5:30 AM EST, December 24, 2013
Tami Alloway needs to cancel her hotel stay because of "extenuating" personal circumstances. Just one problem: the reservations are nonrefundable.
Q: I recently reserved a hotel room at the Hawthorn Suites in Charleston, S.C., through Priceline for a family trip with my mother. A few days later, my sister's children were removed from their home and taken into state custody. I was awarded foster care for all three of them and they have been with me since then.
The older children, prior to removal, were homeschooled, so the dates of the trip were not an issue. With them being in my care, they are now in public schooling. The children range in age from 22 months through 9 years of age.
When we realized that the time frame would mean I would still have the children with me in March (and not during spring break, so they would miss a week of school), I called to cancel the reservation and was told there is no refund, even in extreme situations.
I have spoken to upper management and emailed the executive offices, but their response is that the policy states that I am not allowed to change or cancel my reservation and will still be charged the full reservation amount.
My finances have been greatly affected by accepting the foster role, because I am family foster care, not a licensed foster care provider, so I receive very minimal financial support from the state system. The bill for the week for the hotel room is $772, and I can't afford it. Can you help me to get Priceline.com to reconsider and allow me to cancel my reservation due to extreme extenuating circumstances? -- Tami Alloway, Kansas City
A: I'm sorry to hear about your situation. As the father of three young children, I know how much work children can be, and you're a hero for taking care of your sister's kids.
The problem is, to some extent, the unbending refund policies of the hotel companies and Priceline, which are designed to protect their revenues. But it is, to another extent, something that can be blamed on other hotel guests who came before you.
Hotels feel as if they need to take a hard line because customers will make up any story to get them to refund a nonrefundable room. So it's likely that no matter how convincing you tried to sound, the hotel and Priceline either didn't believe you or thought your personal circumstance didn't rise to the level of refunding a nonrefundable reservation.
But I believe you. What's more, I think if the situation were reversed -- if, say, the hotel couldn't honor its reservation because of a catastrophe or natural disaster -- then it would expect you to allow it to cancel your nonrefundable reservation without paying you any compensation.
In a case like this, you had already exhausted all of your appeals, and technically, both Priceline and Hawthorn were correct to keep your money. The most you could do was politely request another review of your case. I list Priceline's contacts on my consumer advocacy site: http://elliott.org/contacts/priceline/.
I asked Priceline if it could take another look at your reservation. It contacted the hotel on your behalf, which agreed to make an exception to its refund policy, and it canceled your reservation without any penalty. Good luck with the kids.
(Christopher Elliott is the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)" (National Geographic). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, which he answers as quickly as possible, but because of a backlog of cases, your story may not be published for several months.)
(c)2013 CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.