I forgot about my hotel’s 30-day cancellation policy. Can you help?

Jan Peterson booked a weekend at the Bide-A-Wee Inn & Cottages in Pacific Grove, Calif. earlier this year. Then her father-in-law’s condition deteriorated, forcing her to cancel her trip. And then, more bad news: The hotel imposed a 30-day cancellation period because of a special event in town.

Her $1,763 was gone.

Peterson asked for help retrieving the money. My advocacy team jumped into action, but as you can probably tell from the story title, the inn wouldn’t let her out of her contract.

Her story offers an important reminder for the rest of us who may make a hotel reservation in the future — always, always read the terms. Even if you think you know them. Especially if you think you know them.

Peterson’s reservations seemed pretty standard, at first. She booked the room and had every intention of checking in. Then her father’s condition worsened.

“I called the hotel to request a cancellation, since my father-in-law had deteriorated to the point that we can’t leave at this point in time,” she says. “I was told by the manager that they already charged my credit card and there were no cancellations.”

No cancellations? But it was still weeks before her scheduled arrival. Why does the hotel get to keep her money?

The reason: It was Monterey Classic Car Week and Concours d’Elegance, a special event that attracts thousands of car aficionados. Hotels impose special cancellation terms during periods of high demand. Peterson wasn’t even aware of the event. As a matter of fact, she wasn’t even aware of the 30-day cancellation policy.

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“Because the reservation was made back in February, I honestly did not pay attention to the cancellation policy, nor do I even remember getting the confirmation email,” she says. “When I talked to the manager, he was very rude and said it didn’t matter what the reason was we could not come for the weekend — that I should’ve read the email and made the changes prior to that.”

The manager was both right and wrong, of course.

He was right in the sense that she should have taken the time to review the terms. That’s your responsibility as a guest. But it was wrong in being so abrupt and unfriendly in the delivery. That concerned my advocacy team and that, combined with the medical reason for being unable to travel, made them want to help.

I know what you’re thinking. Would insurance have made a difference? Maybe, maybe not. Her father-in-law is 95 and in all likelihood, the condition he has would have been declared “preexisting” by an insurance company. Yes, a cancel-for-any reason policy would have helped, but for a weekend in Monterey, that kind of insurance is probably overkill.

“Is it legal for them to charge my credit card based on the one email that they said they sent?” she asked. “I asked for a copy and they did forward it and it does state a 30-day cancellation.”

Yes, unfortunately it is. But our team didn’t leave this one alone. We reached out to the property on Peterson’s behalf. Although it refused to refund her room, it allowed her to transfer the reservation to a friend, which she’s done.

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But in sharing her story, Peterson has also helped countless other consumers who might have a similar problem. The lesson is simple, and it can’t be stated often enough: Always read the fine print. You never know what kind of “gotcha” clauses a hotel might throw in there. If you know about them, you can plan accordingly — or plan to avoid the hotel entirely.

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.

  • SirWIred

    I have to wonder why hotels have more-strict cancellation policies for special events. I’d think that that would be the time where it would be pretty likely the room could be re-sold to somebody who didn’t plan very well in advance to attend the event.

    (And most (though not all) 3rd-party trip insurance policies have pre-ex waivers available, and some do not include family members not travelling in the pre-ex clause to begin with, so it doesn’t matter how healthy they are or aren’t.)

  • Dan

    Greedy inn is being greedy. With thousands of people visiting Monterrey that weekend, the inn would have no trouble reselling the room – probably for more money. Why not offer to let the LW out of the reservation if they’re able to resell the room? Maybe even impose a nominal cancellation fee of $50 or so to cover the additional clerical work.

  • LDVinVA

    My thoughts exactly.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Not sure I agree…. if the hotel were greedy, they wouldn’t have allowed the OP to transfer the reservation to a friend. They would impose the cancellation fee, and then resell the room at a higher rate. Sometimes the management just wants to know that the room is sold and not have to worry about re-selling the room. The strict cancellation also serves to minimize people who book multiple rooms.

  • Chris_In_NC

    My guess is the super strict cancellation policies for special events is to deter people from booking multiple rooms and then cancelling at the last minute. The hotel management wants “stability” and not have to deal with cancellations and last minute bookings. Also, a smaller establishment that has a limited number of rooms (ie a 15 room inn for example), a last minute cancellation that cannot be rebooked could make or break the budget.

