Here’s when you should refuse a hotel room 

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By Christopher Elliott

If you’ve ever opened the door to your hotel room and said, “Nope — I’m not doing that!” then you’ve probably wondered: When should you reject your hotel room?

I did this week when I checked into a hotel in the Caribbean and found a dead cockroach on the floor of my room. A very large cockroach.

What would you do?

It’s a question Chris Emery recently had to answer. When he checked into a chain hotel in Virginia, he was hit with the stench of stale urine. But he was so tired after driving all day that he just opened a window, hoping the odor would dissipate. It didn’t.

Emery, who publishes an outdoor travel site, went to the front desk the next morning and asked for a different room. Instead of giving him a new key card, the employee working at the desk reached behind the counter and put cans of room deodorizer and Febreze on the counter. 

“I was so shocked,” he says. “I didn’t know what to say.”

Well, I do: If someone hands you a can of deodorizer, it’s time to check out. Actually, Emery should have made a U-turn when he arrived. But it was late, and he wanted to give the hotel the benefit of the doubt.

The dead cockroach? I’ll get to that in a moment.

You can avoid having to refuse your hotel

Here are a few strategies for preventing this problem.

  • Careful research. If a hotel gives you a smoke-filled room, you can bet it’s not the first time. You can find a list of offenders online (they’re the ones with one-star reviews). Here’s more information about how to avoid bad hotel rooms with good research.
  • Expert help. A qualified and competent travel advisor will never book you in a hotel with a bad reputation. And if you end up with a problem, like noisy neighbors, a call to your travel agent can find a way to fix it without you having to engage in a lengthy negotiation.
  • A reasonable budget. Shopping for the lowest price can get you into trouble. Sure, you can find a lower rate — but you get what you pay for.

Still, some hotels make it past the vetting process.

So when should you refuse a hotel room? 

There are three main reasons you should immediately vacate your accommodations.

It’s dangerous

If your hotel room is in any way unsafe, leave. That includes doors or windows that don’t open properly, light fixtures that don’t work, or nonworking heating or air conditioning. Bear in mind that safety standards are different abroad. You might end up in a room that’s difficult to access if you have a disability or mobility issues. Ask the hotel to move you to a different room.

It’s unsanitary

Emery’s problem isn’t unique. I’ve talked to readers who checked into a room with wet sheets — or worse. (Try raw sewage coming out of the sink.) Needless to say, they left in a hurry. Don’t let it get to that point. Careful research can ferret out the dirty hotels. 

It’s too loud

In many cases, the hotel can’t control the noise levels. But if it’s so loud that you can’t work or sleep, you should not feel compelled to stay. Ask the hotel to move you, and if it can’t, check out.

How to reject a hotel room

Don’t just walk away when you refuse a hotel room. If the room is unusable, let the hotel know and give it a chance to fix the problem. Remember, the hotel could charge you for the full stay if you leave without saying anything.

For example, when Mike Sweat found a hairball on the floor of his hotel in Cheyenne, Wyo., he didn’t immediately leave. (Related: Chased out of his hotel for complaining about a small room. Is this enough compensation?)

Sweat, a retired geologist from Lansing, Mich., phoned the front desk, which promptly dispatched a cleaning crew. It also comped one of his nights as an apology. 

“I was very pleased with the response,” he says.

If the hotel won’t deliver, then it’s time to leave.

What if you have to check out?

If the hotel can’t make things right and leaving is the only alternative, what’s the best way to do it? I’ve had thousands of cases where people have checked out early, and I can tell you there’s a right way and a wrong way. 

The right way: Politely inform a manager that you are dissatisfied with the hotel’s resolution and that you are checking out early. A competent manager will apologize and offer another room. If there are no more rooms, the hotel should offer to walk you to another property and cover your first night’s lodging. (Related: problem: My room is too small! Can I get my money back?)

The wrong way: Threaten the hotel with a lawsuit and storm off.

“A courteous, nonthreatening in-person conversation with a manager is often the best path to a resolution,” says Carla Bevins, who teaches business management communication at Carnegie Mellon University.

Don’t forget to do this

If you have to leave, don’t forget to document the problems. Take pictures and videos, and document the names of those you spoke with at the hotel about your room issues. Save any follow-up emails between you and the hotel that document your dissatisfaction. Ultimately, you may have to take this up with your credit card issuer, which will ask for written proof. (Related: Charged $700 for damaging the TV in my room!)

So what happened to Emery, the guy with the urine-drenched room? The combination of foul-smelling quarters and a dismissive hotel clerk made the decision easy. He packed up his family and drove to a relative’s house.

Ah, but you’re probably wondering about my Caribbean cockroach. I’ve been to the islands many times, and I understand it gets buggy. There’s not much you can do about it. I stayed. If it had been alive, I might have asked for a different room.

I feel fortunate that I’ve never had to leave a hotel. But I’ve asked for a new room on many occasions, including last year at a large resort in Orlando. They’d given me a room next to the elevator, and I couldn’t sleep. That falls into the “loud neighbors” category, I suppose.

I hope I never have to check out of a hotel because of a substandard room. But when I do, I won’t hesitate — and neither should you.

By the way, if you leave your hotel and can’t get a refund, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my advocacy team. We’re always happy to help you.

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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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