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

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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.

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%?

IHG One Rewards update – September 2022:

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Comments (43)

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  • David says:

    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…

  • Ian says:

    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!

  • 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!

  • 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 (?)

  • Robert says:

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

  • Yuff says:

    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!!!!

  • BigDave says:

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

    • Bobby says:

      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?

      • Rob says:

        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.

  • mohamed says:

    Must be holiday inn kensington or mayfair

    • Rob says:

      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.

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