Advice for Avoiding Last-Minute Hotel Cancellation Fees Over the Holidays 

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Last updated on November 17th, 2023

In today’s fast-paced world, plans can change at the drop of a hat. Whether due to unexpected emergencies, sudden shifts in schedules, or simply a change of heart, last-minute hotel cancellations can sometimes become inevitable. However, navigating the murky waters of hotel cancellation policies and late fees can be confusing, to say the least. Fear not, though, as there are smart strategies and insider tips to sidestep late fees and minimize the financial impact of last-minute hotel cancellations.

Table of Contents

At a Glance

  • Most hotels require at least 24 to 48 hours’ advance notice for cancellations.
  • Elite-tier status in hotel loyalty programs can extend your cancellation windows.
  • Consider a credit card with trip interruption or trip cancellation insurance to enjoy added protections.
  • Always read the terms and conditions before booking any hotel reservation.

Understanding Hotel Cancellation Policies

In the past, some hotel chains offered guests the option of cancelling their bookings anywhere up to almost the time of the reservation. As the hospitality industry has grown, however, many chains have begun changing their cancellation policies to protect their bottom line and ensure their rooms are fully booked.

Now, hotel cancellation policies vary widely across hotel brands and individual properties, involving factors such as the time you cancel, whether the rate is non-refundable, and the specific penalties for last-minute cancellations. It’s imperative to carefully review the cancellation policy when booking, as it lays the groundwork for understanding your rights and potential liabilities in the event of a cancellation.

48 Hours Cancellation Policies are Common

Most larger hotel chains currently opt for a 48-hour cancellation policy before check-in for bookings. Some major chains operating with this policy include Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt. These chains generally allow individual properties to determine their cancellation policies; however, some opt for 24 hours, and others select 72 hours for guests to cancel without penalty. The time required for a cancellation usually depends on the property’s location and how easy it is to re-book the hotel room.

Is Your Rate Refundable?

It’s also worth noting that non-refundable rates are becoming increasingly prevalent in the hotel industry. These rates typically offer a discounted price in exchange for a commitment to the reservation, with no option for refunds or cancellations. When booking a non-refundable rate, it is essential always to weigh the potential savings against the risk of financial loss in the event of a cancellation.

Does Elite Status Help You Cancel a Hotel Reservation?

You might think having elite status in a hotel loyalty program – such as Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, Radisson Rewards, or any other – will automatically protect you during a last-minute cancellation. Unfortunately, however, that may not be the case.

While there may not be provisions within these loyalty programs for hotel cancellations by themselves, being an elite-tier member opens up the possibility of receiving reimbursement for a last-minute cancellation. Hotels may even waive the fee for re-booking, if you end up going that route. As the name implies, these programs reward loyalty: part of that comes with excellent customer service. While your results may vary, gaining elite status in a hotel chain’s loyalty program can be as easy as applying for and receiving a co-branded hotel credit card and paying the annual fee (if there is one). 

Cancellation Policies for Major Hotel Brands

So, what are the last-minute cancellation policies of the largest hotel chains? Here are the current last-minute policies for some of the biggest chains and brands worldwide:

Hotel Chain Policy
Best Western Best Western features differing cancellation policies based on your Best Western Rewards status, the brand you book with, and the room type booked. This policy usually allows for cancellations up to 24 hours before the reservation. If you do not cancel online reservations in accordance with the individual hotel’s cancellation policy, you will be charged for one night’s hotel stay, unless your online hotel reservation required a full payment in advance or a minimum length of stay.
Caesars Entertainment Caesars requires at least 48 hours’ notice before your check-in date for cancellations.
Choice Hotels Choice Hotels has different cancellation rules depending on the hotel brand and type of stay. Despite this, most guests must cancel their reservation at least 48 hours before the stay. Choice Privileges members will only require 24 hours of advance notice for cancellations.
Drury Hotels Drury Hotels’ cancellation policy varies by the reservation, rate, hotel and dates, so refer to your booking confirmation for details. Despite that, Drury Hotels offers you the flexibility to cancel most reservations until 12:00pm the day prior to arrival.
Hilton Hotels You can modify or cancel your reservation with Hilton after you’ve booked before 11:59 p.m. prior to the day of arrival. Reservations made through third-parties cannot be modified with Hilton.
Hyatt Last-minute cancellation policies differ based on your elite tier. Reservations confirmed or changed by World of Hyatt Explorist or Globalist members can be cancelled until 11:59 pm the day before arrival, when the hotel’s stated cancellation period is not more than 48 hours.
IHG Like other brands, IHG’s last-minute cancellation policies differ based on elite tier and type of room booked. In most cases, IHG allows cancelling a reservation from 24 hours up to 72 hours before the reservation.
Marriott Marriott requires at least 48 hours’ notice before your check-in date for cancellations.
MGM Resorts MGM Resorts require at least 48 hours’ notice before your check-in date for cancellations.
Radisson Hotels Radisson requires at least 90 days’ advance notice of a reservation cancellation without a penalty fee. If you book rooms in bulk your cancellation times may differ, but all free cancellations must be made at least 15 days prior to the reservation date.
Sonesta Sonesta typically requires at least 24 hours’ notice for last-minute cancellations. With the best unrestricted rate, however, you can cancel by 6 p.m. (local hotel time) on the day of arrival to avoid any cancellation fees.
Wyndham Wyndham Rewards has differing rules regarding cancellation polices, depending on your elite status and the room rate/type. For a reservation made within 15 days or less prior to check-in, you have 24 hours to cancel your reservation without forfeiting your points. For a reservation made the same day as check-in, you must cancel by 11:59 p.m. ET to avoid points forfeiture.

