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I had booked a room in a hotel for two days in Füssen using booking.com. I provided a password protected visa debit card. I cancelled my accommodation within two days due to change of plans. I received a mail from the hotel reception that I would have to pay 99€ as cancellation fee. They could not charge my card as it could not be validated. They threatened me that they would take legal action if I don't pay! I have never heard such rude reply from European hotels for such a case.

Change of plans can happen any time. But 99€ cancellation fee is too high for a two day booking in small guest-house in Füssen. (It is 90% of the total booking amount.) Can they really take legal action for 99€ if I don't pay? Had I provided a credit card and they charged as much money as they could from my card and then also booked the room - they are always benefited! BTW I cancelled the room 11 days in advance. Is it necessary to pay the hotel?

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    Was the cancellation fee listed in the terms you agreed to when booking the room? – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Sep 20 '15 at 10:33
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    Maybe it was listed in the terms fine-print. Hotels generally have a list of rule for each booking and they clearly say, if there is a booking cancellation fees. – edocetirwi Sep 20 '15 at 15:02
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    But hotels don't get to write their own legally valid fine-prints in Europe. Unlike e.g. in the US, companies are not allowed to sell goods or provide services under their own conditions, customer protection laws give a lot of benefits to the customer in Europe, much more than outside of Europe. – Count Iblis Sep 20 '15 at 16:28
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    When I book on booking.com, there's always information about cancellation fees. – el.pescado Sep 20 '15 at 18:06
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    @CountIblis: "don't get to write their own" - of course they do. What is capped to some extent by customer protection laws is that they cannot practically hide anything really mean in there, as surprising statements in that fine print that a customer in good faith would not expect are not legally enforceable. However, it is debatable whether possible cancellation fees are really not to be expected for a booking, and even if they are not, sites like Booking.com usually show any cancellation fees as one of the properties of the chosen rate (maybe in a slightly smaller font, but it's there). – O. R. Mapper Sep 20 '15 at 18:07
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If you thought the cancellation fee was too high, why did you agree to it?

The hotel may well be entitled to take action to recover the debt you owe it; that would depend on the detail of the local law and the conditions of the contract you have. If you are interested in that, please do go over to law.stackexchange.com for a fuller discussion. Whether the hotel will bother over 99 euros is a different matter, particularly if you are domiciled abroad.

A high cancellation fee is not unusual for a hotel. A guest who cancels a reservation with only eleven days notice represents a real loss to the hotel, unless the hotel can fill that room in the remaining time. The hotel has to protect itself against that possibility.

For future reference, hotels are often happy to accept changes to dates on non-refundable reservations, even if they claim not to be.

  • Even if they can fill that specific room, as long as any rooms in the hotel end up unbooked it's a loss. After all, whoever ended up in that specific room would otherwise simply have ended up in one of those empty rooms. – David Mulder Sep 21 '15 at 10:00
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    I would respectfully disagree about the loss, though. If the hotel had another customer attempt a reservation, but turned them away due to this guest, then there is a loss -- the (probable) paying customer went away. But as long as there is vacancy, the hotel has spent nothing on cleaning, missed opportunity, or anything else. They are simply disappointed. – donjuedo Sep 21 '15 at 10:31
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    "Only" eleven days? Two-day cancellation notice is more common where I've booked lately. – Dronz Sep 21 '15 at 16:32
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    @DavidMulder You've just proved the opposite of your contention. An empty room costs nothing unless you're sold out. After that, everybody you turn away is lost revenue. – user207421 Sep 21 '15 at 20:01
  • Check out the guest houses in Füssen, everything starts to become fully booked because of Oktoberfest. The Guest House where the OP booked shouldn't have any problems finding new guests. In fact they are more likely to be able to sell the rooms at a much higher rate now. But they incur the losses for the cancellation fee they failed to collect, at least the cancellation fee for the room the OP canceled, there must have been more cancellation for rooms that they do end up finding other guests for. – Count Iblis Sep 23 '15 at 0:56
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Just to address specifically where to find out the cancellation fee for Bookings.com

When selecting the specific room, Bookings.com has an entire column dedicated to conditions. Sometimes there is free cancellation offered up to a specific date (usual some X days before the booking starts)

hotel 1

Sometimes the hotel will offer some rooms with free cancellation, and other rooms without. Sometimes they even offer the same rooms, one with "free" cancellation and the other without, but the one with "free" cancellation might cost more.

hotel 2

You should be able to find the cancellation conditions if the room does not offer free cancellation. If it is not spelled out as free cancellation, you should assume it is not free. If it is not free, it is usually up to the hotel to specify how much the fee is.

