Risk assessment in booking a hotel room: refundable or not


For a simple transaction, there’s so much to consider.

In my hunt for a hotel room in Toronto, where I’ll be attending a niece’s wedding, I waded into a complicated world when I clicked on the online reservation systems for several hotels there.

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Apart from the many prices for the same room on different days, and the many kinds of rooms, and discounts for being members of this and that, the biggest conundrum is over refundable versus non-refundable.

For example, a downtown Toronto hotel is offering a $181.67 a night double occupancy rate in the spring that allows no-fee cancellation up to 6 p.m. the day of check-in.

Or, there’s the $161.67 rate, a $20 per night savings, which must be paid immediately and cannot be refunded.

I need to stay three nights, so it could be a $60 savings.

Should I gamble that nothing will interfere with my trip and go with the lower-cost non-refundable rate? What if I don't like the place and feel the need to scamper?

Instead of calculating risk factors, maybe I’ll just flip a coin.

Some of the advice I’ve seen: on a longer trip, go refundable and changeable for the first night, since arrival time can be delayed.

If the price difference isn’t much, just go with refundable.

Consider buying travel insurance that includes cancellation coverage. The insurance cost might be less than the cost differerence of paying for a refundable hotel rate. Cancellation coverage might be available if you pay with some credit cards. Read the fine print. The acceptable reasons for cancellation can be very precise; cancelling because you changed your mind won’t fly.

Online websites that re-sell non-refundable hotel rooms have popped up in recent years. You advertise your non-refundable hotel room; the website handles the transaction with guards against fraud and takes a commssion. But you have to make sure that hotel policy allows for the name on a non-refundable reservation to be changed. Hotels should allow this approach, promoters of such services say, because an occupied hotel room is better than an empty one. Having the room filled means someone is there to potentially buy meals, seek shoe shines and spring for Wi-Fi. Arguing against: a hotel has the opportunity to get paid twice for a room if it’s busy season, once by the customer with the non-refundable deal who isn’t checking in, and again by a new customer.

On the topic of the room re-selling sites: that’s another risk. Should you trust the site to handle the transaction properly and send you the money owed?

Maybe staying home on comfortable, familiar Vancouver Island is the best option.

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My previous posts are here.


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