A High-Risk Travel Hack for Getting a Completely Free Hotel Reward Night

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One of the most customer-friendly elements of hotel loyalty programmes is the flexibility provided by standard room rewards using points. Except in very rare circumstances, a points booking is usually completely refundable. Reward cancellation policies can vary, but you usually have until the day before arrival to cancel a reward booking; some chains/hotels even let you cancel before 4 or 6 p.m. on your arrival date.

But one of the lesser-known, customer-unfriendly features of reward nights is that no-shows are treated quite punitively. In many cases, you will receive a refund of your points and will be charged the hotel’s standard room rate for the night in question. For example:

Hilton Honors doesn’t specify, but makes clear that you will be charged the “Best Available Rate” for a no-show.


Starwood Preferred Guest tells you how much you will be charged as a no-show.

IHG is even less clear, but you will still find your credit card being charged something…

Now, as a public service announcement from Inside Flyer, you need to be careful when booking reward stays. If you happen to be flying on a very tight connection for the last flight of the day (and miss it), you might not think it matters much, since the airline should provide you with alternative accommodation. But you would nonetheless find that your points are refunded and your credit card is charged for your no-show reward stay. This is probably not what you had in mind, so at the very least call the hotel to explain the situation as soon as you can (as well as having decent travel insurance)… I also try to book a cheap, prepaid rate for any one-off hotel nights where I am worried about making my flight connection.


But, if you’re really feeling ambitious, you can try booking a reward stay and checking in really late. I mean REALLY LATE… something like 2 a.m. You probably wouldn’t want to try this on a regular stay, but there are many flights that arrive somewhere at silly hours (Gatwick, Dubai, etc.) and you will probably want a hotel instead of waiting around the airport until morning. When you try to check in to your hotel, though, you’ll probably find that the night manager has already processed you as a no-show and your points will have been refunded. But with a little DKYWIA at the front desk, you will still get your room. (assuming the hotel hasn’t filled every room)  And when the hotel tries to charge the no-show penalty to your credit card after the fact, you can call them and complain “hey, I wasn’t a no-show, I just arrived really late”. In that scenario, the hotel is surely going to reverse the charge, yet be unable to recover your points. So you’ll end up with a free stay…

If you’ve ever found points refunded to your account without really knowing why (it’s happened to me…), it’s probably because your reward stay has been processed as a no-show.

Is this a morally acceptable travel hack? Probably not. And I’m not sure I would ever want to risk being room-less at 2 a.m. in some strange place. But at the same time, there are probably few people who are so impeccably honest that they call the loyalty programme to voluntarily forfeit their points…

But whenever you book a reward stay, make sure to remember the punitive no-show policy and get in touch with the hotel if you’re not going to arrive before midnight…



  1. Mark LLL says

    Thanks for the information on redemption stay no-show charges. I had not picked up on this.

    Not quite the same thing, but circumstances meant I had to miss a booked hotel stay in late December of last Year.

    Had earned one free night as part of a previous IHG’s accelerate promo.
    Last minute change of plans meant I would not be able to stay with IHG or even mattress run.
    Here, on the Isle of Man, Best Western are the only show in town as far as chain hotels go.

    I considered letting the booking stand and being a no-show, thinking the hotel might mistakenly credit my stay regardless – and count the night towards status.
    I also thought about calling IHG and asking for an extension on the free night booking cut-off date.

    In the end I cancelled online and wrote off the free night reward, mainly because someone might have needed the room. It was at the Crown Plaza, Manchester airport.

    • Craig Sowerby says

      Wow. Painful to write off a free night at any IHG hotel! But you did the right thing cancelling as otherwise you might have been charged.

      It must have something to do with the hotel not being reimbursed by the chain for no-show reward nights.

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