hotel 3

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    As an aside: the phrase "up to 14 days before date of arrival" quoted above is somewhat ambiguous. They mean "up to the date 14 days before..." (i.e. more in advance than two weeks) but I think a reasonable reading of "up to 14 days" is "less than 14 days", which is the exact opposite of what's intended. – TripeHound Sep 21 '15 at 8:16
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    @TripeHound That's possibly plain wrong in English, but the intention here is clear, so from the legal point of view of most countries, it means what we feel it means. – yo' Sep 21 '15 at 13:15
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    @yo' I've come across this wording before, and I've never liked it, but I don't think it's wrong. It's certainly not grammatically or syntactically wrong, just ambiguous between whether "up to X days before Y" means (i) the union of: 1 day before Y, 2 days before Y, 3 days before Y, ..., and X days before Y; or (ii) "[from now] until [the day that is] X days before Y". – Joshua Taylor Sep 21 '15 at 22:48
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The only question is: Was the fee listed in the booking.com reservation? This is always included in the booking confirmation you receive by mail. Please check it there.

If the fee is there, then you are obliged to pay it. You can of course refuse, but I don't think that this is a good idea. It's clearly non-ethical and it can lead into troubles.

If the fee is not there, you should not pay it. Rather you should contact booking.com directly and report the issue to them. While this does not happen in Germany usually, it can happen in some places that the hotel just tries to get some money from you this way. Booking.com staff will let you know whether you need to do anything more; they do care about people being satisfied and they don't like cheating.

  • There are two ethical sides here. Pretty much all rooms in all guest houses and hotels in Füssen are now reserved due to Oktoberfest. So, you have a guest house that is asking for 99 euros for a cancellation of a reservation for a room that is now already booked by someone else, likely for a larger fee. – Count Iblis Sep 23 '15 at 16:28
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    @CountIblis There is no ethical side at all, as long as the fee was listed on the booking. – yo' Sep 23 '15 at 16:37
  • One man's unethical behavior is another man's routine business transaction. Given the demand for rooms in Füssen for Oktoberfest, the guest house already profited from the cancellation without factoring in any cancellation fees, as the price for rooms is only going to increase. They want to use the cancellation as an extra revenue, basically earning money without having to do any effort. In my book that's unethical. – Count Iblis Sep 23 '15 at 16:45
  • @CountIblis I still don't understand why you speak about it. Booking.com's interface is clear and easy to understand. It's not a crappy website where fees are hidden and a decimal point looks like a thousands separator. The business can set up prices to their liking as long as they're clearly mentioned, it's the customers who should not buy the services for the price/conditions. – yo' Oct 10 '16 at 10:21
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In my experience booking European hotels, it is often possible to select between different rates for the same room, with higher rates corresponding to more relaxed cancellation policies. This seems fair, since it lets you choose who bears the risk in the event of a change of travel plans. If you're certain you're going to be there, you can pay less; if you're not, you pay the hotel a bit more to help compensate for the chance that they won't be able to fill a room they expected income from.

It may be that you had this option (and possibly didn't realize it) — or it may just be that this hotel always has a strict policy, which, really, allows them to offer lower rates overall because of that decreased risk. Either way, they are almost certainly within their rights now — you should pay them, and remember to read the fine print next time.

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    For whatever it may be worth to future readers, this is also true for the U.S. – reirab Sep 21 '15 at 2:14
  • @reirab Huh — I've never seen the option at a US hotel. Do you have an example? – mattdm Sep 21 '15 at 2:23
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    I know I had the refundable/non-refundable option the last time I booked a room at a Holiday Inn. A quick search of Hampton Inn just now also displayed both options. I was under the impression this was common, at least for the major chains that cater to business travelers. My (U.S.) employer has a policy of only allowing refundable rates to be booked for business travel. – reirab Sep 21 '15 at 2:55
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    It's also good to realize that there was an intermediate in this case (booking.com) which tries to keep sticker prices low. They may not resell all rates. – MSalters Sep 21 '15 at 11:47
  • Good to know. I guess when I travel in the US, I'm either a) staying with a friend, b) booking at a conference rate, or c) doing something last-minute, so I never noticed. – mattdm Sep 21 '15 at 13:21
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As others have correctly stated, high cancellation fees are quite normal for non-refundable room rates and certainly will be stated in the terms you agreed to at booking. Many places will offer both (cheaper) non-refundable rates and (more expensive) refundable rates. The latter tend to be popular with business travelers whose plans tend to change more frequently, while the former tend to be more popular with tourists who tend to be more price-sensitive and whose plans tend to be somewhat less likely to change.

My advice would be to check booking.com and try to find what terms you actually agreed to. If you can't find it on their website or in confirmation e-mails, etc., you might try calling or e-mailing them to get the terms. They should have records of your reservation and should be able to provide you with the terms. You can also check the local laws in Germany, as those would supersede whatever might be in the hotel's terms, but it seems quite doubtful that those would ban cancellation fees, since a quick search seems to reveal that non-refundable booking rates are quite common there.

