Help! I didn’t know Airbnb’s long-term rental cancellation policy applied to me

Kerli Kundla desperately wants a refund for her canceled Airbnb reservation. But even though her host was willing to issue her a partial refund, Airbnb was not.

Kundla’s case is a reminder to carefully read a company’s terms of use before making a commitment or a cancellation, because you may not be entitled to a refund even if you are offered one by the person with whom you are dealing. It’s also a warning to treat all parties with whom you deal with respect and not to harass them with repeated contacts if they decline your requests.

Last April Kundla and her partner booked a 28-night stay at an Airbnb rental in Florida for this January. A few days later they wanted to cancel their stay, having found a location they liked better.

They contacted their host, canceling their reservation and requesting a refund. Their host promised them a refund of 50 percent of their deposit and a credit of the remaining 50 percent for a future stay. Kundla asked for a full refund, but the host declined:

Airbnb has asked us to live up to our cancellation policy. We need to honor our policy or we might as well not even have one. We understand your trip is eight months away but we lost other renters when you fulfilled your booking. We cannot guarantee we will refill those dates. Nor do we have an option down the road to give you funds if we do re-rent. Please accept our credit offer under these circumstances.

The host also indicated to Kundla that he had another guest book and cancel a stay at his home after her cancellation, and that he uses only Airbnb’s payment system to receive and refund payments. But Kundla repeatedly refused to accept the host’s explanation or a credit, demanding a full refund:

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But how big was your losses? You have [a] strict [cancellation] policy. If somebody canceled, then you still got 50 percent of their cancellation, right? … [This] means you got just about 3-4 nights [of] losses. I don’t understand…why then we have to pay for this double? I really understand, if we made our cancellation [one] week before check-in date, or [a] month…but eight months?! This seems like stealing — not a business…

Kundla appealed her case to Airbnb, but received a refund only of the cleaning fee. Its agent told her that because her booking falls under Airbnb’s long-term cancellation policy which applies to all stays of 28 days or longer, the payment for the first month of the stay was nonrefundable. Only the cleaning fee was eligible for a refund.

In addition, both Kundla and the host agreed to Airbnb’s arbitration policy when they made and accepted the booking, which requires that host and guest agree to arbitration of disputes and waive any rights to litigation.

Kundla might have used our contacts for Airbnb to escalate her complaint. Instead, she contacted our advocates, asking for help in securing a full refund from Airbnb for the rental. Unfortunately for Kundla, we can’t help her.

Our advocates reached out to Airbnb to hear its side of the story. We learned that although Airbnb will take “special circumstances” underlying cancellations into account when issuing refunds as one-time exceptions to its cancellation policies, it won’t entertain Kundla’s decision to cancel her reservation to book alternative lodgings as “special circumstances.” Airbnb’s agent also informed us that Kundla has been “harassing” the host in trying to get a full refund or a future stay at his home, and that Airbnb is “standing firm” behind its long-term cancellation policy.

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for

  • sirwired

    Yeah, repeatedly harassing the hosts and accusing them of stealing was not a good plan. Guess she didn’t get the memo about flies, vinegar, and honey.

    I can imagine AirBnB could have been convinced to go along with the half-refund, half-credit idea. (Have a hard time believing that AirBnB will refuse to issue a refund the host directs them to issue, as long as they get their fees) I suspect the host is letting AirBnB be the “bad guy” after getting fed up with the guest’s intransigence and insults.

    Can’t say I blame ’em.

  • Chris_In_NC

    While I sympathize with the OP about losing her $$$, ultimately, she did not fully understand the terms and conditions of the rental. The rules are pretty clear. I agree with sirwired that the owner could have been so fed up with the OP, that they just deferred everything back to AirBnB. Apparently the owners were flexible enough to initially offer a partial refund. Sometimes, when you poke a sleeping bear enough, the bear wakes up and eats you.

  • Bill___A

    They should have, upon finding out the cancellation policy, stayed with the original rental. This was a case of wanting a different place, not have being unable to take the trip. A hard lesson.