  • Alan Gore

    Usually the special event problem at resort locations works the other way around: you make a reservation months in advance because you know that during Podunk Days, all the rooms will be booked. As the event approaches, the hotel experiences a surge of requests for rooms, and the temptation to have your modest reservation be “lost in the computer” when you arrive becomes irresistible. This happened to people during this summer’s solar eclipse.

    Did the 30-day window exist at the time LW made her reservation?

  • Chris_In_NC

    That’s funny…. my “modest” reservation for the solar eclipse in Jackson, WY was honored and not “lost in the computer.” Sure, there are some unethical hotel and resort operators, but a reputable company or a national chain honors their reservations because they have a reputation to maintain and uphold.

  • Kevin Nash

    Same here. I have never had a national nor reputable hospitality operator “lose” my reservation for a major event. Seems like more click baiting than anything else.

  • Noah Kimmel


    Also, people on this site can’t have it both ways – if you don’t want them to overbook, especially on special occasions, then the hotel needs some way to ensure reservations convert to stays. Cancellation policy is one way to do this. Otherwise, you are directly asking a hotel to lose money for something (especially in case of illness) that is no more their fault than the customer’s.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “The lesson is simple, and it can’t be stated often enough: Always read the fine print.”

    Yes…It is important to read the terms of the fare, rate, etc. More importantly, when you have a loved one that is at the ‘end of their life’; has an ongoing illness; etc., you need to plan your travel accordingly such as buying refundable fares; buying travel insurance that will cover you if you need to leave your cruise, tour, vacation, etc. if your loved one takes a turn for the worse; be willing to lose the money that you spent for your travel; etc.

    I know that this is stone cold but it comes down to do you value your money more than your loved one or do you value your loved one over your money. It is nice to get your money back, fees waived, credit given, etc. to minimize the financial loss. For us, we can’t put a value on our loved ones…especially our parents.

    We were on vacation when my wife’s mother had a stroke. My father spent over 100 days in the hospital in his last year of life. His hospital stays were between two to four days. I plan accordingly when I traveled for business as well as we plan accordingly when we traveled as a family.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “Yes, a cancel-for-any reason policy would have helped, but for a weekend in Monterey, that kind of insurance is probably overkill.”

    No…it won’t be overkill since the OP is wanting her $ 1,763 back. Travel insurance is for the risk that you are not willing to subject yourself to…in this case, $ 1,763. The OP wasn’t willing to lose $ 1,763.

    “But it was wrong in being so abrupt and unfriendly in the delivery.”

    We know how people act and/or their emotion states when they don’t get their money back; they have a loved one dying; etc. Unless the OP has a recording of the conversation, an e-mail from the manager being rude and/or the Elliott advocacy team encountered rudeness….there is no collaboration that the manager was rude to the OP…it is an opinion. Yes, people in the travel industry can be rude, insensitive, uncaring, etc. but I have listened to recorded conversations and speaker phone conversations where 1) the client thought that the CSR, account manager, sales rep, etc. were rude but they were not and 2) the CSR, account manager, sales rep, etc. thought that they were not rude to the client but they were.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    You are correct about smaller ‘hotels’. The Bide-A-Wee has only 20 cottages…that is a 5% hit.

  • Alan Gore

    This was done to a few eclipse watchers who booked with national chains. One such case was discussed here.

    My organization in Phoenix puts on a conference every Thanksgiving week, usually at a local hotel. One year, we went out of town to Prescott, AZ, reserving a block at the restored historical Hassayampa Inn. That happened to be the year that the city expanded its traditional Christmas illuminations, a major tourist draw, to include Thanksgiving weekend.

    Shortly before we convened that year, the Hassayampa found a technicality in the contract that allowed them to cancel us and sell the rooms at a much higher price to all the unexpectedly incoming tourists. We considered a suit, but they knew that a small organization like ours did not have the resources to pursue something like that.

  • Michael__K

    One would think that a cancellation fee of, say, 50% or less (not 100%) would be an almost equally strong deterrent against people booking rooms they intend to cancel later.
    And why would the hotel management be less interested in stability at other times of year when there is less likelihood of re-selling a canceled room?

