Can you get walked from a hotel if you check in online?

Dec 18, 2019

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Airlines and hotels are in the business of making money, and since a percentage of travelers will inevitably no-show for their reservations, this incentivizes hotels to sell more rooms than they actually have to maximize revenue. When this happens, some travelers will end up getting “walked,” or accommodated at a different hotel and likely/hopefully compensated for their inconvenience. TPG reader Jeff wants to know if he can still get walked from a hotel if he checks in online …

This week I used the Marriott app to check in for a stay. Due to flight delays I showed up late and the check-in agent told me they gave my room to someone else. Have you ever head of this before? I thought once I checked in I’d be all set.

TPG READER JEFF

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Depending on where you’re traveling, getting walked might consist of moving down the street to an equal quality hotel operated by the same brand, or it may mean a serious downgrade and a move across town to find your new room. Hotels want to keep their most important (and most profitable) guests happy, so each property will have a slightly different internal policy for who they decide to walk.

Given the delicate nature of this situation, and the massive variation between properties, these policies are usually set by the individual hotels and not the corporate chains. For example, you wouldn’t necessarily walk a guest from the St. Regis New York the same way you would from the Courtyard JFK. This means that if a hotel finds itself oversold, they’ll usually rank their arriving guests based on some combination of the following factors:

  • Elite status
  • Room rate (i.e. who paid the most)
  • Length of stay
  • Corporate contracts

However, arrival time is also an important factor. As Jeff noted, he arrived at the hotel late because his flight was delayed. Especially when there are weather issues impacting inbound flights, a hotel knows that the later it gets, the greater the odds are of a guest no-showing. Arriving early or on time isn’t a guarantee that you won’t get walked, but arriving late definitely doesn’t help your chances.

This question also raises the interesting point that “checking in” online or through a hotel’s mobile app is not the same as checking in in person. While some hotels will issue mobile keys without making you stop at the desk, in many hotels you aren’t really checked in until you’ve provided your ID and a credit card for incidental charges in person at the check-in desk.

Getting walked is not a fun way to start a trip, but assuming the new hotel isn’t too convenient Jeff might actually come out ahead once he factors in the compensation that he’s entitled to. All hotels should offer some form of compensation, either cash or points, when they walk a guest, but Marriott explicitly spells out the compensation that its elite members are entitled to depending on what brand they get walked from.

Bottom line

Unfortunately for Jeff, checking in online is not sufficient to ensure you don’t get walked if a hotel is oversold. Having elite status, a corporate rate agreement or paying for a more expensive room will help your chances, but there’s no replacement for simply showing up on time. If you have a delayed flight and are worried about arriving late to the hotel, you can always try to call or message them and ask them to hold your room.

Featured photo of the St. Regis Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Island by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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