Please cancel my nonrefundable hotel room, Priceline



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 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.

  • mike313

    Why does it take the negative publicity of a Chris Elliott intervention to effect a change in a hotel’s restrictive policy and make them do the right thing?

  • mjhoop

    Because so many people insisted they were exceptional enough to break the rules?????
    The only right thing for many companies is to make money and it costs them $$$ to make exceptions.
    The right thing for buyers to do is read the rules, accept or reject them, and to live with the consequences.
    I feel empathy for this woman and her situation, but wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn it’s all made up. Many people, though probably not this one, make up whatever they want to get what they want. That’s the state of the country and too many of its citizens lately.
    They would say, The rules are for ‘those other (lesser) people,’ not me. I’m special and will do what it takes to be treated that way.
    And the corporations know this. (Corporations are, after all, legally considered ‘people’, right? Though not subject to the same rules/punishments as you and I).
    Chris’s efficacy is a good thing, but the ‘negative publicity’ is lost among the dregs of internet overload.
    As this story indicates, price rules. Not publicity.

  • BobChi

    EVERYONE has “extenuating personal circumstances.” Everyone would like a free refund on nonrefundable rooms or tickets. Everyone thinks their case is special. In fairness, Chris did note that the company simply doesn’t have any way to research the honesty of the sad stories.

  • wiseword

    This is an old story from at least a month ago.

  • dcta

    I’m sorry, I just don’t get this. While I can sympathize and in fact, empathize with this woman, Priceline is very clear about its policies. Their ability to offer low rates is predicated on the sale being guaranteed – both to them and the hotel. It’s a bargain with the devil, but one that is made clear eyed and is easily understood by the consumer.

    Anytime anyone cancels a vacation, it is for an exceptional reason – it’s almost never a “change your mind situation”. Chris, again I’m not cold-hearted here, but I think you are doing the consumer a disservice by doing this sort of thing over and over and over again!This is not “consumerism” – you are not teaching people to be careful about making spending decisions. You are teaching people that rules don’t apply to them and so what if they’ve agreed to a “contract”? There’s always a way out.

    I’m even queasy about writing this – I can just imagine some of the blow back I’m going to get!!!! But seriously, you buy something on-line, the rules are right there in front of you, it is assumed that you understand them and agree.

    And Charlie – the photo you chose for this is a little misleading – I’m sure most readers’ first thought was that this was a story about someone trying to cancel a hotel reservation after a flight was cancelled! Come on!

  • JLM276

    Another reason I would never use Priceline

  • sue

    I agree with you, and I’m just a lowly consumer. A few short years ago there was no difference in the rates between refundable and nonrefundable if you booked straight from the hotel, if you booked directly, and then I would plead my case occasionally, but now that there is a differential, I book the higher rate unless there is some reason I’m sure I won’t cancel. I hope hotels don’t go the route of airlines where there is the affordable rate and then the not affordable rate, but until that happens, I’ll be respectful of the difference.

  • neal1

    Sorry, you were willing to get a discounted price for a nonrefundable rate. You either say, I am going or not. If life were to pose challenges, then business travelers should be getting the deals as well. They all intend to go. You had a choice, either take the kids and bill your sister for the lost money, or postpone taking the kids till you returned. But you chose to cry foul, blaming others and make them absorb your problem.