Hey, what happened to my hotel refund?


When Barbara Kaplan checks out of her hotel after suffering an apparent allergic reaction, a manager promises her a refund. So where’s the money?

Question: Would you help me with a dilemma, please? I recently booked a trip to Seattle through Expedia. My accommodations were at the Marriott’s Renaissance Seattle Hotel.

On my first night, when I turned on the heat, I felt as if I was getting bitten all over. In fact, I had red welts on my face and back.

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The next morning, I told an assistant manager that I could no longer stay there. Apparently, he knew of the heating unit’s problem — it was full of pollen that affected hyperallergic people. He was very apologetic and helpful at the time, and he said he would cancel my full reservation. He explained that Expedia deferred to the hotel in these types of decisions.

However, when I received my credit card bill, the charge of $989 for my four-day stay was listed on it. The hotel claims that it sent a full refund to Expedia, but Expedia hasn’t refunded my account. Could you assist me in removing all charges from my bill? — Barbara Kaplan, Swarthmore, Pa.

Answer: Yes and no. You’re entitled to a partial refund if the hotel told you that it would give you one. A review of the Renaissance’s restrictions suggests that you could have canceled your reservation up to a day before your arrival. Otherwise, you would be charged for the first night as a penalty.

You waited until the morning after to take this up with a manager. I’m not sure I would have been that patient. The best time to address a consumer grievance is at the moment it happens — when you can show a hotel employee the red welts that are keeping you awake. The Renaissance might have been able to offer you a different room, or perhaps even a room at another Marriott hotel in the area, in order to make your stay more comfortable.

If the hotel refunded Expedia directly instead of sending the money back to your card, there would have been a little lag time. But how much? It all depends; however, it’s not that unusual to wait two to three billing cycles for the money to appear.

But as a practical matter, Expedia should send you the money as soon as it gets it. If it doesn’t, you could contact the hotel (which you did) and the online travel agency. A written request probably would work best. I list the name, emails and phone numbers of Expedia’s executives on my site.

I contacted Expedia on your behalf, and it refunded your room rate, minus $247 for the first night you spent at the Renaissance.

When the assistant manager told you he would cancel your “full” reservation, he meant that he would cancel the entire remaining reservation. Had you notified the hotel of your health issues sooner, and checked out before the morning, I might have been able to push for a refund of the entire amount, particularly if a hotel representative had offered you all of your money back. But the partial refund is enough to close this case.

Did Barbara Kaplan deserve a refund?

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98 thoughts on “Hey, what happened to my hotel refund?

  1. Unfortunately poorly worded question today. I voted “yes” because she did deserve a refund – a partial one as she received. I suspect many readers will read the question as …”did she deserve a full refund.” To which, my answer would be “No.”

  2. This is a perfectly reasonable solution. And the OP wasn’t asking for all sorts of extra compensation, like it seems like I’ve seen recently. She asked for something reasonable and received it, although it shouldn’t have required Chris’ help.

  3. What I find most disturbing about this case, is that the hotel was aware of this and continued to book customers into that room. Now, an allergic reaction can be anything from itchy skin to anaphylactic shock. While not likely, it is possible they could have found this woman dead in the morning.

    The proper handling of this would have been for the hotel to replace the unit, or, if the pollen is from a nearby tree, to install some sort of HEPA filter to keep the pollen out of the room. But not doing anything and and hoping your guests won’t have a problem isn’t a particularly smart way to handle this.

    1. Maybe her mommy she wipe her tears. What a knock. Of ,as she state she’s “hypersensitive”
      She should stay home. I bet she has a track record of being a total pain in the ass everywhere she goes. Stay home.

      1. That’s the dark side of the internet. People feel liberated in making attacks that they wouldn’t have the nerve to do in real life. Incidentally, she never refers to herself as hypersensitive but merely “hyperallergenic”, which isn’t a real word, but I digress.

        I took a quick gander at your other Disqus comments. I’ll concede that they are consistent.

          1. No. hyper-allergic would be someone who is very allergic to things. hyper-allergenic is something that triggers (induces) allergies at a high rate.

            Pollen may be considered hyper-allergenic.

