You might ask for a hotel refund for many reasons—from bedbugs to a change in your travel plans to a double-booked room. Unfortunately,  getting that refund can depend on the hotel's willingness to work with you. If a hotel is refusing to refund your money, you have legal options. Below, we answer the question: Can you sue a hotel for not refunding your money?

Ho‎tel Refund Laws and Regulations

You might ask yourself "What can I sue a hotel for?" There are a few situations where you may be entitled to a refund of your hotel fees. These include:

  • Where you attempt to cancel the hotel room (either before or after arrival)
  • Where the hotel has canceled your room for you 
  • When the hotel keeps your deposit but should not
  • When a hotel inappropriately removes you from the premise
  • When a hotel is infested with bed bugs
  • When a hotel doesn't meet local sanitary guidelines

If your travel plans change and you want to cancel a hotel room and request a refund, carefully review the hotel's refund policy. Some hotels provide full refunds even if you cancel just a day in advance. Others may keep a percentage of your room rate if you cancel on short notice. But if the hotel's written rules indicate it won't provide refunds for customer-canceled rooms, you may have a tough time getting your money back. 

Meanwhile, if you arrive to find that your room is unclean, uncomfortable, or dangerous, you can request a new room at no extra charge. And if the room you booked is no longer available, you may be able to get the hotel to either give you a better room or pay for you to drive to another hotel.

Many third-party hotel booking websites don't always communicate well with the hotel, leading to double-booking. In these situations, you can demand to be "made whole." In this situation, the hotel will provide a safe and clean place to stay that is equivalent to the room you initially reserved.

But if the hotel refuses to work with you to find alternate lodging or provide you with any compensation for your troubles, an attorney can thoroughly explain your options. 

Ca‎n You Sue a Hotel for Not Refunding Your Money?

If your hotel costs were put on a credit card, you may be able to dispute the charge with your credit card company if the hotel is unwilling to compromise. This is called a chargeback. These disputes must be raised relatively quickly, generally within 60 days of receiving your credit card bill. By obtaining credit from your credit card company, you can avoid further arguments with the hotel.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers are entitled to protection from credit card billing errors and fraud. Consumers can raise disputes about credit card charges under the Act or get refunds for unauthorized charges. If a hotel refuses to refund customer payments, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may step in via an enforcement action.

But if you're unsuccessful at requesting a refund and you're interested in filing a lawsuit against the hotel, this may be an option. Before filing a lawsuit, you'll want to calculate your damages to see whether you'll need to file in small claims court or civil court. You'll also want to consider how much your lawsuit will cost. If you're seeking a $200 refund and must pay $180 to file a civil complaint, you may not come out ahead even if you "win."

Do You Need an Attorney to Sue a Hotel?

Many lawsuits against hotels are filed in small claims court. These courts are designed to process civil claims below a certain dollar amount. They have different rules and procedures that allow you to pursue a claim without an attorney's help. There are even online services that simplify the filing process.

How Much Small Claims Court Costs

So how much will you spend by suing in small claims court?

  • Court Filing Fees: The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit depends on how much you are suing for and where you are suing. You can expect to pay between $30 to $400 to file the lawsuit. If you cannot afford to pay court fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees.  ‍
  • Serving Costs: Once the lawsuit is filed, you must notify the other party that you have sued them. This is called "serving." Serving Costs can range from $20-100 depending on the local area.

The Benefits of Small Claims Court

  1. Court filing fees are cheaper in small claims than in other courts.
  2. The process is faster in small claims than in other courts, as your hearing will usually be scheduled 30-70 days after you file the lawsuit.
  3. Lawyers are generally not allowed in small claims, which helps keep the costs of suing low.  

How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit

  • Prepare and File the Court Paperwork - If you end up in 30-40% of cases where the demand letter doesn't work, you can prepare and file the court paperwork for small claims court next. The upside is that you can typically do this yourself and don't need to send much evidence with your filing. You just need to know the name of the party you're suing, the amount you're suing for, and answer some basic yes/no questions.

Again, you can do this yourself, or use Dispute's Small Claims Filing platform, which includes online paperwork prep, live online notarization, and online filing.

  • Serve the Defendant - After the court accepts your paperwork, you have to serve your court paperwork to the defendant to notify them they're being sued officially. This is also another point where people will often realize they should settle before going to court. This is the one step you aren't allowed to do yourself. To avoid bias, the court requires you to get someone else to serve your case and file a proof of service in court (a simple statement that they swear they served the defendant). The free way to do this is to get a friend or family member who isn't part of the case to help you. The hassle-free professional way to serve court papers is to hire a process server and let them take care of it.

Taking the First Step in Your Lawsuit

If all of this work seems complicated or daunting, rest assured that it's easier than it initially seems. 2.7 million small claims court cases are filed annually in the US, which is only growing as more people realize how easy it is to enforce their legal rights in court.

At Dispute, the small claims filing process is made easy and affordable through our app. Let the app manage all of the paperwork, court dates, and filing. All you have to do is check your user dashboard for updates on your case. Our tools make it easy to manage the details for any state and county. All you need to do is put together evidence and show up for your day in court.