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.

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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.

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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. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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