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What to Do When Your Hotel Room Is Unacceptable

Here are some tips for when and how to deal with subpar accommodations.


ravel long enough, and you’ll eventually come across a hotel room that doesn’t meet your needs. Either it’s not clean, or it’s noisy, or some of the room’s safety features aren’t working properly. These situations are certainly disappointing, particularly after a long travel day.

But what should travelers do when they find the hotel room they’re given simply won’t work? And what constitutes a truly unacceptable hotel room? Should they immediately bring the issue up with a front desk clerk who may not be empowered to help them, or should they wait and take it up with the corporate office after they travel?

Here are some tips for when and how to deal with subpar accommodations.

What Are the Hotel’s Obligations?

When a hotel takes a reservation, they guarantee the room category, rate, and stay dates. It’s worth noting that some features of the room category are guaranteed (like smoking/non-smoking), and others are considered “preferences” (like bed type). Be sure to check the fine print of the reservation and rate when booking.

Hotels are also obligated to provide guest rooms that are clean, in good repair, secure, and sanitary, with working safety features.

What Is Unacceptable?

What makes a hotel room unacceptable is often subjective, but a few safety features must function for a guest to remain in the room. The locking mechanisms (both active and passive) on all doors and windows should be functional and free from faults—without exception. The fire alarms and guest room telephones (both to contact hotel staff and be reachable by them in the event of an emergency) should also be functional, as should any privacy blinds on the windows. No exposed wiring, strong odors, or evidence of airborne contaminants like mold should exist.

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Other items are also unacceptable, even if they’re not safety features of the room. If the room is not the category that was paid for—not an ocean view or suite if one was reserved or a bed type other than what was requested, this should have been dealt with during the check-in process.

It’s important to distinguish between fixable vs. non-fixable problems. A non-working lamp or a dripping faucet can often be fixed in short order by an engineer. Rooms with these types of problems wouldn’t typically be considered unacceptable unless the problems can’t be rectified within a reasonable period.

A room can also be unacceptable because the property itself is unacceptable. If the property appears unsafe, certain necessary features are out of order (like elevators), there’s unexpected noise, or the appearance of illegal activity, guests should discuss their concerns with the hotel staff and look for alternatives.

Once, arriving late at night in Fort Lauderdale, I was given a room that didn’t seem right. When I took off my shoes, I heard a splash when I stepped onto the carpet. Seconds later, the water seeped through my socks, and I realized the carpet was soaking wet. The front desk offered to send up a fan to help dry the carpet, but it was too far gone, and the room also smelled moldy.

After much more back-and-forth than necessary, I was upgraded to another room in the same category with a better view. Would I have been safe in such a room? Probably. Was the room acceptable? Some travelers don’t mind a marshy carpet, but for my money, I’m not one of them.

Refuse to Remain in an Unacceptable Room

An unacceptable hotel room means a hotel room that a reasonable person cannot accept. Any claim that a room is intolerable is compromised if a guest actually spends the night in it. I’ve talked with many travelers who returned from their trips claiming their hotel rooms were unacceptable, but they spent several nights in the room. It wasn’t really unacceptable then—because you ultimately accepted it—right?

Immediately call or return to the front desk and explain why the room isn’t sufficient, whether for safety or commercial (i.e., the room isn’t what was promised) reasons. In some finer hotels, the front desk will find another room and send bell staff to the existing one to move belongings and escort guests to the new room.

What if an Acceptable Room Is Not Available?

Sometimes, the hotel won’t have any other rooms available. This situation can be handled in a few different ways, depending on the issue with the room.

If a room is unacceptable for safety reasons, and the room is or should be taken out of order, and the hotel has no other rooms available in any category, then the hotel is considered oversold—that is, they have taken more reservations than they could honor. In those situations, hotels must “walk” guests to a comparable room at a comparable property (and provide transportation) at the same rate.

If the room is unacceptable for commercial reasons (e.g., the hotel reserved an ocean view room but didn’t have one available) and the property is sold out, there are a number of solutions. If the question is one of category, the property should offer a rate reduction for the nights the originally reserved category isn’t available and offer compensation for the inconvenience (this can take the form of a bill credit, complimentary amenities or meals, or a room upgrade).

Keep a Paper Trail

Guests who refuse hotel rooms and ultimately need to change hotels should keep a record of everyone they speak with in case they have difficulty avoiding cancellation penalties or getting refunds on prepayments.

If hotels are prepaid and booked through a third party or wholesaler like a vacation package company, tour company, or large travel site like Expedia, contact the seller immediately to inform them of the situation. They may often have their own procedures on how to handle these situations.

If the hotel is oversold and agrees to walk guests to another hotel, they may not need to be involved, but if a guest needs to find another hotel on their own, the original booker can provide assistance, make sure any refunds due are given, and review their contracts with repeat offenders.

As with any crucial situation during travel, it’s important to maintain composure and communicate with staff respectfully—not only will it generally provide the best outcomes, it’s the right thing to do.