11 days out is hardly unreasonable for demanding payment of a cancellation fee. 11 days is generally considered relatively short notice for most travel bookings. As others have correctly pointed out, when you reserve a room, that room is then unavailable for them to rent to someone else. If you then cancel the reservation on short notice, they might not be able to sell the room to anyone else. Cancellation fees or higher refundable rates are common ways for hotels to mitigate the risk of having rooms left empty (and, thus, generating no revenue) due to cancelled reservations.

  • But pretty much all rooms in all guest houses and hotels in Füssen are now reserved due to Oktoberfest. – Count Iblis Sep 23 '15 at 16:25
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For future reference this is a tip from an experienced traveler. If you get in a jam like this about a date you can't make, instead of trying to cancel and incurring charges, you change your booking to a date far enough in the future to avoid possible cancellation charges. You thank them profusely apologizing for the inconvenience and hang up. You then call back a little later and cancel the new booking with no charge. It takes a bit of a thick skin but the hotel is not going out of business any time soon and you're the one with the cash flow problem. If their policy forbids changing a booking or adds a charge for that, stay somewhere else.

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    That's a neat trick! – yo' Sep 23 '15 at 18:31
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The guest house is morally wrong to act in this way, I would advice you to not pay them. They may also be in violation of certain EU laws by intimidating you to pay. They can argue all they want about your legal duty to pay, but the reality is that with Oktoberfest about to start, they have already reserved your room to someone else, likely for a larger fee than the amount you originally booked it for. If the guest house persists in making legal threats, an effective way to put a stop to that is to call them and say that if they don't drop the case, you'll write your account of the situation on social media. Negative publicity is extremely costly to companies, especially small guest houses that depend a lot on booking.com for their visibility.

You can safely get away with not paying, as they are unable to charge your debit card and 11 days is long enough to make their demands unreasonable. You can consider transferring funds from that debit card to another one to make sure they can't get the money even if they do get the ability to charge the debit card. But I wouldn't worry about this.

Legally, the situation isn't entirely clear, because in Europe, companies do not have the right to just point to the small print to get their way. Whatever is written in the small print has to be consistent with EU customer protection laws in order to be valid, going after people because of cancellations isn't allowed. In fact, if you had made a prepayment you could have demanded your money back (within the limitations of the law), regardless of the guest house's own rules on this.

The only thing you must be aware of is that companies can sometimes intimidate customers to pay by outsourcing the collection of outstanding bills to special debt collection companies that pretend to have legal rights to go after customers. In fact, in Europe they don't have any legal rights to force you to pay. They may send you bills for the requested payment plus a large sum for extra administrative costs. But you are not required to pay any such bills.

To force you to pay, the company needs to get a court order and that court order can only be executed by a court bailiff, not by a private entity. But to get such a court order, the company, which by that stage will typically be a debt collection company, needs to prove that the legal conditions are met, i.e. that you were aware of the relevant details in the contract, and the contract is legally valid under EU customer protection laws. Obviously, they are not going to be able to do that.

To avoid such problems in the future, it is better to book a decent hotel instead of a guest house. The small guest houses may be in a financially more precarious situation, making them hunt for every penny they can find. Reputable hotels don't treat customers this way. Many hotels have the policy that guests who were not satisfied with their stay don't have to pay, but of course, you must then make your complaints clear during the stay. This is the right attitude; they provide a services and go out of their way to satisfy the customer. The way the guest house is acting here, threating you with legal action, is the opposite of this, I would not want to stay in such a place.

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    I don't know how debit cards work where you're from, but in the UK transferring funds out of my account would just mean my bank charges me for going overdrawn, not that they couldn't get the money. – Anthony Grist Sep 20 '15 at 15:52
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    Using a debit card? At least that's how I'd do it. I've never had problems booking using a debit card. – Anthony Grist Sep 20 '15 at 16:06
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    It is true that consumer protection laws are stronger in Europe than in some other places, but to state unequivocally that "11 days is long enough to make their demands unreasonable" and that cancellation fees aren't legal are points that I will not believe without a good reference. If you are going to advise someone to break their contractual undertaking, please at least provide some case law. – Calchas Sep 20 '15 at 16:34
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    @Calchas: equally, if you're going to tell someone they have a contractual obligation then provide the contract (and the guest house should do so, since this cancellation fee is news to the questioner). Just because someone says you owe them a certain sum doesn't mean that's really what the contract said. – Steve Jessop Sep 20 '15 at 16:48
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    Getting a court order in this case has two possible and one sure consequences: If you live in Europe, the court will 100% reach you and you'll pay. If you don't live in Europe and you don't pay, you'll likely never be allowed entry. The sure thing is: Booking.com will cancel your account. – yo' Sep 23 '15 at 18:30

protected by mindcorrosive Sep 22 '15 at 20:18

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