When to change rooms in a hotel — or just check out
When Irena Shie rejects a hotel room, it’s usually because of hygiene.
“If the room is dirty, I call the front desk and request a cancellation,” says Shie, a software developer from Glen Mills, Pa.
When Nancy Usich leaves ahead of schedule, it’s because she is uncomfortable. She says she and her husband recently checked out of a bed-and-breakfast in Gettysburg, Pa., because their room had a soft and lumpy mattress.
“It was so uncomfortable that we could barely get out of bed,” says Usich, a retired teacher from Avon, Conn. “We snuck out the next morning without asking for a refund. The owners were so nice, and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”
How do you know that a hotel isn’t for you? When should you check out early? How do you break it to the hotel — and get at least a partial refund? And what can you do to avoid such awkward situations altogether?
“If a hotel is unsafe or unsanitary, then there is no point in staying in your room and trying to resolve the issue with the property,” says Yatin Patel, a co-founder of Reservations.com, a travel site. “Conversely, if you find that the hotel staff is flat-out unhelpful in accommodating your concerns, then you should make the decision to leave.”
But those aren’t the only reasons. Cadry Nelson, a food blogger from Iowa City, recalls a short-lived hotel stay in Orlando.
“That night, the couple in the next room started having a huge argument,” she remembers. “Sometimes they were taking the arguing to our adjoining balcony, right outside our window. The yelling continued for hours.”
After midnight, Nelson called the front desk to ask for an intervention. But no one was there. They had all gone home for the night.
The quarrel continued into the early morning.
“Finally, at 3 or 4 a.m., I booked a different hotel online, and we packed up our things,” she says. When she requested a refund from a hotel manager, he was “unapologetic and rude,” but he eventually reversed the charges.
Technically, you’re on the hook for your entire stay, at least as far as the hotel is concerned. When you make a reservation, you are under contract. The hotel will try to charge you for the nights you have stayed and may try to bill you for the remaining nights on your reservation, even if you leave early.
As a practical matter, though, most hotels don’t want unhappy guests. If you can’t resolve the problem by moving to a different room, a manager may offer a partial or full refund. It depends on the circumstances. For Nelson, noisy neighbors were enough for a refund; for another customer at another hotel, it could be a heater that doesn’t work or a mattress that is too hard.
It really depends on how you present the problem, and to whom. A courteous, nonthreatening appeal, in person, to a manager on duty or a general manager is often the best path to a resolution.
Politeness can work wonders, says Dale Johnson, who co-owns a marketing firm in Cardiff, Wales. He recalls checking into a hotel in Bali that had been recently renovated. A little too recently. The paint on the walls had not dried yet, and he couldn’t breathe.
“I informed the reception desk, and straight away, she got the manager,” he recalls. “They were so apologetic, and on the spot, issued me a refund for the remaining days. They looked visibly upset when I left.”
Donald Parker, who has checked out early from several hotels, has a few strategies for making the process easier. First, he recommends keeping your request for an early checkout as brief and cordial as possible.
“If they offer a refund, make sure you get the name of the hotel employee agreeing to the refund,” says Parker, a retired pharmacist from Carrollton, Tex. “Note the date and time this fact was discussed with the hotel representative.”
And if you can’t negotiate a refund? Appeal to a manager or a general manager. If that doesn’t work, go to the hotel chain.
“Whatever the outcome, thank the individuals with whom you’ve communicated,” Parker adds. After all, that’s the polite thing to do.
Hotels are in an almost constant state of renovation, so you may just check into the wrong property on the wrong day. But what if you find a hard mattress, no hot water or a broken air conditioner? Typically, those will show up on hotel reviews online. Doing your due diligence on a hotel before making a reservation might avoid an early checkout.
Here’s something else to keep in mind. Hotels almost always have an empty room or two. If a room has a problem that can’t be fixed to your satisfaction, why not give the management a chance to move you to a different one? You will avoid an angry confrontation with a manager, a lengthy credit card dispute and the bother of spending hours trying to resolve a problem that, perhaps, could have been prevented in the first place.
Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at [email protected].
Read more from Travel: Read past Navigator columns here