Just today, I booked a hotel in Hong Kong through Booking.com using a prepaid debit card which has zero balance. My reservation was confirmed; however, I changed my mind as I found a cheaper place to stay.

I chose to cancel the first booking within the same day, and when I received the confirmation email for the cancellation, I was shocked that they were charging 600 HKD for such kind of transaction.

What should I do now? Should I consider the booking cancelled already, just like the email they sent me, and not think about the charge anymore? Or do I have to put money in the card to cover the fee which, honestly, I find outrageous?

  • 16
    Was it in their terms and conditions - the cancellation fee? If so, and you agreed to them, the outrageous or not there's not much you can do, I'd imagine...
    – Mark Mayo
    Jan 4, 2015 at 11:39
  • 5
    I have booking.com genius status and I use it quite a lot. They do advertise the cancellation fee, and also shows the amount when you cancel.
    – AKS
    Jan 4, 2015 at 17:09
  • Related: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/50631/…
    – JonathanReez
    Feb 10, 2016 at 2:25
  • 2
    Can you post a follow-up? I'd assume they cannot charge an empty debit card?
    – MmM
    Jul 18, 2016 at 14:50
  • 1
    @user1073075 It depends on the bank account contract . Many banks allow accounts to have negative balance up until certain value, even using debit cards, as they charge higher fees for lending you money. Likewise, the answers here stating the payment did not go through with a 0 balance card might be wrong Mar 29, 2019 at 23:23

4 Answers 4


I don't quite understand why you're "shocked" at the cancellation fee or why you find it "outrageous"? When you reserve a hotel, you make a promise to show up, and the hotel promises to give you a rate that's cheaper than usual. If you cancel, the hotel gets no money from you and is left scrambling to fill that room, which is why cancellation fees are used to mitigate the damage. If anything, it's not unusual to have fully prepaid rates, meaning that once you've booked, you're charged the entire fee, even if you cancel within 5 minutes.

But in any case, as Burhan says in his answer, since you have no balance on the card, what happens next is mostly up to your bank and you may well get away without paying a cent. But if the bank does decide to charge you, I don't see what grounds you would have to contest the charge, you were almost certainly notified about it (albeit in small print) when you made the original booking: Booking.com promises "no cancellation fee" on "most", but not all, rooms.

  • 7
    Most hotels let you cancel without penalty usually up to the day right before you booking. Also your assertion that the hotel is left scrambling to fill the room is dishonest as well. That might be true for a last minute cancellation but almost certainly not if the reservation is still three months away. Its true the hotel does have such a strict policy but I doubt it would stand up for far out reservations. How would they justify taking the OPs money AND a new guest that got the room?
    – Andy
    Jan 4, 2015 at 13:41
  • Its also odd they allowed the booking without charging the card but now want to when the op wants to cancel.
    – Andy
    Jan 4, 2015 at 13:42
  • 6
    @Andy I frequently book non-cancellable rates at hotels. Maybe 1/3 of the time it goes onto my card then. Another 1/2 it'll be charged within a week of the booking, probably because the hotel processes them in batches. Remainder they don't charge until checkout, despite being a non-refundable rate, but they have my details to charge me if I no-show
    – Gagravarr
    Jan 4, 2015 at 13:57
  • @Gagravarr I don't doubt hotels will charge you, I doubt how successful they will be in a dispute (and especially a lawsuit). Of course it depends on how far out the reservation is, day before is quite different than three months prior.
    – Andy
    Jan 4, 2015 at 14:23
  • 3
    @Andy Whether cancellations are allowed or not usually depends on the prices, the cheapest deals usually do not. And it's simple math, not dishonesty: if the cancellation fee is 10%, and the hotel fills the room after cancelling 90% of the time, they make (90% * 100%) + (100% * 10%) = 100% or exactly the same as they would have if everybody who booked had actually showed up, no more, no less. Jan 4, 2015 at 21:34

Assuming they charge the fee, since you have zero balance the charge won't be successful.

I believe booking.com does not control this, but the individual hotels do. You might want to check with the hotel (and the room/rate combination) you selected.

Some rooms which are discounted are either pre-paid or have a minimum night charge, or a hefty cancellation fee. I think you may have selected such a room+rate combination.

Either way, what happens depends on what kind of card it is and what kind of agreement you have with your bank. You can contact the hotel to contest the charge (although, I am not sure how far that would go to be honest - I have not had much success in this department).

Regarding your booking:

  1. They may charge you a minimum night charge if the booking is not cancelled (that is, they have not received the cancellation fee/penalty).

  2. They may try to charge the cancellation fee again.

You can also choose to call your bank and refuse the charge.

  • 2
    Calling the bank and refusing the charge would be an act of fraud. Refusing a charge is only to be used when the seller would be obliged to give a refund (e.g., they charged the wrong amount, charged for goods that were faulty and refused to replaced them, or charged for goods or services they didn't deliver). It is not to be used when the buyer has simply changed their mind (e.g., decided they didn't want the goods or didn't want to pay something they'd contractually agreed to pay, such as a cancellation fee). Jan 11, 2018 at 9:24
  • @DavidRicherby he hasn't been charged yet. Refusing to pay a fee you are contractually obliged to pay is not fraud (which is a crime). It is breaking the terms of a contract (which is a civil suit). Of course the other party can go to court and ask it to enforce the contract. But the court can also declare the contract invalid (for example due to "small font").
    – George Y.
    Jul 17, 2018 at 23:45
  • 1
    @GeorgeY. Simply refusing to pay would be breach of contract, yes. But we're not talking about a refusal to pay: we're talking about telling your bank to retract a payment that was legitimately made. The only way you can get the bank to do that would be to tell them that the payment was not actually legitimate, which is a lie. I believe that lie would constitute fraud. Jul 18, 2018 at 10:28
  • 1
    @GeorgeY. It is in no way legitimate to charge somebody for goods or services they did not receive. Come on, you know exactly what I mean. Disputing card payments requires the seller to do something wrong. It’s not there to allow the customer to renege on a contract by not paying something they had agreed to pay. Jul 18, 2018 at 23:12
  • 2
    @GeorgeY. How many times do I have to point out that refusing to pay something you agreed to pay is in no way comparable to getting a refund for a parcel that got lost in the post? Everything you have argued is already covered by my first comment, back in January. Jul 19, 2018 at 9:49

