Chocolate Pillow | Handling Un-Guaranteed Bookings
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Handling Un-Guaranteed Bookings

02 Feb Handling Un-Guaranteed Bookings

What do you do when you are full and you have loads of unguaranteed reservations?  This is a question that many reception staff pose to each other and to management but often do not actually know the answer to; similarly, many smaller hotels and independents may not have a clear cut policy on how to handle these reservations.

Here is a quick guide to handling those bookings that are not guaranteed, and reflect many policies in place by hotels already.  But firstly, what exactly is meant by a provisional or un-guaranteed booking?

Any reservation that poses a potential financial risk to you is classed as provisional – these are bookings that do not have a guaranteed form of payment attached to them and therefore place a financial risk on your business owing to the chance that if they do not arrive, then you cannot obtain any payment from the guest for holding the room and have been stopped from selling the room to someone else, in effect losing money.  These reservations do pose a huge risk to business as they can cause a big loss of money.

Is the reservation a ‘guaranteed provisional booking’?  This sounds paradoxical in itself as how can a provisional booking (which by their very nature are not guaranteed), actually be guaranteed?  Well the answer is in the technicalities.  You often find many systems are created with a very black and white view of things – a booking which is made with no credit card, is automatically classed as provisional, unless it is being billed to a company or agent.  But what about guests who are loyalty club members?  What about VIP’s who stay regularly but haven’t updated their card details with you yet?  There are many differing circumstances as to why a booking is provisional according to your reservation rules, but is in effect practically guaranteed.  These have to be dealt with in a lighter manner than a standard provisional booking – you have to consider the circumstances and reasons for it being provisional.  There is however nothing wrong with asking the booker for card details to secure the booking.

So the first thing to do with ANY provisional reservation is to ask for card information to secure the booking.  If these are not provided, the booker can be informed that by XX time on the day of arrival, their booking will be released, where XX time is the standard cut off you have for ‘on the day’ cancellations of rooms, usually around 12-2pm.

So what about bookings that are guaranteed, but also provisional in another way?  I am talking here about fully pre-paid rates, where the card declines and no payment is obtained.  These are a bit trickier to deal with.  Many hotels will allow people on these rates to turn up and pay on the day, which in essence I have to say, as a matter of personal opinion, is wrong.  If a rate rule is fully pre-paid, then the rate is fully pre-paid.  If someone wishes to turn up and pay on the day, then they should be reverted to the standard rate of the day or the booking cancelled.  This is not always clear cut and simple as you may have international travellers who are hard to contact or it may have gone through an external travel agent.  In these instances, you need to keep a clear communication trail such as copies of emails etc attached to the booking for reference of attempts made.  As a general rule, the booker should be informed ( has an automated tool for this online, as do other sites), and provided 72 hours to make payment.  Payment should be attempted three days later or at latest 3 days prior to arrival.  Should it fail again, the booking should be cancelled to allow resale of the room.  This may seem harsh, but to give you an analogy on this – you do not see something online in a sale and then place the order and have your card decline, and then ring the company and tell them to take payment in a week or that you will pay the driver when he delivers – the payment is due at point of purchase and just because the goods are not a physical item in the traditional shopping sense, the same rules apply.  When booking the room, it will clearly state payment is due there and then, and if the person does not have the funds, then they should be aware of this and book on the correct rate that allows payment on the day.  These bookings should not be held for any longer than is necessary and do represent a risk – if you hold the room until day of arrival and then they fail to arrive, you then have an unsold room, no money and potentially commission to pay to an agent meaning you re further out of pocket.

There are some circumstances that fall beyond these, such as third party agents who have booked, taken payment from guests and not forwarded payment to you.  Ultimately, you are at risk if you have not received this payment and it is down to the third party agent to provide this.  Quite simply if they do not pay you, you are within your rights to refuse their guests.  This will massively peeve off the guests themselves but the liability is down to the agent as if they have not paid you, then why should you place yourself at risk?

It sounds harsh to say a lot of the above and I feel a bit like an arse when typing it, but bear in mind that the rules of booking are clear when the reservation is made, it is down to the booker to follow them and you to uphold them!

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Matt Shiells-Jones

Husband, Author, Hotel Manager and ambitious 'old cat lady'

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