  • Michael__K

    If she had insurance in this case, she would not have been covered, even with a pre-ex waiver. Policies impose an obligation to notify the insurer as soon as possible and mitigate losses. And she apparently could have canceled after her father’s illness deteriorated for a full refund before the 30-day cancellation penalty window.

  • SirWIred

    I don’t see where in the article it says that. There are repeated statements along the lines of “her father’s condition worsened and then she cancelled.”

  • Michael__K

    “She wasn’t even aware of the 30-day cancellation policy.” The timeline in the story isn’t precise, but it reads like she wasn’t in a hurry to cancel because she thought she had plenty of time to cancel (standard deadline for this hotel is 7 days). To collect on a claim, she would presumably have to show that the worsening of her father’s condition occurred during the few days after the 30-day deadline but before the moment she cancelled a few “weeks” before arrival.

  • SirWIred

    I agree the timeline isn’t precise, but I don’t think it leans that far in either direction; I certainly don’t see any indication that she waited to cancel, just that she definitely canceled within the 30 days. Certainly the story is not so definitive that you can confidently state “If she had insurance in this case, she would not have been covered.”

  • Michael__K

    She booked in February and the event was in August and she must have canceled in late July or early August.

    Fair enough that we don’t know for certain, but unless she can show that the decisive deterioration occurred within a relatively small and specific window, an insurance claims agent who wants to deny the claim would have ripe opportunity to do so…

  • Michael__K

    National chains typically include hotels run by local franchise owners.
    In Oregon alone, local authorities imposed fines/settlements on 10 different hotels for this conduct, half of them affiliated with national chains. It’s true that these were mainly budget chains (Super8, Motel6, Choice Hotels and, RLH/Vantage)

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    For 20 years, I organized internal sales meeting; external software users meetings and external regional client meetings where I booked meeting rooms, food service and hotel rates. The attendance for these events ranged from 10 to 100. I dealt exclusively with Marriott, SPG and Hilton for these events. Every one of these contracts had one thing in common…a minimum room requirement or a minimum spend requirement…the rate is good for XX rooms or more, if not then we pay the regular rate.

    Why is there a minimum room requirement? To prevent people who scams the hotel by getting a 20 room rate but ended up with 2 rooms.

    I don’t understand why you used your experience with Hassayampa Inn since it is not a national brand or is it run by national hospitality operator like the other readers was commenting on. Hassayampa Inn is a single hotel and it is a boutique hotel not a national brand (i.e. Marriott, Hilton, IHG, etc). It is not owned and/or operated by a national hotel chain (i.e. Marriott, Hilton, IHG, etc.). The hotel is managed by Aris Hospitality Management…a service company that manages a total of five hotels (source: Aris website). Aris is run by a husband and wife team with three other corporate staffers (source: Aris website).

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    This is why I usually book hotels that are owned and operated by the chain. If the hotel is run by an operator, I look for ‘large’ operators like White Lodging (i.e. operates 165+ premium branded hotels, which includes 26 brands and 30 restaurants in 19 states across the country).

  • The Original Joe S

    Note to self: Avoid this place.

  • The Original Joe S

    Hassleya Hotels – run by Anis?

  • The Original Joe S

    That’s because you got BRAINS. How many people can make that claim?

  • The Original Joe S

    Unless the OP has a recording of the conversation –

    FREE SOUND RECORDER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Bill

    “why would the hotel management be less interested in stability at other times of year”
    Because if it is sold out, they must turn away customers. If it isn’t sold out, they sell a different room. If you hold a reservation and they must forgo business, then you cancel later, they may not be able to sell it in the last 30 days. They have more to lose than if they have additional rooms to sell.

  • Michael__K

    “they may not be able to sell it in the last 30 days”
    Well, the premise of this policy is that they WILL be able to sell it in the last 30 days (there is free cancellation at 30+ days vs. at 7+ days normally)…

  • Tim Mengelkoch


  • Harvey-6-3.5

    You may be right, but they allowed it after this website got involved. I wonder if the OP had asked herself, if the response would have been the same (I hope so, but my cynical side would disagree).

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