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How Long Will a Hotel Hold Your Room?

An old hotel staff and a guest in the front desk.

It’s 11:37 p.m. in whatever time zone you’ve ended up, and you’re trying to check into the room you reserved weeks ago. Unfortunately, the sympathetic but unshakable reception clerk keeps sighing and explaining that your room is no longer available. How in the world, you wonder, did this happen, and how can I make sure it won’t happen again.

Most hotels have standard check-in and check-out times. Check-out for a given day almost universally ends at 11:00 a.m., while check-in usually begins at 3:00 p.m. What’s often less clear is what time the check-in ends. In most hotels, it’s 6:00 p.m. or so. For others, you won’t be late until 10:00 pm or later. If you’re not there for your reservation by then, you will miss it.

Standard Confirmed Reservation

Guest with mask handing a card to the front desk.

Most of us make confirmed reservations when we want a room at a hotel. That is, the hotel and you enter into an agreement in which they will hold a room for you, and you confirm that you will show up and pay for it when you leave. But, a confirmed reservation is not a guaranteed reservation.

A standard hotel room looks to have last night’s guess leave by 11:00 a.m. so that cleaning staff can have the room ready by 3:00 p.m. for routine check-in time. Occasionally, if you arrive between 11:00 and 3:00 and there’s a room like you reserved available, the hotel may let you check in early. 

But it’s important to understand that if you’re late and the hotel doesn’t have a room on a confirmed reservation, they don’t owe you anything.

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Most hotels ask you to let them know if you’re going to be late checking in; most, however, don’t tell you what late means. A good rule for a smaller hotel is to let them know if you think you’ll arrive after 7:00 p.m.

Larger chain hotels can be much more flexible, especially if they’re not particularly crowded that weekend. Nonetheless, it’s still good to give the front desk a heads-up if you expect to arrive after 7:00.

If you know you’ll be late based, for example, on your flight times, you should let the reservations staff know that when you make your reservation. That way, it will appear on the reservation, and if the hotel does get desperate for rooms, they will likely hold yours as long as they can.

Other Late Arrival Issues

An upset woman making phone call on the bed.

Other late arrival problems can arise if you stay at a smaller or less metropolitan hotel. First, you probably aren’t going to be able to get food. If they are one of the decreasing number of hotels that still offer room service, it is likely to be closed if you’re really late. Similarly, many smaller and less important city hotels do not maintain full staffing later in the evening.

You may have to wait a few minutes or even more for someone to show up at the desk to check you in. Larger metropolitan area hotels will have a full staff, of course, but they may have sold your room to another potential guest if you didn’t arrange for the late arrival.

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Guaranteed for Late Arrival

A man entering a hotel and a staff waiting.

There is one way to be sure that your room will still be available as long as you show up before midnight (when it officially becomes the next day)  the next day. If you think you may have a problem getting to your hotel room for an on-time check, consider some available options.

For example, most hotels will allow you to make a room reservation that is “guaranteed for later arrival”. You make a guaranteed for late arrival reservation by giving them your credit card information at the time of the reservation and telling them that you want to guarantee the room.

Once you have paid for your room by authorizing the charge on your credit card, the hotel “owes” you a room. If you show up on that date and all of the rooms of the type you reserved are occupied, the hotel is obligated to give you a reasonable substitute.

The good news is that this is usually an upgrade from the room you expected because they’d like to keep you coming back. If they are full, they are in many locations legally bound to get you a room somewhere at their cost.

This procedure should hold your reservation at least until midnight. If you expect to be later than midnight, you should let the reservations staff know and see how they want to handle it. You also authorize the hotel to charge for one night’s stay against the credit card. 

This way, because your first night in the room is paid for, the hotel has no incentive to give it away. If they let you check in after midnight, that doesn’t get you off the hook for that day’s stay. Even though technically Thursday the 15th becomes Friday the 16th at midnight, the hotel will still charge you for Thursday.

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Making Sure

A woman relaxing on hotel bed and a roll of towels.

In the end, if you know for sure that you’re going to be late, guarantee the room. It’s the same money you’ll have to spend on the room anyhow, so there’s no extra cost for a lot of peace of mind.

You can also cancel your guaranteed reservation on the same timing as a confirmed reservation, so you’re not locked in. Guaranteeing your room is easy and ensures you have a room; take advantage of it.