Please cancel my nonrefundable hotel room, Priceline

Tami Alloway needs to cancel her hotel stay because of “extenuating” personal circumstances. Just one problem: the reservations are non-refundable.

Question: I recently reserved a hotel room at the Hawthorn Suites in Charleston, SC, through Priceline for a family trip with my mother. A few days later, my sister’s children were removed from their home and taken into state custody. I was awarded foster care for all three of them and they have been with me since then.

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The older children, prior to removal, were homeschooled, so the dates of the trip were not an issue. With them being in my care, they are now in public schooling. The children range in age from 22 months through 9 years of age.

When we realized that the time frame would mean I would still have the children with me in March (and not during spring break, so they would miss a week of school), I called to cancel the reservation and was told there is no refund, even in extreme situations.

I have spoken to upper management and emailed the executive offices, but their response is that the policy states that I am not allowed to change or cancel my reservation and will still be charged the full reservation amount.

My finances have been greatly affected by accepting the foster role, because I am family foster care, not a licensed foster care provider, so I receive very minimal financial support from the state system. The bill for the week for the hotel room is $772, and I can’t afford it. Can you help me to get to reconsider and allow me to cancel my reservation due to extreme extenuating circumstances? — Tami Alloway, Kansas City

Answer: I’m sorry to hear about your situation. As the father of three young children, I know how much work they can be, and you’re a hero for taking care of your sister’s kids.

The problem is, to some extent, the unbending refund policies of the hotel companies and Priceline, which are designed to protect their revenues. But it is, to another extent, something that can be blamed on other hotel guests who came before you.
Hotels feel as if they need to take a hard line because customers will make up any story to get them to refund a nonrefundable room. So it’s likely that no matter how convincing you tried to sound, the hotel and Priceline either didn’t believe you or thought your personal circumstance didn’t rise to the level of refunding a nonrefundable reservation.

But I believe you. What’s more, I think if the situation were reversed — if, say, the hotel couldn’t honor its reservation because of a catastrophe or natural disaster — then it would expect you to allow it to cancel your nonrefundable reservation without paying you any compensation.

In a case like this, you had already exhausted all of your appeals, and technically, both Priceline and Hawthorn were correct to keep your money. The most you could do was politely request another review of your case. I list Priceline’s contacts on my consumer advocacy site. (By the way, if this case looks familiar to you it should. I wrote about the ethics of covering it when it first came to my attention earlier this year.)

I asked Priceline if it could take another look at your reservation. It contacted the hotel on your behalf, which agreed to make an exception to its refund policy, and it canceled your reservation without any penalty. Good luck with the kids.

Should Tami Alloway's hotel have been refunded?

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129 thoughts on “Please cancel my nonrefundable hotel room, Priceline

  1. I’m all for compassion, but this sounds like a bad precedent to me. Part of the reason why opaque sites (and I’m assuming that’s what this is) are so cheap is that Priceline and the hotels don’t have to worry about cancellation or losing their money once a reservation is made. I’ve eaten a nonrefundable reservation when I couldn’t make it under extenuating circumstances. I’ve also gotten exceptional values that I knew were in part due to the normally unyielding nature of prepaid, nonrefundable reservations.

    The terms of course are that they can cancel in case of force majeure. That of course makes sense if the room simply can’t be provided.

        1. I think she did take responsibility – she’s not claiming she didn’t read the rules, just asking that due to dramatically changed circumstances, a compassionate exception be made. I don’t find that an unreasonable request. And for a reservation for March – months away – I feel fairly certain that the hotel won’t get stuck with an unsold room that they can’t sell. Allowing the refund, while certainly not required under the rules, was the decent thing to do. Especially for a woman who is stepping up to take care of a bunch of children who are not legally her responsibility.

          1. Good to hear that she has volunteered to help out others.

            That still doesn’t have anything to do with her booking a non-refundable room, being told no you can’t your money back, then coming here crying about it.

            I’m not without compassion (believe it or not) but an agreement is an agreement. The hotel agreed to sell her a room for a discounted rate as long as it couldn’t be cancelled. She agreed to that. Now that it hasn’t worked out for her, she wants to change the agreement. I would bet if her trip wasn’t cancelled but the hotel decided that they didn’t want to honor the discounted price, and wanted more money, that she would have a problem with it and demand they follow their agreement.

          2. That’s why she’s asking, not demanding. Same as if the hotel couldn’t accommodate her, called her, and asked her to XYZ.

          3. Again, she asked and she was told no. She just didn’t like the answer. She wants to be an exception to the rules.

            She came on here crying about it, hoping that Chris would use his influence and power to get her money back.

          4. Well, as I’m not psychic I can’t read her mind. I can say that, as an attorney, my ability to get to a decision maker rather than a script reader, is often all that is required to get success for a client. It’s not necessarily about influence and power.

          5. However, I AM a psychic and I predict that this conversation is going nowhere. Therefore, I am checking out of it =)

            Good conversation though.

          6. Technically Priceline is not a discounted rate, nor is any other site. Hotels’s have to stay within rate parity meaning that every room listed for sale should be at the same rate, if it is not the hotel is actually in violation. Is it a good system? Not necessarily but, working in the hotel industry for almost 20 years has shown me that yes there actually is room for each of these places to budge! Furthermore better answer for everyone, book directly through the hotel instead of thinking you’re getting such a great deal through a 3rd party. I promise you will recieve a better product and better service from employees!! It’s a known fact in the industry that Priceline,, etc customers are going to be the most high maintenance and the hotel is going to receive the least revenue for that customer.

