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What are your biggest pain points when traveling? Traffic on a road trip? Delayed flights at the airport? Rainy days on your beach vacation?
Mine’s discovering the dream hotel for my vacation…and then learning it’s sold out.
Has it happened to you?
Sometimes it’s your fault. You procrastinate. Or you just happen to be traveling to a destination during its busy season. Whatever the reason, it’s super frustrating when you try to make a hotel reservation and you get the “no rooms available” booking message
But you don’t have to give up and move on. There’s still a chance you’ll be able to get a hotel room if a resort’s sold out. With these hacks and tips from hotel managers and travel pros (plus a little luck) you just might score that coveted room!
The Dreaded “No Availability” Message
Are you like me? I pick my vacation days the second the calendar goes into circulation in my office. It’s how I maximize my time off. By extending 3-day weekends, I can stretch my holidays. My co-workers grumble behind my back, but it’s the perk I get as the most senior staff member.
And I know to book my flights at least 3 months in advance to get the best deal on airfare. Where I generally fail in my vacation planning is with hotel rooms. For some reason, I usually procrastinate booking a room.
It’s not a big problem when I’m heading to a destination like New York or Los Angeles where there are dozens of great hotels. But when I’m headed some place off the beaten path, where there’s ONE resort that’s THE place to stay, it’s super frustrating to discover it’s got no available rooms. More than once, I’ve found myself having to stay at a less than ideal location because of it.
Sound familiar? Then, read on to see how I have managed to book a sold out hotel in the past so you can avoid future booking failures.
No Room at the Inn During Christmas
The last time I was confronted with a sold out situation, I was booking a family trip to California during Christmas break. We – a party of 7 – planned to attend the Rose Bowl parade and game in Pasadena on New Year’s and wanted to extend our holiday with a few days spent exploring the vineyards in Temecula.
Apparently, so did everyone else.
After doing my research, I had a list of three vineyard properties that met our needs – larger rooms, a pool and on-site dining. Then I tried to book my first choice hotel. No rooms available. It happened again with the second and third hotels. Aaargh!!
What I tried next is the #1 tip for booking a sold out hotel.
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How to Get a Room at a Sold-Out Hotel
Pick Up the Phone
If you receive a “no availability” message when you try to book a hotel room online, it’s time to go Old School and pick up the telephone.
Family travel blogger Sarah Pittard says, “I do this all the time…I call the hotel direct – not the 1-800 number – and explain why we want to stay, etc. We can get a room 85% of the time. Ask for the manager, not the reservations person.”
Sarah also advises that most hotels run a wait list. “Ask them to record your name, number and email even if they are full. Book another hotel that has a day-of or 24-hour cancellation policy, then keep calling your chosen hotel until you can’t cancel the second one.”
It’s what I did in Temecula. At first I was afraid the South Coast Winery and Resort manager would put me on some kind of a “Top 10 Telephone Pests” list, but she genuinely sounded happy to hear from me and sad each time she said that they still had no available rooms.
Meanwhile, I made our reservations at the nearby Ponte Vineyard Inn. It looked like a great choice for us, except that the new pool was still under construction.
What the Front Desk Recommends
I contacted Pierre-Alex Maillard, General Manager of the Serafina Beach Hotel in San Juan, to get some insider tips. He strongly recommends phoning or emailing the hotel directly too. “It’s the best way to determine real time room availability, plus there may be special resort credits or amenities offered only for direct bookings.”
Pierre-Alex notes that you’re more likely to score a room because of a last minute cancellation at a drive-by hotel chain than at a destination resort. Flash sales are another means to access rooms at coveted properties; Pierre-Alex recommends industry-leader Secret Escapes.
If You’ve Got Status, Flaunt It
“Status counts,” says luxury traveler Dana Zucker. For example, “If you are a Hilton Diamond Member, you can always get a room at any of their properties worldwide up until 48 hours before your arrival date,” says Dana. “We have never had an issue getting a room with Hilton as a walk-in when online says the hotel’s full.”
It’s good to note that “extraordinary demand dates” are usually excluded, says frequent traveler Nasreen Stump. “If it’s graduation weekend, the Olympics or another busy time, the guarantee doesn’t apply.”
Maintaining status at multiple loyalty programs increases your odds of finding a room. Dana notes that it’s easier now that Starwood, Marriott and Ritz Carlton are combined in one rewards program, Marriott Bonvoy. Concierge services offered by credit cards like American Express Platinum and private banking programs are also another resource.
“Keep your concierge phone numbers handy,” says Dana. “They seem to be able to work magic.” One of her best-ever scores: a corner suite in Alaska during the sold-out cruise ship season.
There’s an App for That
If you don’t have the time to keep calling and checking for availability, register your interest on the free website, Open Hotel Alert.
Simply enter your travel dates and a list of area hotels pops up – those with availability and ones that are sold out. Select the one you’re interested in, enter your preferred contact method (text message, email or both) and Open Hotel Alert will contact you if a room becomes available at that property.
The free service is affiliated with Booking.com; the company earns a commission if you book your room through the booking site.
Another way to use the internet to your advantage is with a simple Google search. Enter your hotel name and Google will pop up different booking platforms such as Priceline, Expedia or Hotels.com. These booking platforms may have one or two rooms even when the hotel website indicates no availability.
If your efforts fail, Hotel Tonight should be able to find you a last minute hotel in the area even if it’s not your first, second or third choice.
Getting That Hotel Room When All Else Fails
If you’ve already been calling the hotel manager often enough to get on the “Top 10 Telephone Pests” list, flaunted your hotel status, waved around your premier credit cards and added your name to every waiting list, here are a few more tips for securing that coveted room:
- Check with a travel agency. Many hotels sell blocks of rooms to travel agents.
- Call the hotel directly. Speak to someone at the front desk — those folks are on the front line of hotel availability. If there’s a room at the inn, they will know.
- Leverage your membership in organizations, such as AAA and AARP, which could give you the upper hand.
And when all else fails, try looking really, really sad. Nasreen says, “I find showing up at the check-in desk, asking about cancellations and looking pitiful works.”
Sometimes You Have to Settle for Second
We ended up staying at the Ponte Vineyard Inn because rooms never became available at the South Coast Winery and Resort. And it was fine. Better than fine.
The weather was actually cooler than we thought it would be, so we didn’t even miss the pool. The rooms were ideal for our extended family and the vineyard views couldn’t be beat.
Sometimes things work out just as they were meant to.