The deal on the website of Hilton Hotels & Resorts seemed like a good one to Jeffrey Buszkiewicz: A 72-hour online sale after Thanksgiving showed a $129 room at a Hilton Garden Inn in Manhattan for Christmas night. Two subsequent nights cost more.
But there was a hitch. After he talked about it with his wife and was ready to book, the rate had increased by $40 a night when he logged on again the next day.
“I assumed if the sale was on for 72 hours, the rate would be good for 72 hours,” said Buszkiewicz, fiscal officer for the Indiana University School of Education.
Making hotel reservations used to be straightforward. Guests booked a room and could generally cancel without penalty until the day of arrival.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Now, as hotel chains consolidate, last-minute booking apps proliferate, and short-term rental sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway grow, experts say the reservations landscape is undergoing an upheaval with new and higher fees and new restrictions on reservations that are driving new sources of revenue.
Last January, Marriott International and Hilton began requiring cancellation the day before arrival, rather than 6 p.m. the day of arrival. Guests forfeit the amount of the first night stay if they miss the deadline.
“Hotel reservations have long been way too flexible,” Christopher K. Anderson, a faculty member at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, wrote in an email. They have been slow to become more restrictive because of competition, he added.
Still, with the increasing presence of online travel agents such as Expedia and Priceline, and the prevalence of day-of-stay deals delivered to mobile devices, hotel cancellations are becoming more commonplace.
“The traveler wants to be flexible, and needs to be flexible,” said Sam Shank, chief executive of Hotel Tonight, a mobile booking app started in 2011. In 2014, it began allowing users to book a room seven days before check-in. Guests can book a stay of up to five nights.
Shank said his plans change frequently, and the hassle of traveling and calling before the cutoff time for a cancellation is just one more task to remember.
In mid-November, Hilton embarked on a pilot program that imposes a $50 cancellation penalty anytime after a reservation is booked. The test is scheduled to run 60 days in 24 Hilton-managed hotels. Hilton Honors loyalty members are exempt.
Chris Silcock, an executive vice president at Hilton Worldwide, said the company was taking a measure of cancellation rates, adding that the penalty being imposed was “lower than airline fees” for changes.
Still, the fees are helping the hotel industry’s bottom line.
In a study released in August, Bjorn Hanson, a professor at the Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University, reported that a record level of fees and surcharges at hotels was anticipated in 2015, reaching $2.47 billion. That is up from $2.35 billion a year earlier.
“With occupancy high, hotels are looking for other ways to increase revenue,” Hanson said.
Guests may be more accustomed to nonrefundable fees than they used to be because Airbnb charges them. It currently charges a guest service fee of 6-12 percent of the total booking. The website says the fee covers the cost of running the company.
HomeAway, which is being acquired by Expedia, said it expects to add a “traveler’s fee” averaging about 6 percent of the cost of a booking in the new year.
Some guests are beginning to push back.
Andrew Mitchell, the owner of a tutoring service in Los Angeles, is one. In trying to book a vacation rental on Airbnb, the room rental rates appeared to be competitive to hotels, but after selecting one in his price range, “I was hit with fees at the end,” he said.
When the host did not respond to his request to book a reservation, he said Airbnb told him there would be a delay in receiving a refund after his credit card was charged. Mitchell decided to book a hotel room instead.
“I had originally liked Airbnb because it was a transparent, quick and easy way to find local places to stay,” he wrote in an email. “It is now not transparent, and it’s definitely not quick or easy.”
Airbnb may be trying to change that perception, at least among business travelers. In mid-November it initiated a separate hosting category designated the Business Travel Ready Badge.
These accommodations will be an entire home or apartment and have Wi-Fi, a laptop-friendly workspace, 24-hour check-in and other business amenities.
Jon Liebtag, a business development lead at Airbnb, said he hoped the change would lead to more consistent booking for hosts throughout the year. Business travelers generally stay during the week, while leisure travelers stay on weekends.
While it may seem the new cancellation penalties are making hotels less accommodating to guests, they are really protecting themselves against no-shows, according to Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group. “You don’t want to tell a guest you are sold out,” he said.