Hotel Early Departure Fee, Tacky & Tasteless? 4 Ways to Avoid Paying This Nefarious Fee
Bruce Claver | Insightful Service | 7 min read
Pamela K. asked Insightful Service:
"I was in Virginia visiting my son and his family. The reservation was for four days. The morning of the third day I decided to leave one day early. When I informed the desk they said they had to charge me half the room rate for leaving early. Since I’m a wimp and hate to argue I let it go, but it didn’t seem fair to me. Does a hotel have the right to charge me for leaving early?"
SUMMARY: Many hotels charge guests a half or full-day rate for departing early and while there are limited exceptions to the practice being justified, for most hotels, it's an easy money grab that goes directly to profit the bottom line. Here is why hotels feel justified in charging early departure fees and four free tips to avoid paying them.
Management will justify what they call an "early departure fee" charge by telling you that they are losing room & food revenue due to the fact that they turned away potential reservations because they counted on you occupying a room that they could no longer sell. The question is, is hotel management justified in its defense?
First, the guest has an obligation to understand the terms of her reservation. The terms should be clear on whatever website you use to book the room. Many hotels charge varying rates depending on a cancellation clause or the number of nights booked. For simplicity purposes, let us assume a guest books a room for four nights with no restrictions on the reservation itself. When then, is the hotel justified in charging a guest for leaving early? Many in the hotel industry will now answer that question with, "All the time." I disagree with "all the time" but will accept "sometimes" or "it depends."
I agree with the policy in only one or two instances. The first is for those attending a city-wide convention. If they leave early, they should be charged accordingly. Attendees are notorious for booking four nights for example and leaving early. On a grand scale, that is a hard hit to payroll when you schedule staff such as housekeepers, servers, front desk, and other staff that are not needed. Managers make work schedules based upon occupancy, scheduled arrivals, and departures. Many times, they have to pay overtime to cover the heavy hotel traffic.
Case Study: Thursday is expected to be a very heavy departure day due to a convention ending. The restaurant will schedule a full restaurant staff, and Housekeeping, the Bell Staff, and Front Desk will all be fully staffed to handle the demand. Let's say the hotel manager schedules six desk agents for a heavy checkout on Thursday and two desk agents on Wednesday due to only a few expected departures. Imagine if half the scheduled Thursday departures go to checkout on Wednesday or even 25% of them. There will be lines and complaints to meeting organizers about how the hotel was short-staffed and service was sub par. Worse will be Thursday when there will be six desk agents. bell staff and restaurant staff standing around, getting paid for not working when they could have been productive if guests accurately planned. Hotel management will not take a hit like that lightly. The Sales Manager who booked the group and Convention Services Manager who serviced the group will get a good lashing for not projecting accurate numbers from department managers who will take a hit to their payroll and productivity numbers.
Damage Done: Denied reservation requests from months past cannot miraculously and instantly be booked. Hotel Sales & Catering Managers turned down business inquiries months in advance because they relied on accurate booking numbers by convention organizers. Average Daily Rate and RevPar, two key indicators of hotel management's success in managing a hotel, are significantly off projections.
The second instance I might agree with this policy is when a guest books a package that includes a set number of nights or at destination resorts when guests pre-pay packages. Again, the hotel schedules staff and orders food based on occupancy, and it is virtually impossible to rebook a last-minute reservation at a destination resort. Packages at non-destination resorts are designed based on the expectation that the guest spends a certain number of nights. Another example would be staying 3 nights and getting one free. That free night will always be the final night. If you leave early, you lose the free night.
In the case of Pamela K, who asked the question above, however, I disagree with the charge and believe it is a cheap and easy maneuver to nickel & dime a guest. The logic doesn’t match up because if they claim they could have sold the room had you been accurate with your departure date, I would conclude that would only be true if there were demand and they were sold out. If they were at say 85% occupancy or below, your leaving early didn’t affect their ability to sell your room. If the hotel was sold out and you left early, then the demand was high and they should be able to resell it, and most likely, at a higher rate than what you were paying because of the supply & demand of economic scale. By charging you the fee on a sold-out night, they are double-dipping because they’ll charge you and then resell the room to a new guest.
