becomes a reality, the hotel makes arrangements with sister properties to accommodate guests whose reservations cannot be honored. If the hotel is part of a large chain like Marriott or Starwood, arrangements are typically made with properties within the same group because logically, the guest and the revenue should stay within the group. If the property is an individual property, ideally arrangements are made for equal, if not slightly higher quality hotels for the guest.

There are two juxtaposing reasons for hotels carefully choosing an alternative property for their guests. First, because the hotel has not honored the reservation, they must look after the guest by making their transfer and overall experience as seamless as possible. One way to do it is to make guests feel that they have been upgraded to a slightly better hotel for the inconvenience caused. But at the same time, a hotel does not necessarily want a guest to experience a much better hotel because not only is the product not comparable, but also there is a possibility that the guest may not come back because they now have experienced another (better) property at the hotelís expense.

Once the alternative properties have been selected, the hotel identifies the reservations that would typically be walked. Priority (do not walk status) is given to VIPs, reward members, key corporate accounts and groups.

When a guest checks-in and they are to be walked, the hotel should clearly and empathetically explain the situation and identify all the steps that have been taken to guarantee a smooth transition to the alternate property. Most importantly, the hotel must communicate to the guest what they have done to compensate the guest for the inconvenience.

PART 3: WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE WALK

There are three main compensatory items a hotel should address and you, as a guest, should expect as minimum.

1) Room: With the room not available, hotels should absorb the cost of your hotel room at the alternative property. This is key as it is the primary product or service that the hotel failed at providing a paying guest.

2) Transportation: Most hotels understand that if you are being relocated against your will, they should pay for the transportation to take you to the new hotel. Guests should make it a point to ask for this.

3) Communication: Unless you live in a bubble, there are friends, family and colleagues who expect that you be at the hotel you said you would be at. With the hotel relocating you, they should also spring for reasonable phone charges so that you may call all the concerned parties and inform them of the change in hotel.

While these are the three main ways hotels compensate their guests, some guests feel that it is not enough (and rightfully so) because oftentimes corporate guests already have their rooms covered and the actually inconvenience to the guest is not adequately compensated by just covering the room charges. In this situation, guests should clearly communicate this to the front desk and negotiate alternative compensation, which could include a complimentary breakfast, dinner or another amenity.

While rewards members are rarely ever walked, if this were to happen, members could ask for greater compensation including free points equaling a future free night or something similar (While the hotel may not necessarily agree to this, these could be negotiated and smart hotels would understand compensation today vs. long term loyalty).

PART 4: POST WALK--HOW TO ENSURE YOU NEVER GET WALKED AGAIN?

So, you have been walked, itís the morning after and you're still upset. What do you do now? And the next time you book?

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Write a constructive letter or make a phone call to hotel management addressing your experience with them. You paid for a room at their hotel and you were relocated. You should not only address your dissatisfaction but also, if the staff that looked after you showed the right amount of empathy and care, you should highlight that too. This gives the hotel an opportunity to make it up to you once again, which could result in further compensation, flagging your reservations as a VIP, and potential long-term loyalty. It just does not hurt to communicate.

Also, book your hotel room the right way. (See my earlier article about how to book a hotel room.) When you book a hotel room, make sure that you go through the actual hotel website, call to ensure the hotel understands all your room requirements, clearly provide contact addresses and numbers, and provide your rewards information no matter how basic the membership. These will not only serve to highlight your loyalty to the hotel, but also provide the hotel with the right information with which to protect your booking and ensure the perfect stay.

Got a question for the front desk? Send it to us and we'll have our guy answer it!

[Photo: HotelChatter]

Comments (10)

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From Twitter

From @You_Go_Gomar:

"fantastic article. I've been walked once.  Will never stay at that hotel again. I'd stay in N Korea or Iran before returning."


walked from room type

What about when you've prepaid for a specific room type but get switched to another? Does a guest have any rights to that? Happened to me once and was told "we can never guarantee a room type" even though I had booked a specific roomtype. They tried to downgrade me to a different view.

