'Tip of the iceberg': Airbnb, Vrbo guests fighting for refunds after coronavirus cancellations
Airbnb is establishing a new "cleaning protocol" for their rental property hosts and guests, stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. USA TODAY
Evan Skowronski was supposed to stay in a Connecticut Airbnb this month with his wife after booking their stay in January.
Because of the extenuating circumstances policy, which promises refunds or travel credits. He had been caught up in a back and forth with the company and his host in an effort to receive a refund, only just receiving it Thursday.
And Skowronski is far from alone as travelers and hosts from short-term rental platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo have been stuck battling for their money back.
Emma Kaufmann, 49, is another hurt consumer. The writer and illustrator is seeking a refund of more than $1,400 after canceling her reservation for a trip to Berlin set for three weeks in June and July. She made the reservation in January and chose to cancel on May 12 after her flight was canceled. If she had waited to cancel (as the company had continuously updated its policy) she could have qualified for a company refund.
"How was I meant to predict what Airbnb's policy would be on June 15? It is just as likely that they would not have extended their policy," Kaufmann, of Baltimore, told USA TODAY.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many U.S. travelers to rethink their travel or cancel it entirely, leaving airlines, cruises and hotels on the hook for refunds or travel credits. Short-term rental services' unique models – where both hosts and guests exchange money on the platform – have created a complicated refund issue.
In booking short-term rentals, travelers assess a listing of 真人百家家乐官网网站homes then book available dates from hosts. In the event guests have to cancel, they must abide by certain policies. As the pandemic unfolded, companies had to make choices about how to handle refunds and whether the companies, the hosts or guests would be on the hook.
For customers of short-term-rental giant Airbnb, a cash refund requires documentation explaining why guests can't travel as a result of COVID-19, such as a link to a government site or a letter from a medical professional.
Airbnb spokesman Charlie Urbancic told USA TODAY in a statement: "Once COVID-19 evolved into a global pandemic, we updated our extenuating circumstances policy to allow guests to cancel and receive a full cash or credit refund – including all our fees – for eligible bookings made prior to March 14. We made this decision because we firmly believe that travelers should not have to choose between safety and money."
Both guests and hosts have aired their grievances on social media as they grow dissatisfied. But travelers could also resort to arbitration or attempt Superhosts, which is up to more than $17 million.
But a closer look at Airbnb's policy reveals it has made changes over time, Teel Lidow, CEO and head of product at FairShake, which assists consumers with arbitration forms and processes, told USA TODAY, hedging language promising guests full refunds.
Right now, Airbnb's policy covers guests with stays through July 31.
What Vrbo's coronavirus cancellation policy looks like
Vrbo's historical 真人百家家乐官网网站home in Tiverton, Rhode Island, which is furnished with ancient antiques and sits on the side of animal sanctuary where they have alpacas and horses. Hayden held fast to a strict cancellation policy, which Airbnb effectively voided during the pandemic, putting him in financial strain amid canceled bookings.
"I'm phasing myself out of Airbnb, and I'm going to work with some of the other companies out there that do short-term rentals as well that have not treated their hosts as badly during these times," Hayden told USA TODAY.
Lidow said it's an uphill battle for those seeking refunds from short-term rental services outside of the cancellation policy coverage windows.
Skowronski has a week-long stay in Europe booked in October for his anniversary with his wife. He booked it with – you guessed it – Airbnb, which is only covering stays through July 31. Time will tell if he's out more than $1,000: "Who knows whether that’s in the wind or not?"
Contributing: Bill Keveney
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