Hello, relaxation? Not with this Booking.com reservation

Vivian Mello’s vacation rental in Maui is uninhabitable. So why won’t Booking.com refund her money?

Question: We recently used Booking.com to reserve a property on Maui that was managed by HelloRelaxation. It was called “3 Bedrooms 5 mins from Beach.” It was a property that required a non-refundable pre-payment.

We were sent a rental agreement, which we signed based on the information provided on Booking.com’s website. When we arrived, there was not a key in the lockbox on the door. I contacted HelloRelaxation (based in California, I believe), and they indicated that they would be sending someone local over to open the property. Because of the amount of trash and rotting yard waste in the front yard, there was a cloud of mosquitoes that hovered over the property. We had to wait in our rental vehicle for their representatives to arrive to escape being attacked by the mosquitoes.

When their representatives finally arrived about 30 minutes later, they opened the property, and we encountered dirty floors, dead cockroaches throughout, unmade beds which exposed dirty mattresses, a filthy bathroom, and moldy food in the refrigerator. Dirty kitchen with blinds fallen off the window, and as I mentioned earlier, trash piled in the front yard and rotting yard waste.

The local representative told me that they have had ongoing issues with this property owner not maintaining the property in an acceptable condition. The local representative asked me to call back to HelloRelaxation and explain to them my concerns about the condition of the property. I called and spoke with them, and they asked me to give them an hour to get it cleaned up, which I refused.

Related story:   United is only half sorry for passenger's brain tumor

My contract with them was for check-in as early as 3 p.m., and frankly, I couldn’t see them getting the property cleaned up in an hour. Mattresses and linens needed to be cleaned and washed, floors needed to be washed, blinds needed to be hung, the refrigerator needed to be cleaned out and the place needed to be sprayed for bugs and cockroaches, the toilet needed repair around the base. The yard needed the lawn mowed and raked of the rotting debris, overgrown shrubs and trees needed to be cleared, trash needed to be removed from the inside and outside.

I have contacted both Booking.com and HelloRelaxation and provided both companies with the pictures I took of the onsite conditions and explained my issues with the property. Both have since indicated that they would not issue a refund. Booking.com says they can’t do anything about getting me a refund and that I should have checked the reviews, the property average review score was 4.3, suggesting that I should look for properties with a review score above 7. When I looked for reviews on the property, before I booked, there wasn’t anything to go by, only the statement on Booking.com’s website that there were not enough reviews of the property.

We paid $2,719 for this property for what was supposed to be nine-night stay. Can you help me get a refund? — Vivian Mello, Albuquerque, N.M.

Answer: Booking.com has no business renting that kind of property to anyone. It should have immediately offered a refund, no questions asked. Instead, it deferred to a management company that, of course, didn’t want to give up any of your money.

Related story:   I paid an extra $8,250 to fly home -- can you help me get a refund?

Does Booking.com offer any kind of quality assurance? It does not. Its terms are clear: “By making a reservation through Booking.com, you enter into a direct (legally binding) contractual relationship with the Supplier with which you make a reservation or purchase a product or service (as applicable).” From the point at which Booking.com makes your reservation, it acts solely as “an intermediary.” Here are the unfortunate details.

I couldn’t find any guarantee on HelloRelaxation’s website, beyond a vague promise that it has a “wide selection” and — I’m not making this up — “something for everyone.”

To avoid future misunderstanding, you’ll need to check not only the “intermediary” but also the management company when you’re renting a vacation home. If you had, you might have seen the warning lights glaring at you from behind the computer screen.

Since Booking.com took your money and acted as your travel agent (that’s industry-speak for “intermediary”) it ultimately was responsible for your rental. You can find the names, numbers and email addresses of the Booking.com executives on my consumer advocacy website.

I contacted Booking.com and furnished it with photos of your rental. It agreed that the rental was uninhabitable and refunded your money.

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 chris@elliott.org.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “It was a property that required a non-refundable pre-payment.” a red flag

    “Does Booking.com offer any kind of quality assurance? It does not.” a red flag

    “I couldn’t find any guarantee on HelloRelaxation’s website” a red flag

    “the property average review score was 4.3 out of 10” a red flag

    As Chris pointed out, the key is research BEFORE making a reservation especially with the above ‘conditions’ (i.e. non-refundable pre-payment; no quality assurance; etc.) as well as when dealing with an OTA who is acting as an intermediary.

    When renting a house, it is my suggestion to do a Google search…a map search so that you can see the property and the area and a property search so that you can find out the property owner (i.e. are you renting from the actual owner; the turnover of owners can suggest an issue; etc).

    I think that too many people like the OP put their faith in the OTA thinking that the OTA will provide support, did their homework on the property, etc. An OTA is like a discount stock brokerage company…they offer no advice and they are only there to execute a transaction that is iniitatied by the customer.

  • gpx21dlr

    I know you have the clout and gotten the refund but why should this be? The OP provided photos and they still refused to refund. WHY?

  • The Original Joe S

    OTA – Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • The Original Joe S

    Because most people are thieving dirtbags, that’s why!

  • cscasi

    I believe it just goes to show how little Booking.com cares for its customers. It is just an intermediary (who gets a fee) for the bookings and wants no responsibility for anything that goes wrong. That is sad but it seems some other companies do the same. Perhaps they do that because they can often get away with doing so. I personally would not do business with this company.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Why?…because the minute a company (booking.com) knows the clout that Elliott.org has and the bad press they will receive, they suddenly “care”.

  • greg watson

    I too, will never use Booking.com again, or for that matter any 3rd party site (except to negotiate a better deal with a business). I made a reservation based on information that was not entirely accurate & ended up further away from attractions that I wanted to see & stayed two weeks in a room, that could be judged, at best, as just adequate. Low wattage bulbs, 2 single beds (instead of two twin), no instructions as to how to keep the lights on, air conditioning that had to be turned on every few hours (night or day) & absolutely no pictures or decor in the room & limited TV programs.
    Two hours after I booked, I realised that (after further checking) that the location was not what I expected it to be, I contacted Booking.com. (this was a non- cancellable booking – my mistake ! — made 7 months in advance of our trip to London UK) Despite repeated requests, Booking.com refused to let us change hotels & said that the hotel would not allow it. I contacted the hotel, & they said that Booking.com would not allow the change. After 7 weeks of emails & 1 phone call……….I gave up.
    So, I have learned my lesson……………don’t make a non-cacellable reservation & don’t use Booking.com etc., etc.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.