My mattress was soiled. Can I get a refund from Hilton?

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By Christopher Elliott

When Michael Whitfield checked into the Hilton Garden Inn by Hilton Beaufort, he found a room that was, as they say in the south, in less than presentable condition.

Actually, I’m having some trouble writing what really happened. 

So before we continue, a warning: This article deals with human excretory functions and is intended for mature audiences. Reader discretion is advised.

A “severely” soiled mattress

When Whitfield opened the door to his room, he says the mattress on his bed was “severely soiled.”

“It looked like human excrement,” he says.

Whitfield checked out of the hotel immediately, which is also what I would have done. He asked Hilton for a full refund. A manager promised him a full $467 refund. (Related: Should Hilton have the last word on this TripAdvisor takedown?)

It’s been six months, and Whitfield is starting to think it’ll never happen.

“This is dragging on way too long,” he says.

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Whitfield’s case raises a few unpleasant questions:

  • Do you get a refund from a hotel if you have a soiled mattress?
  • Can you get a free night at a hotel when someone defecated in your bed?
  • When your mattress is soiled, who is responsible for refunding your money?

And to all those questions, I will have the answer.

A soiled mattress and a delayed refund

I have to be honest with you: This is a case study of hotel mismanagement if I’ve ever seen one. 

Housekeepers should spot a soiled mattress and alert their manager. As best I can tell, Whitfield’s room wasn’t serviced before he checked in. There are a lot of safeguards in place to make sure that doesn’t happen — but many things went seriously wrong before he was confronted with the soiled mattress.

“The general manager acknowledged the gross mattress and agreed to a refund,” he says.

The soiled mattress in Michael Whitfield’s room.

But you can probably guess what happened next. The refund never came. The manager who promised the refund resigned, according to Whitfield (I asked Hilton about this case and it did not address the personnel issue).

Whitfield was handed off to a new manager, who also promised him a refund. But that refund also didn’t come. Whitfield politely asked for an update a few days later and received a contrite answer: 

I apologize. You should be disappointed. I dropped the ball on this. I thought it was being taken care of and never followed up. I’ll look into this and be back in touch as soon as I have a resolution. This is at the top of my to-do list.

And would you believe it, the refund still didn’t come. What was going on?

Expedia is in the middle of this soiled mattress case

A review of our case notes shows the likely problem. In a phone conversation between the general manager and Whitfield, the hotel blames Expedia for the slow refund.

“The refund request would not process through our portal so I gave them a call,” the manager told him. “I spoke with an agent and went over the situation pertaining to your stay. She said she could not approve a refund but she would escalate the matter to get the refund.”

The manager added, “I’m sorry you are having to go through this, but as I informed you via phone, we have no way of controlling a refund through a third party. They took the payment, so they will have to refund the payment.” (Related: This hotel is too small and I have a headache! Can I get my money back?)

The manager also promised to deposit some Hilton points in his account. But those never showed up, either.

On the surface, all this sounds reasonable. Shouldn’t Expedia refund Whitfield’s money if it took it? Perhaps. But I think there are times when the customer service experience is so negative that you shouldn’t have to wait for an online travel agency to approve a refund — and a soiled mattress is one of those times.

Do you get a refund from a hotel if you have a soiled mattress?

If you find a soiled mattress, do you deserve a refund for your hotel?

In a word, yes.

Urine, feces, or any other kind of human discharge is a red line. If you find any of those on your bed, you can — and should — do the following:

  • Take a picture of the mattress and the discharge.
  • Contact a manager immediately.
  • Inform the manager that you will be leaving the hotel and that you want a refund.

Why should you leave the hotel immediately? Because if you’ve checked into a hotel with a soiled mattress, it’s not a well-run hotel. It would fail a health inspection and is not safe to stay in. It’s time to check out. (Here’s our guide to finding the best hotels.)

Under most circumstances, the manager can issue an immediate refund. It is worth waiting at the front desk while the manager processes your refund. 

Why? Again, you’re dealing with a poorly run property. Even if you have a promise of a refund in writing, you may never get it because the hotel is so badly mismanaged. So don’t leave the hotel without a receipt that proves you have your money back. 

Can you get a free night at a hotel when someone defecated in your bed?

Usually, the answer is yes.

The hotel has done something very bad by giving you a room with a soiled mattress. This is the least it can do:

  • Fully refund your room.
  • Give you a credit for a future stay within the chain.
  • Credit your loyalty account with enough points for a night or two.

You should also expect a personal, written apology from the general manager for the oversight. (Related: How to find the best – and avoid the worst – hotel room.)

But getting a free night when someone defecates in your bed can be a negotiation. If you freak out and start yelling at the staff, you will spend some of the goodwill this incident affords you. So my advice would be to remain calm and let the situation speak for itself:

Poopy bed. Unsanitary hotel. Please fix this.

But it depends on the severity of the soiling. For example, I checked into a hotel recently and my sheets felt a little damp. There was no odor. Time to call the manager? No. I figured they pulled the sheets out of the dryer too soon and were in a hurry to turn the room. I let it slide.

On the other hand, if someone defecated on my bed, I would be taking pictures of it and calling the manager right away. That’s a really serious problem for which you should get a few free nights as compensation.

When your mattress is soiled, who is responsible for refunding your money?

I believe the hotel is responsible for refunding all of your money as soon as possible when you report a soiled mattress in the room and ask for your money back. But that’s debatable, and know some of you in the hotel industry might feel otherwise (please vote in today’s poll or leave a comment).

In reviewing this case file, it appears Hilton refunded Expedia, but Expedia decided to keep Whitfield’s money because his room was nonrefundable. So no matter how many times the hotel asked it to send the money back to him, the answer would be no. Also, Expedia has no idea how serious the problem was that led to Hilton agreeing to a refund.

When a hotel is dealing with bodily fluids contaminating a bed, it can’t blame a third party for a slow refund. The hotel needs to make it right. (Related: Can you stay in a terrible hotel and then get a refund?)

That’s not consumer advice — it’s PR advice for the hotel manager. Because if you don’t fix it quickly, your guest will go to a consumer advocate, who might write a story about this unfortunate incident.

Will he ever get his money back in this soiled mattress case?

So will Whitfield ever get the refund he’s been promised? Our advocacy team was on this case. We contacted Hilton and it didn’t respond. So we reached out to the company again. And finally, almost a month after we asked Hilton about this case, we got the update we had all hoped for: Not only did Hilton refund his money, it also deposited 50,000 points in his account.

“I received a check today for the full amount,” he added. “This issue has now been fully resolved. Thanks so much to you and the team for helping me with this!”

I’m so glad we could get this fixed (thank you, team!) but I think there’s a takeaway for the rest of us. If something goes seriously wrong during your next hotel stay, don’t leave without getting it addressed right then and there. Otherwise, you could end up waiting six months for your money. (Related: How to find the best hotel at the lowest price in 2024.)

OK, your turn. Who should be on the hook for a refund when there’s a soiled mattress — or anything else that’s seriously wrong?

When something goes seriously wrong at a hotel, who should issue a refund?

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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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