I don’t usually advise booking travel through online agency sites like Expedia. There are limited use cases, but if something goes wrong you’re stuck dealing with their customer service which is almost invariably very, very bad. And for hotels you give up elite status earning and benefits, and hotel loyalty points-earning. You may even get a worse room rate, and the hotel may give you a worse room.
Most people don’t start off knowing where they want to say. They don’t know they want to stay at the Hilton in Berlin. So it’s great to comparison shop, and these sites can be useful for that. But once you do, always at least check the hotel chain’s own website before booking.
On the other hand, sites like Expedia’s Hotels.com can look like they’re easy to work with. For instance, they let you choose just what kind of room and rate you want. It’s easy to see how much you save with a non-refundable rates.
For some hotels they offer a choice of,
- Prepaid and non-refundable
- Paid at the hotel, and cancellable based on the hotel’s normal cancellation policy
However they also offer something called ‘partially refundable’ for some hotels.
"Partially refundableIf you cancel your reservation, you'll get a refund of 10% of your total."
Well, that is partial.
— Rakesh Agrawal (@rakeshlobster) November 10, 2022
Here you’re presented with a clear option for how much extra you need to spend to buy up to more flexible rates at the Hilton Berlin.
What they don’t exactly tell you, unless you drill down further, is how much you’ll get back. What’s the cancellation or forfeiture amount? You might think it’s 30% or even 50%. Unless you remembered that Hotels.com is part of Expedia, you’ll find that the forfeiture amount is actually much larger than you’d imagined! Partially refundable, at the Berlin Hilton, means getting 10% of your money back.
Now, this is a Hilton rate. This isn’t Hotels.com deciding the rate rule, or what partially refundable means. But they don’t make it clear at Hotels.com unless you drill down further. In contrast, here’s how Hilton.com displays the rate up front:
Calling something ‘partially refundable’ as Hotels.com does makes it sound like ‘mostly refundable’ just with a penalty. So the practice seems like American Airlines charging a $500 fee to refund refundable tickets – the customer searches for a refundable fare, but the fee is buried in the fine print. On the one hand that may make the ticket just 10% non-refundable. On the other hand, Hotels.com does clearly say the rate is only ‘partially’ non-refundable. And 10% is partial, less than the whole (100%). No lies detected!
My takeaway is that I cannot trust Hotels.com to accurately convey rules and fine print, and this is another reason to book direct.