An Airbnb contract misunderstanding leads to a $1,400 loss

Thuy Nguyen was excited about the family vacation in France that she had planned.

The three-bedroom apartment she rented through Airbnb was in Aix-en-Provence, in southern France, the birthplace of impressionist painter Paul Cézanne. Nguyen booked the flat for two weeks.

This is a story about what happens when you change plans suddenly and don’t go through the proper channels to find out what your rights are. It can lead to misunderstandings, and, in this case, a loss of hard-earned money.

Nguyen booked a dream vacation for her family and thought she had everything covered, until one of the relatives who was scheduled to join them was injured at home and could not make the trip. “One of my guests broke her knee and had surgery,” she told us. “So I canceled the reservation, about three months before my rental date.”

The third floor apartment was not accessible by elevator, so Nguyen thought she did the right thing by changing her plans.

“Cancellation rules were strict (penalty is 50 percent of the rent, which amounts to $1,469) but I thought the host would be sympathetic if I agreed to pay part of the penalty for the trouble,” she explained. “At that time I did not think of claiming the extenuating circumstances that would allow me to cancel the rental without penalty.”

A peek at Airbnb’s cancellation policies shows several levels of strictness, ranging from Flexible (full refund one day prior to arrival) to Super Strict 60 Days (50 percent refund up to 60 days before arrival). It looks like one of the stricter policies applied in this case.

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Hoping for some sympathy and a less-strict penalty for canceling, Nguyen reached out to the host, who, responding in French, said:

The penalties retained by Airbnb will be refunded if we re-rent the apartment at least on the dates you have booked. You will be reimbursed pro rata to the re-let period. The base being the whole of your stay.

Essentially, Nguyen was counting on the apartment to be re-rented so that she could receive a larger portion of the refund. In the meantime, she also reached out to representatives at Airbnb who were not sympathetic to what Nguyen called her “special circumstances.” In fact, the attempted re-rental by the owner is not part of Airbnb’s policies.

While she waited for the outcome of the re-rental of the original apartment, Nguyen rented another Airbnb property in the same town. This complicated her claim because it made it look like Nguyen had canceled only because she had changed her mind.

After a month of emails going back and forth, Nguyen checked on the original host’s calendar and found that her time slot was no longer available. She surmised that the place had been rented and reached out to the owner about a refund. Unfortunately, the owner answered that the place had not been rented and that the property was blocked by Airbnb.

This meant that Nguyen may have lost her opportunity for a refund, since there was no way the apartment could be re-rented.

Frustrated with the way the situation was developing, she reached out to our advocates. We told Nguyen that we did not believe we could successfully advocate this case.

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By the terms of the cancellation policy, the owner was not obligated to attempt to re-rent the apartment, and there is no legal definition for “extenuating circumstances.” These are decided on a case-by-case basis at Airbnb, and so far, the company’s representatives were deaf to her plea.

We suggested that Nguyen post about her case to our Forum, which is read by company representatives, and that maybe they would read it and try to resolve the situation quickly. As of this writing, we have no indication that Nguyen ever took our advice.

Buyer beware — when booking any travel, read the contract and cancellation policies carefully so you don’t get in a situation like Nguyen’s. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to call this a Case Dismissed.

Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined. Read more of Mark's articles here.

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