I do not believe in penalizing individual guests and non-resort properties. It leaves a bad taste in their mouths…doesn’t pass the stink test. Not very hospitable. Hotel management has argued that guests have had to pay fees to airlines for decades and that they are used to it but those managers are not comparing apples to apples. Besides, passengers are not used to the change fees and baggage fees, they tolerate the fees because the lack of competition gives them no choice in the matter. No airline in the U.S. is applauded for its exceptional service standards like hotels routinely are. Hotels have to work harder to build brand loyalty and deliver higher standards of service because guests expect it at all rating levels.
4 ways to avoid paying a hotel's early departure fee
Alert the front desk in person the day & evening BEFORE your new departure date. Here's how:
Call the front desk before 3pm and tell the desk agent your new plans.
If they agree to change the date, do not ask if there is a fee. Be sure to document the name of the person you spoke with.
If they tell you there is a fee, ask them if they can waive it this one time. Do not demand unless you want to go to battle. If they stay firm, tell them to forget the request.
Make a second call to the front desk after 6pm (after the morning shift change) and make the request to another agent. If told no, this time ask the agent to ask the manager for an exception. If told no, tell them to forget the request.
If s/he agrees to change the date, do not ask about a fee. Be sure to document the name of the person you spoke with. If you're told there is a fee, tell them to forget the request.
After 11pm, (you're now speaking to a third shift employee.) call down or approach the front desk and inform the desk you'll be leaving tomorrow. If they say yes, document the name of the person you spoke to. The third shift is where you will have the greatest chance for success as these employees are not as scrutinized for decisions by superiors as much as the other shifts, mainly because there are fewer supervisors to do the scrutinizing. They tend to be more laid back, especially towards the earlier part of their shift when they are not full throttle into their shift yet. If denied, ask to speak to the night manager. Ask the manager if s/he can make an exception. If denied, politely thank them and tell them to not make the change because your plans are not firm yet.
The next morning, you'll ask at checkout to have it waived. If rejected, ask the manager for an exception on this one occasion. If still denied, ask if they'll split it with you 50/50 and tell the manager that you plan on returning to town in the near future. Then politely ask this question, "Do the other hotels in the area also charge early departure fees?" Most likely, the manager will say they do not know. You'll reply with, "Well, I'll need to find out." That's the best you can do at being subtle that you may not be back.
Remember these three pieces of advice:
1. If approved prior to checkout time, get the name of the person you spoke to. Desk agents get easily distracted and forget to make changes in the system. If you're denied in the morning after someone already approved it, you'll need the name of the person you spoke to.
2. Do not speak to the morning manager until the morning of departure. This is usually the person who will deny the request and if you speak with them first, they could make a note in your profile sharing that they already denied you and nobody you speak to afterward will override that.
3. Perhaps most importantly, do not yell or make a scene when denied. Those are the guests that staff swap stories about from one shift to another. You'll have a target on your forehead as soon as you step up to the desk and nobody will put their neck on the line to override a policy for a rude and arrogant guest that others have already denied.
2. Ask to see the policy in writing
You and the hotel entered into an agreement when you booked the hotel and many hotels do not have guests sign a registration upon check-in anymore. Therefore, the policy must be clearly stated when you reserved the room. If the policy was not stated when you booked the reservation, you may not be accountable for paying the fee. A sign at the front desk does not suffice.
3. E-Mail the General Manager
If you email the General Manager and inform him/her of your decision to stay at a competitor the next time you are in town due to a nefarious fee, they may make the decision to credit back your credit card to earn your loyalty and future business.
4. Stay at another brand property next time that does not nickel and dime its guests