Stuck with a nonrefundable hotel room? See these surefire ways to get a refund

12 June 2022
Stuck with a nonrefundable hotel room? See these surefire ways to get a refund

In the spring and summer of the early pandemic (2020 ring a bell?) travel suddenly became very, very flexible. Flights, cars, and even nonrefundable hotel rooms could all be canceled – last minute – with no questions asked. The airlines even blocked the middle seats!

Those were the good old days, right?

Of course, the businesses were just trying to stay afloat financially and they were willing to give and give some more. Today, things are different. Airlines have jacked up their prices and hotels are locking travelers into iron-fisted reservations.

And yet, life still sometimes intrudes on your happy travel plans. So, what happens when you want to get your money back on a nonrefundable hotel room reservation? Yes, it is possible. Read on to find out how.

Understand the hotel reservation rules

First, it’s helpful to understand the rules. For the most part, there are two types of hotel reservations:

  1. A nonrefundable reservation – these are slightly cheaper, usually pre-paid, and give the hotel confidence in their inventory.
  2. A refundable reservation – these are slightly more expensive and give the traveler flexibility in when they can cancel the room.

Cancellation policies vary from hotel to hotel. Hotels have also gotten very good at making the slightly cheaper nonrefundable rate appealing, while at the same time, hiding the terms and conditions for canceling.

There are some situations when you can get a refund:

  • If you cancel with more than 24 hours’ notice. These are often buried in the cancellation rules and require you to explicitly speak to the hotel to request the refund.
  • Unexpected death, near death, or serious illness. You’ll likely be asked to provide some sort of documentation as proof, but there’s a good chance the hotel will let you cancel without a penalty in this situation.
  • Documentable travel interruption like a storm, or flight cancellation, for example. If you explain the situation and share the proof, there’s a good chance you’ll be refunded.
  • If you’re a loyalty member of some standing. The hotel managers can see your history with the hotel and this can sometimes give you leverage.
  • When the hotel isn’t as advertised or the room you booked isn’t available. Ever arrived to find that the hotel doesn’t look anything like the pictures or the quality is nowhere near the online rating? This is a time when most hotel chains will give you a refund if only to make sure you don’t go on social media and trash their reputation.
  • A change in a major event like if the couple getting married decided to call it off before the wedding. If you explain the situation, you might be able to get a refund if you ask nicely.

Now that you know the rules, here are the tricks to get around them.

Trick #1 – Postpone first, then cancel

This won’t work all the time, but it’s the one most used by travelers so it often works. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Call the hotel and ask to postpone your reservation to a later date.
  2. Then call back within the new cancellation period and cancel it.

Here’s an example: let’s say you postpone a trip for the following month. You look up the cancellation rules, and see that you have to cancel within 48 hours of arriving. Set a calendar reminder in two weeks and call to cancel the room for a full refund.

You don’t have to worry about the hotel representatives noticing that you postponed and canceled later although there is some risk. Most times, they just don’t have the time or energy to fight it.

Trick #2 – Resell the nonrefundable hotel room

Unlike airlines, hotels will let you change the name of the primary guest on the reservation. Third-party sites like Booking.com and Expedia facilitate guest name changes too.

We heard about some travelers reselling their rooms on Craigslist, but there are also websites like SpareFare.net that allow you to resell bookings.

Pro tip: Make sure you don’t have a credit card on file so that guy that bought your hotel room doesn’t run up a huge room service bill.

As a last resort, get someone you know to take the room and pay you back instead. Heck, maybe the former bride or groom would like a nice, quiet getaway to recover.

Trick #3 – Use your travel insurance

By now, most travelers understand the importance of travel insurance and when you need it and don’t. 

If your policy covers trip interruption and your cancellation is a covered reason, you can get most of your money back.

If you want to protect the trip from anything that could happen (like the wedding couple breaking up), make sure that you have a policy that covers cancellation for any reason and you will get at least most of your money back.

Final tip to get a refund

When you want to cancel and get a refund, call the hotel directly (not the brand’s 1-800 number). It’s often easier to get a person you can speak with and the process is quicker.

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Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.