  • Johng

    Sadly Kundla was her own worse enemy. As i posted in the forum according to her own version of events she did the following;

    1. Ask to cancel and for a refund and the host offered 50% refund and 50% credit for next stay.
    2. Again ask for full refund. Host says no.
    3. Cancelled the reservation.
    4. Contact the host (again) and ask for full refund and the host says no.
    6. Contact Airbnb and ask for full refund – they say wait till January.
    7. January open a new case file with Airbnb and ask for a full refund.
    8. Airbnb contacts host and hosts say no.
    9. Open another new case file for the 50% refund and the host says no.
    10. Enter into long discussions with Airbnb and say the promise is outside policy.
    11. Despite this write to the host and ask for the credit

    All she had to do was accept the original offer instead she ended up with nothing. There just might be a lesson to learn.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Yeesh! Yeah, I’m with Johng here: Kundla was her own worst enemy. This is a primer for any potential AirBnB renter to learn how NOT to deal with an AirBnB rental.

    There are quite a few lessons to be learned here, starting out with: read the cancellation policy. And assume they mean it.

    I do understand her point that it seems unfair that she shouldn’t be denied a full refund given that her reservation was only in existence for a few days, and her cancellation came EIGHT MONTHS before the rental date. I find it highly unlikely that her reservation, as brief as it was, would have resulted in any impact on the owner’s ability to rent that place for those dates. So the owner made out like a bandit here.

    But…thems the rules. Unfair or not, that’s the policy. And she agreed to that policy when she booked the place.

    I have compassion for Kundt – what she was asking for certainly was reasonable (although the way she went about it was likely not going to get them to bend their rules). This was an expensive lesson.

    It’s a good reminder for us all to pay very close attention to those cancellation policies. I do use AirBnB, as well as other by-owner rental sites, and I would never book a place with such a restrictive cancellation policy unless there was zero chance my plans might change (absent some catastrophe).

  • sirwired

    Remember that the original offer wasn’t just a 50% refund, it was also a 50% future credit on top of that… that’s not bad at all, and seems pretty fair to me (when the starting-point is the total loss of the first month’s rental.) Maybe the credit wouldn’t have been easy to use, but it was a nice gesture.

  • Nathan Witt

    Perhaps, when describing people who don’t want to pay money for nothing, we could choose a word besides “greedy.”

  • Kristiana Lee

    I don’t blame him at all for taking back that offer. I wouldn’t want to open up my house to someone who was that angry with me. Too risky.

  • Blamona

    Airbnb cancelation policies are crystal clear when you click to book. She had buyers remorse, not a reason for Airbnb to make exceptions. Harassing just reinforced it more

  • LeeAnneClark

    Good point…although it’s entirely possible that she had no plans to ever go there again so there would not have been any opportunity for her to use that credit. That’s kinda what I’m assuming, which is probably why she fought so hard to get the whole thing back.

    Either way, it’s clear that she either didn’t fully grasp the cancellation policy, or did understand it but thought she could talk her way out of it. I personally think the policy IS too restrictive – that far out, one should be able to cancel. But that’s why I only use AirBnB when I know for sure I’m going. I tend to view them the same as non-refundable plane tickets – once I buy it, I own it…and if I don’t use it, oh well!

  • Chris_In_NC

    I strongly suspect the reason the rules are so restrictive for a “long term rental” is because in many municipalities the tenant rights change significant when you enter in a long term rental contract.

  • JewelEyed

    Perhaps when you request a refund to which you are not entitled based on the terms and conditions you agreed to and someone offers to do you a huge favor, taking the deal you get is a better idea.

  • Rebecca

    I would argue that not only having his rental unavailable online during the entire month the OP originally rented it isn’t “nothing” to the OP. More importantly, being repeatedly harassed by email certainly took time out of his day. He was willing to be flexible, and was nothing but polite in his original response. That deserves multiple repeated insults? Certainly not.

    I’m glad AirBnB stepped up and stood behind their renter. It’s only fair.

  • Rebecca

    We had almost the same thought at almost exactly the same time! Yes, this!