          7. Perhaps a known fact, but not always accurate. I book a lot of rooms last minute via opaque sites. I can’t imagine how I could be less maintenance. I show up, check-in, and as long as my room has a clean bed, they don’t see me until I politely check out.

            Revenue-wise, yes, they just get what they have agreed to with the opaque site (and I have a few times seen how big a chunk of cash the opaque site takes) and I won’t be raiding the mini-bar or ordering room service.

            But almost always it is revenue they would not have with the room that was sitting empty that night, and if the place is nice, they are now on my list for the future, which could mean more revenue that they don’t have to share.

            The only time there is maintenance is if there has been significant misrepresentation, and usually that is the opaque site’s fault. But I have had a few times where they say the room I was sold was not available… and I would have to pay to upgrade… bring on the maintenance.

  2. I totally get non-refundable rates. But this circumstance is so unusual, so unanticipatible (is that a word?) that it skews the normal risk/reward analysis. Was Priceline legally obligated to refund the money? No. Was it the right thing to do, IMHO, yes.

    1. To generalize, I think the question is whether an intervening activity that is beneficial to society (e.g., become a foster parent, military service, etc.), rather than an activity related to personal gain or pleasure, should be sufficient to override the rules. Perhaps companies should examine these circumstances in the same light that it considers contribution requests from charities, civic organizations, and the like.

      1. I like the idea in theory, but then how far do they have to question the validity of the excuse? Do they merely take a person’s word for it that this is their situation? Must they provide some sort of documentation? I don’t see many companies being willing to take on the verification process … Nice as it would be, I think they’re going to stick w/ their “these are the rules; like it or lump it” philosophy.

        1. Consider how a company evaluates a local community request for a charitable contribution for some good cause. The company has to make an assessment of the legitimacy and efficacy of the project, a task that, at times, can impose a burden. But every company has a policy and process (ranging from no philanthropy at all to being very generous), and it seems to me that the same policy and process could be extended in the same manner. (For example, my perception is that Spirit Airlines has no concerns whatsoever for philanthropy, but other carriers do support charitable causes.)

          1. I can’t see many airlines wanting to put that kind of time and energy into evalauting the numerous customer requests for special consideration that come in. It would simply be too overwhelming to keep up with the dozens if not hundreds of requests that probably come in per day in comparison to the fewer periodic requests for charitable contributions. Also, giving to charity helps the company out at tax time, doing something nice for customers not so much for airlines. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see them do it, but I just don’t think it’s feasible.

    2. From a business perspective, it makes sense for both the hotel and Priceline to help out. Companies that take TOO hard of a stance risk alienating customers. Many people, including myself, will never fly Spirit because we don’t trust them. I think they epitomize the ‘evil corporation’ and that’s not a good way to run a company because, the minute you’re not the very lowest price (by a LOT), your customers will flee.

      The difficulty in bending the rules is to show compassion but you do have to draw the line somewhere. It’s a tough tightrope to walk.

  3. Well, how about this as a possible solution. Give the customer the right to sell that reservation if they can’t use it. You’ve paid for the room. It’s yours. I see no reason not to allow its re-sale. It’s not like an airline ticket where transferring it might be a security risk.

    The hotel isn’t going to be financially impacted. They already have their money regardless of who actually stays in the room. Safeguards would have to be in place to make sure that a reservation could not be re-sold more than once, and that occupancy is the same as the original reservation, but I’m sure that could be worked out.

    The only possible reason the hotel industry would oppose this is that they want to double dip. Sell an already paid for room a second time.

    1. I suspect that the private selling of a room would be a logistical nightmare. But I like the general idea. Refund her the money unless the booking prevents them from selling the room.

    2. I’m a strong advocate of being able to resell nonrefundable airline tickets. Forty five years ago when I started flying, an airline ticket was a bearer document, usable by whoever had actual possession of it; no airline ever bothered to establish the identity of the person taking the flight because there was no need for them to do so, even as security checks started to become a reality a few years later. Every university bulletin board, which in those days was a physical corkboard, was festooned with offers to sell airline tickets that the original purchaser could not use. All of those arguments that “ticket resale just won’t work” come from people too young to remember that in the ancient eon before tickets went digital, it DID work, and in a time when airlines made a ton of money and passengers enjoyed the experience.

      Hotel reservations, on the other hand, are a different animal. Because there are so many more hotel-city-date-duration combinations than there are airline-city pair-date combinations, a secondary market in hotel reservations would probably be too fragmented and unwieldy to work. It might be worth a try in some major markets, such as Las Vegas or Hawaii, but I would rather stop the spread of nonrefundability itself to an undiseased part of the travel business.

      1. I miss the good old times we bought Air Tickets by Booklets to save. No Hassle. And I did use tickets of my brother when he changed his plan.

          1. Since Stubhub doesn’t trade airline tickets at present, how is it hurting your employer and why should it be “closed down”? Are you in one of those states where event ticket resale is illegal and if so, why should Stubhub not be available in my state?

          2. It doesn’t affect my business, that I know of, but it does in other type of ticket sales. An concert gets sold out in minutes by these companies and the only way you can obtain seats is to go through these companies at a higher than face value for the ticket. Many entertainers are handling their own ticket sales now due to this and companies like Stubhub are not allowed to resell their tickets. Greed is the name of these companies business practice and that would happen if airline ticket were allowed to be sold that way, too. Want that $65 SFO to LAX fare? Well it is now $120 via a company like Stubhub as all those fares were bought up by them.

          3. Exploitation of event ticket sales is what you get when Ticketmaster gets an exclusive on sales. Stubhub, by offering a secondary market, leads to competition. And we wouldn’t want that now, would we?