Thanks

The article was very informative.

Got walked once

I got walked at Gild Hall back when it was still a Thompson Hotel run by the Thompson folk (and not Commune.) They ended up refunding my money, and paid for my transportation to 60 Thompson (a better property) where I got a regular room. I had booked this through a 3rd party website too.

Walked in Miami

I got walked at the Dream South Beach during Art Basel. Ended up at The Betsy, which was lovely. The Dream covered my hotel and had a porter walk my luggage over (they are nearly neighbors). The weirdness came when The Dream also promised to refund my room rate, but this couldn't be accomplished because I had booked via Jetsetter's last-minute app. Never ever doing that again; it is impossible for them to refund, no matter circumstances.

Walk from room type

edcosta - great point you raise here. In my experience and at the hotels I have worked at, we only 'not' guarantee room types if the booking was made through a third-party i.e. Hotel tonight, expedia etc. It is because these sites only guarantee you a room and not a room type. When you book through the hotel or their own website you most certainly can get a guarantee on your room type and it must be honored. Similar to being walked from the actual hotel, if the hotel does not honor your guaranteed room type, they should offer you a comparable or higher/better room type to compensate you. I would even be against getting a lesser room type 'complimentary' because that still does not serve your requirements. Most reservation bookings would clearly state what parts of the booking are guaranteed. Sometimes a high-floor or smoking/non-smoking are not guaranteed but it always mentions it. If the booking clearly states something is guaranteed then you are well within your rights to ask for equal if not better compensation.

Hope this helps.


Going above and beyond

Juliana - this is a perfect example of a hotel understanding the value of their guest. In my experience we did not typically refund third-party bookings. However, hotels sometimes realize that refunding the guest even if they do not have too generates far greater goodwill and loyalty than shunning them. Your comment itself is a clear indication of the value the Thompson group expected to generate when they looked after you.

Walked in Miami

JetSetCD - This is most often the case. See Juliana's experience. Some hotels do see the value in refunding the guest even if they don't have to. More often than not, they do not refund the hotel.

Booking through a third-party does have its benefits (low prices, last minute availability) however it does often come at the expense of no refunds, no guaranteed room types etc. It is a call one has to make depending on what your priority is for that specific trip.

Hope this helps.


Good Advice

Plenty of great information written in the article.

The only addition to this is to be acutely aware of your rights, what it is exactly you have booked, and pursue the matter there and then.

Should you get bumped, not only is the original hotel responsible for an equivalent or higher alternative, they are actually responsible for ensuring the alternative hotel has similar in hotel facilities.
For example, had you a reservation in a hotel that has a Day Spa, Gym, Turn Down Service, those types of 'peripherals', and your alternate hotel provided does not, the guest is absolutely entitled to a pro-rata refund to an agreed difference in rate for a room in a hotel that has those facilities.

Also for pre-paid reservations, ensure the payment for the room in the alternate hotel, has been pre-arranged as a 'Chargeback' to your original hotel. There are some poor practices by some hotels, who insist on payment being made by the guest, and the refund by the original hotel processed later.

And of course, be sure to always obtain the name of the staff member who dealt with the bump, for any additional correspondence afterwards. Accountability is a wonderful thing.

Good article


Pen and pad

Maintain your calm, express your disappointment. Most higher end hotels never want to walk a guest. There will be times when 50+ flight crew members with a contract with the property may kick in if they get stranded in the city you happen to be visiting. Listen carefully to the proposed alternative, sometimes it really is an upgrade to your original stay. You may not be a rewards member at that particular hotel brand but you may walk away with comped rewards membership with points if the alternative offered really is a down grade and you suggest it. Food comps are EZ and front desk employees are generally empowered to give them when they feel it necessary without approval. Remember an old fashion pen and pad to write down the names and the "guts" of what was promised is always a good idea. On the flip side it is a chance for the property honoring your stay to make an impression. They will not be inclined to offer comps but they do want to earn your business for your next stay. Ask about the amenities offered at the property including transportation options if your plans were based around the hotel you were intending to stay at.    

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