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As the COVID-19 virus continues to disrupt travel for the foreseeable future, many hotel and vacation rental brands are prolonging their flexible change and cancellation policies, similar to those offered by airlines.
Even as travel restrictions extend well into 2022, many hotel cancellation policies continue to evolve and expand, so make sure to check the hotel brand website for the latest information.
“Free” change policies don't apply to the difference in cost between two reservations. For example, if your original reservation cost $100 and your new reservation is $150, you will still owe the $50 difference, but you won't owe any additional change fees. Also, if you used a third-party travel agency like Orbitz or Hotels.com to book, you will likely need to call that company (instead of the hotel brand) to change or cancel your booking.
» Learn more: How to find the best travel insurance
Guests must adhere to the cancellation terms of each individual listing, which are set by the listing’s owner. Airbnb allows owners to choose from six types of cancellation policies, ranging from “Flexible” to “Super Strict 60 Days.” If your rental is “Flexible,” then you’re entitled to free cancellation until 24 hours before check-in. In contrast, the “Super Strict 60 Days” means you must cancel at least 60 days before check-in. And even still, you’ll only get a 50% refund of the nightly rate and the cleaning fee (but not the service fee).
Airbnb does have a new feature that allows you to filter out rentals with tough cancellation policies; just ensure you have that filter selected if there’s a chance you might ditch your reservation.
» Learn more: My Airbnb's canceled — now what?
Best Western previously offered a flexible booking policy on new and existing bookings, but the chain has not extended this policy. Instead, you’ll have to adhere to the standard cancellation policy, which isn’t exactly standard at all, as Best Western reservation cancellation policies vary by location. You should always review the policies of each individual Best Western hotel before booking.
Choice had a flexible policy for bookings with arrival dates through Sept. 30, 2020.
But now, there’s no longer a blanket coronavirus cancellation policy for new reservations. Instead, the hotel’s individual cancellation policy that’s in place at the time of booking will apply.
Hilton has long had one of the most generous blanket change/cancellation policies. All Hilton hotels offer flexible booking options with free changes and cancellations. Additionally, most hotels allow you to change or cancel up to 24 hours before your arrival day.
Hyatt has offered flexible bookings throughout the pandemic, including its current policy which covers all new bookings for travel through mid-2021.
Hyatt has added some caveats to the new-booking policy, noting that some properties might suspend it during high-demand times such as holidays. Make sure to check the policy on your specific reservation before hitting "book."
If you’re willing to reschedule your trip, all bookings made directly with IHG can be changed without charge prior to the hotel’s change deadline, but the catch is that deadlines vary by hotel. Additionally, if you change your room to a date that has a more expensive rate, you’ll still have to pay the difference.
As far as canceling outright, IHG has a few options, including a "Book Now, Pay Later" rate that is effectively fully refundable.
There’s also a “Best Flexible Rate,” which allows you to change or cancel your reservation 24 hours in advance and in some cases up to 6 p.m. local hotel time on the day of arrival, depending on the hotel.
If you're looking for flexibility, choose one of those options, even if they are more expensive than advanced purchase rates.
Marriott initially introduced a broad, generous change/cancellation policy on all new and existing bookings, then tightened it by adding some limitations. Now, its standard cancellation policy applies to nonrefundable bookings.
Radisson at one point offered one of the most flexible policies for new bookings.
Stays as of Jan. 1, 2021, are subject to the rate conditions at the time you book. The good news: Radisson offers a rate option that includes free cancellation or modification of your reservation up to 24 hours before arrival. If there’s a chance you’ll cancel, it’s worth the upcharge for that option.
Vacation rental brand Vrbo is an Airbnb alternative that does not have any clear cancellation policy specific to COVID-19; instead, it punted the responsibility to its hosts. Its policy suggests that those hoping to cancel bookings should "contact the property owner or manager to discuss their cancellation and refund policies."
Vrbo allows its hosts to create custom policies, so you should always read the fine print on each listing before booking.
» Learn more: Airbnb vs. Vrbo: Which is better for travelers?
Wyndham initially allowed free changes and cancellations on new and existing bookings but did not extend those policies beyond the summer. Travelers are subject to not only the cancellation policy of each specific hotel, but also the specific type of rate that's booked. While many rates do have flexible cancellation policies, some rates are not able to be canceled.