Dear Consumer Ed:

A couple days (67 hours, to be exact) after making a hotel reservation I had to cancel it due to a work conflict. Is the hotel allowed to charge me even though I cancelled within 72 hours?

Consumer Ed says: 

There is no universal “three day” (72 hour) right to cancel; this right actually exists for only a limited number of consumer transactions.  For the most part, the three-day right to cancel applies only to credit or cash transactions of $25 or more that were initiated through face-to-face contact (such as door-to-door sales) away from the seller's regular place of business and that resulted in a written agreement.  Hotel reservations, particularly those made by mail, over the phone, or at the hotel itself, are not generally subject to the three-day right to cancel rule.

While hotels are allowed to set their own cancellation and refund policies, they must honor those stated policies.  Establishments that fail to honor cancellations made within the scope of their policies can be found to be in violation of laws prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts and practices (in Georgia, the Fair Business Practices Act).  However, if you made your hotel reservation using a credit card, you may have additional protections.  Visa, for example, requires hotels to explain their cancellation policy to cardholders, and to allow cardholders to cancel their reservation by 6 p.m. on the day of the reservation if the reservation was made within 72 hours of the scheduled arrival date.  If you made your reservation with a credit card, contact your card provider to see if its dispute or cancellation policies offer you any additional protections.

The most important way to protect yourself is to inquire into the hotel’s cancellation policies prior to making a reservation, and to ask for those policies in writing.  If you believe that the hotel did not adequately disclose the terms and conditions of its cancellation policies, or if the hotel did not honor its stated policies, you can file a complaint with the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection at www.consumer.ga.gov, or by calling 800-869-1123.  You can also contact the FTC by visiting ftc.gov or calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

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