          2. No. Hyperallergic is some blog run by marketing folks a few blocks from where my son lives in Brooklyn :-}

          3. I couldn’t find that word in any dictionary that I searched. I assume that although we can parse it, it’s a nonstandard word such as “irregardless and broughten”

          4. I cringe whenever I hear “irregardless” just like New Yorkers who stand “on line” when everyone else stands “in line.” 🙂

            But I have no clue what “broughten” is even supposed to mean.

          5. I know, I was joking. Must be a regional thing since I don’t think I have ever heard it used.

            And brought is already the past tense. So what is the past tense of the past tense? 🙂

          6. From merckmanuals(.)com: Allergic reactions (hypersensitivity reactions) are inappropriate responses of the immune system to a normally harmless substance.

          7. That’s because it’s not a legitimate term. Allergenic is a term related to products, while allergic is related to people. Thus a product can be hypoallergenic (or not likely to cause an allergic reaction). The AP meant to say that she has acute allergies to pollens, etc.

            Interesting study of the prefixes hypo and hyper …

    2. It could possible rise to have a wanton and reckless disregard for the safety of the guests. That’s very bad from a legal perspective.

    3. Yeah, seriously. They could’ve put a DNR on it until they solved the problem. Not sure why they were renting it, either. Y’know, unless this property is that sketchy…

      (DNR = Do not rent. From my hotel-worker days…)

      1. Whew, I thought you meant put a note on the OP’s door that reads, “Do Not Resuscitate.” I mean, I know they were kind of a problem guest for the hotel, but that would be a drastic way of getting rid of them.

      2. DNR = Do Not Refund ?
        These rooms look fine to me 🙂 Maybe even beyond my price range unless someone else is paying (or paying with points).

    4. A better solution would be to call the local Board of Health and report it to them. I would bet the hotel would fix it real fast. It’s not acceptable that they know there is an issue and just hope no one with allergies stays in that room.

      1. Defies logic since the majority of people do not respond to triggers that drive hyper-sensitive people nuts. Also allergies to what. That could be a long, long list.

  4. Yes, not only is she due a full refund, were she to hire an ambulance chaser, she would almost certainly obtain additional compensation. The hotel is lucky that she settled for just the remaining nights, which, if my after-midnight understanding is correct, she was indisputably entitled to.

    I’m not convinced that the manager is being truthful. Quoting the article

    When the assistant manager told you he would cancel your “full”
    reservation, he meant that he would cancel the entire remaining
    reservation… He explained that Expedia deferred to the
    hotel in these types of decisions.

    But the article states

    Otherwise, you would be charged for the first night as a penalty.

    So, if she could cancel as a matter of right and only pay one night’s penalty, what exactly is Expedia deferring to? Unless she loses her right to cancel unused nights upon checking in; something I have not heard of.

    1. I just moved to Atlanta and saw the funniest personal injury attorney commercial this morning. The concept was, and I am really quoting, “ambulances chase him.” That gave me a good 6AM laugh!

    2. She used the first night, therefore under absolutely no rules is she due that first night back, nor would she get it. It is highly doubtful she would get any additional compensation as you state either. She would have to prove to the hotel it was not caused by something else, she sought medical attention and had some sort of of lingering and debilitating effects from it. None of which sounds as if she can.

      1. This would be a very simple case. The assistant manager gave her the smoking gun that would clinch this case. He admitted that that room’s AC is full of pollen that is known to cause reactions to “hyperallegenic” people.

        The ambulance chaser would send over discovery establishing under oath the following

        1. The presence of the pollen
        2. The foreknowledge of the hotel both to its existence and the consequences
        3. The names and contact information of every guest who complained about allergies in that room
        4. The lack of the hotel is providing any warnings.

        He would then submit an allergy test establishing the LW’s reaction to this type of pollen. Finally, the testimony of the LW showing that the injuries are consistent with the allergic reaction.

        It’s all about the assistant manager’s admission.

        The insurance company would be falling all over itself to resolve that case quickly, although admittedly, it’s not a high value case.

        1. That assistant manager’s admission is on tape or written down, right? Because I’m inclined to believe certain things get “forgotten” after time.

          In my totally nonlegally informed opinion, I think she put a huge dent in any potential case by staying the night. Whenever I have a problem with a room, I go straight to the hotel phone to call the front desk. It should be instinctive.

