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Airbnb and VRBO Refund Policies During Coronavirus Are Bad — Avoid Booking

a rocky beach with palm trees
Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash

Airbnb and VRBO Refund Policies During Coronavirus Are Bad — Avoid Booking

The devastation reaped by coronavirus on people around the world is very noticeable.  Unemployment numbers are skyrocketing, entire industries are decimated, and many people are suffering.  Companies are largely trying to be as understanding as possible under the circumstances.  Airlines are offering flexibility in rebooking, though some people have issues getting refunds.  It helps that, under U.S. law, airlines are required to give refunds for canceled flights.  Hotels are also pretty understanding about travel plans changing.  However, Airbnb and VRBO refund policies during coronavirus are terrible.

Maui, Hawaii Trip Canceled

My husband and I booked a trip with family and friends to Hawaii.  We booked the trip in the fall before coronavirus spread around the world.  We booked a house through VRBO with some of our friends.  The price for the 4-bedroom house with a pool was over $5,000.

Two weeks ago, we received notification that American Airlines canceled our flight to Maui, which was fully refunded.  Our flight was scheduled for June 2nd.  According to the reservations agent we spoke with, American canceled flights to Maui through June 5, 2020, essentially leaving us unable to catch a flight to Maui.  Our only option was to cut the trip short by half or book through another airline and hope it wasn’t canceled.

The Property Owner’s Response

We reached out to VRBO immediately after the flight cancelation.  Since it’s an impossibility to get to Hawaii when you don’t have a flight, we explained the situation to the property owner.  Typically, their refund policy is strict.  Given the global pandemic, we asked for understanding from the property owner and requested a full refund.

Well, no such luck.  The property owner said, “I am sorry to hear about your flights and that you have decided to cancel your stay with us.”  She refused to respond to our request because VRBO currently has no guidance for June rentals.  VRBO’s cancelation policy encourages property owners to give a credit for future travel.  If that’s not possible, they encourage them to give at least a 50% refund.

That being said, there is no requirement for the property owner to give any refund or credit.  In addition, the property owner is well within her rights to give us a refund without waiting for guidance from VRBO.  But she chose not to consider anything until some arbitrary date when VRBO extends the refund policy.

VRBO’s Policy That Supposedly Helps Consumers

VRBO claims property owners who don’t give refunds will be punished in their marketplace.  I reached out to VRBO to ask exactly what that meant.  They said they will take the following actions to encourage refunds:

  • Vrbo will reward partners with additional visibility in traveler searches. The more partners do now for travelers, the more we will reward them moving forward (so a 100% credit/refund will count more than 50% refund).
  • Partners who do not abide by these standards (offering a 100% credit/refund of at least a 50%) will be disadvantaged vis-a-vis those who act within our policy.
  • Any intimidation of travelers (such as suggesting that travel is safer for them than staying home or dismissing the severity of the crisis) will result in permanent removal from Vrbo and Expedia Group.

That policy certainly isn’t moving our host to respond to our request for a refund.  I am aware of other people facing similar issues.  Therefore, it seems that this policy isn’t doing much to move property owners to be more understanding.

Hawaii’s 14-day Quarantine Policy

It’s important to note that Hawaii’s governor ordered self-quarantine for 14 days for all arrivals.  Our stay is scheduled for 8 days.  Essentially, our whole time in Hawaii would be under quarantine.  There is no end date for the order, so it’s hard to say when it will end.  In addition, the Hawaiian government told people not come to Hawaii on vacation.

In addition to all of that, Maryland is currently under a stay-at-home order with no end date.  That means both the place we are departing and the place we are arriving are essentially not allowing us to freely travel to Hawaii.  It’s completely unknown when both states will change those policies.

Detroit, Michigan Trip Canceled

We had an Airbnb booked for a conference in Detroit, Michigan in May.  There is a significant coronavirus outbreak in Detroit.  Due to flight changes, our flight time changed drastically, impacting the conference.  In addition, the conference was canceled.  Therefore, there was absolutely no reason to go to Detroit.  Of course, coronavirus caused both the flight change and the conference cancellation.

Airbnb Cancelations

Again, immediately after finding out about the flight change and the conference was canceled, we contacted Airbnb to request a refund.  The host refused a 100% refund, and they told us to contact Airbnb.

Airbnb’s policy claims that travel between March 14, 2020 and May 31, 2020 are able to be canceled.  That being said, Airbnb required substantial proof for the reason for cancelation.  They even denied our first request after we submitted numerous documents, including documents showing the flight change and conference cancelation. They approved our second request after we gave them pushback and clearly pointed out the Governor’s order, which includes a misdemeanor charge if violated.

Michigan is under a strict stay-at-home order that limits travel throughout the state.  It’s hard to know when that order will be lifted.  But it’s safe to say that social distancing will likely be around for the next couple of months.  That certainly will limit the ability for the conference to go on even if the stay-at-home order is rescinded.

The Problem With This All

This is a trying time for everybody.  I understand the argument that these property owners are also suffering.  But Airbnb and VRBO refund policies should do more to look out for people who have to cancel.  The impression I get is that VRBO is deferring to property owners.  Meanwhile, property owners are using the excuse that the corporate offices don’t require them to provide any refund.

Lets be clear, a lot of these properties are investment properties, and some hosts have over 100 properties listed as available.  For that reason, they don’t deserve extra sympathy.  In fact, there is very little difference between some private rentals and local motels/hotels. The bottom line is, Airbnb and Vrbo are bad for consumers, and they have proven to be unreasonable during tough times.  It’s putting consumers in a terrible position, and I wish we booked a hotel instead.

I know some people will say we should have travel insurance.  It’s important to note that many travel insurance claims don’t cover coronavirus cancelations unless directly related to getting sick.

Thankfully, we are planning a cruise to Hawaii next year.  We’ll likely aim to visit the island for a stay like the one planned for June at a later date.  It’s unlikely we’ll be able to do that this year with all of the unpredictability surrounding the virus and travel, though.

Bottom Line

I hope VRBO and Airbnb refund policies need substantial improvement.  At the time, it’s hard to see myself booking through them anytime soon, especially with how unpredictable everything is right now.  It’s clear that VRBO and Airbnb are not the reliable source right now.  I urge you to be cautious before booking through their platforms.

If you want to cancel an Airbnb, be ready to provide substantial evidence for any cancellation.  If they refuse your first claim, come up with more evidence.  They will likely provide a refund, but you definitely have to fight for it.

Lastly, we will definitely update this blog post when we get a final response from the host.  It is hard to determine when that will be since there is no indication when VRBO will update their policy for June stays.

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  1. Obviously the guest is emotional but it would be interesting to hear the host’s perspective. The guest indicated they requested a refund at least 2 months from their scheduled arrival. Perhaps the host is waiting to see how things develop before committing to a resolution. Meanwhile, the host is likely prioritizing rescheduling/refunding guests for March, April, and May. The article suggested the hosts was asking for more time to respond. Furthermore, it’s unfair to compare Airbnb/VRBO hosts to hotel operators. These companies provide a marketplace for travelers and hosts to enter into a mutually agreed transactional exchange, often at a significant discount to hotels. All guests must agree to the hosts terms before booking so it seems irrational to complain afterwards. There has always been risk associated with travel and both hosts and guests are mutually responsible. The guests could have booked a 4bd at a hotel, but definitely would have spent much much more than $5,000 including taxes, resort fee, and parking during peak season.

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