Owner and Airbnb disagree on refund for rental. Who’s right?

Carl Baeuerlen cancels his vacation rental in Lanai, Hawaii. But Airbnb says he can’t get his money back.

  • Sunday, May 9, 2021 1:30am
  • Life

Q: Last spring, I made an Airbnb reservation for a vacation rental in Lanai, Hawaii, in November 2020. Because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions, I canceled the reservation in May.

Airbnb denied me a full refund. I attempted to phone Airbnb to discuss this denial, but the hold time was consistently over two hours. Feeling I had no other recourse, I disputed the claim with Capital One, my credit card company, and was given a conditional refund.

Capital One sided with Airbnb a month later and urged me to resolve this directly with Airbnb. I attempted to do so. I applied for a refund online and was told that, due to the vacation rental’s refund policy, there would be no refund.

I called the owner, and she said that she does not have a record of my reservation, nor does she have any money from me for my reservation. She also has no policy that would have denied me a refund.

I contacted Airbnb with this information. A representative promised to call the owner and get back to me. Although she didn’t call back, I received a notification from my credit card issuer that a refund of $282 had been issued to my credit card. But I never received it. Can you help me get my money back?

— Carl Baeuerlen, Los Altos, California.

A: You should be able to get a full refund. But your case is a little complicated. Let’s see if we can unpack it.

Airbnb had an “extenuating circumstances” policy that allowed guests to cancel reservations for stays made on or before March 14, 2020, with check-in dates between March 14, 2020, and April 14, 2020. But you were outside of that window.

That means the Airbnb extenuating circumstances policy didn’t apply to your rental in Lanai. But here’s where things get interesting. Airbnb claims your rental wasn’t refundable, but the owner says there was no such policy. So who is right? I’ll get to the answer in a moment.

You ran out of patience and filed a credit card dispute. In credit card parlance, that’s called a friendly dispute, because you were doing business with Airbnb. And your bank sided with Airbnb, which further complicated your case.

I think a brief, polite email to one of Airbnb’s executives might have helped. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of Airbnb’s top customer service managers on my website at elliott.org/company-contacts/airbnb.

So whose policy should prevail — the owner’s or Airbnb’s? I think the rules to which you agree are the rules that bind you. But those weren’t the rules to which the owner agreed, so you have some wiggle room. I’m unhappy that the owner never received your deposit. That suggests Airbnb simply pocketed your deposit. I guess that’s how Airbnb justifies its $80 billion valuation.

Given the fact that Airbnb had already promised a refund, I think the process should have been pretty straightforward. I contacted Airbnb on your behalf, and you received your $282 deposit back.

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Elliott’s latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Contact him at elliott.org/help or chris@elliott.org.

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