          4. Gee, you keep doubting me when I tell you that airline fare resale would be a bad thing. Yet stubhub is an excellent example of what happens (high prices) when you enable reselling of a low-priced good (such as advance-purchase airline fares.) Just think of the tickets to the latest hot act as “non refundable concert reservations” and you’ll see the parallel to airline tickets.

            Ticketmaster is evil because of the fees they charge. Stubhub is a different sort of horribleness for consumers. And Stubhub doesn’t compete with Ticketmaster at all! Ticketmaster handles initial sales, stubhub handles resales.

            Stubhub (and organized scalping in general) actually DRIVES UP prices for popular events by making it so easy to scalp concert tickets. That means it’s really easy for scalpers to buy up tickets to popular events and then re-sell them at enormous profit. If there were no reselling for concert tickets you wouldn’t end up paying hundreds of bucks for a $60 ticket.

            If there were a “stubhub for airline tickets” then you’d see the same thing happen. Bargain-basement fares meant for leisure travelers between popular destinations (i.e. NY/LA) would be snapped up by scalpers and then re-sold as cheaper replacements for last-minute fares to business travelers. The net effect would be to raise prices for leisure travelers (and probably drops for business travelers.)

          5. They can only be re-sold if someone wants that particular route at that particular price. Thus, the scalper is taking a risk if he wants to try to scalp airline tickets. There will always be those who try to game the system.

          6. The likelihood that there will be somebody that needs a last-minute seat from NY->LA on a weekday morning is approx. 100%. If you can pick and choose which routes you cover, it’d be easy to make a killing, given the vast difference between last-minute and advance-purchase fares.

          7. Stubhub is a brilliant business model and it provides a service to those who buy a ticket that they then find that they cannot use. And, it does provide competition because you are competing against others to sell that ticket. Ticketmaster, on the other hand, has a monopoly on some ticket sales and thus dos not generate competition. Popular concerts have always sold out quickly and its always been difficult for the average guy to buy a ticket.

          8. A concert I wanted to go to was sold out in minutes. Want tickets? You could only get them on Stubhub. Can we say rip off?

          9. Yes, and those tickets were usually sold elsewhere, too. The Zack Browne band is one group and has taken steps to stop their tickets from being scalped, so fans can get tickets at face value. With the internet, Stubhub has become the replacement for the guy on the street corner and the ads in the paper for those who are greedy.

          10. Or maybe just an average joe who buys a ticket and finds he can’t use it so now he has an avenue to sell it instead if eating it because he can’t go. Or someone who can’t afford face value and waits until the last minute and buys it as prices go down because the event is about to happen. Not all tickets are being scalped and not all sellers are greedy. Stub hub is a brilliant business model that serves a useful purpose in the marketplace.

          11. Stubhub exists to allow tickets to be sold for more than face value. I checked out the concert I wanted to attend and called the box office to find out the true value of each ticket type. People had 4-12 ticket they were selling. One or two tickets might be one thing, but that is rarely the case, hence why some entertainers are not allowing it…thankfully!

      2. While I am not one of those that says ticket resale won’t work, and I doubt there could be too much profit in scalping airline tickets, even with the internet it would be very difficult to make it work. I would be happy if the airlines would just extend the expiration of travel funds to 18 months and reduce the restrictions on the rebooking of flights so that the funds you paid the airline for those non-refundable flights could actually be used. But I guess I’m just dreaming.

        1. The airlines use to allow those funds to be reused with no change fee, but also no residual. I use to rebook clients when their expiration date was approaching with a similar fare just so they didn’t lose the value. It was time consuming.

          1. That is one thing the Southwest still does right. No change fee and you don’t lose residual if you book a lower cost flight. Seems to work out OK for them and their profits.

          2. Low cost carriers are set up differently. If the major carriers reorganized this could be done, but it would have a world wide effect.

          3. Actually you don’t lose residual even if your new fare is higher – you only pay the difference, as long as you make your change before your flight departs.

          4. I think Mark meant that if you bought a $250 ticket and the new ticket is $200, you don’t loose the $50, whereas you might under different rules.

      3. During those “good ‘ol days” when airline tickets were resell-able, airline fares were a LOT higher. I’ll take today’s low fares over the ability to participate in fare arbitrage any day of the week.

        Yep, airlines made a ton of money during that era, and passengers paid through the nose for it. The modern scheme has led to either losses or razor-thin margins for airlines, and low fares for passengers.

    3. What whining will happen when the person you sell your reservation to breaks all the rules (damages the room, etc) and you are billed for it. A mature person would know they took on the risk (like subletting your apartment) but someone that already wants a purposely purchased, clearly disclosed NONREFUNDABLE room will then be the person saying they have no accoutability for something someone else did. And more letters to Chris about how unfair things are will start… least it’ll be a new topic though and not more of this.

      1. There is no reason to assume that you would be liable for the new person’s conduct. When you purchase a ticket via Priceline, Priceline isn’t responsible for your conduct. Why would this be any different?

        1. If the room reservation name is changed, then yes, it works like buying a ticket from any type of agent — the person staying there pays for any expenses. However, if you simply let someone else stay in the room that is still in your name then you are still responsible.

          1. Yes, but the suggestion was about selling the room with the hotel’s permission. You can always lets someone stay in your room if you check in.

          2. The question then would be, though – what rules would the hotel impose on the transfer? Is it a complete transfer – the new person assumes the reservation and all the terms and conditions AND the prior party is released? Or is it more like the hotel is allowing someone else to check in and claim the room, but the original guest is still responsible until everything is settled at the end? I could see hotels opting for the second path, giving them two people to go after for damage, etc.

          3. My point was more general. People here are mostly rationale and mature, many others still won’t take responsibility for anything. Whatever changes are made people will often still look to point the finger elsewhere.

