Lesson learned – how I saved myself a £261 fine for no-showing on an IHG reward night

This is a slightly embarrassing story because, let’s be honest, I should know better.  However, I am running it because some people might learn something from it.

On Saturday night I had a room booked at a Central London Holiday Inn.  I won’t name it because the hotel came good in the end and they were acting within the rules.

The room was for my brother and his family.  It was booked in January using a free night voucher from the IHG Rewards Club credit card.  The voucher itself was due to expire in February.

Unfortunately, between February and July, other important commitments came up and his London visit got delayed.  I couldn’t – despite trying, both online and by phone – move the reward night because it was locked in the IHG system.  Because the original voucher had now expired any changes would lead to the voucher disappearing.

I decided not to cancel the room when he changed his dates two months ago.  After all, something might come up before the stay date and there was no upside to cancelling immediately – the voucher was lost anyway.

I then forgot about the booking.

Holiday Inn Glasgow

On Sunday morning, I was idly playing with my phone around 9.45am when a notification from Amex popped up.  My card had been charged £261.

The hotel had invoked this clause which – to be fair – is in the rules of every IHG Rewards Club redemption you make:

Canceling your reservation before 4:00 PM (local hotel time) on Saturday, 2 July, 2016 will result in no charge. Canceling your reservation after 4:00 PM (local hotel time) on 2 July, 2016, or failing to show, will result in a charge of 1 night per room to your credit card.

I rang the hotel and they confirmed they had charged me £261 because I was a ‘no show’.  They thought that I would get my points back in compensation, but of course I wouldn’t – because it hadn’t been booked on points, it was on a credit card free night.

I asked when their check out time was.  They said 11am.  I told them that I would be there before 11am to check in, which technically means that I would NOT be a ‘no show’.

‘You can’t do that’, said the hotel manager.  ‘You must check in on the day of arrival, before midnight.’  This is complete nonsense, of course.  I had booked a room from 2pm Saturday to 11am Sunday and, legally, I can check in whenever I want!  We discussed this for a while but he was adamant that he knew more about how hotels work than I do 😉 simply because he happens to run one.  I told him to call IHG ….

Irrespective of his view, I knew I had to check in before 11am to have any legal leg to stand on.  My wife and daughter had gone jogging.  I ordered a cab, threw my five year-old (still in his pyjamas) into the back and we sped off.  25 minutes later we were at the hotel.

To give the manager credit – and this is why I haven’t named him or the hotel – he rang me whilst I was in the taxi to apologise.  He had spoken with IHG and they had told him he was wrong.  I was entitled to check in at any point until 10.59 am.  The hotel had been trigger happy in charging my Amex card for £261 – but, of course, that was my saving grace.  If the hotel had waited until 11am to charge me then I would have had to pay.

As it turned out, all was well.  The manager greeted me warmly, I checked in and he gave me a 2pm late check-out! My son and I played in the room for a bit, my wife and daughter joined us an hour later and we did some touristy stuff near the hotel.  The weather was kind and it all worked out well.

So … the moral of the story is:

If you book a hotel free night using, say, an IHG or Hilton credit card free night voucher and you cannot make the stay, ensure you cancel the booking.  Don’t ignore it simply because the voucher is not reusable!

What is not clear is why this penalty exists in the first place.  IHG is not the only chain to act like this.  If I do not turn up for a reward night, OK, I agree I should forfeit my points.  But how can the hotel justify charging me £261 (their fully flexible rate) as a no-show when – if I had shown – it would have got just $25 from IHG Rewards Club assuming occupancy that night was under 95%?

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

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  1. I’m not sure that interpretation of that clause would pass a reasonableness test.

    “Canceling your reservation before 4:00 PM (local hotel time) on Saturday, 2 July, 2016 will result in no charge. Canceling your reservation after 4:00 PM (local hotel time) on 2 July, 2016, or failing to show, will result in a charge of 1 night per room to your credit card.”

    Surely this means the rate is flexible and can be cancelled. In the case of late cancellation/not showing on a paid booking, I would interpret the charge that will be taken to be rate for the first night – at the rate booked, not at their rack rate.

    Therefore, by extension, I would expect on a points redemption it to be the points for the first night that are retained. And the reference to ‘credit card’ to be erroneous (or needing to be interpreted to the payment method used.)
    Hence in this case, it would be the certificate night forfeited, even if cert still valid.

    I’ve never heard of or experienced anyone interpreting it the way your hotel manager did.

    I’m very curious if that is IHG policy to interpret that way, I wonder if his welcoming behaviour was because he had been caught out…

    • Klaus-Peter Dudas says:

      Would be interesting to see what would happen if it was booked on a debit card…

  2. Wow I did not know they could do that! I always assumed that you would lose the points if you don’t cancel 24 hours before.

