After a big flight delay, Airbnb help is no help at all

Ling Hsu had hoped for a pleasant vacation. She and some friends booked a stay through Airbnb in Valencia, Spain, for four nights, including cleaning and service fees. But when they experienced a flight delay, they couldn’t reach their host upon arrival. Ling and her companions booked themselves into a hotel for two nights. Then they heard from the host – too late to cancel their hotel stay. And when Ling needed Airbnb help to get a partial refund, Airbnb let her down.

Ling wants two nights of her Airbnb charge reimbursed. She’s willing to forfeit the charge for the other two nights. Although Airbnb refunded the cleaning and service fees, it hasn’t agreed to her refund request for the two nights.

Her story is a reminder to establish early communications with a vacation rental’s owner. It’s also a warning that you’d better have a Plan B in place if you’re staying at a vacation rental. As Ling found out the hard way, flight delays and other problems can result in you having no lodgings. That’s because Airbnb and other vacation rental companies are not hotels. They often can’t provide you with the same alternatives as hotels when things go wrong.

A flight delay in Spain

Ling and her friends booked their lodging in Valencia last September, arranging to arrive at 4:30 p.m. They also reserved a flight from JFK Airport in New York to Valencia via Bilbao, Spain. The day before they were scheduled to depart, Ling tried to contact José, their host, but he did not respond.

While at JFK Airport, Ling and her friends learned that their airline delayed their flight. (We don’t know which airline.) They again tried to contact José, but they still couldn’t reach him. At Bilbao, Ling then contacted Airbnb to ask for help, but its agent couldn’t get in touch with José either. Airbnb gave José a four-hour deadline to respond to their messages.

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Having received only silence, Ling and her friends checked into a hotel for two days:

While we would have still liked to have checked into Jose’s Airbnb, at that point, we had decided to check into a hotel because we hadn’t been able to get in touch with the host.

Two hours later, just before the four-hour deadline expired, Ling received a reply from an associate of José. According to the associate, José was still expecting to host Ling and her friends. But at that point, Ling and her friends felt it was too late to change their plans.

An overdue response from the host…

The following day, an Airbnb agent named Jeff contacted Ling, telling her that he had heard from José. Although José had been unresponsive to Ling, he was now “ready” for Ling and her friends to stay with him.

Ling and her friends declined:

Jeff from Airbnb contacted me the next afternoon about checking into the Airbnb but at that point, my friends and I weren’t sure we could trust José. José implied he had tried to contact me, which was absolutely not the case.

…but limited Airbnb help

Ling and her friends decided to ask for a full refund of their lodging fare instead. Jeff agreed to pursue this with José, but José was unwilling to refund Ling’s fee:

I did get in touch with our host as promised, and regrettably, he is not willing to waive his cancel policy. Due to this, the last option you can pursue is filing a resolution center claim.

Airbnb is not allowed to go over the hosts’ cancellation policy. … [A] host can choose whatever cancellation policy they wish to have, as it is their listing, and it is their choice whether to waive their cancellation penalties. Since your host is not willing to allow me to facilitate a refund, your best option is to file the resolution center claim.

Ling responded that she would file a resolution center claim. (We don’t know if she did.) She then used our Airbnb executive contacts to appeal the company’s refusal to refund her charges. A representative of Airbnb named Lenore responded to her request for assistance:

[Although] Airbnb won’t be issuing a refund from Jose’s payout for this reservation, we are refunding our usually non-refundable service fee, as a courtesy, as well as personally reimbursing you for this reservation’s cleaning fees.

Then Ling contacted our advocates for help. Our advocate, Dwayne Coward, suggested that Ling post about her case in our forum, but she hasn’t done so.

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Not an extenuating circumstance — or a Travel Issue

Unfortunately for Ling, neither delayed flights nor silent hosts fall within Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy. This policy allows Airbnb to waive the cancellation penalties outlined in its terms of service and guest refund policy.

Airbnb’s guest refund policy states that:

If you are a Guest, in order to submit a valid claim for a Travel Issue and receive the benefits with respect to your reservation, you are required to meet each of the following conditions: (a) you must bring the Travel Issue to our attention … within 24 hours after the start of your reservation, and must respond to any requests by us … ; (b) you must not have directly or indirectly caused the Travel Issue … ; and (c) you must have used reasonable efforts to try to remedy the circumstances of the Travel Issue with the Host prior to making a claim for a Travel Issue.

“Travel Issues” include “the host … [failing] to provide the Guest with the reasonable ability to access the Accommodation (e.g., by providing the keys and/or a security code).” José didn’t contact Ling until Airbnb gave him a four-hour deadline. When he finally contacted Ling, she felt it was too late. Does that qualify as her not having the reasonable ability to access his home? Airbnb also claims that Ling never went to the property or gave José an opportunity to remedy the situation.

So we aren’t sure whether we should pursue Ling’s case. It doesn’t seem as though Airbnb owes her more than refunds for the non-refundable service fee and cleaning fee. We’ll ask our readers:

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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 Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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