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I was wanting to cancel a hotel reservation on Expedia but when I clicked on the cancel link I get this message:

The room/unit type and rate selected are non-refundable. Should you change or cancel this reservation for any reason, your payment will not be refunded.

Given that is there any reason to cancel the reservation? Sure, it might be nice, as it'd allow the hotel to rent the room out to someone else but if they're not going to be "nice" by letting me cancel the reservation then I don't know why I would be "nice" to them.

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    The hotel was "nice" to you. They gave you a discount in exchange for limiting your flexibility. – Arthur's Pass Jan 30 at 3:28
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    @Arthur'sPass - The OP's question still remains though - what possible incentive do they have for cancelling? – dwjohnston Jan 30 at 4:33
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    Being a well brought up human being, who was taught to let their host know so they would not worry or wait up. – Willeke Jan 30 at 5:07
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    Is there a "Resort fee" or other ad hoc charge on top of the Expedia rate? – user662852 Jan 30 at 5:39
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    @Willeke I fully agree if it's a small family owned hotel or apartment, but this rarely applies to chain hotels with hundreds of rooms – JonathanReez Jan 30 at 17:30
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Etiquette generally demands that if you reserve something you're not going to make use of, it's polite to cancel your reservation. Even if you can't summon any desire to be nice to the hotel's owners after being subject to their inflexible cancellation policies, think of it as being nice to your fellow travelers, as your cancellation just might help out someone else who is in need of a room.

This is often less true with rooms booked through a third-party booking site like Expedia, but if you call the hotel directly, they can sometimes, entirely at their discretion with no guarantees of success, be accommodating even with non-refundable reservations, especially if you have a good reason (medical emergency, serious travel delays, etc...) and/or are open to flexibility (they may let you shift the dates or apply the cost as a credit toward a future stay).

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    Expedia takes a pretty good sized chunk of the price paid for the room for themselves. While the reservation might be nonrefundable if the traveler cancels it, it usually is refundable if the hotel cancels it. Mainly for this reason I've found independent and franchised hotels will quite often be amenable to canceling the Expedia reservation and rebooking directly. Large corporate owned chain locations generally won't, though. – Michael Hampton Jan 30 at 7:10
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    I have had non refundable hotel room fees refunded on more than one occasion after canceling and either contacting the hotel directly to politely request a refund or disputing through my credit card. – user 56513 Jan 30 at 9:39
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    @user56513 Disputing a non-refundable room (that you genuinely booked) through your credit card is fraud. – JBentley Jan 30 at 12:56
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    @user56513 "I bought this thing but didn't use it" is not a legitimate reason to dispute a charge on a credit card. Disputes are for cases of illegitimate use of the card, billing errors, and failure to receive what you paid for, none of which apply here. – Nuclear Wang Jan 30 at 16:24
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    There could be legitimate grounds for a dispute if the cancellation policy wasn't clearly disclosed before booking (and you can show that), but most hotel booking sites are clear about that, and many offer different rates with different cancellation policies at booking time. – Zach Lipton Jan 30 at 22:55
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I cancel just in case the hotel or booking agency refunds me anyway — it happens.


I have cancelled a non-refundable hotel booking twice.

In one case, I had booked through the hotel website. I cancelled several months in advance (altered flight times meant spending night in a different city than planned). Much to my surprise, I received a 100% refund.

In another case, I had booked through a hotel aggregator website. I cancelled several days in advance (altered travel plans due to French train strikes) and I received no refund.


Recap: I cancel just in case the hotel or booking agency refunds me anyway — it happens.

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    Another trick that can be worth trying (and has worked in my case on the few occasions I've tried it) is to ask the hotel at their discretion to postpone the booking to a future date. Assuming you want to revisit the location, it can be a way to salvage what would otherwise be a complete loss. With Expedia bookings, you will need to get the hotel to agree, then call Expedia who will call through to the hotel to confirm it. – JBentley Jan 30 at 12:46
  • @JBentley Perhaps. For me, that would have not worked in either case, as I have no plans to return to either location in the forseeable future. – gerrit Jan 30 at 13:17
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    @JBentley Some time ago I read about a guest using a loophole in the hotel rules: They wanted to cancel a room on short notice which was too short to receive any refund. So, they moved the booking to later date (which was free) and called a day later to cancel that booking - which was now refunded in total, because the date was far enough in the future. No guarantees on the validity or feasibility of this trick, though. – Dubu Jan 31 at 10:13
  • The question was why, but I can't seem to find that in your answer. – Konerak Jan 31 at 12:59
  • @Konerak Read the final line of my answer. It answers the why. – gerrit Jan 31 at 13:31
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Apart from etiquette, an actual use case:

I have separate insurance for certain events (death of a family member or travel partner, illness, etc) so I don't get refundable rooms as they are more expensive.

Sadly, I had to cancel rooms (and flights etc) a number of times. The insurance will ask you to cancel the room/flight/whatever, and then send them the list of all costs left after refunds. If the refunds are 0, then so be it.

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  • Insurers vary a lot. My sister and I had to cancel a cheap non-refundable flight because an elderly uncle we were going to stay with, died. My insurer accepted a copy of a Spanish death certificate and paid up. My sister's wanted a certified translation of the certificate and of marriage etc. certificates to prove he was our uncle! She gave up, which was probably their intention. Cheap insurance, you get what you pay for. Unfortunately, some more expensive insurance is just as bad. – nigel222 Jan 30 at 14:14
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You may want to cancel if your credit card offers insurance and needs you to cancel to make the refund.

Also, you may have to pay taxes to the city ("tourist tax" or "stay tax") when staying at the hotel. These are only paid when you actually spend the night, so you can avoid paying them by cancelling your room.

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    You should get a refund for the tourist tax even if you don't spend the night – JonathanReez Jan 30 at 17:28
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    Most hotels I have used in the last few years did only charge the tourist tax at check-in or even at check-out. – Willeke Jan 30 at 17:59
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The reason is very simple: so that you can claim for the non-refundable costs on your travel insurance (you do have travel insurance, right?). The insurance company will want to see an official cancellation to be sure that you definitely did not stay at the hotel.

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Getting a refund isn't necessarily the only option when cancelling. Some places will let you cancel (directly through them, not through a third-party website) and receive an alternate form of compensation such as a voucher to use towards a future visit, or the equivalent amount of loyalty program reward points. This is more common with air tickets than with hotels but I've found that if you call the hotel and are polite to their booking manager, they usually try to do what they can to keep their customers happy.

Also note that there are legitimate cases where you can cancel a non-refundable reservation despite what a third-party website tells you (they tend to err on the side of protecting their commission). Read the fine print carefully. Example: if you booked the hotel and air/train tickets at the same time, you are often able to get your hotel refunded if the flight/train is cancelled, rescheduled to a different day, or otherwise significantly changed in a way outside your control. Local law may also give you additional rights that supersede anything the website tries to tell you. Hotel staff will know more about local law than you will, so the best course of action is usually to call them, be honest and polite, and ask them what your options are.

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All answers give a very focused reply to a question. Let me use as a reference, the work of a recent Nobel laureate.

Recently behavioural economists have been focussing on lack of rationality in human decision making. Your question is very reasonable from a What's in it for me perspective. However not all humans are like that. Many have demonstrated that they would rather provide convenience to someone else even though they have already paid for it.

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Aside for multiple reasons already mentioned, your cancellation will make the room available for someone else to book. You might consider this of no relevance to you, but one day you might be the person looking desperately for a room.

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    While this is true, it has also been mentioned in the answers. – Willeke Jan 31 at 16:13

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