    Who sets the best flexible rate? Is it the owner who charges you it for no show? This is a terrible policy, I’m shocked to be honest!

  3. plastikman says:

    I think it is reasonable. My other half works for a central London ihg property. Believe it or not they frequently are at capacity and there are times when they overbook (a bit like a flight being overbooked). If everybody turns up this is a pain to both the staff and guests as some have to be booked out to other nearby hotels.

    • Michael says:

      So what you’re saying is that by not turning up to a hotel which has overbooked itself, you are inadvertently helping the hotel as they don’t have to find rooms in nearby hotel for paying guests, and for helping the hotel out by not showing up they charge you – that doesn’t seem fair at all!

  4. Nick M says:

    SPG do the same, but I believe that you can ask them to deduct the points rather than rack rate if you get in touch with them within a fortnight (?)

  5. Robert says:

    Surely it should be whatever ‘currency” you use to book the room, that should be none refundable?

  6. Raffles,
    I’ve done the same with a voucher I’ve no idea how I earned, about 2 weeks ago I was looking to see how to get my 5k ambassador bonus when I saw I could get the spire bonus again and also I had a voucher in my account for a free night, valid until 3rd July, so I booked a night at the IC Park lane on my wife’s birthday next year.
    Hopefully I won’t forget I’ve booked the room especially as it’s an important one,miso I’d be in trouble forgetting the date!!!!

  7. BigDave says:

    I would have done the same, and over broken glass to save £261 !

    • Will you now be using £261 as your valuation for the free night voucher, insted of your notional £250?

      Also, did you receive any spire benefits and why not the IC park lane giving you could book any IHG hotel?

      • Because I needed a room that would sleep 4 people and only a handful of IHG hotels have rooms that big available for rewards. Park Lane is not one of them!

        (Although Hilton Park Lane will do 4 people in standard reward rooms.)

        I got my 500 points amenity as well. I should have posted the view from the room, which was a brick wall about 3 feet from the window! I still like this property though due to location.

  8. mohamed says:

    Must be holiday inn kensington or mayfair

    • Mayfair has a lot going for it in terms of location and the fact the rooms are huge (and they do have reward rooms that sleep 4 at times). OK, the rooms need a refurb but you are opposite the Ritz – it doesn’t get much better for location.

  9. O/T the Holiday Extras 15% statement credit has now popped up on my BAEC card (not on my Gold, though). It has been on Connect for non-Amex Amex cards – such as MBNA Amex cards – for some time. Should be online offer for most Amex cards.

    Remember, sign up your card to offer first
    Then find a discount site for Holiday Extras – for eg airport carparks or hotel + carpark – such as http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-airport-parking
    Find your deal and progress through to payments
    Pay with your Amex card

    You get both the discount AND the statement credit

    On Heathrow Meet & Greet with Drivefly, I got 31% discount through MSE discount site + 15% statement credit from Amex = 45% off! (bodge math!)

    You know you have got the success credit because the Amex email gets sent immediately you pay.

    To get 31% off on Drivefly Meet & Greet, go through the MSE site to payment – initially discount looks to be 15% – but leave it idle for an hour or so without paying, then press ‘back’ to start process again – discount has increased to 31%.

    • Worzel says:

      Booked up some Heathrow parking(for September) last week thanks to your comments and another contributor- who’s post I can’t now find.

      Mrs Gummidge entitled to a discount- 14 days + safety net hours came out at £86. Haven’t got the 15% extra for using the Amex Offer-however I paid a fee for full refund cancellation.

      About to cancel the booking, rebook, and save £9ish-just to “hack off” the cape fox! :) .

  10. evelyn thomas says:

    OT TAP Portugal have limit of 7kg for hand luggage. Does anyone know if they tend to enforce this at the gate at Gatwick.?
    Many thanks…and love the site

    • The_Real_A says:

      Whilst not particularly dignified, I can save 3kg by carrying my laptop charger and battery in my coat pockets.

  11. O/T Virgin Trains sale now on – just started so you should be able to find a £10 seat instead of the usual £100 http://www.virgintrains.co.uk/sale

  12. Mikeact says:

    You were lucky the hotel was nearby, must have been a great Sunday morning sight. …..man dashes out of a taxi dragging a boy in pyjamas, “I want my mum” !

    • You’ve probably the forgotten the article I ran last year showing showing both my kids in Heathrow Express F in their pyjamas, because they insisted on going to the airport like that before an overnight flight to Singapore!

      • Callum says:

        Did people really look twice at your kids wearing pajamas in scenarios like that?

