Should Airbnb offer a refund for an “extenuating” circumstance?

Georgia Nagle booked an apartment in Manhattan with Airbnb last summer. The terms on her rental agreement were crystal clear: they were strict.

Or were they?

When Nagle had to cancel, she received a partial refund for cleaning fees. But now she believes she’s entitled to more, and she wants me to help her get it.

“My fiancé’s doctor told us she had pneumonia and she was not to travel,” she says.

“Our host said ‘Too bad, but the ‘strict’ [policy] allows for no refund,'” she says. “He said that many times on phone and email.

But later, Nagle learned that Airbnb allowed refunds for “extenuating circumstances” — even for “strict” cancellations.

“So after gathering all the documentation I could, including a letter from the doctor, Airbnb is saying it has been too long for a refund,” she says.

So what about Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances? Does it actually say that anywhere? As a matter of fact, it does.

In the rare instance where extenuating circumstances arise, a guest may need to cancel a confirmed reservation.

In this instance, Airbnb may override the host’s cancellation policy (flexible, moderate, strict) and make refund decisions. Such cases will be contingent on proper documentation, where valid, and include:

✓ There’s a death in the guest’s family
✓ The guest has a serious illness or there’s a serious illness in their family
✓ There’s a natural disaster in the destination country
✓ There’s political unrest in the destination country
✓ The guest has jury duty or other similar civil obligations

This is pretty remarkable. Most companies have an unofficial policy like this, but it’s rare to find it published. Good for Airbnb.

Related story:   Hey Delta, how about a refund on those outrageous ticket change fees?

But the operative word here is “may” — as in, “Airbnb may override the host’s cancellation policy.”

Not will. May.

Such a decision would be made entirely at Airbnb’s discretion. And it would involve a company representative determining if a pneumonia diagnosis is enough of a “serious illness” to merit a full refund.

Airbnb would also determine — again, entirely at its discretion — when to invoke this “extenuating circumstances” clause. Before the rental? During? After? Six months after?

It’s all up to Airbnb.

Do I think Airbnb should refund the stay? Well, Nagle and her fiance didn’t go to New York. The owner pocketed their rental fee and they got nothing for it. What do you think I think?

Oh, I know. Travel insurance. Yada, yada, yada.


Nagle deserves some consideration. Even airline passengers who cancel their nonrefundable tickets get a flight credit. It seems wrong to be left with nothing.

I asked Airbnb about her case and it refunded the rest of her money.

Should Airbnb have refunded Nagle's apartment?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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