What You Should Consider Before Booking A Room With A Non-Refundable Rate

In the world of travel, a tight budget often leads to uneasy decisions. The quest for cheap hotels involves navigating the complex landscape of deals, discounts, and special rates. Among these, one option that stands out is non-refundable hotel room rates. Some travelers love them, while some avoid them like the plague. But what exactly are these rates? And more importantly, should you opt for them?

At its core, a non-refundable hotel room rate is exactly what it sounds like: a rate that, once booked and paid for, does not offer the possibility of a refund if you choose to cancel. For many hotels, offering these rates is a way to ensure occupancy, and in return, they offer these rooms at lower prices than their refundable counterparts. Many hotels and booking platforms showcase both refundable and non-refundable rates side-by-side, making the savings highly transparent. For the budget traveler, the difference in price might be the deciding factor between a standard room and a suite or between an average hotel and a luxury one.

However, life happens, and plans change — what then? What if you get the keys to your room and realize you've been catfished? The room might not look like the photos and the service at the check-in counter may be horrendous. Is a non-refundable room really "non-refundable?" Booking a room with this rate can be a great idea, but only if your plans are set in stone, and you have a back-up plan in place. 

Know your plans and back yourself up with travel insurance

The golden rule of opting for non-refundable rates is certainty. This means foolproof assurance of travel dates and no potential hiccups on the horizon that might force a change in those plans. If there's even a hint of uncertainty, it's wise to choose a refundable room. But if you're completely confident in your travel itinerary, then booking a non-refundable rate can be an efficient way to secure a fantastic hotel and save some money.

Even if you've locked in a non-refundable booking and your plans change, all might not be lost. If you've invested in travel insurance — a smart move for any seasoned traveler — you might be able to recover some of your money, depending on the terms of your policy. Seven Corners CEO Justin Tysdal recommends cancel for any reason travel insurance. He explains to USA Today, "... should anything unexpected occur, you can cancel your trip and receive at least 75% of your non-refundable trip cost back."

If you have a change of plans, no insurance, and a non-refundable booking, your best bet is to plead your case to hotel management. In the event of bereavement or sickness, you may be eligible for a refund if you can provide the necessary proof. If the hotel room isn't what you expected (within reason!), provide photos to the hotel to prove it. As a last resort, you can resell the non-refundable hotel room through the booking website or online marketplaces, since reservation names can be changed prior to arrival.