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 refuses to refund your money, you have legal options. Below, we answer the question: Can you sue a hotel for not refunding your money?
If you are entitled to a refund, but your hotel does not issue one, you may want to sue.
Hotel Refund Laws and Regulations
There are two 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
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. 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. However, you're free to hire an attorney to represent you in small claims court, and doing so can often boost your odds of recovery.
If the damages you're seeking exceed your state's small claims limit, you'll need to file your lawsuit in civil court. Alternatively, you can disclaim the amount of damages above the jurisdictional limit. In civil court, you'll be held to the same standards as a licensed attorney. This means that having an attorney's help can allow you to avoid any procedural missteps that can hurt your case.
Your attorney can work to get information from the hotel, gather evidence to build your case, negotiate with the hotel, and interview witnesses who will support your claim. The hotel may decide that the hassle of defending against a lawsuit isn't worth it and settle the claim.