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Bugs, Dirt, and More Gross-Outs at Your Hotel? Here’s What to Do

It’s late, you’re tired after a long day of traveling, and you can see your hotel’s lighted sign from the highway. You’re eager for a meal, a hot bath, and a good night’s sleep. Upon arriving, however, your heart sinks. The front lobby’s carpet is tattered and worn. A musty smell pervades the building. You get to your room and find the bathroom has a dripping sink, debris in the corners, and traces of hair along the tub. And the bed—well, let’s just say you’re a little afraid to turn down the comforter.

You sit at a desk chair, your skin starting to crawl as you notice a stain on the carpet. Everything looked fine on the website, you think to yourself. Then your thoughts are interrupted by the arrival of a large cockroach climbing the opposite wall. No way, you think. I’ve got to leave. But what are your rights?

Finding yourself at a less-than-sanitary hotel, whether from false advertising or last-minute desperation, can happen to even the most seasoned travelers. If you’ve ever grinned and toughed it out, though, or left without getting a proper refund, you may be missing out on what you’re entitled to.{{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}

In the Moment

“When you arrive, it’s always smart to inspect the room,” says Eileen Ogintz, columnist, “If your expectations aren’t met, politely ask to talk to the manager on duty and arrange for a change. If they insist that isn’t possible—that the place is sold out—you have to make a decision if you can live with whatever is wrong or else move.”

“Don’t raise your voice, keep your cool, and explain the situation,” says John E. DiScala, founder of “Also take pictures so you have proof and keep detailed notes of who you spoke to if things don’t go the way you like.”

“Either way, you should ask for recompense for being inconvenienced,” says Ogintz. “Make sure to get the person’s name and title so that, if necessary, you can go up the food chain and lodge your complaint with their customer service department. It never hurts to copy the top execs in marketing and sales as well.”

If the front desk is unhelpful and you made a reservation through a third party, such as an online travel agency or a travel agent, contact your travel provider’s customer service department and explain the situation. You not only may get the reservation cancelled and money refunded, you can also request assistance in finding a new place to stay.

Should you decide to leave the property without a refund, you may have to arrange a stay at another hotel on your own dime. That doesn’t mean that you can’t eventually get your initial hotel refund back, however.

“If a person of authority doesn’t refund your money then, keep going up the chain as high as you can go,” says DiScala. “Send emails to all the contacts on their website (and Google the owner and cc them, too). That’s why it’s important to take photos and keep notes so you have everything ready and accurate. If they still refuse to refund your money, take it up with the head office if it’s a major chain. If that doesn’t work, contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or file a suit in small claims court.”

Paula Fleming, vice president of communications and marketing for the BBB, says the organization is a great resource for travelers seeking a refund or other recourse for their troubles. “The BBB helps consumers through complaint and dispute resolution services,” she says. “Victims of travel-related scams can visit or call to file a complaint. Ultimately, consumer complaints expose bad businesses and help other consumers avoid becoming victims of vacation and travel-related fraud.”

For Your Next Trip

To avoid future headaches, commit to some thorough research before booking your next hotel stay.

With any hotel stay, it’s not necessarily enough to rely on a brand to ensure quality—you’ll want to investigate each property itself to ensure it’s up to your standards.

“Try Googling the ‘hotel’s name & complaints’ in quotes to see what comes up,” says DiScala. “Read reviews on TripAdvisor and HotelChatter, Yelp and other sites. For travel companies you should not only check to see if they have logos of the National Tour Association, United States Tour Operators Association, American Society of Travel Agents, and the BBB, but log onto those organizations and see if they are an active member, [as] they could be lying.”

“Make sure you use a BBB-accredited business or at the very least [a provider that] has a good rating with the BBB,” says Fleming. All ratings are available on the organization’s website.

All three experts I spoke with recommended paying with a credit card, as you’ll have consumer protection assistance in case you want to dispute hotel charges. Additionally, “Avoid deals that require you to book 60 days in advance. Credit card companies may allow consumers to dispute a charge within 60 days of purchase,” says Fleming. “Representatives from eBay also caution consumers against paying with personal checks and strongly recommend paying with a method such as PayPal that has built-in protection measures.”

For additional protection, consider purchasing travel insurance. Ogintz suggests travelers check with and TravelGuard to see if they offer policies that cover unsatisfactory hotels. SmarterTravel columnist Ed Perkins frequently writes about travel insurance and how it can safeguard your purchases, too.

Finally, investigate the refund or protection policies from your third-party supplier, if applicable. “Find out if there is a ‘guarantee’ with whomever [you] book,” says Ogintz. “If [you] aren’t satisfied, [you] have recourse.”

Your Turn

What’s the grossest discovery you’ve ever made at a hotel? Were you able to get your money back? If so, share your tips for getting a refund by leaving a comment below!

(Editor’s Note: is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc.)

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