          Thanks for your perspective, though.

          1. You are 100+% correct about the question as to whether the assistant manager will conveniently forget about the conversation.

        2. I often have to wonder what world you live in. Clearly not the world of travel litigation. These cases will never go nearly as far as your imagination.

          1. I found an interested quote that I thought was appropriate to share.

            It is an axiom that personal attacks are the last resort of the wrong and weak-minded

            I hope you enjoyed the quote as much as I enjoyed it.

    3. I love hearing legit lawyers call the shysters “ambulance chasers.”
      Seriously, that made my day, Carver.

    4. My theory is that the hotel did refund the full reservation including the first night, and Expedia kept the first night. I base this on one of the few times I used Expedia, where the hotel was so bad I left within an hour of checking in, and the hotel corporate promised a 100% refund, and said they processed it, and Expedia refused to refund me citing the penalty in the reservation (I had to cancel the day before arrival). Expedia believed they were entitled to keep the penalty even though the hotel refunded it.

        1. I spoke to our resident attorney back when this happened, he said there was nothing I could do. Expedia had a binding arbitration clause and a venue clause, so I woudl have to go to them at my expense, and meat with their arbitrator also at my expense, which was more than they owed. There was also some clause he found about them being able to keep 100% of what I pay as their fee, and they pay for the reservation on my behalf which he said would surely cause me to loose. He sent them a letter and they offered a voucher for future travel for the amount I paid.

  5. I find this pollen story a bit hard to believe. Usually if you are suffering from allegies you stay indoors and turn the AC on to avoid exposure to the pollen. Unless your AC is sucking a ton of tree pollen from the outside which DOWNTOWN Seattle in not known for, then how does it get it?
    Hence I call BS to this “Apparently, he knew of the heating unit’s problem — it was full of pollen that affected hyperallergic people. ”
    The LW might have been showing an allergic reaction but I don’t think it is from pollen in downtown Seattle. Possibly more from mold or even dust mites.
    From a Seattle based Allergy Clinic:
    Finding the cause of hives and swelling is difficult and about half of the time it is called “idiopathic”, meaning we can’t find a cause.  When the problem is acute generally few or no tests are needed.  The best clues to finding the cause come from the history such as starting a new medication, a bee sting or eating an unusual food.  When hives and swelling are chronic it is rare that any obvious causes can be found.  Furthermore, and contrary to what most people and some physicians believe, it is very rare for chronic hives and swelling to be caused by something external such as foods or inhaled things.  In most cases, skin testing to these materials is not done and if they are done and positive it simply identifies the person as being allergic, i.e. having hay fever, but are rarely the direct cause of the hives or swelling.

    1. @TonyA_says:disqus I agree with you today. Something just doesn’t add up in the story. You would think if someone was that sensitive, they would choose a brand that caters to the condition like Hyatt and their “Pure” hypoallergenic rooms. I checked and their Grand Hyatt in Seattle, which is their brand equivalent to Marriott’s Renaissance brand, does offer Pure rooms.

      1. I now carry an emergency inhaler with me during pollen season. My youngest kid had severe issues with asthma so this is a topic important to me. Before I travel to a place, I do some elementary research because I don’t want a trip to the emergency room.
        That said people just don’t get a severe allergic reaction to room airconditioning unless they already have some hypersensitivity to something they just don’t know or neglect to manage.
        Something else happened here. And if I am the LW, I’ll make sure to go to an Allergist so this won’t repeat.

      2. I agree with you guys that we are not getting the whole story.

        It is hard for me to believe that the manager will tell a guest that the HVAC unit is full of pollen, we know about it, etc. but we gave you a sub-standard room.

        When I have encountered problems (which have been few over the past 20 years) at a Marriott hotel (ranging from Fairfield Inns to a JW Marriott Resorts); they have fixed it; offered compensation (i.e. free meals, Marriott Rewards points; room upgrade; etc.).

        My wife has allergies and is sensitive to some cleaning agents, smoke, etc. If my wife has a reaction, we get a new rental car, hotel room, etc. at that moment. I don’t understand why the OP waited until the following morning to report the problem…I am sure that they would have moved her to another room…I would like to know if she had a reaction in a “good room”.

