Typically I tell folks not to worry about having to cancel their hotel stays since as long as they’ve booked a refundable rate they can usually cancel up until the evening of arrival. That leeway is starting to change though.
Marriott and Hilton both made the decision to change their cancellation policies effective January 1, 2015 so that guests need to cancel the day before arrival, not the day of. One Mile at a Time has highlighted that Starwood is implementing the same policy, for stays starting January 15, 2015.
The only difference is that while Marriott and Hilton give you until 11:59pm the day before you are due to check-in, Starwood only gives you until 6pm.
Starwood Lurker posted on Flyertalk about the changes –
This is not good for last-minute plans or last-minute changes. Many business meetings are fluid, and they may get scheduled and rescheduled several times. This new policy will make it a bit more difficult to do that, although reservations made under contracts will still be honored.
Checking a random property in New York (Element Times Square) for January 16, 2015, I found that the flexible rate details said that the reservation needed to be cancelled by 6:00pm hotel time the day prior to arrival (January 15, 2015) otherwise the penalty would be a 1 night fee. The AAA rate reflected the same. Looking at the W New York Times Square, it still said the cutoff was 4pm day of arrival so they’re obviously still going in and updating for each property.
I know that if someone fails to check-in and it is 10pm at night, the hotel won’t be able to use that room for another guest. This policy helps them do that. However, the area where I would question the policy would be for Airport hotels. If you are scheduled to check-in at 10pm but your flight is pushed to the next day, if you can prove your flight was pushed back will there be any flexibility?