Always read the fine print. People rush into making a room reservation based solely on the rate or the pictures. When you reserve that room, you are entering into a legally binding contract. You are agreeing to the terms and conditions on that site and for the hotel.

Try contesting the charges in court or with the bank and good luck to you. Whether you think it's fair or not, or whether you like the terms and conditions is irrelevant after the fact. Once you've "confirmed" that you agree by hitting the reserve button And sending the merchant your order you are required to uphold your end of the contract.

Saying you didn't see the information on the website or vendors advertising pages is not a good argument either. The burden of proof is on the accuser. Be prepared to provide proof that the information was not provided BEFORE the purchase was made. Usually the information on reservation pages is right next to the reserve button. Sometimes it is before the checkout page.

My advice is to just stay away from the prepaid reservations since the savings are not nearly all that much lower. 3 party websites like Expedia, booking.com etc, are travel agencies. They will get a fee for sending your reservation to the hotel. If you have an issue at the hotel, you will need to go back to the 3rd party to resolve the billing issue.

Call hotels in the morning hours and ask for a manager (GM) to get answers to your booking questions. Also ask for discounts from the manager rather than the desk staff. Ask about the policy for refunds and anything else you think you should know. Last, take names of the person you spoke to, their positions and get confirmation or cancellation numbers. I can't count how many people don't do this and find out that they've been charged as a no show for a reservation they cancelled, but can't provide a cancellation number or name of the person they spoke to. Other show up with no reservation at a sold out hotel and having no confirmation number means you have no grounds for recovery.

  • 6
    My personal experience with booking.com hotel booking in Hongkong: booked, fully refundable till last three days, one month before hotel sent an email that pay us via paypal or we cannot guarantee the room. I did not pay, compained to booking.com, no answers. So, few hotels also might not be very keen to uphold their end of contract.
    – DavChana
    May 18, 2016 at 9:12
  • 1
    Strange that booking.com didn't take action, as the hotel tried to rip booking.com off (they'd cancel your reservation there as no-show and keep the booking fee). Unfortunately this seem to be quite typical for cheaper HK hotels.
    – George Y.
    Dec 17, 2016 at 9:22

Now i am not sure about Hong Kong law but in some countries exist an international archive that states if you are a bad user of credit/debit instruments (Europe, Asia, North and Central America, and Oceania).

Now if the Hotellier find out that you have tried to contest the payment he got 3 options: 1st loose the credit, 2nd contact the bank (for free) and give explanations (takes a lot of time), 3rd contacting the national archive and paying a fee for official comunications to the autorities and even showing the "contract"(this is the evil path and is even the less known).

You have "signed" a contract with booking.com and they did with the hotellier, the hotellier has the right, in case you use an instrument like the debit card without the plafond, to ask this international archives to place your name on them, and now the bad news, what does imply? The Bank is obliged to prevent you from using any of those instruments from 6 months up to 5 yrs.
At this point I'll say I will be happy to pay the fee needed.

  • 8
    What are you talking about? It sounds as if you are describing US-style credit reports but even those are certainly not as powerful as to outright ban you from using any credit card for a single disputed/fraudulent/bad charge and I am not aware of any remotely similar international system. There is actually nothing like that in most European countries, AFAIK, even at the national level. Could you provide a specific example or name names to clarify your answer?
    – Relaxed
    Oct 31, 2015 at 10:34
  • @Relaxed OP asked about debit cards. In the US market, debit cards are tied to a bank account, and doing what OP proposes would overdraw the bank account. If the owner simply refused to pay the bank, the bank would flag them in ChexSystems, and they would not be opening any bank accounts for the next 7 years. So yes, a significant burn is possible. Oct 5, 2022 at 4:53
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica That's not quite the scenario described in this answer. I assumed from the question that the OP did not have (or turned off) any overdraft facility. Isn't the point of debit cards that the transaction would then simply be refused? Still very unclear and full of assumptions in any case.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 5, 2022 at 6:52
  • Note that there are systems like the one you describe in Europe as well but you wouldn't be banned from opening a bank account following a minor contractual dispute with a hotel, only if you did actually use a credit instrument like a cheque or, indeed, overdraft facility to pay for it. The whole point of the question is to understand what happens when there isn't any charge or any direct involvement of the bank, otherwise the answer is obvious.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 5, 2022 at 6:56
  • @Relaxed yeah, at least in the US, they don't have "always-online instant verification", so charges can post to a zero balance account without OD protection. They overdraw it and you must cover. You won't get a ChexSystems ban for a contract dispute with a hotel -- you'll get it because you did not cover the overdraft. In the US you must front the money during a dispute, and you get it back if you win. I don't like debit lol. Oct 5, 2022 at 18:23

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