When should hotels refund non-refundable rooms? Survey says …

When it’s unable to operate the property safely. In a multiple-choice survey about hotel  room refundability, 83 percent of readers voted “yes” on that option. There were 678 responses to the poll.

Another 65 percent said rooms should be given their money back when a guest has a verified emergency, such as a death in the family. Roughly half of the respondents said refunds should be given when a guest can’t make it because of an Act of God, like bad weather.

Only seven percent said hotels should never refund a room.

One of the most common reader responses to the survey was: It depends.

“If the hotel can fill the room, they have not lost anything,” says Lucy Smith. So why pocket the guests money when the room is being occupied by another paying guest?

That’s a good point, and I should have included that as an option on the survey. Clearly, from a guest’s point of view, keeping the money is like double-dipping.

Many readers felt rooms should always be refunded — yet another option that should have probably been included on this survey.

“Quite simply, they should never refuse unless they don’t want any return business. No one is so desperate as to pay to be slapped in the face,” says Liz Zollner.

But some saw the hotel’s side in this debate. Bunnee Butterfield says nonrefundable rooms are a risk travelers choose to take.

I have increasing difficulty feeling sympathy for people who have personal problems which interfere with their travel plans and then expect everyone to feel sympathetic and somehow make it up to them.

Chances are, hotel rooms that are non-refundable are much less expensive than those that are not, so you pay the price in other ways – the risk of losing your investment.

As a practical matter, hotels often bend their nonrefundability rules anyway, says Karen Zarnick.

Usually they are very understanding and will refund the room under a valid reason. If the hotel is sold out on the evening & you cancel your room at a reasonable time, they will still refund you.

There are hotels that actually care about their guests and will try to make the guest happy. But not all hotels practice good customer service.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • Ksea1

    I will NEVER stay there.  Thank you for the heads up!   What a rotten thing to do.

  • I booked a nonrefundable room at a Ramada Inn for two nights to go to my cousin’s wedding.  The night after I booked my room, his bride to be decided she did not want to get married.  I called Ramada Inn and they gave me a refund and also expressed how sorry they were for my cousin, who was clearly upset.  I think in certain cases, out of your control, it is not necessary to refund the room but it is a good show of character.  I can say, for certain, that I will be more likely to stay at a Ramada Inn and pay more for their services because they take you, as a person, into consideration.  Too many businesses revolve around “the almighty dollar” and leave human interaction and feelings out of the equation.  My friend booked a vacation to Vegas recently.  Two weeks before she was to leave on her trip, they put her mom in hospice and told her she had a few weeks to live.  This is another circumstance where it is not necessary to get a refund it is just the decent thing to do, even if it is simply a voucher for future travel.  She should not be out $800 dollars because she would rather be with her mom right now.  

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