The COVID-19 pandemic has turned travel upside down, and the hotel industry has been forced to cope with a constantly changing landscape of traveler expectations. From new cancellation policies to improved cleaning and social distancing procedures, major hotel brands have scrambled to adapt to the new reality.
But which hotel brands have adapted best? Which have offered the most customer-friendly policies and been willing to sacrifice bottom-line concerns for the sake of guest safety?
We've updated a comprehensive look at eight major hotel brands, switching from “grades” to a more detailed rating on a five-point scale. We also updated ratings based on newly rolled out mask and booking policies, new information made available to us from hotels and a deeper look into each hotel’s policies.
Note: These hotel brands have introduced new cleaning and sterilization policies, often in partnership with health care providers. Since we are not experts in this area, we did not attempt to compare these policies. We instead focused on policies such as mask enforcement that can be compared directly.
Overall: Hilton and Hyatt (Score: 4.8/5)
Runner-up: Marriott (Score: 4.4/5)
To determine the final score, we compared two major categories:
Flexible change and cancellation policies, including current and past policies for both existing and new bookings.
Health and social distancing policies, over eight criteria including mask enforcement, social distancing in common areas and low-contact check-in procedures.
We gave each brand a score in each category (see below for more details), then averaged these two scores.
This August update saw a huge shake-up in the rankings, after health and safety policies (specifically regarding masks) changed for many brands in late July. Also, the top brands have continued offering flexible booking policies on new reservations, while those that have begun rolling back these policies got dinged.
Hilton and Hyatt take the top spot thanks to consistently flexible booking policies, and clear and comprehensive safety measures.
Note: These rankings are current as of Aug. 7, 2020, and do not reflect any changes since.
Health and social distancing
Winner: Hyatt (Score: 5/5)
Runner-up: Hilton (Score: 4.5/5)
We compared each program across eight criteria, based on the official policies stated on the hotel websites:
Social distancing: Specific policies that ensure appropriate social distance between guests in common areas.
Rooms blocked: Policies that ensure that guest rooms are not accessed for a specific number of days between reservations or after cleaning by staff.
Low contact check-in/out: Features such as mobile check-in and express checkout, which minimize contact between guests and staff.
Staff wear masks: Specific policies (not recommendations) that require staff to wear masks.
Guests wear masks: Published policies that require hotel guests to wear masks even in states where it is not required.
Trained local health leader: Each hotel assigned an on-staff, trained health coordinator or leader.
Staff health checks: Specific policies (not recommendations) such as temperature checks to help screen staff.
Enhanced cleaning procedures: As mentioned above, we considered whether a hotel had published a cleaning policy but did not compare the specifics of these procedures.
Despite getting off to a slow start with its health protocols, slow and steady won the race for Hyatt thanks to a clear face mask policy and trained local health leaders. Hilton also scored well in this category. Radisson scored poorly because it has no mask policy for guests or staff, while Wyndham has a mask policy but no room blocking, staff health checks, or trained health leaders.
Flexible booking policies
Winners: Hilton (Score: 5/5)
Runners-up: Marriott and Radisson (Score: 4.8/5)
When travel plans were first disrupted, some hotels outlined flexible policies for existing reservations, letting guests change or cancel these bookings without fees. Then came policies allowing free changes and cancellations on new bookings, in an attempt to entice some travelers back into making new plans. Then came rollbacks of both policies in the summer as the virus seemingly abated.
To score these ever-evolving policies, we looked at two types of change/cancellation fee waivers (new and existing bookings) in April, when many travelers were changing existing reservations, and one type of policy (for new bookings only) in August. So each hotel brand received three individual scores (two for April, one for August), summarized in one flexibility rating below.
Hilton edged to the front of the pack thanks to its continually generous change/cancellation policy, even as travel has ticked back up through the summer. Radisson makes a strong showing in this category with its open-ended flexible policy for travel at any future date.
The bottom line
Similar to our analysis of how airlines have been handling the pandemic, we have done our best to boil this extraordinarily complex topic into a simple rating system and provide help for travelers in choosing which hotel to trust with bookings for the remainder of 2020 and beyond. It is important, in my opinion, that we hold hotels and other businesses accountable for the actions they take at times like these. So if you're on the fence about a hotel booking, maybe you lean toward brands like Hilton and Hyatt that scored well across the board.
If ensuring health and proper social distancing are your primary concerns, consider brands with enforced mask policies like Best Western, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG or Marriott. If, on the other hand, maintaining flexibility amid coronavirus uncertainty is paramount, check out the brands like Radisson, Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt, which rated the highest here.
In any case, make sure to check the most current policies of a given hotel before booking.
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