He tried to cancel a reservation and receive a refund. Vrbo charged him $31,995 instead

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By Christopher Elliott

Gerry Bauer thought canceling his reservation and receiving a refund on Vrbo would be easy. After all, the owner had offered to let him off the hook for his vacation home in Fort Myers, Fla., and return the $31,995 he’d charged for a three-month rental.

Wrong.

Now Bauer is 30 grand lighter, and even Vrbo won’t help him sort out this mess. Can a vacation rental platform really take $31,995 from your bank account and leave you with nothing? What does Vrbo’s refund policy have to say about this — and can my fearless advocacy team fix this Vrbo refund problem?

There’s only one way to find out. Let’s advocate this case.

The white sand beaches of Sanibel Island, Florida — one of the greatest vacation destinations ever.

A beautiful rental on Florida’s west coast — and a big problem

Bauer had rented a nonrefundable home for three months starting in January, in a nice neighborhood called Englewood just north of Fort Myers.

Fort Myers is one of my favorite places in Florida. And nearby Sanibel Island is one of the greatest vacation destinations of all time. The laid-back lifestyle, white sand beaches, and rare seashells have brought my family back to Sanibel year after year. It’s the ideal place to go to be left alone, which is a feeling I’ve known well lately.

Even now, when I’m halfway around the world, my kids and I often talk about Florida’s enchanting west coast. 

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So when Bauer received an email from the owner in November saying the property had sustained damage during hurricane Ian, he was concerned. And that wasn’t the only thing that worried him.

The owner added,

I will try to have everything done prior to your arrival but there is a huge waiting list for workmen at the moment due to other villas suffering substantial damage. 

So if it would be inconvenient to have any works [sic] being done during you [sic] stay you are welcome to cancel.

Bauer wasn’t sure what awaited him in Fort Myers, so he reluctantly accepted the owner’s offer to cancel the rental.

And that’s when the trouble began. (Related: My VRBO vacation rental host is accused of arson and murder. Do I still have to pay?)

Bauer’s rental (not pictured) needed undetermined repairs, but Vrbo could not substantiate them. Maybe the owner found someone who was willing to pay more for the home? 

Where’s my money, Vrbo?

A week after the owner offered him a refund, Bauer hadn’t heard from him or seen the money. So he contacted Vrbo and the owner by email, asking for his refund. He also formally canceled the reservation through the Vrbo platform.

Then he received a little good news: Vrbo refunded $3,384 for his lodging tax. Would the rest follow?

Two days later, Vrbo referred his case to its Book with Confidence Guarantee Team for escalation. (Related: Vrbo offered a refund after my husband lost his job. Where is it?)

And then, three weeks later, he received the worst news possible:

Unfortunately, the guarantee team will not move forward with a refund because of the

following reasons:

1. There is no proof of damage beyond the discussed pool repairs.

2. There is no evidence that the repairs wouldn’t be done before the stay dates.

Therefore, the decision stands on our end not to process a refund.

The email left Bauer shocked and confused.

“These reasons make no sense,” he told me. After all, the owner had told him he needed to make repairs on the home and had offered to release him from his contract. Wasn’t that enough?

Apparently not.

At that point, Bauer called the A-Team.

A-TEAM logo from the popular 80s action-adventure series.

Wait, not that A-Team!

No, I’m not talking about the popular 80s action-adventure TV series. 

I’ve always referred to our advocates (Mel, Dwayne and me) as the Advocacy Team. 

But then our wiseguy web designer, Sam, decided to shorten it to the A-Team, and the name stuck. I can’t say any of us have been sent to a military prison for a crime we didn’t commit, or that we promptly escaped to the Los Angeles underground. 

But maybe it was the tagline, “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire … the A-Team,” rings true. 

We were Bauer’s last hope.

Vrbo’s refund policies are complex and sometimes confusing.

What is Vrbo’s refund policy?

Vrbo has several kinds of cancellation policies that your host can select. Once they choose a policy, the platform automatically enforces it, allowing quick refunds — or none — if you cancel your vacation rental.  

Vrbo refund policyDescription of policyFrequency*
No refund policyAll bookings at this rental are non-refundableSomewhat frequent, particularly during peak season.
60-day policy100 percent refund if you cancel at least 60 days before you check in. No refund if you cancel less than 60 days before check-in.Popular for advance bookings to sought-after destinations, but not particularly consumer friendly.
60/30-day policy100 percent refund if you cancel at least 60 days before check-in50 percent refund (minus the service fee) if you cancel at least 30 days before check-inNo refund if you cancel less than 30 days before check-inThis is the most common Vrbo refund policy. It allows the owner enough time to re-rent the property if you cancel far enough in advance. 
30/14-day policy100 percent refund if you cancel at least 30 days before check-in50 percent refund (minus the service fee) if you cancel at least 14 days before check-inNo refund if you cancel less than 14 days before check-inFairly common. This is one of the most lenient Vrbo policies.
14/7-day policy100 percent refund if you cancel at least 14 days before check-in50 percent refund (minus the service fee) if you cancel at least 7 days before check-inNo refund if you cancel less than 7 days before check-inThis is the most lenient Vrbo refund policy. It is also fairly unusual.
Custom policySome properties may have custom cancellation policies that differ from those stated in this table. Custom policies may have different cancellation terms and fees associated with them. Very unusual. But if you see one of these, make sure you read it carefully.
*I’ve annotated this chart with the frequency at which I’ve observed these policies when I’ve made reservations. I’ve been a heavy user of Vrbo since it was still called HomeAway.

