How to Get a Refund on a ‘Nonrefundable’ Hotel Reservation

How to Get a Refund on a ‘Nonrefundable’ Hotel Reservation
Photo: Henryk Ditze, Shutterstock

Back in the spring and summer of 2020, travel came with unprecedented flexibility. Flights, car rental reservations, and hotel bookings could be cancelled at the last minute, change fees were mostly eliminated, and airlines blocked middle seats.

Of course, that was all about staying afloat financially during a pandemic and not about making it a better experience for us, so it was no surprise when those traveller-friendly policies went away and were replaced by higher prices. Lately, the lowest hotel rates are through completely nonrefundable bookings.

Always try to get a refund, even if your booking says “nonrefundable”

Pandemic or not, sometimes life gets in the way of your travel plans. And under many circumstances, it’s still possible to get a refund on a nonrefundable hotel booking — especially if you’re aware a few weeks or more in advance of your scheduled stay. So even if your booking confirmation says “nonrefundable,” it’s always worth making a polite phone call to make your case. Many times, “nonrefundable” acts more of a deterrent than an unbreakable rule.

How to get a refund on a nonrefundable booking

When booking a hotel room, we’re given the option of prioritising flexibility or cost. So, as Daniel Gillaspia points out in a post for Upon Arriving, “when you request for a nonrefundable rate to be refunded you are essentially asking the hotel to disregard the risk that you took in order to save a few bucks.”

This is something to keep in mind when approaching a hotel or booking site asking for your money back on a nonrefundable room — in other words, don’t act as though you’re automatically entitled to a refund. (You’re not.)

But, there are certain circumstances where it can be possible to get that refund. We should note that it’s always left to the discretion of the hotel or booking site as to whether or not to give you your money back — these are just situations where you have a better shot at being successful.

Explain that you got sick

If COVID has made one thing clear, it’s that going to work, school, or travelling when you’re sick is a terrible idea. So if you get sick and are unable to make it on a trip, 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 providing that you’re ill, like a note from your doctor or a positive COVID test (where your name is included on the results — not just a snap of a home test).

Share that someone in your family died (or is about to)

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

Share your flight cancellation or other travel disruption

In the event that your flight has been cancelled and your trip is delayed, postponed (to a different set of dates in the future), or cancelled completely, it’s worth contacting the hotel or booking site about potentially getting a full or partial refund. Providing documentation should be relatively simple for this one (and already on your phone).

If you were travelling for a wedding that was cancelled due to COVID concerns, that should work as well. The sooner you cancel, the better, as the hotel can feel more confident that they’ll be able to re-book your cancelled room.

Mention your loyalty program membership

This isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get a refund, but if you’re a member of a hotel’s rewards or loyalty program, this is something to mention when you’re requesting a refund for a nonrefundable booking.

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

Technically, this is why refundable hotel bookings exist, so it’s going to be harder to make a case, but if you have the time to spend politely explaining to the hotel manager or customer service rep why you’re no longer travelling, it’s worth a shot trying to get at least a partial refund or credit towards a future stay, if not a full refund. Again, the hotel wants to feel confident that they’ll be able to re-book your cancelled room, so if you can cancel weeks (or months) in advance of your reservation, you should be in good shape even if your booking confirmation says “nonrefundable.”

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