        The article didn’t state if she went to another hotel for the remaining three nights. If she didn’t then there is something else going on.

        1. I agree. I have had few problems from Marriott properties, and when I have, it has always been corrected ASAP. The one time it was not corrected, the maintenance guy came to my room (as we were leaving after 2 nights,) the window kept blowing open. He says “this should have been fixed the night it was reported.” He promptly asked me to come down to the front desk with him, and he TOLD the manager to comp my room.

          It was a minor inconvenience, not a big problem, and that has always been the standard I have seen with Marriott.

      3. Whoa! thanks for the tip. I have heavy duty dust/mold allergies and lots of problems with the HVAC in most hotel rooms. Will check this out. Do you know if the standard pillows are non-feather?

    2. Maybe it was the detergent they used? I have gotten red bumps all over from certain detergents, though never at hotels. Just when I have bought new detergents.

      I stayed at a hotel with a self contained A/C that wreaked of Mildew. I complained and they sent someone to clean it. When the smell came back a few days later they cleaned it again. This kept happening until they finally found that the drain was plugged, they cleared the drain and the smell never came back. I was quite lucky it wasn’t mold. Every time I complained, they sent someoen up the same day, and they always left chocolate hammers with a little card with hazard warning apologizing for the inconvenience.

          1. I have stayed at several Marriot hotels in the past 20 years (over 1,000 nights) and it has been my experience that the upper end brands (i.e. Marriott, Renaissance, JW Marriott Resorts, etc.) typically have ‘central’ air with the thermostat on the wall and the ACHeating vents in the ceilings. With the lower end brands (I.e. Fairfield Inns, Courtyard by Marriott, SpringHill Suites, etc.) typically will have an unit like in the post by emanon256…sometimes the control is on the unit and sometimes there is a thermostat on the wall.

            I can’t recall a ‘window unit (like the one emanon 256 posted) in a room that I have stayed at in the upper end brands. There are always exceptions. Sometimes a hotel will switch brands (i.e. Hilton to Marriott) so there could be differences when a hotel was built. The property started out as one brand and was switched during the construction. The franchisee didn’t follow the corporate details. Local construction codes.

            There could be something missing from the story.

          2. On a high-rise building like this one, it has hard to use those independent units. They will probably use central air (with zone controls) and a cooling tower somewhere in the building.

          3. That is the reason why I have some issues in buying the part of the assistant manager telling the OP that the heating unit for that room is bad when it is central air (AC and Heat) which means several rooms will have the same issue.

      1. That and those harsh chemicals they clean with. Sometimes the fumes they give off make me sick.

        ADDED: the clogged drain issue is probably the culprit here.

          1. That was the absolute first thing I thought of when I saw red, itchy welts, but the OP did say that turning on the heater is what started the reaction. She didn’t mention being in bed when the welts developed.

      2. Uh oh, you mentioned “chocolate”. I guess that word sets off a reaction among certain hypersensitive people (see a post on Wednesday’s article).

          1. Theobroma cacao is the botanical name for the tree that produces chocolate. So, I’ll accept hypercocollergic as another of today’s made up words, now that you’ve broughten it up.

    1. Re: she should have spoken up immediately.
      Totally agree.
      Allergic reactions are SUDDEN. Hence the word to BREAK in hives.
      Why would anyone sleep and stay overnight in room where there is a high concentration of allergens strong enough to cause these symptoms.
      I would have called hotel emergency for help since this is a medical condition.

  6. As a reader with seasonal allergies, let me add a few thoughts.

    When I moved from Nebraska to Seattle, I found a whole new bunch of stuff that caused me to get stuffed up that we don’t see much of in Nebraska. The OP is from Pennsylvania. (And moving back to Nebraska *really* confused my histamine receptors!)

    Second, pollen travels well beyond geopolitical boundaries.

    Third, anything that causes one to break out, sneeze or otherwise suffer an allergic reaction gets called “pollen” by folks who either don’t know any better or who want to downplay a more serious problem. I think Tony is right about dust mites or mold, as pollen generally doesn’t cause welting. Dust mites are more likely. I broke out like crazy cleaning out my mother’s house and my allergist said it was dust mites.

