No credit for your nonrefundable hotel room

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By Christopher Elliott

True, Jorge Sanchez-Salazar booked a nonrefundable room at the Hampton Inn & Suites Reagan National Airport through Orbitz. And it’s true, too, that he canceled the trip, and that under the rules, the hotel could keep his money — all of it.

But that doesn’t sit well with him, and on second thought, maybe it doesn’t with other travelers, either.

Even airlines, with the restrictive and often customer-hostile policies, offer customers who cancel their nonrefundable flights the ability to use their flight credit (minus a confiscatory change fee, but let’s not get mired in the details).

Sanchez-Salazar’s circumstances were frustrating. He booked a package that included a flight and hotel, but realized just an hour later that he’d bought it for the wrong week.

“Admittedly stupid on my part,” he says.

Flexible refund policy

Orbitz refunded the flights, because he canceled within 24 hours. But a supervisor told him the hotel was completely nonrefundable.

“I argued that the explicit prohibition only applies to refunds, and there is no mention of vouchers. Therefore, I asserted that a voucher, even for partial value, is reasonable,” he says. “The supervisor countered, stating that since there is no language addressing vouchers, they are not permitted.”

This case raises an interesting question: As more hotels sell nonrefundable rooms, why can’t they also offer vouchers toward a future stay when their guests cancel?

As a consumer, I think it’s kind of absurd for the property to pocket all of your money without giving you something. But I put the question to lodging consultant John Fareed.

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“Hoteliers typically stick to their guns and do not offer a credit for later use,” he says.

But, he adds, the comparison to airlines doesn’t quite hold up because hotels offer more flexible refund policies on many of their rooms. These policies allow you to cancel within 24 hours of your stay without incurring any charges.

It’s also worth noting that, even when hotels categorize rooms as nonrefundable, they typically impose a one-night penalty. This penalty is roughly equivalent to paying an airline rebooking fee. More or less.

Fair customer compensation

“Hoteliers view room nights are perishable inventory, and typically hold customers accountable, feeling that they might have been able to sell the room if it hadn’t been reserved — they also budget their hotel staff accordingly and have typically scheduled around expected arrivals,” adds Fareed. (Related: Double-booked on Orbitz – but why didn’t they tell me?)

I asked Orbitz about offering customers who book nonrefundable hotel rooms a credit and showed them Sanchez-Salazar’s complaint. A representative reviewed his file and contacted me promptly. He said Orbitz is bound by hotel policies, which can vary. In this particular case, Orbitz had initially offered Sanchez-Salazar a promotional code to make up for the lost room, and agreed to take up his case with the hotel. (Here’s how to find the best hotel at the most affordable rate.)

“The hotel has finally agreed to a refund,” said the Orbitz spokesman. “He is apparently very satisfied with the outcome.”

I agree, and think this is a more than equitable resolution. But the question remains — can hotels do this better?

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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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