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The 2021 Guide to Flexible Travel

How to cancel non-refundable hotels

When booking a hotel stay, it can be tempting to take a non-refundable rate to take advantage of a discount. But then life happens, people get sick, or plans change, and you end up canceling or needing to reschedule for a future date.

It can be challenging to get money back from a non-refundable hotel reservation, especially when the booking is prepaid. But there are circumstances in which hotels can be more understanding and offer some compensation even when canceling a non-refundable hotel room. Knowing in what situations hotels might have a little wiggle room on their cancellation policy can make all the difference, especially if you travel often. 

In what circumstances can you request a refund from a non-refundable hotel booking? 

Bereavement

In the sad circumstance of a death in your family, you will likely be able to get a full refund on your hotel reservation regardless of the initial rate you booked. Hotel managers may be a little skeptical at first and may have protocols they need to follow to offer you free cancellation.

Don’t be offended if they ask you to provide some documentation. They may ask for a letter from a doctor, a funeral service, or a formal death certificate. The refund will be at the hotel’s discretion, so your best bet is to appeal to the management’s compassion.

Although this is a stressful time, you are more likely to succeed if you can keep as calm and polite as possible. If you find a manager is not particularly sympathetic, feel free to make an excuse to end the conversation and try again later. You might find someone else has a more understanding ear. If you cannot get a refund from the hotel directly, your travel insurance will often cover you for bereavement. 

Illness

Similar to a bereavement, if you or a close relation becomes seriously unwell, hotels may grant an exception to their non-refundable rates. Be persistent, and don’t be afraid to call a few times to see if you get through to a more sympathetic staff member.

If you are struggling to obtain a refund, ask if you can rebook another set of dates or have a credit voucher towards a future booking instead. Insurers will have a list of illnesses covered under their policy both for the traveler and if an immediate family member receives a diagnosis. If either a bereavement or illness occurs after you check-in, then your travel insurance is your best route to obtain a refund. 

Change of circumstance

In life, things change. Events get canceled and meetings postponed. Hotels can be lenient if you approach them with politeness and understanding. After all, they are also a business, and even the most generous of refund policies will need to draw a line somewhere.

While a boutique might understandably struggle to refund the booking, they might be happy to rebook for another date. Larger hotel chains might have more flexibility and be able to offer a full or partial refund or give you credit towards a future stay at any one of their hotels.

To avoid no-shows, some of the bigger hotel groups will allow guests to cancel last minute as long as they absorb the first night’s cost or pay a cancellation fee. This policy gives the hotel the chance to resell the room and enables travelers to get back some of their accommodation costs.

If you are unable to get a refund, then all is not lost! While you won’t receive the full amount, resale websites such as Roomer Travel or SpareFare can help recoup some of the costs of your airfares and hotel reservations, minus any change fees. 

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Not all cancellations happen pre-departure. Sometimes, after checking in, a traveler will discover their accommodation doesn’t match its online facade. Depending on the situation, maybe a simple room change can solve the issue, but you can request a full refund if you are unhappy. Document the problems you have found with pictures and videos and seek out help straight away.

If you booked through a third-party booking site, like Expedia or booking.com, they should be your first port of call. They will have more leverage with the hotel. But you may be on hold to customer services a few times before getting through to a member of staff who can escalate your complaint and issue you a refund.

If you booked directly, ask to speak to senior management rather than the front desk. Stay calm and present your evidence firmly. Don’t be afraid to ask someone else if you find that you are not getting far with a particular staff member.

If the hotel is part of a chain, then call their customer services team and be sure to report the names of staff who have been less than helpful. If you are hitting a dead-end, you can also contact your credit card company to see if they can assist you. 

Online Booking Tools 

Corporate travelers know better than anyone how often plans change. Business travelers and travel managers are increasingly turning to online booking tools or OBTs to increase their chances of getting a refund on their corporate travel arrangements.

Using these tools gives you access to fantastic travel industry rates and more leverage when canceling your plans. Some OBTs like TravelPerk have created a streamlined solution to cancellations so that business travelers can hand over the process entirely and get on with their busy schedules.

With TravelPerk’s FlexiPerk option, you can access the most flexible business travel options on the market. 100% of the options displayed within FlexiPerk are refundable and can be canceled anytime up to two hours before travel. On average FlexiPerk users save around 40% and can relax safe in the knowledge that they are guaranteed a refund of at least 80% with no questions asked.  

What can you do to mitigate the risk of canceling hotels’ non-refundable reservations?

As we have seen, handling the admin of applying for a refund can be incredibly time-consuming and stressful. Even with insurance, the process of getting your refund can be long-winded, and you will not necessarily have cover for all circumstances.

For example, in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic was excluded by most policies. Meaning travelers diagnosed with COVID or who had their trips canceled due to restrictions were not covered by their travel insurance policies.

Even in less unusual circumstances, there are always caveats and limitations buried in the terms and conditions that can be a lengthy task to navigate. Relying on a credit card issuer can be equally problematic. Many credit card issuers will have a detailed admin process to complete before you can get back any money from your booking. While you might be able to recoup some of the costs by using a resale website, answering bidders’ questions and dealing with less than generous offers could be another drain on your resources. 

Non-refundable rates might be tempting, but the discounts they offer are seldom worth the risk if you are a frequent business traveler or travel manager. In business, plans regularly change, even in the best of times, and last year taught us that having flexibility in our travel arrangements is precious.

Even as the pandemic eases, the ability to alter our travel plans will likely continue to be essential for the foreseeable future. Being locked into non-refundable rates could end up costing you more, not just in terms of money but also in lost time trying to plead your case for a refund. If you manage a team of business travelers, you will need a more streamlined solution to avoid being overwhelmed with the admin and racking up unnecessary costs. 

Using an online booking tool like TravelPerk can remove the stress of altering or canceling your travel plans. Knowing you have access to the best rates in the industry eliminates the need to search through multiple booking platforms and juggle various booking conditions. 

What’s more, we handle everything, freeing up busy travel managers while providing significant savings on your travel spend. Our customer service team is on hand 24/7, 365 days a year, to help travel managers or their corporate travelers with any questions or last-minute changes. Please speak to our sales team to see how TravelPerk can remove the stress of cancelations for your corporate travel program today.

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