For many travelers, airline flights, hotel stays, and auto rental are heavily dependent on each other. If any one of your travel arrangements are disrupted, it can have downstream effects on all of them. Each reservation you make for your trip is like a link in a chain. It’s important that no link in the chain is less reliable than any other.
For most travelers, the weakest link is airline travel reservations. Airlines routinely overbook their flights, because they figure that some of their customers will cancel. This policy helps airlines keep their flights full. It can cause a lot of problems for travelers who need to make connections like auto rental pickups, and hotel check-ins, however.
Airlines Have More Regulations Than Hotels and Auto Rental Companies
Airlines operate under more government regulations than most businesses. That’s because they’re common carriers. Since major airlines operate internationally, they must comply with regulations from many different countries. That means that when there’s a problem with your flight, there are more rules in place to cover it.
If your flight is oversold, it’s likely that you qualify for specific levels of compensation. The exact amount of help you’ll get depends a lot on the circumstances of your travel arrangements. Short hop economy flights with last-minute tickets don’t qualify for the same level of compensation as round the world trips booked many months in advance. However, it’s important to keep in mind that anyone bumped off a flight is entitled to some form of legal recourse.
Hotel Guests Have Rights, Too
Hotels overbook rooms for the same reason that airlines overbook flights. They want to ensure that their hotel is full of guests, and they’re afraid that some guests will cancel. Hotels usually have a better idea of how many cancellations they can expect than airlines. They’re also much more likely to have a few rooms in reserve at all times in order to deal with emergencies. Airlines can’t just add a few folding chairs in the aisle and invite more people on board. Hotels have more flexibility.
There are many reasons why a hotel might be overbooked. It’s not always due to deliberate overbooking of rooms. Hotel guests often check in with a certain length of stay in mind, but later change their minds and stay longer. Hotels are under no legal obligation to enforce the length of hotel stays in order to make sure rooms open up in time for new reservations. It would be infuriating to most hotel guests to be turned out of a hotel to make way for new guests in any case.
Car Rental Reservations
As anyone who has watched Seinfeld can tell you, some car rental companies aren’t great at holding on to reservations. There are very few laws about auto rental reservations. That means it’s up to the individual car rental company to set a policy, and stick to it. Most large car rental companies have policies set by their home offices, and don’t have a lot of flexibility. Independent car rental companies are much more likely to work with you when there’s a problem.
What To Do if Your Reservation Falls Through
Remember, the airlines have a lot of rules to follow. If you’re bumped from a flight, you almost always have compensation coming. Some delays and other mishaps also qualify you for additional compensation. It’s important that you defend your rights, but without becoming agitated at airline personnel. Airlines offer passengers different alternatives when their flights have been interrupted. You’re under no obligation to take the first offer made to you. Passengers who hold out for more often get more.
Don’t make the mistake of being unreasonable, however. Airlines do have limits on what they’re willing to offer you. If you get an offer that takes care of your inconvenience, you should take it and move on with your trip.
If your hotel is overbooked, it’s likely that some form of alternative will be offered to you. It’s actually quite common to get an upgraded room at no extra charge if you’re bumped from the room you reserved. On the other hand, if your reservation was for a large suite, and the only room available is an economy room, make sure you receive the downgraded rate.
In the event that a hotel doesn’t have any rooms available, don’t give up. While there are no laws forcing them to, most hotel chains have a policy of “walking” customers to a new hotel if they can’t accommodate them. It’s quite common for overbooked hotels to make all the arrangements for your new room with another hotel, and even pay for your cab ride if you need it.
Auto Rental Customers
There are few legal requirements for car rental companies to honor their reservations. Once traditional car rental companies run out of cars, there’s usually very little they can do to help you.
First, ask if an upgrade or a downgrade is available for the car you reserved. If there is, it’s usually smart to take what’s available. You’re in the right, but it’s more important for you to get some sort of transportation. It’s OK to negotiate, but being adamant can turn you into a pedestrian in a strange city in a hurry.
Never Do This
No matter whether you’re bumped from a flight, a hotel room, or an auto rental, there’s one approach that never works. Never cancel your reservation in a huff. A reservation is a legally binding contract. While it doesn’t always pay to argue at a reservation desk over your rights, it never makes sense to cancel your reservation because you’re angry. By cancelling your original reservations, you remove the original obligation the company has for you. In essence, you’ve made their problem into your problem.
In all cases, be reasonable with the companies you’re dealing with, and they’ll be more likely to be reasonable in return. Threatening bad reviews on social media sites is unlikely to help you, and may hurt. Don’t be a pushover, however. Ask for what you’re entitled to, and remind the company of their obligations to their customers when they take — but don’t hold — a reservation.