A caution against last minute hotel bookings

I’ve become something of a slacker when it comes to hotel bookings. It is not at all uncommon for me to pick my hotel after arriving in a city, walking around for a while and getting a feel for the town. This is especially true when I am visiting a new (to me) city but even with some places I’ve been many times before I’ll take my chances on a walk-up rate or try to find something new. It has always worked pretty well in the past and never really could come up with a reason not to go that route. Until this past Saturday night when I arrived in Honolulu around 6:30pm and was unable to make a booking for a hotel.

Ruh roh.

I tried the websites of a couple different hotel booking engines – Hotels.com and Starwood – and both failed. Neither would let me choose to check in that night. In their world it was already tomorrow, even though it was just getting to be dinner time in Honolulu. So I did what anyone would naturally do: I tweeted my frustration, knowing that it actually wouldn’t change anything.

I also called Hotels.com to see if they could book the hotel for me over the phone instead. They could not. It turns out that their systems decide it to be "tomorrow" at midnight eastern time. The rest of the time zones apparently don’t count. The agent was willing to make some phone calls for me and check availability at a few local hotels but their computer systems could not do anything. And even if they could find a room for me I would still have to be a walk-in customer so no Welcome Rewards points. Better than nothing, but not what I was hoping for.

SPG was impressively responsive to my concern. It took a couple days to make direct contact with someone but they actually reached out to me over the phone and we talked through the issues I encountered. I’m not betting on it actually changing – I can understand why they do it the way they do – but it was good to see them reach out and try to address the issue I had booking a room. Then again, as the rep I talked to noted, it is in their best interest to get as many rooms as possible booked every night and cutting things off a couple hours early limits that.

This little snafu wasn’t the first time I had issues with time zones and bookings and it probably won’t be the last. And I doubt that it will change the approach I take too much. Though I’ll try to make sure I get in a couple hours earlier when heading to Hawaii.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. In similar situation, I have found hilton’s website took same day reservations as late as 9pm Pacific Time.

  2. Definitely didn’t have to sleep on the beach. 🙂

    I was able to book direct through the hotel’s site, still get a bit of cash-back and they actually know what time zone their properties are in so they were offering same-day bookings later in the evening.

  3. That is an interesting policy by hotels.com especially when you consider their HQ are in Dallas and call centers are in the Philippines.

    I had a similarly difficult time with their midnight policy before but for distinctly different reasons.

  4. This issue has always been there. I’ve spoken to many of the hotels and there’s not much they are willing to do to change that sadly. As a matter of fact, some say they’ve never even thought of that. it’s sad, but true.

    The only thing you can do is to call the hotel directly and they will book the room for you, which negates all the special stuff you’d get online, etc.

    I’m still searching to get to talk to someone who can actually chat with a programmer at one of the big chains to get the ball rolling.

    Let me know what you find.


  5. I’m not sure where to ask this question, so apologies for putting it in this thread:

    The award search on this site seems to show availability in economy and business for Gulf Airways on certain dates, but when I call AA to book, I’ve found that the availability shown here does not match with what the agents are finding. (I’ve also tried flightstats, which also doesn’t seem to align with the AA availability that the agents are finding on Gulf). Has anyone encountered anything like this?

  6. I’ve hit this problem a few times. The SPG reservations line typically gets confused first, then tells me to call hotels for myself.

    Carlson seems to cut off at 11:30PM hotel time online, but then permits phone bookings past that point.

  7. 1) What does Ruh roh mean?

    2) You say: “I can understand why they do it the way they do” when referring to the problem you face. Care to share the reason?

  8. Ruh roh is a Scooby Doo reference.

    They have to cut the time over at some point. And most of their customers will be in beds already when they choose to do it. So it sortof makes sense. And doing it based on the time zone where the servers are likely located is way easier than always calculating the time zone difference.

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