Want to cancel a hotel booking, but getting run around
June 23, 2022 8:07 AM   Subscribe

How to cancel a hotel reservation booked through a third party? I did mess up and not realize the booking said it was non-refundable, but this is a lot of money. Details are inside!

First up, this is probably my fault. I booked a hotel (domestic USA travel) through Bookings.com and did not realize the booking was non-refundable, i.e. once booked I will not be refunded charges (which amount to $1500 for a week's stay). I tried to cancel the reservation through bookings.com but they say they can't cancel it , only the hotel can, and I'll still be charged. I emailed the hotel and they said since it was booked through a third party they can't cancel it, meaning I'll still be charged.

To be clear, I can totally cancel the reservation, but I'm going to be charge $1300 US and that sounds wildly unfair.

How can I cancel this and not be charged the full amount? It doesn't look like I've been charged so far on the debit card I used for the booking?
posted by clocksock to Travel & Transportation around United States (10 answers total)
I can't give any advice on the third party issues; I avoid booking through third parties at all costs precisely because of this kind of problem (and I find that I can usually get the same price booking directly).

However, I will say that I have had some moderate success with convincing a hotel to change a nonrefundable reservation. Not cancel and refund it, but move it to a different date. It was an uphill battle to get even that done, but in the end they did it. If you can use the same reservation on different dates, that might be an approach to try. Given the difficulty of getting them to even do that, I'd be pretty surprised if they would have actually refunded me...
posted by primethyme at 8:15 AM on June 23 [18 favorites]

One avenue that has sometimes been an option for “non refundable” is having a credit, which provides some value without the funds evaporating. Maybe that’s the next talking point?
posted by childofTethys at 8:17 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]

If your reason for cancelling was something out of your control (e.g. medical reason you can't travel), does your credit card offer some kind of insurance or protection?
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:20 AM on June 23 [10 favorites]

I had this happen once while using Priceline and accidentally booking the wrong weekend. Priceline and the hotel both pointed at each other and it ended up being an expensive lesson in reading my reservation a lot more closely, unfortunately.

At best, you might be able to get a credit for or reschedule to a different week. Or I believe that bookings.com allows you to change the name on a reservation so possibly you could resell it to someone else as a last resort?
posted by anderjen at 8:50 AM on June 23

I once convinced Hotels.com to give me one night free with my next booking as "compensation" for me not being able to get my money back on a non-refundable booking. It was better than nothing I guess.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:17 AM on June 23

For $1500 I'd be tempted to squeeky wheel it. Call the hotel repeatedly. Vary the times you call. Ask to speak to a manager. Email reservations and/or front desk. Email any manager address you can find directly. Call the GM if you can ferret out that information. IME hotels are vulnerable to this tactic in a way most other business aren't because employees often have a lot of discretion to "make things right" with more discretion the higher up you go even if the client demands are completely unreasonable. Be polite at all times. The better the chance they can sell the room to someone else the better the chance they'll refund or credit you just to get you to go away.
posted by Mitheral at 9:51 AM on June 23 [11 favorites]

All in all they're in the right here; you booked a non-refundable booking. Which isn't to say you shouldn't try to get back whatever you can - but you might want to give some thought to a realistic fallback position. "Rebook for future dates" feels like a fairly reasonable request you might get the right manager to agree to. Same with hotel credit. I'm less convinced you'll get them to waive the charges entirely, so by all means give it a try, but go in knowing whether you'll be satisfied with XYZ instead.
posted by Stacey at 9:56 AM on June 23 [10 favorites]

Mitheral has it for a good attempt. To add, be as apologetic but firm as possible. Unfortunately the success rate depends not just on luck but also on your social skills and EQ, because sometimes you'll get someone who you can work on be it by sympathy, real/feigned obtuseness or just outright bluffing. Opening with asking for a full refund might work for some (i.e. starting with the most ridiculous request) and then negotiating it downwards (and tbh your best remedy really is rescheduling or hotel credit because you don't actually have any right to the refund). If you're a regular or a loyalty member that might also help. I've gotten out of some jams looking as pathetic and apologetic (and frankly sincerely confused) as possible but it's really not a certain thing -- one thing I tend to do is lay out my reasons why I need this service (in this case an emergency might work) and asking them if there's anything they can do to help me, since "I was really looking forward to the trip". This is a very YMMV though.
posted by cendawanita at 10:14 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]

I think Mithreal's tactic may work but sometimes the issue at play is that a hotel has sold a block of rooms to the third-party vendor for a special rate and that third-party holds the reins on all of the rooms. With a small, independent hotel calling repeatedly may have an effect because the staff are usually more able to make contact with the Powers That Be and the PTBs can work something out with the third party. However, with large hotel chains, there is usually no direct line of contact to fix things like this.

This arms-length setup also affects what they mean by "only the hotel can cancel the reservation" - the third party site (Booking.com, in your case) sends the cancellation request to the hotel (or hotel's booking system) and the hotel (booking system) does the physical cancellation in their system, but it probably has to be initiated by you through Booking.com and not you directly to the hotel.

According to their FAQ on cancellations of non-refundable bookings, the hotel may waive the cancellation fee, so it may be worth your time to focus on that aspect of things when calling the hotel. If they themselves can't/don't make that decision (such in a large hotel chain), ask for the contact information of who does - it may be a central booking service who handles that and you may be able to make your case there. Fundamentally, they want to have you be a repeat customer at their chain and would want to keep you happy. If you are a member of the loyalty club for the hotel, all the better.

Just as a side note, I have had success in cancelling a non-refundable booking through Expedia (they own Booking.com too) and getting a full refund without doing any additional work. Now that travel has rebounded, the hotel can probably find someone to fill your room, particularly if your reserved dates were still a ways out.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:15 PM on June 23

If all else fails, you can try to sell the reservation to someone else, which may get you back a fair amount of money. For instance, there's a site called sparefare.net that I think facilitates this. Or perhaps you could personally advertise somewhere like a travel subreddit.

I'm suggesting this workaround because negotiation on the room usually won't go anywhere in this scenario. It's a different story if you just want to move dates; that may work. But a full refund on a nonrefundable room, after booking through a third-party site? I would be very surprised.

Like others, I've learned two unfortunate lessons while traveling. The first is to read terms and conditions very carefully before purchasing, to ensure I'm NOT getting a nonrefundable room. (Exception: I still book nonrefundable rooms if the stay starts right away, as in today or maybe tomorrow.) The second is to never use sites like Expedia/Booking/Priceline/whatever. Always book directly with the hotel, because if there's a problem, even if it amounts to your own mistake, the chances of getting help/favors are far higher.
posted by desert outpost at 3:08 PM on June 23

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