How to get a refund on a “non-refundable” hotel reservation

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In spring and summer 2020, travel brought unprecedented flexibility. Flights, rental car reservations, and hotel reservations could be canceled at the last minute, change fees were mostly eliminated, and airlines blocked middle seats.

Of course, it was about staying afloat financially during a pandemic and not about making it a better experience for us, so it was no surprise when those travel-friendly policies disappeared and were replaced by prizes higher. Lately, the lowest hotel rates are achieved through fully non-refundable reservations.

Always try to get a refund, even if your reservation says “non-refundable”.

Pandemic or not, sometimes life gets in the way of your travel plans. And in many circumstances, it’s still possible to get a refund on a non-refundable hotel reservation, especially if you find out a few weeks or more before your planned stay. So even if your booking confirmation says ‘non-refundable’, it’s still worth making a polite phone call to make your point. Often, “non-refundable” is more of a deterrent than a hard-and-fast rule.

How to get a refund on a non-refundable booking

When booking a hotel room, we have the option of prioritizing flexibility or cost. Thus, as Daniel Gillaspia points out in a post for On his arrival, “When you request a refund for a non-refundable rate, you are essentially asking the hotel to disregard the risk you took in order to save a few dollars.”

This is something to keep in mind when approaching a hotel or booking site to request a refund for a non-refundable room. In other words, don’t act like you’re automatically entitled to a refund. (You are not.)

But, there are certain circumstances where it may be possible to get this refund. It should be noted that it is always left to the discretion of the hotel or booking site whether or not to refund you. These are just situations where you have a better chance of succeeding.

Explain that you got sick

If COVID has made one thing clear, it’s that going to work, school, or traveling when sick is a really bad idea. So if you get sick and you cannot do so while travelling, contact the hotel or third-party booking site where you made the reservation and let them know.

In all likelihood, you’ll need to provide documentation that shows you’re sick, like a note from your doctor or a positive COVID test (where your name is included in the results, not just a home test).

Share that a family member has passed away (or is about to)

Same deal here: Expect to be asked for documents, so try to have it ready before contacting the establishment or the booking site.

Share your flight cancellation or other trip interruption

In the event that your flight has been canceled and your trip is delayed, postponed (to different dates in the future) or canceled completely, it is worth contacting the hotel or booking site for a full refund or partiel. Providing documentation should be relatively easy for this one (and already on your phone).

If you were traveling for a wedding that was canceled due to COVID concerns, that should work as well. The sooner you cancel, the better, as the hotel can feel more confident that they will be able to rebook your canceled room.

Mention your Loyalty program membership

It is not a guarantee that you will get a refund, but if you are a member of a hotel rewards or loyalty program, this is something to mention when requesting a refund for a non-refundable booking.

Explain how your plans have changed (but do it as soon as possible)

Technically that’s why refundable hotel reservations exist, so it will be harder to make your case, but if you have the time to spend time politely explaining to the hotel manager or customer service representative why you don’t travel anymore is it’s worth a try to obtain at least a partial refund or credit for a future stay, or even a full refund. Again, the hotel wants to be sure they can rebook your canceled room, so if you can cancel weeks (or months) before your reservation, you should be fine even if your reservation confirmation says ” non refundable.”

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