Please cancel my nonrefundable hotel room, Priceline

Nuno/Shutterstock
Nuno/Shutterstock
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.

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 Priceline.com 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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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 . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • ordinary gal

    Great thought; however, that would take another full time employee just to be an investigator.

  • RCEC

    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.

  • Marcin Jeske

    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.

  • Marcin Jeske

    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.

  • Marcin Jeske

    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.

  • MIchael D. Hurley

    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.