But no one told me about this $215 cancellation fee

When Nikki McCollum cancels her Booking.com rental in Rome, she’s shocked to learn about a $215 cancellation fee. Did they disclose the charge — and does she have to pay?

Question: I booked an apartment in Rome through Booking.com for next month. I did not see any cancellation policy on the website. After I booked the apartment and gave my credit card number, the cancellation policy was in plain sight.

I had to cancel the booking in January and was charged a $215 cancellation fee. Upon further investigation, I found a button labeled “more information,” which hid the cancellation policy.

I feel it is deceptive to hide it before the credit card is given. I booked another hotel the same day through Booking.com and their policy was in plain view from the beginning, so I assumed it was the same. Their policy stated that I could cancel up to 72 hours before the booking date.

I’d like a complete refund of $215. Can you help me? — Nikki McCollum, Tucson, Ariz.

Answer: Booking.com should have disclosed the cancellation policy up front rather than waiting until after you finished your reservation.

You didn’t take screenshots of your reservation, so I don’t know what the confirmation looked like, but it doesn’t really matter. If the cancellation policy wasn’t prominently brought to your attention, which it wasn’t, you have a problem — and I have a problem.

Actually, I also have a problem with a $215 cancellation fee. Under what circumstances would a guest cancellation cost a hotel $215, and particularly if they were able to re-sell the apartment? These fees are simply out of control. You gave Booking.com months to resell the unit, so the refund should have been automatic and painless.

Related story:   An empty vacation package from Expedia

But even if you can justify charging a $215 fee — and I’m not saying you can — then it’s still imperative that you tell the customer before the booking is complete.

Not after. Not during.


Now, I’m sure we’ll hear from the “rules-are-rules” readers who will point out that technically, Booking.com buries the terms in fine print before you finish your reservation, and that it was up to you to discover and review said terms.

That’s nonsense. If there’s a cancellation fee, or any fee, you deserve to know about it right up front. The company must hit you over the head with it. If it’s going to sock you with a surcharge, that’s the only way to go.

A member of our advocacy team contacted Booking.com on your behalf. A representative agreed to reduce your cancellation fee to $150, which you accepted.

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. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • fshaff

    That’s all they refunded? A measly $65?!

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    If the OP is happy, maybe the situation is more mixed. (Of course, they might have been happy to seen any money, also).

  • Lee

    If you look at booking.com you will see a little ? next to the info as to whether it is non-refundable or has free cancelation – you need to click on the little ? icon to get the details of that particular notation.

    It’s right there on every booking page. It’s not hidden – I don’t even use booking.com to actually book, only to see what is available before booking directly with the accommodation but they are not hiding anything. Do a random search – you will see it.

    It is ALL right in the column titled “Conditions” – sorry, I think this was the fault of the person who now got a refund because they contacted this well known site.

  • pauletteb

    I’ve used Booking.com several times; any cancellation fee was always disclosed BEFORE the payment screen and never “hidden.” Methinks the OP simply didn’t pay attention. Just because Booking.com doesn’t charge a cancellation fee doesn’t mean individual properties don’t.

  • judyserienagy

    I’ll start the pre-recorded message now. “Before you finalize a booking of anything, anywhere, read all the fine print. Click on all the buttons, pay careful attention to all the policies of the booking entity as well as the product you are reserving. Do not purchase anything until you understand what you are purchasing.” Such a shame that the travel providers make it seem so easy to make reservations on the internet … people don’t know what they don’t know. I’m glad she got a liittle break on this cancellation fee.

  • KanExplore

    So what was the total reservation amount? How can we tell whether $215 is reasonable in the absence of that information? Maybe that was just one night’s lodging. How do you know anyone was able to resell the apartment? What if during the time the apartment was being held by the OP somebody else wanted to rent it, but couldn’t, and went elsewhere instead? We just don’t know.

    I’ve used booking.com quite a few times, and always see and pay close attention to the cancellation policy. I don’t know if this is some unusual case, but normally on the page where room choices at a property are listed, each is identified with its cancellation policy before any credit card or log in information is requested. Just today I was looking for options in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, and in each case it was clear which rooms had free cancellation and which were nonrefundable. That’s been my experience with the website.

    The fact she was willing to take a fraction of what she was asking for suggests that she knew she had messed up and was lucky to get anything.

  • I really like Booking.com (I have two upcoming bookings through them, plus countless past bookings) but it can be quite hard to find the full conditions of your booking, as they are sometimes found with the little question mark you’ve noted, but other times you have to choose the “House Rules” tab at the top, other times you have to read “The Fine Print” tab, and on the page where you choose from available rooms, you have to look carefully to see if taxes are included or not (having booked in a range of hotels, from hostels to resorts, in four countries this month, I’m not even convinced that the inclusion or exclusion of taxes is consistently listed on the main page).

