Can you stay in a terrible hotel and then get a refund?

This visuals at this terrible hotel.

Wendy Rutkowski stayed in a terrible hotel, and she wants a full refund. But can you get your money back when you accidentally booked a room at the No-Tell Motel?

Interesting question.

For Rutkowski, the No-Tell was a Howard Johnson’s in Wisconsin. Her stay there was so terrible that she asked AARP, through which she’d booked the property, for a refund. AARP quickly offered a $200 voucher, but when the coupon didn’t work, she turned to my advocacy team for assistance.

Her case is a reminder that there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle a hotel problem. But it’s also a reassuring story because it underscores the fact that it’s never too late to get compensation — or a refund.

A complaint about a terrible hotel, and a swift resolution — or was it?

Rutkowski paid $460 for a week at the Howard Johnson’s. It was, to put it mildly, an ordeal.

“The room got cleaned only once,” she says. “There was construction noise. There was a moldy mattress. And there were nails on the floor. Also, the room smelled.”

This terrible hotel came complete with moldy mattresses and constructions material all over the carpets.
Rutkowski found nails and other construction material on the carpets throughout this terrible hotel

Also, she says the employees were noisy, knocking on her door in the early morning and banging on a vending machine late at night.

It sounds like Howard Johnson’s was undergoing a much-needed remodeling during her stay. Many of the problems she encountered could have been addressed on-site, but she stayed in the property for the full week.

The terrible view from the terrible room at this terrible hotel.
The view from Rutkowski’s uncleaned room

Following her stay, she complained to AARP, through which she’d booked the room, and a representative promptly agreed to offer a $200 goodwill voucher. Expedia powers AARP’s booking engine, so technically Expedia gave her the voucher.

Unfortunately, the voucher didn’t work.

“When I tried to use the voucher through Expedia, the hotels I picked would not accept it,” she says. “Come to find out, the coupon could only be used at a few hotels, which were not satisfactory to us. I contacted Expedia again, to try to get them to push this coupon through for one of the hotels we picked. No luck.”

And that’s how we got the case.

So can you stay in a terrible hotel and then get a refund?

Our advocacy team has dealt with cases like Rutkowski’s many times. Someone stays in a hotel and has such a terrible experience that they want a full refund. Is that even possible?

Well, kind of.

It all depends on the circumstances — and the timing of the request.

In Rutkowski’s case, she stayed at the Howard Johnson’s for the full seven nights she booked. There’s no written evidence that she tried to resolve any of the problems on site, which makes this difficult case even more difficult.

Here are the steps to a refund:

  • Tell the hotel about your problem immediately. Issues like room cleaning, a foul smell and moldy mattresses can be addressed then and there, not after you check out. If you suspect you have a laundry list of complaints, then narrow it down to the worst issues — perhaps the moldy mattress — and escalate it to the highest level until it’s resolved.
  • Give the hotel a chance to fix the issue. The Howard Johnson’s might have resolved all of Rutkowski problems, had she given it an opportunity. If she had an issue with construction noise, for example, the hotel might have moved her to a quieter floor. Again, while she might have said something, there’s no written evidence. See my next point.
  • Get the hotel chain involved and start a paper trail. At some point during Rutkowski’s week-long stay, she needed to reach out to Howard Johnson’s corporate and asked it to help her. At that point, the paper trail becomes extremely important. (To her credit, she took great photos of the substandard room.)
  • Ask your travel agent to help. Rutkowski had several advantages. She’d made her reservation through AARP, powered by Expedia, which has a lot of clout with a company like Howard Johnson’s. Although she leaned on the company for a fix after her stay, she might have asked for help before she left the property.
  • Leave. Don’t stay in a terrible hotel. If your efforts to fix a problem fail, find alternate accommodations. Do not stay in the hotel for a week.

If Rutkowski had followed these steps, I don’t think I’d have a story to write.

Chasing a refund for this awful hotel

After Rutkowski’s voucher failed, she tried to appeal to her credit card company. But it turned down her dispute, saying she had already stayed in the hotel and had paid for it a long time ago. None of her contacts at Expedia or AARP would help her use the $200 voucher, which is when she turned to my advocacy team. After reaching out to the Elliott Advocacy team, our advocate Dwayne Coward contacted Expedia on her behalf. Here’s how it responded:

After hearing of our customer’s experience, we contacted the property and advocated on their behalf on more than one occasion.

The property declined a refund. However, Expedia has gone ahead and provided the customer with a full refund requested in the amount of $461.68.

We are also taking steps to look into the condition of this hotel and it should be temporarily unavailable on our site until we complete our research. The customer also received a $200 voucher to use for an upcoming booking as a gesture of goodwill for their inconvenience.

Our customers are our first priority and we will always advocate for them with our partners and do everything we can when they encounter a less than satisfactory experience.

Rutkowski is pleased with that resolution, and so is my team.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Expedia shouldn’t have issued an unusable voucher, Rutkowski should have been more proactive in trying to get the problems fixed while she was still at the hotel. And Howard Johnson’s — oh, Howard Johnson’s, where do I even start? This is no way to run a hotel.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend