Are fully booked hotels holding back?
February 13, 2008 2:30 AM   Subscribe

Do hotels keep rooms in reserve even when they claim to be fully booked?

I arrived at midnight in a strange city and went to my hotel only to be told that I'd been booked in as arriving the next evening (this is what happens when you don't book your own travel!) The people in front of me had been told the hotel was fully booked and had no rooms available. However, the guy on the desk said to me "Ahh, you've got a function with us, don't you? OK, we can work around it." Hey presto, a room was found in the fully booked hotel, for which I was profoundly grateful. But now I'm curious; Mefites who've worked in hotels; is this a common thing? Do hotels keep a room or two in reserve as a matter of course?
posted by andraste to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Happened to me as well couple of years ago. I landed 12 hours late because of a weather delay once and wasn't booked at any hotel. Holiday Inn refused to accommodate me at first saying they were full. I told them I was ready to pay a little extra and after some "deliberation" and a "Let me get back to you after I speak to my superior" kinda reply, they gave me a room... hottub and everything. I wasn't even looking for something that fancy but they insisted it was the only room they had. So not only did I pay for a room I didn't want, I paid MORE for it. Didn't bother me too much since I claimed it from Lufthansa later on.
posted by iceman7 at 2:38 AM on February 13, 2008

I assume your travel was for some sort of large function, like a conference? Could be that, in the process of negotiating a 'conference rate', the hotel decided to set aside N rooms for conference attendees.

Alternatively, it could be that they didn't have room *except for that day*. So they could accommodate you, because you already had a reservation for the other days (nights, whatever) in question. Perhaps "fully booked" just is shorthand for "we can't satisfy your requirements, and don't want to have to deal with you maybe not moving out quickly enough before guests with reservations arrive".
posted by spaceman_spiff at 2:42 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: Yes, it's common. Usually the rooms are kept free for travel agents/package deals. I've worked both in a hotel and for a travel agency.
posted by birdie birdington at 2:45 AM on February 13, 2008

I worked in a hostel and there was always one room free (the best room there, actually) that was used occasionally for visiting owners and such, and used fairly often for employees to take their beaus somewhere for a bit of privacy (the rest of the time, we slept in an 8-bed dorm).

It was also used when we'd made a huge stuff up and needed to make it up for someone.
posted by twirlypen at 3:00 AM on February 13, 2008

They might really be fully booked, but not yet fully occupied. If you get a room at a "fully booked" hotel, the poor schlub arriving at 1 a.m. might find that his "guaranteed reservation" has somehow vanished and that he is walked to another hotel.
posted by grouse at 3:14 AM on February 13, 2008

Hmm, I worked in small low-end hotel (read: slightly better than a hot pillow joint) for a little while, and they did the opposite: they would overbook slightly assuming someone would not show up. I guess the nicer end of the industry doesn't work that way.
posted by BinGregory at 3:19 AM on February 13, 2008

Yes, hotels will commonly hold a percentage of rooms in reserve. The percentage fluctuates with time of year etc.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:50 AM on February 13, 2008

Similar to what twirlypen said, I've been to a few hotels where rooms are kept in reserve in case the hotel screws something up huge.
posted by craven_morhead at 5:09 AM on February 13, 2008

Similar thing happened to my gf and I, we were heading up to Ottawa for a wedding, and the soon to be married couple had made a deal with the hotel on a block of rooms, and I think they keep a couple in reserve for the big groups. They told the people in front of us that the hotel was booked, so when they messed up on our reservations (they had us staying in the same room as the bride and groom!!!!) they ended up giving the Prime Minister Suite to the bride and groom and gave us their luxury suite.

Makes total sense that it's a Prime Minister Suite instead of Presidential Suite, being in Canada and all, but I still found it kind of amusing.
posted by Grither at 5:28 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I once neglected to book a hotel for a wedding we were traveling to, and called the night before to try to get in. The reservation person told me they were completely booked - there was a big festival in town that weekend - and I tried to talk her into giving me one of the rooms I assumed all hotels kept in reserve.

She and I were going back and forth, very amiably, and I said "well what if the president came to town and wanted a room? I bet you'd have one for him." She answered "yes we probably would, because the president likely would have made a reservation rather than waiting until the night before and begging." I gave in right then and there.

As it turned out, she called me a couple of hours later and said that there had just been a cancellation and she could book a room. We had a nice stay and the wedding was lovely.

