Ridiculous or not? No credit for your nonrefundable hotel room

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

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

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

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

“Admittedly stupid on my part,” he says.

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

“I argued that because only refunds are explicitly forbidden, and there is no language regarding vouchers, then a voucher or the like — for even partial value — is reasonable,” he says. “The supervisor argued that because there is no language regarding vouchers or the like, then they are not allowed.”

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

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

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

But, he adds, the airline comparison doesn’t quite work, because hotels have more flexible refund policies on many of their rooms that let you cancel within 24 hours of your stay without being charged a dime.

It’s also worth noting that even when rooms are considered nonrefundable, the hotel usually just assesses a one-night penalty, which is the rough equivalent of paying an airline rebooking fee. More or less.

“Hoteliers view room nights are perishable inventory, and typically hold customers accountable, feeling that they might have been able to sell the room if it hadn’t been reserved — they also budget their hotel staff accordingly and have typically scheduled around expected arrivals,” adds Fareed.

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

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

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

(Photo: Scott Able man/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FIYTPKWSDSXVXXPB263TI5JE7M Peter

    I made a booking with a Portland hotel over the phone that as far as I know was NOT nonrefundable, but now I am starting to wonder. A month ago I made the reservation for July 21-31 and was quoted a rate of $109/night. A few days ago my plans changed and I called to change the dates to July 23-30. I was told that the rate would change to $159/night. Unfortunately I have no choice (all the other hotels are booked).

    It’s more than three months before arrival! I never heard of this before. I was never told this was a nonrefundable rate; how can they tack on $50 per night? I’m still staying for a whole week. I contacted customer service and when I advised them that I was posting here they corrected the rate back!

  • Robert Miller

    A little over 5 years ago (April 2006) I booked a room through Orbitz and was snake bit by this policy.

    My biggest issue is that Orbitz changed their booking policy depending on the day of the week you were booking. In my case I started looking early in the week and finally booked on a Friday or Saturday. During that time the rate of the room remained the same but the policy flipped over from about $25 or so service charge if you canceled a couple of days in advanced to the non refundable policy (which I didn’t notice).

    Whether or not you think non refundable is cut and dry I think their tactics of switching rooms from the standard cancellation fees to the non refundable is suspect at best. I booked my trip about three weeks in advanced but the only thing that made the reservation non refundable was the day I booked. Had I booked on a Wednesday even a week in advanced I would have gotten the normal policy.

    In the end I attempted to cancel my trip a week in advanced. I had two
    locations booked but was only able to cancel one of them. Although I
    only lost about $120 I have refused to use Orbitz since.

  • Support

    Nice website where you can sell your resrevation called Cancelon.com.
    Travelers who are unable to use their hotel reservation for any reason and are not able to cancel their reservation due to different hotels’/websites’ policies, can sell their hotel reservation in Cancelon.com and turn their lost reservation into money.