Hilton Will Refund Non-Refundable Bookings — With A Catch

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I learned something new today!

Deciding between refundable and non-refundable hotel rates

Often it can be tough to choose what type of a rate to book at a hotel. Generally speaking hotels have the best rates if you book direct, but even then, it can be tough to decide between a flexible and non-flexible rate.

A flexible rate is a no-brainer if you’re not 100% sure you’ll take the trip. But even if you do know you’ll take the trip, booking a non-refundable rate isn’t necessarily the best option. That’s because hotels often drop prices as the arrival date approaches, and when you book a non-refundable rate you’re committed to that price.

In the past I’ve sometimes booked a non-refundable rate, only to later realize that the flexible rate dropped down below the non-refundable rate. Usually you’re out of luck when that happens. After all, you’re making a gamble, and trading flexibility for savings.

So generally I only book a non-refundable rate if I’m positive I’ll be taking a trip, if the savings are really significant, and if I’m confident that the price won’t drop significantly.

Hilton lets you refund non-refundable reservations

Hilton lets you modify pre-paid bookings for a fee of $25-50 under certain circumstances, and it’s potentially really useful. Specifically, if you want to cancel a non-refundable booking, you can get out of it by making a non-refundable booking at another Hilton property.

Here’s how it works:

  • This is possible at hotels in the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean
  • This is only possible when done at least three days prior to your scheduled check-in date
  • The fee to do this is $50 at Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Hilton, Embassy Suites, and Doubletree, and $25 at Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, and Home2 Suites
  • Once you make your second non-refundable booking, you’ll be issued a refund for the first reservation, less the service fee, within four weeks

Here are the relevant terms that you should see on any Hilton booking page:

Modification of Reservation: Price quoted applies to exact date(s)/nights/stay booked. Modifications to your reservation (including but not limited to name changes, date changes, etc.) are not permitted. However, for bookings in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean, a request to cancel an existing Advance Purchase/Non-Refundable reservation and book a new reservation may be permitted if at the time you are requesting a change to your reservation, you book a new Advance Purchase/Non Refundable reservation at any hotel in the Hilton portfolio located in the United States, Mexico or the Caribbean, subject to availability. Upon receipt of full payment for the new reservation, Hilton will issue a refund for the cancelled reservation, less a service fee. It may take up to four (4) weeks for the refund to be reflected on your credit card. For stays originally booked at the Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Hilton, Embassy Suites or Doubletree brand hotels, the service fee is $50.00 and for stays originally booked at a Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton, Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites, the service fee is $25.00. For a cancellation and rebooking to be considered, you must call our Advance Purchase Department to request a change to your reservation at (800) 236-7113 or (972) 726-3361 no less than three days prior to your scheduled check-in date.

Maybe this is something that everyone else knew and I’m the only one who didn’t, though as far as I know no other hotel brand has such a policy. I can’t guarantee this will always be possible, as there is some discretionary language in there, like “may be permitted” and “for a rebooking to be considered.”

I could really see this coming in handy under several circumstances:

  • It could be useful if the rate for a stay drops significantly, since you could pay $25-50 to get a difference in the rate
  • It could be useful if your plans change, since it sounds like you could cancel a non-refundable booking and just make another booking elsewhere

Based on the way I read the terms, it seems that any new non-refundable booking in an eligible region would qualify. It doesn’t state that the new reservation has to be as expensive (or more expensive) than the previous one. This would mean that you could cancel a $2,000 non-refundable booking by making a $100 non-refundable booking.

I can’t guarantee this will always work, though, so if this would ever come in handy I’d recommend calling up Hilton’s Advance Purchase Department and explaining your situation.

Either way, this is something I had no clue about, and I could definitely see myself using this in the future to book a non-refundable rate, as it decreases the risk of doing so.

Were you aware of Hilton’s generous policy for rebooking non-refundable rates?

(Tip of the hat to LoyaltyLobby)

Comments

  1. @ Daniel — Nope, the terms specifically state that the second reservation also has to be non-refundable.

  2. No, I was not aware of the policy and, like you, I would book a non-refundable (Advance Purchase) rate only if I am as sure as can be that I would take the trip and the discount is substantial.

    Booking and locking in an AP rate is not always a bad thing, however. I’d booked an AP for a late June stay at Hilton Paris Opera that cost me €229/night for 5 nights back in February. I went for an AP rate mainly because it would be billed immediately and I could use the spend toward meeting minimum required $4K to collect the Aspire’s 100K signup bonus. When I got at the hotel to check in, the guy checking me in told me that I was lucky I locked in that rate because the flexible rate, which was just €20-30 or so more expensive than the AP, had jumped to nearly €400!

  3. I was recently unable to complete a stay in a Hilton in Germany for which I had booked a non-refundable rate, due to a traffic accident. I sent them a nice email on the day of the reservation and advised them that I would not be able to make it, and if they would be able to refund the prepaid rate. They couldn’t, but they gave me the option to apply my prepayment for a stay on another night, which I cashed in about 6 weeks later. I thought that was extremely generous and thoughtful of Hilton. I’m only a Gold level member, so I really appreciated the gesture.

