Lodging – Book a room, then cancel if need be

It’s natural that a traveler would want to be certain about the reasons for a trip, before making plans that may ultimately mean a commitment to spending money.

But when it comes to hotel bookings you can do yourself a disservice by not making a reservation that you can later cancel if the reasons for the trip no longer hold.

In my business one of the concepts I try to convey to clients is the utility in some cases of confirming a hotel reservation even when they are not absolutely sure they are going to make the trip.

This is essential to do when hotels at your destination are certain to sell out well in advance.

Because I’m a runner, I book plenty of rooms for fellow runners running marathons and half-marathons in other cities.

For example, many runners from Chico and elsewhere are headed to Eugene, Ore. for the Eugene Marathon on Sunday, 2 May.

I began banging the drum for runners to get hotel reservations several months ago when nearly all properties were still available. I know the area well having run the marathon in ’09, and I stayed at a motel within crawling distance from the race start and finish.

Some people listened – even if they weren’t absolutely certain they were running – and went ahead and wisely confirmed a room within walking distance to the race. Others waited longer with the predictable result that they had to settle for a less convenient hotel.

But for those who booked rooms early and then decide not to run the race, all they need to do is cancel their reservation by whatever deadline the hotel specifies, typically 24 or 48 hours in advance, or even 6 p.m. on the day of arrival. Already one client who booked a hotel within walking distance canceled when she decided not to run this race.

Do you see the advantage here?

The room reservation costs nothing, it locks in a location and a price that you like, and carries no financial consequences if you cancel in time.

For those booking a room now for the Eugene Marathon here’s what hotel availability in the vicinity of the race looks like now on the night of 1 May. This is a cryptic display from Apollo, the system I use for most bookings, but I think you can figure it out.

2102-avail - 1.jpg

Another big event for area runners is the California International Marathon (CIM) held in Sacramento the first Sunday in December.

Here’s what availability looks like now for 2 nights over that period in downtown Sacramento.

2103-avail - 2.jpg

Currently the only hotel showing sold out is the Sheraton Grand, which is the official event hotel. (It may be available, but only by booking directly with the hotel from the block of rooms set aside for the marathon.)

Rest assured that the closer we get to the CIM the more that hotel availability will start to look like the first example you saw for next month’s Eugene Marathon.

A forward thinking runner who is just now even considering whether or not to run CIM would do himself a favor by booking a room that he can cancel later if he decides not to do the race.

Lest you think this is some unusual problem only afflicting traveling runners, this could apply for a cycling event (like Wildflower), college graduations, a big poker tournament, a motorcycle rally, a quilters convention – you name it. In the business world, a big convention or trade show has the same impact.

And anytime, whether it’s business or leisure travel, you are going to a destination that lacks much in the way of hotel accommodations you should also book ahead. A small town example close by is Susanville. A nearby big city example is downtown Oakland.

Are there any risks associated with booking and canceling?

Only one.

If you forget that you made a reservation and therefore neglect to cancel you’ll get charged a no-show fee. But with all of the electronic means out there, not to mention an old-fashioned paper calendar, there’s really no reason why you should make this mistake.

Resort properties, small inns, and B&Bs will typically charge a one-night deposit at the time of reservation but even these are usually refundable with a reasonable cancellation fee with enough notice.

The next time you’re thinking about a trip to a popular destination or event, keep this advice in mind.

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