  • Rebecca

    “Do not purchase anything until you understand what you are purchasing.”

    Absolutely, positively 100% yes.

    There are so many cases I read here where I just can’t quite wrap my head around how people don’t follow such a simple, common sense rule. Spend $10k+ on a cruise and not purchase insurance, not have a passport/visa to travel out of the country, say an airline experience is the worst ever when we’ve just heard the story of a person that lost a child and really did have the worst airline experience ever, ask for emotional distress damages for a snafu in vacation plans, spell their own name incorrectly and not notice for months, not bother to check the cancellation policy and then try to blame the website for having an obvious button or tab that easily displays the information, the list goes on and on.

    I would add to your statement to also own your mistakes. It makes it much easier to solve a problem from both an advocate’s perspective and a company’s perspective if the consumer is upfront, honest and apologetic.

  • Rebecca

    It really is starting to make me a little crazy that so many OPs immediately jump to finding a way to blame the business when they make a mistake.

    Its one thing to say: this cancellation penalty is a large amount, I really should have checked it before I booked. My mistake, can you help me try to get at least a partial refund.

    Its another thing to say: this cancellation penalty is a large amount. It’s the website’s fault. If I.

  • Lee

    I always book directly with the accommodation but use booking.com to see what I want to check out – it’s a nice place to see listings of different hotels/B&Bs/etc and then I go directly to the lodgings’ websites to investigate further; I’ve never gotten a price that is different when booking directly and that way, I don’t have a “middle man” to deal with – and I am able to establish right from the start communication with where I have chosen to stay.

    Any “fine print” or “house rules” I read on the accommodation’s website and anything I want clarified, I simply email the lodging and inquire and get a response back usually within 24 hours or less.

    I’ve never found a cancelation policy to be different on the official websites than the one noted on booking.com

    To me, this is an instance, where the buyer just didn’t pay close attention – I may be wrong, of course, but a random search shows that column on “conditions” is filled with that essential info.

  • joycexyz

    Unfortunately, the rule seems to be “read the fine print…and it’s all fine print!” Full disclosure seems to be anathema to the modern way of doing business.

  • Blamona

    The no cancel usually means that your card is not run until the deadline. If the special is a no cancel and they run the card now, then banks impose fees for the transaction. So the apartment isn’t getting the fees, banks are.

  • Éamon deValera

    I had a similar problem with Booking.com. I booked a hotel (really a house but it was listed as a hotel) in a small Mexican town. It was locked when I arrived and no one answered the phone. I called Booking.com’s Mexico # and it failed and I called the US # several times with extended hold times. I left a note at the hotel on the door and went elsewhere.

    I emailed booking at the earliest opportunity. They replied by telephone four days later saying that they were unsure if the hotel would impose a 10% cancellation fee. They say I should have called the owner (who did provide a number in Berlin, not Mexico). I canceled the credit card as lost and blocked any pending or future charges.

    Their customer service is non-existent. Their cancellation policies ambiguous. I simply have neither the time nor the patience to deal with outfits such as booking.com. I no longer use them.

  • Lindabator

    take a quick look – CLEARLY shows nonrefundable, payable upon arrival, etc

  • Le Cochon Bleu

    I have looked clean through booking.com listings before, surveyed everywhere, and found no cance!lation policy at all at times.
    Does this mean I can cancel?
    Given I’m used to seeing “no cancellations at this rate” etc in booking.com also, it does seem to bring up a legitimate expectation where if there is no mention of “no cancellations” in a site & company you are used to, you can cancel without losing anything.

    Unfortunately, the truth is the opposite.

    Uless you find a clear statement in the description before you book saying “free cancellation by x date / up to check in” for example, you must assume you will lose everything if you cancel.

    Always look for it, even if you think you know the site.
    Never assume there is cancellation allowed in any degree without it being plainly stated.
    If you think you need to or ought to rely on a good cancellation policy, simply don’t book from any description until you’ve found that good cancellation policy plainly stated without further complications or direction to other T&Cs.
    If in doubt – email the agent or leaser rather than phoning, so the answer is clear & recorded & verifiable.

    Booking.com has been a particular offender for having a standard MI displaying cancellation policies, but in certain listings simply not mentioning any (meaning you can’t cancel or you lose everything).

  • Le Cochon Bleu

    ” It’s right there on every booking page.”

    No, not so with booking.com.
    The point about this is they seem to have some listings which simply don’t mention cancellation (meaning there is no cancellation allowed or you lose everything).
    Please see my fuller comment above.

    Most booking.com listings DO have a clear cancellation policy.
    The whole point about this is that, when a listing doesn’t mention any cancellation policy at all, the customer used to booking.com assumes it means there is no limitations upon cancelling – or else the description would state it.
    (I’ve seen these listings and nearly booked one once as a chronic illness sufferer who often has to cancel)

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