How to get a refund from your hotel — even when it doesn’t want to give you one

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By Christopher Elliott

Here’s Dominique Huneycutt’s problem with Extended Stay America: The hotel promised her a refund for an awful stay. (And by “awful” I mean awful.) Then it ghosted her.

You know what that means? Not only do I get to tell you how awful the hotel was, but I also get to go after Extended Stay America for the missing refund. 

Are you ready?

Along the way, let’s answer a few questions:

  • How do I ask for compensation from a hotel?
  • How do I get a refund from a hotel?
  • What if a hotel won’t give me a refund?

But the main event is Huneycutt’s story. Let’s get to it.

“Visible stains” on my sheets at Extended Stay America

Huneycutt’s misadventure began when she and her husband booked a room at Extended Stay America in Boston. They’d confirmed a nonsmoking room with a queen bed.

“When we arrived, there was no one at the desk,” she recalls.

They called the main number. No answer. After a ten-minute wait, an employee finally showed up with some bad news: They were out of rooms with a queen bed. They could upgrade the couple into a bigger room, but it would cost extra.

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Huneycutt said she just wanted the room she’d reserved and confirmed. The clerk finally agreed to give her an upgraded room at no extra cost.

And that’s when things took a turn for the worse.

“When we got to the room, there was a distinct smell of smoke,” recalls Huneycutt. “We were supposed to be in a nonsmoking room.”

The room was terrible in other ways, too. Huneycutt says the carpet was worn. The cabinet doors did not completely close, and the furniture was in tatters. The towel rack was rusty. 

“The sheets, although crisp, had visible stains,” she says.

You get the idea.

“I found this experience to be unacceptable as a guest,” she says. “When I expressed concerns to the clerk in the morning, he indicated that management had changed and they were ‘working through’ some issues that still needed to be addressed.” 

Extended Stay America: “We’ll get back to you”

Huneycutt checked out and decided to take her complaint to the Extended Stay America site. She received an auto-response that promised an answer within two business days.

A week passed with no response. So Huneycutt phoned Extended Stay America.

“The representative with whom I spoke could find no record of my online submission and said those went to a different department,” she recalls. “She recorded my concerns and, again, said someone would get back to me in two business days.”

Another week passed with no response.

“I called again,” she says. “The representative acknowledged that the time had lapsed and that I should have been contacted. They said they would escalate the matter but, again, that I would have to wait two business days.”

Another week passed. And still no response.

“I called again,” she says. A representative told her they couldn’t help but referred her to a district manager.

Finally, a district manager called. He apologized for the long delay and promised a partial refund for the inconvenience of staying in a smoking room that was in disarray.

“He said that a partial refund would be processed to the credit card within the week and he would keep an eye on the matter,” she says. “He asked that I call him if I did not receive the refund.”

You can probably guess what happened next, right?

There was no refund, and half a dozen calls to the district manager were not returned.

Huneycutt contacted me after waiting a month for her refund.

“Chris, can you help?” she asked.

How do I ask for compensation from a hotel?

When you have a bad hotel stay, you can get compensation. For example, Hampton Inn has a 100% guarantee that promises to “consistently go the extra mile” to deliver the exceptional stay you deserve. And if you don’t get it, you can certainly lean on the hotel chain for compensation or even a refund. (In the past, Hampton offered a money-back guarantee, but too many guests took advantage of it.)

Here are the steps:

  • If you see something, say something. If you check into a hotel and something is wrong, call the front desk immediately. Better yet, go to the front desk in person and politely ask about the problem. If you wait, it could be too late. 
  • Document the problem. Be sure to take photos with your phone — the worn-out furniture, broken fixture, or damaged TV set. As I like to say, a picture is worth a thousand dollars.
  • Let the hotel suggest a resolution (but have a number in mind). A hotel usually has lots of options for fixing a problem. It can include switching rooms, upgrading you, or offering you a partial or full refund. Let the hotel make the first offer. But always have a desired resolution in mind, and don’t be afraid to negotiate for the outcome you want.

