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Walking After Midnight: How to Avoid Being Bumped
from Your Hotel

By Daniel Edward Craig, , October 19, 2010

If you're a frequent traveler, this scenario might be all too familiar. Itís late. You stagger to the front desk of your hotel, bruised and battered by the horrors of modern travel, only to be welcomed with the words, ďIím sorry, but we donít have a room for you.Ē

ďWhat?Ē you cry. ďBut I have a confirmation Ö here! Ö It says my reservation is guaranteed!Ē

Silly you. Donít you know that the credit card number you provide at time of reservation guarantees one thing only: that the hotel will charge you if you donít show up?

As hotel occupancies climb, relocates are making a comeback. As a long-time hotelier, I have the dubious distinction of having performed scores of relocates in my career, and I know how inconvenient and frustrating it can be for travelers. 

But youíre not as helpless as you might feel. While thereís no surefire way to avoid being relocated, there are ways to fight the odds Ė and, if your number is irrevocably up, to negotiate the most favorable terms. 

What exactly is a relocate? Also known as walking or bumping, relocates occur when a hotel has more reservations than rooms. Like airlines, hotels overbook in order to maximize occupancy, banking on cancellations and no-shows, and sometimes we get caught with our pants down. Unlike airlines, however, we donít announce overbookings to a holding lounge full of travelers or ask for volunteers. We handle relocates discreetly, swiftly dispatching you to another hotel while giving you little choice in the matter.

The early bird catches the room. Hotels typically assign rooms as guests arrive, so our options decrease as the day progresses. If weíre sold out and you arrive late, youíre vulnerable. But then you also might be upgraded, since suites are often the last to go. Not a gambler? Call the hotel in advance to say youíll be arriving late and ask them to hold your room. And always do your homework; if a hotel is a chronic walker, youíll read about it in online reviews. 

You are what you pay. I didnít tell you this, but the higher your rate, the more preferential your treatment. Reserve the presidential suite, and we wonít dare walk you. Book through an online travel company, which keeps up to 30% of your rate, and youíre vulnerable. Book through an opaque website, and youíre a walking target. Itís not that we donít love you, we just love our more loyal and lucrative guests better. 

Are you on the no-walk list? The truth is, sometimes we do have a room Ė just not for you. Depending on the hotel, certain guests never get walked, like loyalty club members, frequent guests, corporate clients, VIPs and tattooed bikers. If you donít qualify, you can always try pleading your case; in cases of undue hardship rooms can miraculously materialize. You can also try arriving in a wedding dress or clutching a heart monitor. But if thereís no room, thereís no room. 

Trade up, not down. The good news is the hotel will pay for your room that night, plus taxi fare and a long distance call. But hereís a dirty little secret: hotels prefer to relocate to a slightly inferior hotel, hoping youíll come running back into our arms on your next visit. You have the right to insist on a comparable hotel. Hell, weíre paying, so why not ask for the Four Seasons? But if the city is full, you might well be cozying up with the farm animals at the Barnyard Inn. 

Youíll never believe this, but Ö Itís hard to admit we had the gall to sell your room to someone else, so some employees invent little white lies like burst water pipes, electrical problems or guests who refused to check out. A truly unscrupulous hotel might try to foist the blame on you, claiming your reservation was mysteriously canceled or booked for this date five years ago. Always get an email confirmation at time of reservation, check it for accuracy, and bring it with you. If you mixed up the month and year, thatís your bad, not ours. 

Now donít get all huffy. Yes, relocating is evil, unforgiveable really, and hotels do it largely out of greed and incompetence. But itís not a conspiracy, and weíre not singling you out for having cheap luggage or travel hair. Mostly itís a numbers game. Chances are the long-suffering graveyard agent who relocates you had nothing to do with overbooking the hotel. So cut him some slack, be firm but pleasant, and resist the theatrics and hostage-takings. If you need to vent, save it for the general manager. 

Do you have a relocate story? Share it on OPUS Hotelsí blog:

Daniel Edward Craig is a hotel consultant and the author of the hotel-based Five-Star Mystery series. He is the former vice president and general manager of Opus Hotels in Vancouver and Montreal and its current blogger-at-large. For more information visit or email @dcraig @opushotel.

Copyright © 2010 Daniel Edward Craig


Daniel Edward Craig

Also See: Why Everyone Gets a Hotel Room Upgrade... But You / Daniel Edward Craig / April 2008

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