  • JewelEyed

    I completely agree. I wonder how much better the other place could have been to make it worth it to risk losing all of what you put up for the first place.

  • Rebecca

    I believe the host that AirBnB wants it’s policy enforced. If it isn’t, they lose their fee; it makes sense they would want uniformity among their online rentals.

    We always hear about bad hosts here, it’s nice to hear about a perfectly reasonable one, just like I’m sure the vast majority are.

  • JewelEyed

    I imagine if the host due to “special circumstances” wanted to refund less the fee, Airbnb probably wouldn’t care much. But simply changing your mind doesn’t really meet that standard.

  • michael anthony

    I agree, the OP is out of her money and justifiably so. It’s because the host tried to make her “whole”–The 50% refund and 50% credit for future use.

    Had the OP been offered nothing, or a minimal future credit, the extreme AIRBNB cancellation policy would probably not stand up in court, or, arbitration. They would have to prove they lost bookings for that month and prove that they made attempts to get bookings for those dates then and up to the original rental date. One always has to try and mitigate their losses. If they did nothing, and just pocketed her money 8 months out, I would assume unjust enrichment. But the host did everything right, by attempting to make her whole. Courts look favorably on that kind of action. I applaud the host for his attempts on trying to do the right thing, only to be rebuffed by the OP.

  • The Original Joe S

    Eat! Eat! Eat! Some bears are simply RUDE!

  • Nathan Witt

    I’m not arguing that she’s entitled to a refund. I’m not arguing that she was nice about it. I realize that she agreed to the terms and conditions. I realize that, according to them, she owes the renter a full month’s rent. But those terms and conditions mean that, even though the renter has eight months to find someone else to rent his or her property, and even though the reservation was on the books for a short time, the OP must pay a lot of money for something she won’t use. Call her careless. Say that she went about this the wrong way. But calling her greedy? The terms and conditions were certainly written with greed in mind. Just not the OP’s.

  • Tim Mengelkoch

    Sounds like the OP has a problem with grammar

  • LeeAnneClark

    That may be true. Another good reason to pay very close attention to cancellation rates – they can vary depending on the length of the stay.

  • PsyGuy

    I really didn’t like voting no. On one hand this seems reasonable, it’s 8 months away, and I don’t but the vendor that they will lose business. They might, they might not. What i don’t like is the LW’s cavalier approach to contracts and agreements, they found somewhere else, okay, well that’s fine it’s your money, but this isn’t Burger king, you don’t get it your way, because you think you should. The LW agreed to something and as the vendor said in their email, what’s the use of havinga policy if you’re not going to follow it. This just feels like some travelers with “special snowflake” syndrome.

  • PsyGuy

    Well she might have gotten the memo but it was all covered in flies. Personally, I like memos with butterflies on them.

  • PsyGuy

    But the LW didn’t see it as a favor?

  • PsyGuy

    I’m betting though when they found the new place, they also booked that one and paid upfront. They were going to eat one reservation, one way or the other.

  • PsyGuy

    That’s a good point

  • AAGK

    I think the host just did not want to come off as the bad guy and risk the bad reviews/harassment so she pretended it was Airbnb’s fault.

  • AAGK

    There’s no way I would let these people stay in my home at that point. I am amazed that the OP thought she could force her way into a future booking. It’s her own fault for paying twice and I would not refund a dime. The owner should have been more direct in the first email, rather than blame Airbnb, but the OP should have taken the hint.

  • JewelEyed

    Well, a different perspective would have had a different outcome. It’s the same approach we’re always recommending. If you’re asking for something that you’re not entitled to based on terms and conditions, ask politely, don’t threaten, and if they offer you a lot more than nothing, say thank you.

  • JewelEyed

    I never called her anything. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • Lee

    I admit I am a bit surprised, given the very transparent agreed upon terms and conditions, that took time to even address this particular poster’s complaint.

    I am no fan of airbnb and their routine flaunting of local rules for such rentals and I sure as heck won’t ever do business with one that requires I agree to arbitration vs. retaining my civil litigation rights, but, in this case: the terms were clear, OP agreed. Not sure why it was chosen as one to write about here.

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