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The Question: My daughter arrived late at night at a hotel to discover it was overbooked -- her room was no longer available, and she was told to look elsewhere. Do customers have recourse when mistreated by a hotel?

Snowstorms. Delayed flights. Unexpected traffic. Plenty of factors can delay your arrival at a hotel's front desk. So what do you do when, unexpectedly, there's no room at the inn?

To guarantee a bed for late arrival – typically beyond 6 p.m. – the hotel requires a credit card to hold the room, says Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada ( "If [the traveller]chose not to guarantee the room with a credit card, then the room can be sold to another individual."

But Nikola Berube, director for sales for AMA Travel (, a division of the Alberta Motor Association, says sometimes a swipe of plastic alone won't be enough. "If you've paid for the room in full, you should expect the hotel to take responsibility and find you a comparable hotel. But if you've just reserved the room with a major credit card, unless you've made specific arrangements for late arrival, the room may be given away after 6 p.m."

Overbooking isn't uncommon, says Berube. The response you get depends on your booking contract, the property and who's at the front desk. Here's how to avoid this situation:

  • Read the fine print. If you've booked online, your contract may be with that provider and not the hotel. Find out what is considered a late arrival.
  • The more information you provide at the time of booking, the better, says Berube. Tell the hotel if you know you will be late. Call before your holiday to confirm. And if you encounter delays en route, inform the property if you can.
  • “Always have a printed copy of that confirmation showing that you've guaranteed or prepaid for your room when you arrive,” says Berube. “If you don't have anything in writing or printed off, then it's always much harder to ask the hotel to help you find another room.” Your travel agency may be able to help too. (AMA Travel, for instance, offers a 24-hour emergency assistance phone line.)

And if all that fails? Write a letter to the manager or the hotel chain. You may be compensated, or you may get what you really want: an apology.

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Follow Karan Smith on Twitter: @karan_smith.

Special to The Globe and Mail