        It seems complete normal for a kid to be wearing them to me (they aren’t on the catwalk!), but I know some people can be ridiculously judgemental!

    • Although I suspect most 5yo boys would see it as a fun adventure 😉 Good work, Rob, on doing this and poor show from the property!

      • Indeed. He was very excited to be outside with no pants on :-) Not something I am desperately keen on but I am not 5 ……

        He loved it and wanted to stay all day. Every weekend he asks if we are going to a hotel (my kids do 50 nights a year in hotels). Hotels = kids club, swimming pool and chocolate-covered breakfast cereal.

        • Manuel Gonzalez says:

          Apart from the height of the human being, I see NO difference with this no-pants scene and any ‘Brits on a sunny island’no-pants scene

  13. Kimberly says:

    I’m really shocked that this is how they handle a no-show rewards night booking. I never would have thought that they would charge you actual cash, figuring that they would just take the points. You booked in points, so that is all they should be able to take, anything else seems like they’re just trying to pull something shady. I also never considered that they would take more than the rate at which you had made your booking. From my reading, this is not all clearly spelled out in their cancellation/no-show policy. I wonder if they could actually get away with this if someone challenged it though.

  14. Had a similar experience at Christmas time with one of the bargain Travelodge deals, room booked for £12, didn’t check in for the booking and assumed as I had prepaid it all I would lose is £12. Next day I received an invoice for £89, with £12 deduction for what I had paid. The ironic thing is don’t know how they could even have cleaned and serviced the room for £12, I must have saved them money by not showing up. In the end after explaining why I couldn’t attend they cancelled the new invoice.

    • Andy S says:

      This is amazing – all my life I’ve assumed that “if you don’t show you’re charged for the first night” wouldn’t apply if I’d already paid for the entire stay! Not that I’ve ever not turned up, but will bear it in mind for the future.

      • Andy S says:

        In fact I wouldn’t even have thought of cancelling a non-refundable room since you wouldn’t get anything back !!

        • exactly, but buried away in Travelodge TnCs it did state that for a no show you would be charged at the full prevailing rate. I did get out of out it though, it was at the time the Forth Road Bridge was closed causing traffic chaos across the whole of central scotland. Once i explained my reason for not making it the hotel were ok about it.

  15. Oh well, you know if you aren’t paying anything in advance, you can reserve rooms with “non-genuine” credit card details, so if you no-show there is not much they can do without a lot of trouble.

    Surprisingly, in the past few months some big city Hiltons haven’t asked to see a card on arrival.

    • BillyBoy says:

      “Oh well, you know if you aren’t paying anything in advance, you can reserve rooms with “non-genuine” credit card details, so if you no-show there is not much they can do without a lot of trouble.”

      Does this mean they don’t validate cards used to guarantee bookings? Sounds highly unlikely to me !

      • I kept a few pence on some of my 3Vs for this sort of purpose!

        Anybody not so prescient, just buy a Tesco £25 Visa card and use that instead.

  16. will merrett says:

    I had this to the tune of $1200 last year. I booked 4 nights in the Pallazo as separate reservations on points on a special 25k per night offer.

    Plans had changed by a week since reserving the rooms and I booked the new dates with cash.

    Thought I’d cancelled the points but had not, got charged $1200. Luckily because I had a cash booking the week later the hotel did refund me!

  17. Sam Wardill says:

    I had a similar issue with the Holiday Inn Express Ramsgate a couple of weeks ago. I called at 4:15pm though. Luckily IHG and the hotel took a pragmatic view and gave me the points back (and no mention of any fee)

  18. BlueHorizonUK says:

    More O/Tness – Anyone used goodtogo parking? Seem to be popping up at a few places now but never heard of them before.

  19. How do you get notifications from Amex for transactions? Do you get them for every transaction? I looked in the app but could only see one for when you reach a threshold.

    • Apple Pay! Best use ever!

      • It just pops up on my iPhone. It may be because I have added Amex to my ‘passes’ in the wallet (this is nothing to do with Apple Pay which I have never used or activated).

        • Interesting, I don’t see that option on my AMEX app but I stand corrected. To me it started when I added it to Apple Pay hence my comment. It tracks every authorisation request not only final transactions which is also quite handy.

        • I think once Amex is added on Apple Pay / Wallet then it will provide a transaction notification on the home screen, doesn’t matter whether you actually use Apple Pay or not. Also, the transaction notification takes just seconds to appear, very good.

        • Nick M says:

          Do you remember if you did this through the Amex app or through the Wallet? – I can’t see an option in either (although I have a 5s)

          • Lister says:

            Not through the app, but as far as I can remember (2014) through the website which takes you through to add to wallet.