I’m sorry to hear about your situation. As the father of three young children, I know how much work children can be, and you’re a hero for taking care of your sister’s kids.
The problem is, to some extent, the unbending refund policies of the hotel companies and Priceline, which are designed to protect their revenues. But it is, to another extent, something that can be blamed on other hotel guests who came before you.
Hotels feel as if they need to take a hard line because customers will make up any story to get them to refund a nonrefundable room. So it’s likely that no matter how convincing you tried to sound, the hotel and Priceline either didn’t believe you or thought your personal circumstance didn’t rise to the level of refunding a nonrefundable reservation.
But I believe you. What’s more, I think if the situation were reversed – if, say, the hotel couldn’t honor its reservation because of a catastrophe or natural disaster – then it would expect you to allow it to cancel your nonrefundable reservation without paying you any compensation.
In a case like this, you had already exhausted all of your appeals, and technically, both Priceline and Hawthorn were correct to keep your money. The most you could do was politely request another review of your case. I list Priceline’s contacts on my consumer advocacy site: http://elliott.org/contacts/priceline/.
I asked Priceline if it could take another look at your reservation. It contacted the hotel on your behalf, which agreed to make an exception to its refund policy, and it canceled your reservation without any penalty. Good luck with the kids.