          4. I think they’d ultimately have to go for the latter as there is no rationale basis for the former assuming its an arms length transaction, particularly if the original guest did not profit from the transaction.

  4. The underlying problem here is the cancerous spread of non-refundability throughout the travel industry. If a hotel imposed a rebooking fee for cancelled and changed reservations based on the time-until-stay, hotels could make just as much money as they do from abandoned nonrefundable reservations, and without all the customer acrimony.If this woman had paid a fee appropriate to the small possibility that a months-out cancellation could not be resold, Chris would never have gotten this case, nor the hotel a slug of bad publicity.

    All that making reservations nonrefundable accomplishes is turning cancelled reservations into last-minute no-shows that can never be resold. After all, if the customer is not offered any incentive to tell the property that she will not be able to make it, why bother canceling at all? Just be a no-show to demonstrate your contempt for their policy. That’s exactly what I would have done under those circumstances.

    1. Maybe for one night stays, but if you have a hotel booked for 4 nights and you don’t show up the first night, the reservation is generally forfeited, unless you work something out with the hotel ahead of time. Priceline/Hotwire offers deeply discounted rates for hotels for travelers who are willing to be a little flexible on hotel choice and exact location. In exchange, once the sale is made, the hotel and OTA are guaranteed to receive the income from the reservation. It’s the price you pay for a deeply discounted rate.

      1. Or at least what they call a “deeply discounted” rate. It often is, but it needn’t be. There’s no guarantee that it’s a minimum of X off the rate anyone else could get directly.

  5. Everybody has personal extenuating circumstances when it comes to changing a nonrefundable room..and after being booked through a third party site, no less!

    Christopher, I suggest a New Year’s Resolution …… 🙂

    BTW, I don’t know the exact dates, but I picked a week in March (per the OP) and a Sunday-to-Saturday stay booked directly through the hotel website – with a full one-day advance cancellation policy – was $708 for the best room available.

    Unlike airline tickets, refundable hotel rooms are generally downright cheap by comparison.

    1. One of the unwritten rules of Priceline is always to check the hotel’s own pricing before bidding. This looks like a case of a naive buyer thinking she had a bargain when in probable fact she was converting a refundable stay to a nonrefundable prepay for no monitary advantage. It was a case of leaping before looking.

    2. You may have found a lower rate when you looked at it, but perhaps when she booked the room the non-refundable was the best rate. We all know how hotel and airfare rates fluctuate minute to minute. That being said, I agree with you 100% about everyone having extenuating circumstances. NON refundable is a gamble. If you can’t afford to lose it, don’t go with it.

    3. Her bill for the room may have included taxes and fees, which can add at least 10-15% on top of the base price (she said her BILL came to $772, which suggests that it had already been charged; hotel quotes online usually don’t mention the taxes). And the best room available today may not be the best room available when she booked – she might have booked a suite, for instance, that was not available when you did your booking.

      1. My quoted price was inclusive all taxes and fees as shown on Wyndham’s site.

        The more relevant point was, there is almost never a phenomenal difference in price between refundable and nonrefundable rooms. By all measures, even looking 11 months out, her nonrefundable rate on Priceline was, at best, only slightly better than the fully refundable rate from the hotel.

        As a case in point, if you choose an advance purchase, non-refundable rate on Wyndham’s site, you save 15%, no matter what the rate. That’s about $16 per night, and often well worth the cost whether you think something will happen to your plans or not.

  6. This sentance from the op perplexes me: “The older children, prior to removal, were homeschooled, so the dates of the trip were not an issue.” I dont really understand why the schooling status of the kids PRIOR TO REMOVAL is mentioned by the op. It makes me think that this woman was already deeply involved with the children’s lives prior to the reservation, and there may be a piece of this story that was witheld. This may not have been as surprising a result as it appears in the letter. She should not have bought non-refundable anything with the turmoil in her family lives.

    1. That’s not a reasonable conclusion. Knowing that your nieces and nephews were home schooled is not a particularly deep piece of information. But nevertheless, once she got custody of the children, she transferred them to public school. The first thing the new school will want is the kids school records.

    2. I think a few connecting details were probably omitted from the story. I read the following to mean that the kids had originally been intended to go on the trip, with Aunt, Grandma (and possibly others)…

      “I recently reserved a hotel room at the Hawthorn Suites in Charleston, SC, through Priceline for a family trip with my mother… The older children, prior to removal, were homeschooled, so the dates of the trip were not an issue….”

      I don’t think wanting to include your nieces/nephews in a family trip is particularly telling of her knowledge of turmoil that could be expected to result in the children’s removal from their mother. It could just been that Auntie wanted to treat her three nieces/nephews to a family trip with grandma and give her sister a break.

    3. I too was a bit perplexed by this statement. The only reasons to include it was if she already had those children living with her or they were going on the family trip with her. Maybe editing for brevity omitted a few things, but my old school teacher antenna was set off by that statement. After years of teaching high school I tend to be skeptical when people give me too much information, a classic sign of stretching the truth.

      1. As I read it: The OP and her mother were the ones going on the trip. When booked, she picked dates that didn’t tie to a school calendar, because she didn’t have children. And if she HAD had the children, or if they had been coming along from the start, the dates weren’t a problem because they were home-schooled anyway, so the timing wasn’t a factor.

        Then the OP took in the kids. They are in public school, and the only possible vacation time for them is spring break, so the planned trip would not work. That seems to make sense to me.