From my talk with the booking agent, either the hotel really was completely completely booked, or she was an exceptionally skilled liar.
posted by AgentRocket at 6:26 AM on February 13, 2008

Some of the rooms that are "unavailable" in a fully booked hotel could be out of service for whatever reason. I was on a canceled flight out of Dallas one night, and as it was a mechanical issue, they sent an entire planefull of people to a hotel with vouchers. As I got to the head of the line, they said that they were out of rooms, but they were going to put us in rooms that had been marked out of service. Most had something that needed repair, like a broken light fixture, and they asked each of us if the broken thing was acceptable before letting us have the room. I doubt it's always like that - I'm sure most hotels don't have rooms with broken crap in them just sitting unoccupied for a long time - but it's possible.
posted by bedhead at 6:34 AM on February 13, 2008

andraste: "Do hotels keep rooms in reserve even when they claim to be fully booked?

Not related to your specific situation, but in addition to the other reasons already given for keeping a few rooms in reserve: the big chains will also hold rooms for travelers who belong to their "frequent flyer" status programs. I travel for work so I've got status with Hilton and Starwood, and I have successfully booked rooms that a friend or coworker couldn't because the hotel was allegedly "full."

But in this case, I think spaceman_spiff has it: Surely some rooms were already held as "shoulder nights" specifically for the event, and plus since you had another reservation beginning the next night anyway, they didn't have to worry that if they accommodated you, you might extend your stay or otherwise not vacate, thereby hosing someone else's reservation.
posted by pineapple at 7:40 AM on February 13, 2008

Some of the rooms that are "unavailable" in a fully booked hotel could be out of service for whatever reason.

I got a room like this in a fully booked hotel once. I begged and pleaded when they said they were full, and finally the desk clerk admitted that there was one room, but that the window track was damaged somehow. It turns out I just couldn't open the window, which I wouldn't have wanted to do anyway. I got a great rate, too.
posted by vytae at 7:43 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: (Former 4/5 star hotel worker) - Grouse has it. Fully booked - every room promised. Fully occupied - everyone has already shown up.

Hotels will overbook to improve their chances of selling out for a night. To safeguard against homeless travelers, hotels in the same class and local area usually phone each other every day to compare occupancy rates and give each other "walk" rates - that is, how much hotel A will charge hotel B to put up their overbooked guests, if they should show.

When it becomes appearant there will be more guests than rooms, the front office begins their "walk" strategy.

One hotel may choose to check guests in as they arrive, and the midnight-comers will be told there is no room, but a place has been arranged for them in hotel B for a discounted rate.

Another hotel may choose "walk candidates" - that is, pick people from the arrivals list that might not mind being bumped - leisure travelers, first time guests - and ask them, when thy arrive, if they wouldn't mind moving to hotel B, in exchange for a free night that night (Hotel A pays hotel B for the room). People traveling on their own buck usually are delighted to do this. People on expense accounts care more about the inconvenience than the cost savings.
Loyalty card members are NEVER walked if it can be helped in any way.

At the most exclusive hotel for which I ever worked, one room was left out of inventory. Room 123, say, was not on the computers, not available to be booked. Hotel was considered fully sold with this room vacant - people were walked rather than occupy this room. That way, the manager can pull this one out of his back pocket should there be a mixup with a VIP's reservation, or some such "glitch".

Just to note, in good hotels, everything they know about you goes on your profile. Have a dog named "fluffy"? Noted. Expect a bowl and a biscuit for him on arrival if he travels with you. Have a birthday June 1st? Noted, and expect a card and amenity plate (chocolate strawberries, wine, etc). Really really like Snickers bars? Your minibar might be stocked with extra Snickers, just for you. It pays to be really nice to the front desk staff, and let them know things about you if you plan on returning.

I once "upgraded" a couple from a $300 a night anniversary-night room I could tell they had totally scrimped and saved for, to a $3,000 a night presidential suite because they were totally sweet and so excited to be there. I can make sure your kids have giant chocolate chi cookies with their names written on the plate in chocolate when they arrive.

Hotel workers don't get paid much and like to party a lot. Be friendly, tip them, say hello.
posted by Rubythursday at 8:41 AM on February 13, 2008 [93 favorites]

I checked into a Motel 6 once, after standing in line behind a walk-in who was turned away because the place was fully booked. We went to our room and found that a hole had been kicked in the bathroom door and the bathroom sink fixture broken, probably by the last occupant.