Late Fees and Penalties for Last-Minute Cancellations

Late fees and penalties for last-minute cancellations can vary widely depending on the hotel’s specific policy and the timing of the cancellation. In many cases, hotels reserve the right to charge a fee equivalent to one night’s stay or a percentage of the total booking cost for cancellations made within the penalty window. This can result in substantial financial repercussions, particularly for high-end or long-duration bookings.

In addition to fixed late fees, some hotels may enforce more stringent penalties for cancellations during peak seasons or reservations involving special events or promotions. These elevated penalties are designed to mitigate the potential revenue loss incurred by the hotel due to the unanticipated cancellation. As a result, travelers must exercise caution when making reservations for peak periods and take proactive measures to safeguard themselves against exorbitant late fees.

Tips for Avoiding Last-Minute Cancellation Fees

Once you understand hotel cancellation policies and the potential monetary consequences of delaying a cancellation, you can learn how to avoid late or cancellation fees. The most effective way to bypass last-minute cancellation fees is to stay on top of your travel plans and act quickly as soon as something changes. By being aware of any changes in your schedule, group size, or itinerary, you can examine the possibility of keeping your reservation or starting the cancellation process before a penalty period begins.

Some hotels provide flexible booking choices that allow you to secure a reservation without putting in a date or room type immediately. These bookings are often free to change or cancel the reservation within a more generous time frame, protecting against last-minute adjustments to your travel agenda.

Perhaps the best tip for bypassing last-minute cancellation fees is communication. If unforeseen circumstances require you to cancel, promptly contact the hotel’s customer service or reservations department. By politely and respectfully explaining the reason for your cancellation, you may find that certain hotels are willing to be lenient and waive the fees, especially if the reasons are beyond your control. And if that doesn’t work, try talking with a manager, as they might have final say on what is – and isn’t – considered a penalty.

Use the Right Credit Card to Protect Against Last-Minute Cancellation Losses

The best way to protect yourself from losing money on a last-minute hotel cancellation is by paying with a credit card that offers trip cancellation insurance, trip interruption insurance, or both.

Trip Cancellation Insurance

Trip cancellation insurance protects cardholders and travelers from the unexpected. These unplanned occurrences include illness, injury, or death to the primary holder and immediate family member of the cardholder or someone else on the travel itinerary. Travel cancellation helps recoup the losses from costs associated with the trip that can’t typically be refunded, including last-minute hotel cancellations.

Trip Interruption Insurance

Trip interruption insurance, like trip cancellation insurance, offers protection if a trip is disrupted and all planned reservations must be cancelled or postponed. Trip interruption protection via credit cards typically applies to the primary cardholder and anyone else on the same travel itinerary.

Credit Cards That Offer Insurance for Last-Minute Emergencies

Here are a few credit card options to consider if you want protection from last-minute changes to your travel itineraries:

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card

United Club Infinite Card
Issuer Chase Bank of America Chase
Annual fee $95 $95 $525
Insured amount Up to $10,000 in coverage per trip, up to $40,000 per year. Up to $5,000 in coverage per trip, up to $10,000 per year. Up to $10,000 in travel coverage per trip, up to $20,000 per year.


Navigating last-minute hotel cancellation fees requires you to think strategically, proactively, and most importantly, effectively.  By understanding hotel cancellation policies, familiarizing yourself with potential late fees and penalties, and implementing smart strategies to avoid or minimize cancellation costs, you can safeguard your reservations and maintain flexibility in navigating unforeseen changes to your itinerary. Remember to prioritize flexibility in your hotel reservations, including considering booking travel with a credit card that offers insurance with trip cancellation coverage.

Related Article: The Best Credit Cards for Holiday Travel (and Making It Less Miserable)

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About: Cory Santos
Cory Santos

Cory is the senior credit card editor at BestCards, specializing in everything credit card-related. He’s worked extensively with credit cards and other personal finance topics, including nearly five years at BestCards. Cory’s extensive knowledge is an essential part of the BestCards experience, helping readers to live their best financial lives with up-to-date insights and comprehensive coverage of all facets of the credit card space, including market trends, rewards guides, credit advice, and comprehensive credit card reviews.

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