  7. I recently had a booking with, also a non-refundable reservation. However, when I arrived at the hotel I found that the room was completely misrepresented on’s web site and I ended up staying only one night instead of three. I am happy to say that refunded my money (the two nights I cancelled) without hesitation. However, I won’t book a hotel using a third party in the future, having learned that the hotel itself is completely unwilling to make any restitution (in this case I asked them to move me to a better room which they refused) when a mistake is made. Moral of the story – pay a bit more and book directly through the hotel.

  8. BECAUSE your sister’s children were removed from the home, please tell me you or other members of your family KNEW something was wrong with the situation there!!!! How could you not be aware?.

    1. Perhaps the OP lived elsewhere? Perhaps they were estranged. Perhaps the sister lied about her situation? And the list continues.

    2. Maybe she did know, and 1) that was why she was taking the kids on a trip (to help them and her sister have some respite time), 2) she was the person who reported her sister (you don’t know), or 3) she’d been repeatedly trying to help her sister unsuccessfully.

      You’d be surprised. I don’t understand it, but sometimes kids are immediately taken away for virtually NOTHING but suspicion. Other times, the family can be reported multiple times, year-after-year, and nothing is done. CPS is neither consistent nor fair in how they handle such things.

      And, of course, there could have been some other tragedy in the family. The kids could have been fine, and their mom a great mom, until she had a nervous breakdown, lost her husband, got ill, was attacked … all sorts of reasons.

  9. You book non-refundable that’s what you get. Where do corporations draw the line with extenuating cicumstances? My dog ate my home work?

      1. A lot of reasons for canceling are unanticipatible. BUT, if you decide to gamble and go for the lowest, then you are assuming that risk…unless of course you know you can write to a travel ombudsman and ask for forgiveness for mistakenly booking a rate that is so restrictive. I am for helping people out, but now with the internet, people want rock bottom prices AND forgiveness when their purchase isn’t going to work out even though the rules of the price were very clear before they paid for it.

        1. No, They want compassion when something tragic happens that completely is so far outside of what a reasonable person could expect that it completely skews any reasonable risk/reward analysis. I think the sister losing her children qualifies.

  10. As a former CASA, I have a lot of sympathy for foster situations and the suddenness with which they can “pop up”. BUT, I also have reached my sympathy threshold for the rampant “I understand YOU have rules, but MY circumstances should warrant them not applying to ME” attitude. Scheduling ANYTHING weeks/months out that isn’t refundable/changeable is just poking fate in the eye.

  11. The problem is that every person thinks their circumstance is extenuating. Granted, this one is exceptional and I believe it because I had a friend that had the same thing happen to his family. (And, they adopted the three chikdren and they have turned out to be wonderful adults.). But, the question becomes how extenuating does the circumstance have to be in order to be granted the refund. That’s why it is non-refundable because then the opaque sites don’t have to decide.

    1. Which is why I think it was good that the hotel and the opaque site worked together on a solution, at Chris’s prompting, rather than pass the buck back and forth. In this case, I would guess that the hotel refunded the money, cut a deal with the opaque site to split the cost somehow, and solved the problem. “Not having to decide” is deciding – it’s just always deciding “no”.

      1. The companies acted generously, but i have one small quibble… there is not cost to split. Besides some slight administrative cost, neither company incurred any actual cost…

        This far out, I doubt that hotel was booked full… so they did deny any other reservations. And on the off-chance that they are already booked full…. excellent, now they have a room available for this high-demand week which they can sell at a higher rate…. win-win.

  12. I don’t agree that hotels, etc., automatically disbelieve the customer; it’s simply that non-refundable means non-refundable. I’m glad you used your clout, Chris, to help this family. Last year, I had a non-refundable room in Paris. Four days before I was going to use it, I got word of the death of my adult son. I had to leave immediately from Italy where I had been working and would bypass Paris to get home on new, last-minute routing. I sent an email explaining the situation and said that I recognized that the reservation was non-refundable and would abide by whatever decision they made. They granted the refund and expressed condolences. I operate on the premise that you can ask for anything you want, and it is up to the other person to say yes or no. It is nice when it works out to everyone’s satisfaction.

    1. My condolences.
      I think the way you worded your request was fair to the hotel. You knew the rules going into the purchase. If the hotel had declined your request, would you have written Chris asking for assistance on that nonrefundable rate? That is more the point of the concern I have with people wanting low, low prices, but then wanting the restrictions on that purchase removed when something comes up.

      1. If the answer had been no, I would not have written Chris. I do understand what non-refundable means. I can’t, however, blame the folks in Chris’s example for contacting him. Theirs was a good cause. I’m glad he could help.

        1. But there are always excuses for these refunds Chris takes up. What it comes down to is stop booking these ridiculous rates – you only save maybe $10 or $20 a night. Penny wise and pound foolish. All of these reasons are compassionate – but honestly, why do these people continue to do this and then look for a refund later, regardless of their issues?

          1. Last time I booked a nonrefundable fare the savings was substantial. These fares are perfectly reasonable under the right circumstances. Granted, the last circumstance for me was 4 years ago 🙂

  13. I could not vote. “No” is the legalistic answer, i.e non-refundable is non-refundable; a simple, non-ambiguous term. “Yes,” is the compassionate answer, but if that becomes the rule, then the idea of discount arrangements will be less of a discount if some compassionate situations must be taken into account. Yes, is also a smart business, public-relations answer. I, as a consumer, make note of mean companies about which I read in this Website, and do my best to avoid companies which I personally label as unethical, mean or lack compassion.

  14. I thought the non-refundable rate was a lower rate than
    regular and that is why people got it. Here you have two factors—Priceline and
    the hotel. I would venture to say that a booking with the hotel directly would
    not have been that much more and could possibly been a refundable rate or a
    much better top management to bargain with. When there are two factors each
    blames the other for the non-refundable. A hotel would not want to be deemed heartless
    on the internet and would probably refund a fee, but any complaint against the
    hotel would be blamed on priceline.