So how did Huneycutt do? I’ll give her an A for negotiating, but she should have mentioned her problems when he checked into the room — not when she checked out.

How do I get a refund from a hotel?

Hotels don’t like to refund room charges. Generally, they’d prefer to offer you a “free” night or a credit. A full refund is normally reserved for truly catastrophic stays. (Related: Hit by a late charge? Here’s why you should write it up.)

Partial refund: Some hotels can adjust your room rate for an inconvenience like the hot water going out or construction noise. Most of our readers with hotel problems ask to have their rate adjusted rather than asking for all of their money back. 

Full refund: You will need to have an airtight case for a refund — and an approval from a manager, preferably in writing. (And even if you have it in writing, you may still have to wait and be persistent.)

Here are the steps to getting a hotel refund

  • Ask to speak with a manager. Whether you want a partial refund or a full refund, the best approach is to speak directly to a manager. Normally, there’s a manager on duty who can help, but if that fails, ask for the general manager.
  • Describe the problem. Let the manager know what has gone wrong and show the manager your documentation.
  • Ask for a refund. Politely ask for either a full or partial refund. Don’t forget, the manager might also offer other ways to address your concerns, like a complimentary meal.
  • Get the promise in writing. This may be the most important part of the solution. A promise of a refund must be made in writing and signed by the manager, otherwise it will be quickly forgotten. Trust me, I’ve seen it repeatedly.
  • How to make them pay on time. The only thing a hotel likes less than returning money to a guest is returning it on time. Oh, the foot-dragging our readers have seen (including Huneycutt). It’s enough for you to swear off hotels forever.
  • Persistence pays. As you will see in a moment, a steady drumbeat of requests will eventually pay dividends. 

What if a hotel won’t give you a refund?

Once a hotel commits to a refund, you should be able to get it. 

But there are rare cases when a higher-level manager will overrule a manager and rescind a refund offer. I’ve seen this happen. That’s why it’s so important to get a promise in writing. Once someone has committed an offer to writing, it’s difficult to go back on it.

But not impossible. A manager may say, “Our employee made the offer in error. We are sorry, but we can’t give you the refund we promised.”

What then? You have several options:

  • Appeal to a supervisor. If the general manager overruled an employee, then appeal to someone at the corporate level. Everyone has a boss.
  • File a credit card dispute. Many banks view refund promises made in writing as credit memos. They will refund your money to your credit card. I’ve seen that happen, too. (Here’s my guide to credit card disputes.)
  • Enlist the help of a professional. Your travel advisor should be able to advocate for you, and if that doesn’t work, you can always reach out to my consumer advocacy team. We’re always here for you.

But after all that drama, what happened to Huneycutt?

Will she finally get her refund from Extended Stay America?

Extended Stay America clearly was dealing with some challenges, not just at this property, but also at the district level. 

I reviewed the lengthy paper trail between Huneycutt and the hotel. Yes, he could have appealed to one of the executives at Extended Stay America that I list on my consumer advocacy site. But I was afraid that would send her on yet another misadventure. No more extensions for Extended Stay America!

I contacted the company on her behalf. A few days later, I received an email from her. 

“I wanted to let you know that Extended Stay America issued a refund,” she told me. “No letter came with it or anything — only a notice of refund. I very much appreciate your help in resolving this situation!”

About this story

My advocacy team receives dozens of cases a month about bad hotel stays, so this was a topic we really needed to cover. But what made me choose this case? I think getting strung along for more than a month after having been promised a refund really pushed this case to the top of my to-do list. I wish Extended Stay America had offered either her or me a more detailed response about what went wrong instead of just paying her back with no comment. This story was researched, written and fact-checked by Christopher Elliott, edited by Andy Smith and his team and illustrated by Dustin Elliott.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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