Beware Of Deceptive Hotel “Partially Refundable” Rates

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 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.

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 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 deciding the rate rule, or what partially refundable means. But they don’t make it clear at unless you drill down further. In contrast, here’s how displays the rate up front:

Calling something ‘partially refundable’ as 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, 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 to accurately convey rules and fine print, and this is another reason to book direct.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Often I find that the chain’s “best available rate” or “guaranteed lowest’ rate is a sham, and (and other third-party booking sites) offer cheaper rates for the same room. I will always book through the site offering the lowest rate, and always choose the fully refundable rate (things happen, like hurricanes in Florida).

    If the trip is far enough out, I will “garden” the reservation, checking to see if it is still there, and if something cheaper has come up.

  2. Hilton rips you off with high pet fees plus a big tax on the fees. For using points, Delete nonapplicable chains. Cities at top right.

  3. Beware of “Senior” rates. Marriott is generally good, often offering 10 to 10% off their ordinary rate, and they’re almost always cancellable 24 hrs before. However, Hilton’s senior rate is often more expensive and sometimes the same as the member or rack rate.

  4. Mr. Left.

    To be clear, I do not profess to be an expert. However, my 56 years of being in all aspects of the Hospitality, Tourism and Convention Director of a major, International Medical Association, I have some knowledge of these industries, that all involve, booking of individual and very large conventions, reserving upwards to 10,000 room blocks.

    I have been on your blog, for several months, and have made my position known, to various readers. Obviously, it is strictly my opinion ONLY.

    I have noticed, a trend, of your posts, such as this one, that appear to appeal to the, favoring”elite status earning and benefits, and hotel loyalty points-earning” and “for the most part”, making derogatory remarks, against international booking sites, as with this post.

    I presumed, your blog would remain, “neutral”. And have tried to be fair, giving you the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I find that extremely difficult.

    I would like to see, a comparison, between the revered, “elite status earning and benefits, and hotel loyalty points-earning” programs, and one of the online booking sites.

    FACT: I admittedly, do NOT, participate in any of these programs. Rather, in regards to hotel room booking, for some reason, I have not experienced anything remotely to what you have stated, and a few of your readers, who post on this site.

    This does not, suggest they don’t exist. They most certainly do.

    Because of my extensive, national and global travel, since 1971, I have used just about every booking site on the internet, including the 2.5 years I lived in China.

    I have achieved a 7 or 8 level status on Tripadvisor, 2 diamond, Expedia,, Diamond member of Choice Hotels, and a few more.

    While I don’t have 5-8 levels of membership in any elite status earning and benefits, and hotel loyalty points, earning points, in most of my bookings, with aforementioned booking sites, I typically receive, 15% discounts after I attained each level. Of course, there is no charge to belong to any of them.

    I also received, “members only specials”, that reduce my costs per room occupied. Be it, one or more. As an example, with the Choice Hotels program and most of the others, when possible, I get free upgrades. Notwithstanding, it includes all their various, different brands.

    FACT: I seldom read, anything negative, online, with exception, complaints. They pale, to the infighting I read almost hourly, of the members of the revered points programs, that include bickering, thousands of lawsuits, including the gentleman who formulated the points programs.

    From your verbiage, it’s quite obvious to me, you don’t use booking sites mentioned on your post or those I mentioned above. So, why and how can you be so critical? While, attempting to protect the other programs? Or so it seems.

    Respectfully submitted.


  5. Mr. Leff.

    My apologies for spelling your name wrong. I believe, I typed it correctly, but the auto spell check, used it’s own discretion.



  6. Robert: there’s no money in pimping shiny bits of plastic from 3rd party booking sites! It’s ALL about the conversions!

  7. Loco gringo.

    Gracias. I am so pleased you straighten everything out for me.

    I get 15% discount, and typically, earn 50% more points, all in the same stay.

    Eres muy amable en haberme ayudado. Siempre estaré eternamente agradecida contigo.


  8. Loco Gringo.

    P. S.

    Para tu información. No obtuve ningún trozo de plástico brillante en mis sitios de reservas de terceros. ¿Proxenetismo? Corres en círculos diferentes a los míos.

    Feliz Navidad

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