    I remember booking a hotel in a little small town
    because I didn’t know where to stay. When I got there, the hotel rate was $10
    cheaper that, but the hotel was bound in conscience not to allow me
    to cancel the booking.

    Just a lesson learned. I always try to book direct. It is amazing
    how many times I try to call a hotel and the number Is intercepted by a booking
    agency. I think I am calling the hotel direct but get a booking agency. Keep those hotel numbers when you get them.

    1. I think she took responsibility for her sister’s children, which might earn her a few points in the “responsibility” tally.

          1. She agreed that she couldn’t cancel, no matter the reason.

            If she decided to go get drunk instead of taking the trip, or take care of some kids, or distribute food to the homeless…..none of that matters.

            She agreed to pay for the room.

          2. Perhaps reasons why don’t matter to you. For many of us they do, and that’s why this is a compassionate case. You said you have compassion. Under what circumstances would it be appropriate for the traveler to be released from the otherwise binding contract?

    1. You may have read it on this blog earlier in the year. Chris mentions that he has written about this case before and posted the link to the previous article (a good one, too).

  15. I have never met anyone who lost their children by the court system, so forgive me for being “in the dark.” But, as a traveler who is always going somewhere I buy INSURANCE. The rule is ALWAYS BUY INSURANCE — you never know what will happen from day to day.

    1. Unless you purchase Cancel for Any Reason insurance, insurance wouldn’t help in this case.

      Not booking non-refundable hotel rates would have. I am getting tired of everyone who books these rates to save a few bucks and ends up in situations like this. Sorry this happened, but it is getting ridiculous that Chris keeps taking on these cases. When will people learn to just pay another $10 or $20 and book refundable rates?

  16. when are people going to learn that saving a few bucks through one of these sites is not worth the risk? I go directly to the hotel site and book the lowest rate without restrictions (AAA in my case) and it is not much different in cost. I also get better rooms in the hotel as i am not a priceline customer. I have an ill father and am getting refundable or insuring flights in the next months so I do not have to sweat it. Yes, the rules do apply to me even though I have a sad story too

        1. So, by limiting it to when you think you may have to change tickets or until you are close to flying, you are making the same gamble that everyone else is.

          1. And I am fine with making that gamble and will accept the consequences. Where I do not take a risk is by prepaying hotel rooms. Besides the possibility that something may come up there is also a risk that flights may be cancelled due to weather, etc and I do not want to pay for a room that I can’t make it to. Airlines let you make changes when they are weather related.

  17. Bad decision! Every site that I have ever been on offers insurance. Too cheap to buy it – too cheap to get a refund! All of these people have their own version of an excuse that justifies a refund. It has got to stop! Don’t buy non-refundables or cover yourself with any reason cancellation.

    1. Yes, it was a terrible decision to show compassion to a woman who took her sister’s three kids so they didn’t end up in foster care. Yes, just terrible..

      1. Carver,
        Life happens to us all. If refunds were granted in every hardship case, there’d be no revenue left.

        Let me ask. If a client comes to you, pays out say 500,000 dollars, and then finds out the money is better spent caring for an ailing relative. Are you going to say, I’m sorry to hear about your misfortune. No worries about the work I’ve done or the binding contract, here’s a full fledged refund.


        1. In California, there is no such thing as a nonrefundable attorney retainer services contract. And rightfully so. I can put any kind of restrictive clause in the contract, but I cannot charge for services that have not yet been performed should the client change his or her mind.

          The comparison is not valid. The hotel has not performed services yet. In your analogy the services have already been performed. There is a radical difference between anticipated income for services not performed or goods not sold, and taking a loss for goods and serves already performed/sold

          And yes, I had a client that owed me a substantial amount of money.I sued him and levied his bank account and attached his wages. He came to my office with a verifiable hard luck story, so I gave him back some of the money. It was the right thing to do.

          1. I’d typed an elaborate reply only to have Disquss mess up (mutters).
            Sorry to have set the hook, line, and sinker Carver, but I lead you astray on purpose. I’ll answer you verbatim paragraph by paragraph.

            1) Correct, you bill by the hours rendered (same here). So you’ve untaken 200 clock hours @ 300/HR, the Op receives a 440,000 refund. The 60,000 is for “nonrefundable” services tendered. Leads me to point #2.

            2) Hotels and Airlines rely upon anticipatory bookings when making future reservations. These bookings come fit with a real human cost, tendered or untendered.

            – Online Booking systems require upkeep (maintenance). Paying a human to intake reservations by phone or in person also has a monetary value. Op cost the company X amount.

            – Hotels reply upon nonrefundable reservations when managing current and future bookings. Guests might be turned away if rooms are unavailable, a guest requested room is already reserved, or current guests need reshuffled. Again, OP’s actions cost the hotel, because his/her actions factor into managing reservations.

            – Op received a “discounted price” for giving the hotel an assurance he/she promises to stay. Refunding money is a huge loss as there’s no promise the room is again filled. Reserve last minute comes at a price, but with a guarantee you intend to travel.

            3) You refunded “some” of the money under the guise of hardship. Some being an operative word, after suing the individual. You have to make a living, as do corporations, to remain viable. The “Some” might be work tendered or a penalty? The Hotel (and airlines) rely upon the same inflexibility.

            We’ve established “Life Happens”. Why planning in advance comes with risk. If you can assume the risk, and “RISK” losing, great. If you can’t buy insurance.