  4. @DCS: if you book a refundable rate, and the rate goes up, you don’t pay more, the front desk guy was speaking nonsense.

  5. So, make no mistake please. Dealing with Hilton on a non-refundable reservation is *very difficult*.

    My experience was from February — just 6 months ago. (And I concede it may be possible that the rule cited above is a new one since then; I simply do not know.)

    My 80 year old mother was going to visit her 88 year old sister in Phoenix. There are multiple Embassy Suites properties there with names that are more confusing than helpful in identifying their location. One of them is adjacent to where my aunt lives and the other is some miles away.

    I erred and book the property some miles away. Hilton’s toll-free/gold member line was completely unhelpful. Their behavior was actually pretty shameful. Nothing at all could be done; nothing — and that was despite multiple phone calls (HUCA).

    In frustration, I finally called the hotel directly and spoke to the operations manager — and he authorized everything that needed to be done and even followed up. I was very grateful for his timely assistance.

    Be sure that if this rule is old (i.e. before my February 2018 experience) that NO ONE in the Call Center knows about it — and you will send them into a tizzy (“Please could you hold a few minutes while I go outside and have a cigarette and read this printout?”) to educate themselves about it.

  6. @ lrdx – I’m sure the desk clerk was just massaging DCS’s ego that he’d come out ahead by booking the prepaid rate. However, 400 euro is an inflated rate even in this touristy area so not much of a comparison there.

  7. So not Hilton, but an experience with an SPG property on a non-refundable night:
    I recently needed to cancel Hotwire (non-refundable) reservations due to a death in the family. Hotwire said it’s up to the individual hotels, but to send them a death certificate. The first hotel I was supposed to stay at refunded the money without issue.
    The second (Westin City Center in DC, where I had stayed many times over the years, both on direct bookings and through Priceline/Hotwire) refused, claiming I had checked in.

    Hotwire wouldn’t go beyond that, and the hotel insisted I had signed in. I asked for the paperwork and the accounting office and GM refused to return calls or emails from me or my assistant. I even had someone go in person to the hotel and request to see this paperwork they claimed I had signed LITERALLY AT THE SAME TIME I WAS DELIVERING A EULOGY. (I offered in my emails to send them a letter from the priest.).

    My credit card ultimately and quickly refunded the money, but the fact an SPG hotel seems to have such fraud going on and was so ridiculous about it really left an impression.

  8. As a Hilton Diamond member they usually let me switch dates I’ve booked non refundable for free as long as they have availability (and I ask nicely)

  9. @lrdx sez: “if you book a refundable rate, and the rate goes up, you don’t pay more, the front desk guy was speaking nonsense.”

    @Chancer got it about right. I am sure the front desk guy knew that, and was just doing small talk, when he noticed that I was already fully paid, to make me feel good for having gone for a non-refundable rate, which does usual represent real risk, especially when booked 4 months before the stay.

    As for Paris Opera’s $400 for standard rooms, that’s the tourist season picture for the City of Lights in the middle of the summer . Just today, with summer all but over, rates for the cheapest room in the hotel look like this:

    – FLEXIBLE RATE. Change or cancel up to 1 day before arrival. Pay when you stay: 329 €.

    – SUMMER SALE. FULL PRE-PAYMENT IS REQUIRED NON-REFUNDABLE UNLESS INDICATED BY LOCAL LAWS: 271 €

    – HILTON HONORS SALE HILTON HONORS MEMBER RATE. NO BREAKFAST. 239 €

    I was upgraded to the next level (“king deluxe”), as all their suites (entry level cost now: 549 €) were fully booked. A promise to upgrade me to one of the suites for the last 3 nights of the 5-night stay was not kept, due to an influx of tourists willing to pay the high rates for the suites…

  10. So, you have to cancel first, make new booking, then call in and they MAY give you the refund? Even if you call first and ask, we all know how different agents can give different answers. Too dangerous I think.

  11. @ Greg, Unfortunately the call centers do not have any authorization when it comes to AP rates. It is always a property by property call to make. I’ve worked for the 3 big companies (Marriott, Hilton, IHG) and its been that way at all of them. That being said, the Hilton agent should have directed you to the hotel to call., or at the very least informed you of the policy.

  12. I’m based in the UK. My experience here if you book a non refundable rate but call the hotel Within 24 hours of the booking to cancel they’ll refund you. This could be a UK law issue re cooling off periods for contracts

  13. It is up to the specific Hilton property, not 1-800 reservations, as to whether they will let you out of a prepaid rate (incl using points) w/out charge. Then they contact the Hilton res desk as to their decision &/$points are refunded.

    I have appealed to properties on several occasions when emergencies arose & was refunded the rate. Same with Hyatt. Takes time & effort but is well worth it & saves the fee.

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