Are nonrefundable hotel rooms really nonrefundable?

Posted at 6:00 AM, Nov 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-28 10:25:31-05

Scoring a great rate on a hotel room is exciting, especially when planning a last-minute holiday vacation.

But those deals can come with a catch -- they're nonrefundable and the dates aren't movable. 

Steve Sagen learned that the hard way. He booked a room for the weekend at the Embassy Suites across from Westfield UTC for his sister and 90-year-old mom. But his mom got sick and had to cancel.

Sagen, however, couldn't cancel his reservation. He booked a nonrefundable room on, saving about $50 over the hotel's rates, which are cancellable with 72 hours notice.

Now, he may be out the full $320 for the reservation.

"It's business," he said. "I understand how it works, but there's always ways to possible be able to not lose your money and make other people happy."

Sagen even tried to sell off the reservation for a discount on social media, offering to check someone in and add their name to the room for $270. 

But he won't have to.

10News contacted Priceline, which is issuing him a refund.

Priceline spokeswoman Kim Soward says hotels set most of the rates on their site, but that they will step in for a traveler in an extenuating circumstance. She encouraged customers to call their 24-hour customer service line in those cases. 

Soward said, however, it's important to pick the right rate for each trip.

"It’s worth noting that before making any purchases, the customer agrees to the terms and conditions that state whether or not the booking is refundable/cancellable – this includes our deeply discounted rates that are backed by a best price guarantee," she said. " offers thousands of free cancellation and refundable hotels, and should a customer expect their plans might change, these options would be ideal for them."

Jerry Morrison, a hotel industry analyst, said changing or getting money back on nonrefundable rates is often easier when booking directly with hotels. 

"You're there to take care of your guests, and it’s a service business," he said. "When you start putting restrictions like that as far as nonrefundable rates, you’ll wind up aggravating a lot of people and there isn’t that much of a profit in it."

There are also other ways to find deals directly through the hotels.

For instance, Sheraton has an offer on its website to pay your birth year for many hotels. So if you book a room at a regular rate for one night, you can pay the year of your birth for the second - i.e. if you were born in 1970, you'd pay $70 for the second night.