          2. I beg to differ on the relevant points. In order

            1. Bad analogy. That tortures the word “refundable”. Refundable by definition necessitates that the benefit conferred to the purchaser can be returned. The 200 hours of time spent cannot be returned to me, much like we don’t talk about a refundable restaurant meal. Money might be refunded if there is a service failure, but “refundable” is generally only used when the goods can be returned. Which is why its almost never used when discussing services such as my legals services.

            2 Until recently, the hotels I stayed in only had refundable fares. I doubt if the back end operations have radically changed in the past 5 years. Plus, most rates at a hotel are refundable, particularly if the hotel caters to business travelers. You may book, cancel, and rebook with wanton abandon. So once again, the back end operations can’t be the issue.

            The point about turning people away is the only real legit point. However, hotels regularly overbook which factor into the analysis. Moreover, refunding the money is not a true cost unless he hotel turns way potential revenue as a result. I point out that many hotels do not charge the entire stay at reservations, even for nonrefundable fares. The “loss” is the anticipatory.

            Any GM will tell you, its when the cancellation causes them to turn away, or walk a guest is when they take the hard line.

            3. I returned some money, because I felt compassion. Unlike the hotel however, I had provided the contracted service. The appropriate analogy would be if the OP had actually stayed in the hotel, a hardship arose after she stayed, and wanted a refund for the nights already stayed.

          3. 1) I disagree. Services rendered by you are nonrefundable. Man hours, use of the booking system, and time allotted to accommodate guests are also nonrefundable. Time was dedicated ensuring the OP’s booking.
            Time = Money.

            2) Refundable rates come at a premium and minus heavy discounts Customers must choose the Risk (Heavy Discount – Nonrefundable) or Reward (Room with Flexibility & Refund) booked last minute. Hotels discount the rooms and manage capacity from “guaranteed” revenue.

            Overselling, walking guests, and reselling a failed no show aren’t a guarantee. Hotels aren’t at 100% capacity day to day. There are no assurances a room rebooks. Returning the money means 100% loss.

            3) Compassion but not enough to return the full amount. Hotel also provided a contracted service. Customer agrees to no refund (Legal and Binding), for the joy of a lower rate. Court of law – Business Wins. See above.

          4. I think you’re having a misunderstanding regarding what it means to be refundable, We do not use the term nonrefundable unless there is a concept of being refundable. Services, whether legal, medical, cleaning, etc, are not thought of as being refundable because you cannot return the service the way you might return a book to Barnes and Noble.

            However, if the benefit has not been conferred, i.e. the service is has not been performed, then the payment may be refundable. For example, if you hire me to write your will and pay me say 5k upfront. The 5k is fully refundable, regardless of what the retainer states. But once the will has been written, the surgery performed, the floor cleaned, there is no concept of refundable as the time and effort spent cannot be returned.

            In the hotel case, you can ask any GM. Your reasoning for refundable v. nonrefundable is simply not part of the hotel thinking. Your understanding is backwards, (as was mine before I spoke to a hotel GM). If the hotel is under 80 percent occupancy, the hotel is much more likely to waive nonrefundable, late cancellations, etc. The reasoning is that the booking did not cost the hotel any money. The term is detrimental reliance. A hotel looks at it like this,. What would the revenue been has the OP never booked.

            Consider, a 100 room hotel with 55 rooms sold. If the OP never booked her room,the hotel would still have 55 rooms sold. By contrast, the same hotel with 99 rooms booked (say there’s a big convention in town) is likely to sell the last room and be at 100 percent occupancy. If it holds the last room for the OP and the OP no shows, instead of selling a likely 100 rooms had the OP never booked, the hotel only sold 99, thus loosing out on one room’s revenue because of the OP’s actions.

            From the hotel standpoint, waiving the rules does not represent a true loss to the hotel in the first case, whereas it does in the second case. This was first explained to me in copious detail by the General Manager when, for the first time ever, I could not talk my way out of a one night no-show charge.

            Regarding #3. This post is long enough, without explaining why that’s just not correct.

          5. Services, whether legal, medical, cleaning, etc, are not thought of as being refundable because you cannot return the service the way you might return a book to Barnes and Noble

            What’s a hotel….?
            – Services cannot be refunded. I cannot refund the man hours or the operational costs behind booking the OP. Serviced rendered.

            – Yes, the 5K is refunded until exhausted through the performance of work. Hotel offers an anticipatory service, completed or not, that now affects current and future bookings.
            Hotel Booking:

            Here’s where you are incorrect. The Hotel is LOSING money since nonrefundable reservations are immediately billed within 24 hours.. If I give you 1000 dollars, and now you return 1000 dollars, you are out the money. There’s no negating the fact Carver.

            GM can make a comparison that if the hotel is booked at 55 / 100 rooms, the same 55 rooms are in use whether or not the OP shows. Correct, but there’s anticipation 56 are about to be occupied. – Flawed Logic Carver.

            GM can also assume that if there’s 80% occupancy, the likelihood of filling a vacancy rises. – Sure but no guarantees.

            What is assured? Returning money from a binding contract where the OP guaranteed a stay costs the hotel. These rates are offered on the sole basis that money is NOT returned.
            Otherwise, choose a higher rate, and the hotel won’t assume the booking is 100%;

          6. Services cannot be refunded. I cannot refund the man hours or the operational costs behind booking the OP. Serviced rendered.

            When someone sells a good. The operation cost associated behind providing that good is the seller’s responsibility and has no bearing on the refundability of the item. For example when I return that book to Barnes and Noble, BN incured a cost to sell me that book. It also incurred a cost (front desk clerk’s time, restocking, etc.) much like the Hotel’s operation cost. That however, had no impact on whether the book can be returned.

