Airline Contracted Hotel Rates For Distressed Passengers And How To Still Get Elite Benefits

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The other day I was caught up in a delay situation on the way to Hong Kong, and after missing my connection there I pushed British Airways to provide me with a Hotel Voucher as a distressed passenger.

ba-voucher-hotelAirlines usually have hotels around the airport contracted to provide them with special rates should they require to put up passengers due to delays, cancellations or missed connections.

It’s sometimes a bit of a gamble for the customer to get a complimentary hotel room provided by the airline, or if it’s a gesture of goodwill, that can depend on many factors such as ticket class, frequent flyer status or simply a sympathetic agent.

I was booked on a Premium Economy flight from London to Bangkok that ended up being routed via Hong Kong. Unfortunately the first flight to HKG (BA operates two daily) left Heathrow very late due to a medical emergency and we ended up reaching our destination 2 hours late and making me miss the connection to Bangkok.

There would have been alternative flights available but they were all in regular Economy and none of them left before 9pm, getting into Bangkok around midnight. BA wasn’t willing to rebook into Business Class, and I wasn’t in the mood to wait 5 hours at the airport just to fly in Economy to Bangkok, and the station wasn’t willing to provide any compensation for the downgrade either.

In the end I suggested I’d be willing to fly the following day in Premium Economy under the condition that British Airways organize and pay for my overnight in Hong Kong. They accepted this suggestion (to my surprise) and proceeded to retrieve my suitcase that was already checked in at LHR. I preferred this for multiple reasons: for one I was super tired due to the long trip and flexible with my time. On top of it all, I’m not comfortable with them routing the bag internally without providing me with a new baggage tag for it, especially if the bag is interlined to another airline such as Thai Airways. I was then given a hotel voucher for the Skycity Marriott Hotel Hong Kong and it also included a buffet dinner as well as buffet breakfast. Since I recently linked my SPG Platinum account to Marriott Rewards, I’m now Platinum with Marriott Rewards as well, and figured I could also get some elite benefits (which is really at the discretion of the hotel when using airline contract rates for distressed passengers).

After reaching the Marriott, I had the agent enter my Platinum number as well during check-in. I usually use the line to put it in ‘for incidentals such as room service so I collect the points for that’ before the agent has to explain to me that these reservations don’t qualify for points or Elite treatment. While you usually don’t get the welcome gift, most hotels will provide lounge access and maybe a room upgrade for their Elites. You might experience some push back at times if you get hotels that are very strict, but you can always say that you asked the airline specifically for this hotel due to being Elite etc. Thinking about it, I never had a hotel decline me Elite benefits in such a situation.

Another interesting thing is that as soon as the number was entered, the reservation showed up in my online profile including the room upgrade and rate charged to British Airways:

marr-display800,00 HKD all in (~ 110 USD) is a very good rate at this hotel and in line with various Travel Industry discounted rates under the Marriott partnership program. Regular rates for that night started at 1,300 HKD plus tax!

Sometimes you are even able to get a stay credit out of such overnights if you indeed charge some incidentals to your room such as a drink from the bar or a mini bar item.

I’m not sure if the hotel charges extra for the Dinner and Breakfast Buffet (both of which were pretty good) but I would certainly assume so. Even if they also pay a discounted rate for those I’m sure it’s at least 200 HKD for the dinner buffet and 150 HKD for the breakfast.

Conclusion

This example shows that airlines have more leeway to work with you if you also have some flexibility. I can understand if stations policies don’t allow cash compensations in case of a downgrade, though I doubt this hotel option cost the airline less money than a cash compensation for the downgrade from Premium Economy to Economy (I’d probably have accepted something around 1000 HKD) or to book into Business Class on another airline. These endorsements via FIM (Flight Interruption Manifest) which in the old days was a physical paper ticket/coupon are not charged full fare. Airlines have agreements with each other when it comes to the accommodation of distressed passengers since sooner or later it will hit each of them.

In case you are offered a hotel or you want to negotiate, always keep in mind to consider those chains where you have status first even though the rate itself might not be eligible for points and stay credit.

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