We went back and the guy gave us a key to a different room. He'd known about the broken door but not the broken sink; he had thought that we might just live with the broken door, in which case he could rent out the other room to someone else, but he was keeping it in reserve until then, just in case.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:04 AM on February 13, 2008

Rubythursday speaks truth. A friend of ours works for a 5-star chain, and has similar stories. (In other words, they always have a room for Mrs. M or Mr H, depending on the chain)
posted by Robert Angelo at 1:32 PM on February 13, 2008

My sister is a reservations manager at one of the big conference hotels in a major east coast city, and yes, there are always extra rooms in her hotel even if she tells people they are full. For much the reasons spelled out above. They also have deals with some airlines that there's a special set of rooms reserved for flight crew in the event of delays, overnights, etc; I get the sense these are not especially nice rooms, but they give some flexibility since the hotel can tell the airline on a given night that flight crew should go to the hotel down the street (on her hotel's dime of course) if they really need to fit extra conference attendees in.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:26 PM on February 13, 2008

Once, many years ago, I need a hotel on short notice. I called around to 5-6 hotels and every one informed me that they were fully booked; no rooms available, whatsoever. I then called AAA and asked them to find a room for me (it's one of their membership services). Sure enough, they got me a room in one of the hotels that had claimed to be completely booked.
posted by oddman at 8:11 PM on February 13, 2008

As a former hotel worker in both small and large hotels, I would have to say that Rubythursday pretty much has it. The only exception to this is that in some of the hotels I worked for, we would often be 20-30 rooms overbooked on any given night. And yes, then we would have to work strategy early and even offer another room at another hotel to early arriving guests. We learned that people are more likely to want to be walked earlier in the day than at midnight when they have been dealing with all the frustrations of traveling.

I would have to second that statement on being nice to hotel staff. If you are honest and persistent, AND nice, then you will receive a better deal (i.e. getting your room paid for at another hotel, maybe a free breakfast or a free movie, etc) I know as hotel staff, it was those "walk" nights that we all dreaded the most. Believe me, if a staff person has to tell you that you have to go to another hotel, then they are as frustrated as you are by it! Usually it is the sales and revenue folks and not the front desk staff who have overbooked the hotel.

All this has made me very much OCD in making sure I have a reservation at said hotel and that it is the room I want if I am traveling.

Oh and another thing,,most of the hotels I have worked for (about 4 different chains) offer their front desk staff a bonus if they are 100% occupied.....that is 100 heads on 100 beds. If someone does not show and there is an empty bed, then the bonus is lost. That is why you are charged as a no show if you don't cancel...they could have sold the room and you weren't in it.
posted by username68 at 7:03 PM on February 14, 2008

Rubythursday, my birthday is June 1!

I worked as night auditor (basically night manager/front desk/bookkeeper) at a timeshare resort in Colorado before. The policy there was a bit demented: inconvenience owners before inconveniencing people on their free/discounted tour. After all, you already have the owners' money....

posted by vsync at 12:20 PM on February 15, 2008

I worked at the same type of hotel as BinGregory - small town and low budget, without a lot of other hotels nearby. We had a consistent rate of sell-out, due to location and interstate travel: on weekends throughout the year, and daily in the summer, we usually were at full capacity. Although we were a chain I don't believe the manager followed any sort of grand corporate renting strategy, and we didn't overbook, but the manager's one goal was to fill each and every room as quickly as possible. So holding one or two rooms in reserve was not supposed to be an option. Being the desk clerk, however, you soon realize that every night there's going to be people who show up much later than their non-guaranteed room cutoff time, people who's reservations were a day off and they show up early, people unhappy with their room, etc. So for this reason I'd keep a room or two handy until later in the night when most of the guests have already checked in.

There would also be a festival time of the year when all the rooms would be rented out to the same clients, year after year, when it was guaranteed there would be no rooms available within a 2 1/2 hour radius. In that season people coming in and saying "I know you keep extra rooms available" didn't magically materialize a spare room.
posted by camdan at 2:31 AM on February 22, 2008

Last year, when booking a room relatively last-minute, I was checking all the Travelocity/Expedia/etc sites in addition to the hotel's. Some of them, including the hotel's site, said they were booked but others had rooms open. How confusing!

I'm always nice to hotel staff, but after reading this, I'm kissing MAJOR butt! I want special cookies in my room!
posted by HeartAuntBee at 11:18 AM on March 16, 2008

« Older What do I need to know to help start an electronic...   |   Who said you can tell how someone was loved by... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.