Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.
“At the end of the summer, I booked a house on Airbnb in Durham, N.C., where my children and I could celebrate Christmas together. We have not seen each other since last winter. I am 72 and have asthma; they live too far to make the drive without stopping. Now they have decided it’s too dangerous to me for us to gather. I have paid more than $1,500 for the Airbnb, and the cutoff date for even a partial refund was this month. After looking forward to this holiday, my spirits are flagging, and I am concerned about the money. What is your advice for getting a refund? — Mary, North Carolina
I felt the same way you did at the end of the summer (and traveled to see my family as a result); lockdowns lifted, restaurants offered indoor dining, it seemed like the worst of the pandemic was over.
Now we’re facing the darkest days of the coronavirus crisis, so your family made the right call. Health experts are begging people not to travel for the holidays, warning that the United States is about to suffer greatly from people gathering for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Unfortunately, getting a refund for your Airbnb booking can be tricky and not a guarantee, even with the new surge of cases.
First, I took your question to Airbnb to get their thoughts on your situation. They pointed me to their Help Center Extenuating Circumstances Policy page. Because you made the reservation in the summer, you can’t easily cancel the reservation for a refund, despite the coronavirus surge.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Airbnb adjusted its policies so guests and hosts could cancel stays and Airbnb Experiences made on or before March 14 without penalties.
Normal host cancellation policies went back into effect for reservations made after March 14, a few days after the World Health Organization declared the crisis a global pandemic “and its consequences were no longer unexpected, including the risk of continued or new travel and movement restrictions,” the website says.
According to Airbnb, the majority of its listings have “flexible or moderate cancellation policies, both of which allow for full refunds of the nightly rate for cancellations made at least 5 days prior to check-in, regardless of the circumstances” but if that doesn’t apply to your case, the Airbnb spokesperson said the company encourages guests in your situation to contact the host.
Your best bet is to explain your circumstance to the host and ask if they would be willing to offer you an exception to their cancellation policy. If the host agrees, you can contact Customer Support, which will process your refund.
Richard Fertig, founder of Short Term Rental University, agrees with Airbnb’s advice, but he warns it’s unlikely you’ll get all of your money back. Because you’re dealing with a human and not a robot, Fertig recommends appealing to them with your health concerns and hoping they will be empathetic to your case.
“I would suggest for her to try to work through this in an amicable way,” says Fertig, who has been a host on Airbnb since 2014. “Most hosts are compassionate and caring and so on. You have to understand what the host point of view is, then work towards a resolution.”
Although Airbnb did distribute $17 million in grants to accommodate hosts, the pandemic has been a trying time for many hosts. Fertig says some hosts may be struggling financially and less inclined to agree to a full refund. You can try negotiating a partial refund, or ask for a booking credit instead of a cancellation and reschedule your family visit for another time.
It turns out this advice isn’t just applicable for Airbnb. Fertig says while there are differences on each short-term-rental platform, cancellation policies are pretty comparable. I checked in with a representative at Vrbo about a similar reader question, and I found it also suggests travelers connect with the property owner and see if they would be willing to work with them for a credit or future stay — although it’s ultimately up to the host.
Finally, if you’re not having luck with your Airbnb host, Sean Harper, co-founder and chief executive officer of Kin Insurance, says you may be able to turn to your credit card company to help. Or you can dispute the charges.
“That sort of thing is often covered by the insurance that’s attached to credit cards,” Harper says. “If you have a decent rewards credit card, there’s often some travel insurance that’s attached to that.”
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