    Regardless of what it was that the heater was spewing out (not the AC – check the OP’s letter), it was a known defect in that room. The room should not have been rented out until the problem was resolved. Accusing the OP of being hyper-sensitive is poor customer service; blaming the guest rather than taking responsibility for poor maintenance. The *OP* did not say that she was hyper-allergic.

    1. I still can’t get used to the allergens in Colorado and I moved here int he mid 80s. They seem to get worse every year. I moved away for 6 years and had almost no problems, then I moved back and Ugh.

      1. Must be all the buds from the most important plant in the world 🙂
        Seriously though, I have severe bouts of pollen allergies here in Connecticut / New York border since I live in a heavily wooded area. Our cars turn green during the high pollen season, Whenever I go back to the city, the problems go away. Same for any big city in the world where asphalt and cement has replaced green.

        1. Haha, that is so out of hand here its nuts!

          Our cars turn yellow/orange here. I can’t believe how much pollen flies out of pine trees, I see clouds of it in the air.

          You reminded me of a guy I used to play poker with, every time he got a pair of 3s, he called it a Brooklyn forest. Pair of Trees.

        2. Around here it’s cedar fever. Our cars turn yellow in the springtime for a couple of months. I’m blessedly allergy-free, but most people suffer a lot.

          1. Same thing in Japan. After WW2 they reforested with cypress and bang! Now you see millions of Japanese with masks on.

    2. Some AC units (heat pumps) can be used to cool or heat space. This is what most hotels use especially where they do not have severe winters.
      For that type of AC unit to spew allergens means the evaporator coils, enclosure and filter (if there is any) must be totally filthy. YUCK!

      The most disgusting thing I read here is the apparent lack of concern about the guest’s condition. If you see a person breaking in hives your first concern must be the health of the person and not to discuss refunds and AC problems.

    3. She could have something for dinner that could have caused the reaction. Or could have been the room…I think that we are not getting the whole story.

  7. How many more reasons do we need to get people to stop using Expedia? Hotels refunds Expedia, then it takes a consumer advocate to get the hotel to refund the OP.

    1. Agreed. One thing I have learned is to book directly. It almost always costs the same or less, and is much less likely to cause a problem. And it seems the company (airlines, hotels, whatever) is generally more responsive.

  8. Good work Chris. And for the record, I did have to get a refund from Expedia once and it went fine. I don’t use them a lot, but they are not much different from anywhere else. They have millions of customers, but sometimes problems happen and Mr. Elliott (and team) are helpful in fixing them.

    1. Reading the article again, I don’t think she contacted Expedia until CE wrote Expedia.
      I could be wrong, but unless you ask Expedia for your money back, it will be more than happy to keep it.

  9. In this case, the semantics of “allergic” don’t matter. She reported the problem the first morning, I’m not sure how anyone could be expected to vacate the room in the middle of the night. I do not understand why she wasn’t just moved to a room with a properly functioning HVAC. The manager’s refund offer should have been in writing. The refund is technically fair, but Renaissance should have stepped up and charged her maybe half the room rate for the one night she spent, avoiding the bad PR.

    1. You don’t eat all of the steak then tell the waiterwaitress that the steak wasn’t cooked righttoughburntetc. then expect another steak or a new steak on the house.

      The article didn’t state the time when she turned on the HVAC unit. If it was before she went to bed what would be the problem in changing rooms? Why stay in a room that is giving you problems? Even it was the middle of the night (i.e. 1 AM to 3 AM), she was up and she should have reported the problem to the front desk since she was having a problem.

      The article didn’t state it but I don’t think the OP asked for a refund of the first night, compensation (i.e. a partial refund) for the first night; asked for clarification on the refund (i.e. I am not going to be charge for any night? Is this correct?).

      If someone is giving me something (i.e. refund, partial credit, etc.), I ask for it in writing. If it can’t be put in writing then I will try to record the conversation with my iPhone. Without something written or verbal, it could be hard to collect.

    2. If there was a cat in that room, you’re darn skippy I’m leaving in the middle of the night… Swollen eyes and all…

      If she could stay the night, it wasn’t that bad.

  10. Since the manager mentioned the hotel being aware of a pre-existing problem, a well-worded letter from an attorney threatening a demand for compensation in excess of the room cost would probably quickly result in a return of the cost of the overnight stay.

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