Is it illegal to sell a hotel reservation? Exploring the legal and ethical implications

Have you ever found yourself with a hotel reservation that you can’t use and wondered if it’s okay to sell it to someone else?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: It depends on the hotel’s policies and local laws.

In this article, we will explore the legal and ethical implications of selling hotel reservations. We’ll discuss the various factors that determine whether it’s legal or not, the risks involved, and the potential consequences of selling a reservation.

The legal landscape of selling hotel reservations

As the travel industry continues to expand, so do the options available for booking accommodations. But what happens when those plans change? Can you legally sell your hotel reservation to someone else? Let’s explore the legal and ethical implications.

Hotel policies

First and foremost, it’s important to understand the policies of the hotel you’ve booked with. Some hotels may explicitly prohibit the resale of reservations, while others may allow it with certain conditions. Be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully before attempting to sell your reservation.

If a hotel does prohibit the resale of reservations, they may have the right to cancel the reservation altogether if they discover that it has been sold. This could leave both the buyer and seller without a place to stay.

State and local laws

While there is no federal law that explicitly prohibits the sale of hotel reservations, state and local laws may vary. In some states, it is illegal to sell tickets or reservations for events or attractions above face value. This could potentially apply to hotel reservations as well.

It’s important to do your research and understand the laws in your area before attempting to sell a hotel reservation. Violating these laws could result in fines or legal consequences.

Online marketplaces

Online marketplaces, such as eBay or Craigslist, may provide a platform for individuals to sell their hotel reservations. However, these marketplaces may also have their own policies and regulations regarding the sale of travel-related bookings.

It’s important to exercise caution when using these platforms and to thoroughly vet any potential buyers or sellers. Additionally, be aware that the marketplace may take a commission or fee for facilitating the transaction.

Pros Cons
  • Potential to recoup some or all of the cost of a reservation
  • Provides an option for individuals who need to cancel a reservation last minute
  • May violate hotel policies or state/local laws
  • Potential for scams or fraud on online marketplaces
  • Marketplace may take a commission or fee for facilitating the transaction

The ethical considerations

While selling a hotel reservation may not always be illegal, there are several ethical considerations to take into account. Let’s explore a few of them:

Double booking and overbooking

When you sell a hotel reservation, you run the risk of double booking or overbooking a room. This can cause significant problems for both the hotel and the guest. Double booking occurs when two or more guests have a reservation for the same room at the same time. Overbooking happens when a hotel accepts more reservations than they have rooms available. Both of these scenarios can lead to unhappy guests and a damaged reputation for the hotel.

It’s important to note that some hotels have strict policies against double booking and overbooking. If you sell a reservation that falls under one of these policies, you could be putting the guest and the hotel in a difficult situation.

Price gouging

Another ethical concern when selling a hotel reservation is the potential for price gouging. Price gouging is when a seller increases the price of a product or service to an unfair level during an emergency or crisis situation. While selling a hotel reservation is not necessarily an emergency or crisis, it’s still important to consider whether you are charging a fair price for the reservation. Charging significantly more than the original price could be seen as exploitative and unethical.

Fraudulent activity

Finally, there is a risk of fraudulent activity when selling a hotel reservation. This could include selling a fake reservation or using someone else’s reservation to sell as your own. Fraudulent activity is illegal and unethical, and it’s important to take steps to ensure that you are not engaging in any fraudulent behavior when selling a reservation.

The risks of selling hotel reservations

While it may seem like a good idea to sell a hotel reservation that you can no longer use, there are several risks associated with doing so. Below are some of the potential legal and ethical implications that you should consider before attempting to sell a hotel reservation:

Cancellation or modification fees

Many hotels charge fees for cancelling or modifying a reservation, and if you sell your reservation to someone else, you could be held responsible for any fees that they incur. Additionally, if the person who buys your reservation cancels it at the last minute, you could be left with no way to recoup your losses.

Identity theft

When you sell a hotel reservation, you may be required to provide personal information such as your name, address, and credit card number. This information could be used fraudulently by the person who buys your reservation, putting you at risk for identity theft.

Bad reviews and reputation damage

If the person who buys your reservation has a negative experience at the hotel, they may leave a bad review that could damage the hotel’s reputation. This could result in the hotel taking legal action against you for selling the reservation, or it could harm your own reputation if you are seen as dishonest or unethical.

It’s important to note that selling hotel reservations is not illegal in most cases, but it can be risky and potentially damaging to all parties involved. If you find yourself unable to use a reservation, it’s best to contact the hotel directly to see if they can offer any solutions.

Alternatives to selling hotel reservations

While selling a hotel reservation may seem like a convenient way to recoup some of your travel expenses, it can lead to legal and ethical issues. Fortunately, there are alternative options available to consider before resorting to selling your reservation.

Cancellation Policies

Most hotels have cancellation policies that allow you to cancel your reservation without penalty if you do so within a certain timeframe. Before attempting to sell your reservation, check the hotel’s cancellation policy to see if you are eligible for a refund or if you can modify your reservation to better suit your needs.

If you find yourself unable to cancel or modify your reservation, consider reaching out to the hotel directly to explain your situation. In some cases, they may be willing to make an exception or offer a credit towards a future stay.

Transferring Reservations

Some hotels allow you to transfer your reservation to someone else, provided you follow their guidelines and notify them in advance. This can be a great option if you have a friend or family member who is interested in taking over your reservation.

Be aware that transferring a reservation may come with additional fees or restrictions, so it’s important to read the hotel’s policies carefully before attempting to transfer your reservation.

Using Third-Party Booking Services

If you’re unable to cancel or transfer your reservation, consider using a third-party booking service to sell your reservation. These services specialize in reselling hotel reservations and can help you find a buyer quickly.

However, be cautious when using these services as they may charge high fees or violate the hotel’s terms and conditions. Make sure to read the fine print and research the service’s reputation before using them to sell your reservation.

Remember, selling a hotel reservation can have legal and ethical implications, so it’s important to explore all your options before going down this route.


In conclusion, selling a hotel reservation can be legal or illegal depending on various factors such as hotel policies and local laws. However, even if it’s legal, there are ethical considerations to keep in mind, as well as risks involved that can result in fees, identity theft, and reputation damage. It’s important to weigh these factors before deciding whether to sell a reservation or explore alternative options. We hope this article has shed some light on the topic and helped you make an informed decision.

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