            The legal services fees analogy is simply wrong for the reasons already articulated. It may help if you use the synonym “return policy” instead of refundable and it becomes quickly obvious that it is meaningless in the context of services.

            Here’s where you are incorrect. The Hotel is LOSING money since nonrefundable reservations are immediately billed within 24 hours…

            No. Nonrefundable reservations are not necessarily billed within 24 hours. Starwood hotels generally do not bill nonrefundable reservations until you arrive at the hotel.

            If I give you 1000 dollars, and now you return 1000 dollars, you are out the money. There’s no negating the fact Carver

            Lack of knowledge is influencing your confusion. When you hire an attorney and pay him or her the advance retainer, the attorney generally puts the money in the client trust account (basically buts the money in escrow). The money remains the client’s until the work is performed. At that point, the attorney transfers the money to his business account for his own use. So no, if you give me $1000 as a advance retainer, and I give it back to you the next day, I’m just giving you back your own money. If you give me $1000 for service rendered and I have to give it back, now I’m annoyed.

            Since the hotel revenue system is set up by the GM, I will defer to their perspective on when revenue is lost.

        2. Life happens to us all. If refunds were granted in every hardship case, there’d be no revenue left.

          Indulging in hyperbole this morning. I”ll have a cup 🙂

          We’re not actually advocated refunds in all hardship cases. That’s too broad a brush.. What we are advocating is compassion when appropriate. For example, the general solution would be a credit that can be used at another time. That way the travel provider retains the income, doesn’t double dip, and the travel doesn’t forfeit the entirety of the purchase price.

          Seems like a win-win for everyone

  18. Clearly Priceline and the hotel are only making an exception in this case because of the publicity involved. There’s no more compassion involved now than there was from the start. A change in attitude towards particularly trying circumstances is not in Priceline’s present or future.

  19. Noble she took the children. Still doesn’t overcome the burden that life happens and affects us all. I notice time and time again, OP’s don’t take out travel insurance policies. I’m sure there are policies out there that’ll let you cancel for one reason or another. So when a “nonrefundable” becomes problematic, we hear all sorts of “excuses”.

    So does the OP “Deserve” a refund? NO.
    Were Priceline / Hawthorne Generous due to Chris & Possible Bad Publicity – Yes

    Best of luck.

  20. I never use Priceline or any of the other opaque sites. I remember a trip to Lincoln, NE one year for a skating competition. A girl from our club used Hotwire and ended up across the street from the Nebraska State Prison. She tried to tough it out, but when the alarm went off at the prison the second night, she bailed and came to stay with me

    1. What’s wrong with 5 Star Accommodations?
      1) 24/7 Security
      2) Alarm sounding to alert trouble
      3) Earshot of Police to call for help

  21. Although the hotel was not obligated to refund the cost, and understanding people do indeed lie to get money back, in a case such as this, when true, I think it is compassionate and good customer service to refund the money.

    I also understand that some hotels which are not corporate-owned may not be able to financially take such a hit, if they do not anticipate being able to fill the rooms.

  22. The posts here are amusing. I found this thread because I too am in need of an “exception” to the priceline cancellation policy. Yes, I suppose technically I’m in the wrong. I used the “Name Your Price” to get a “3 1/2” star hotel in Chicago, with the expectation that I could get a room with a two double or two queen sized beds. The example 3 1/2 star hotels are all those that have such rooms. However, and lucky me, I “won” a room at Club Quarters. This hotel, does not have such rooms. Yes, the name your price details (though I still can’t find them) apparently say you’re reserving a double occupancy room, but I think it’s entirely reasonable to make your bid based on what you know the example hotels are like.

    Anywho… Of-bloody-course this woman’s reservation should be cancelled. WTF? Sure, fine, priceline could ask for proof of her situation, but jabesus… Of course let her out of it.

    1. Better yet, I sometimes try to guarantee an opaque room with two beds by saying I have three people… turns out on many opaque sites, single king bed rooms are coded for three or even four people… oh, but we can upgrade you for a fee.

  23. I was looking to book a room for June the 10 th. (tonight). After 1 hour on the net, I tried again Priceline and a window popped up with a “special price for me”. For the 10 th! Great, I booked it. Then I realized it was for July the 10 th…
    I called Priceline immediately and was told the equivalent of: too bad…But if you book a room for tonight, we will refund you 50%…
    Well, stuck at the airport because I don’t have enough money anymore to get even a motel 6.
    I am gonna sleep on a bench in the airport like a homeless and catch my flight tomorrow morning.
    Yes, I should have checked closer before to book it but when you have been traveling and are tired every human being is inclined to mistake.
    Personnaly, I feel I have been scammed or conned and then blackmailed.
    I wish to noone to have to sleep on a bench at the airport, but some would deserve it.

  24. I want to thank you for the good advice. Somehow a box that should not have been clicked was clicked and instead of being in midtown NYC I had a nice room in deepest Queens. Priceline offered to give me a 50% credit if I bought another room. But after reading here I called the hotel/ they were very human and kind and said no problem: we’re happy to cancel it… I sent that information to Priceline and voila! It was done. My hat is off to both Priceline and the hotel for having a degree of compassion and flexibility they did not have to extend. And thank you Elliott for suggesting that I call. I do love my PRICELINE! So I am glad not to be bitter.

  25. I am done with They’re crooks, the hotels are crooks and I will never use them again. They kept well above and beyond over first nights stay as a penalty on my canceled hotel. And, whatever happened to a grace period equivalent to a hold prior to confirmation. Like the airlines have when you book tickets? You can cancel them by the following midnight and not be charged any penalty. I absolutely see no value in booking these pre-paid, in advance, nonrefundable hotel rooms. They are designed to screw you, and allow the hotels to win. Never again!

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