Vrbo’s cancellation policy overrides any language in the vacation rental agreement. Owners can’t override the agreement through the system unless they want to refund more than they’re supposed to — which is what Bauer believed his owner had agreed to do.

Bauer had a completely nonrefundable reservation, which is common for Florida’s west coast during high season. If his host didn’t want to give him a refund, he didn’t have to. And it didn’t even matter what he’d promised Bauer in his email. 

Canceling a Vrbo rental reservation is easy. But getting a host to approve it isn’t.



How to cancel a Vrbo reservation

The process of canceling your Vrbo reservation is simple and does not require a phone call or email. The best place to do it is online.

On your desktop computer

  • Sign in to your account.
  • Select your account and then choose My Trips.
  • Choose the reservation you want to cancel.
  • On the Details tab, select Change or cancel trip.
  • Read the property’s cancellation policy.
  • Choose Cancel booking.

If Cancel booking isn’t available, select Request cancellation.

On your smartphone (iOS or Android)

  • Tap on the Vrbo app.
  • Sign in to your account.
  • Choose Trips.
  • Select the reservation you want to cancel.
  • Select Change or cancel.
  • Read the property’s cancellation policy.
  • Select Cancel booking.

When you select Request cancellation, the host has to manually process your request. So you’ll have to follow up with the owner directly if you don’t hear back. If that doesn’t work, you can always reach out to the executive contacts at Vrbo.

How to get a refund for your Vrbo rental

So what happens if you can’t push the “Request cancellation” button and the host refuses to refund? Then you have to find another way to get a refund on your Vrbo rental. 

Here are a few tips:

Review Vrbo’s Book With Confidence Guarantee

It promises that if the owner “materially” misrepresents the home when you booked — for example, it’s missing a bed or bedroom — or if the property needs “major repair” and you can’t stay, then Vrbo will help you book a new reservation. 

Don’t wait

Report any problems to your owner and Vrbo immediately. The longer you wait, the less likely you’ll receive a refund, at least in my experience as an advocate. Ideally, you would get ahead of the problem by identifying it before you arrive. That way, you can make alternative arrangements.

Take photos

Many refund cases fall apart because guests don’t have the evidence that their stay was not up to standards. So make sure you have photos of the ripped carpet, the leaky faucet, the mice in the pantry.

Keep a paper trail

Save everything — texts, chats, emails, receipts. You will definitely need it later, in case the owner decides to deny your refund request.

Be patient

Allow the owner some time to fix the problem. Vrbo normally asks you to give the owner 24 hours to address a problem and before moving you to a new property or offering a refund.

Note: If none of these strategies work, you may want to file a credit card chargeback. You will need documentation of the problem to pull this off, but you have a 50/50 chance of succeeding, in my experience.

How long does a Vrbo refund take?

You should have your money back in five to seven days. Vrbo claims you will get a refund within five days, but lately we’ve seen refunds take up to two or three weeks. If you’ve waited more than two weeks, contact Vrbo or get in touch with my advocacy team

Vrbo wants hosts and guests to “work out” their differences when it comes to refunds.

How to handle Vrbo refund problems

But Bauer’s refund was taking considerably longer than two weeks. In fact, even though the owner had agreed to a refund, Vrbo had turned him down.

Vrbo offered little hope for him. In outlined its position in an email:

We encourage both parties to work toward a mutual resolution when we receive complaints. We have provided the vacation rental owner or property manager an opportunity to resolve the dispute by sending them the details of your complaint. 

Our procedure is to note both sides of the situation and closely monitor accounts that have had a complaint filed.

If a resolution cannot be reached after efforts to contact the advertiser regarding the situation, you may need to consider other avenues. We cannot advise you on how you should proceed, and apologize that this dispute has not yet been resolved to your satisfaction.

So that’s it? Vrbo is just a platform and “cannot advise” Bauer on how to get his money back? That was unacceptable to him.

Vrbo does not get to just be a platform here. If one of its owners promised a refund and then reneged, it bears some responsibility. It was a party to the transaction and it took a cut of the booking. 

It is not an innocent bystander.

Wait, how much did you spend on that vacation rental? 

I admit I did a double-take when Bauer’s case landed in my inbox. I mean, who spends $31,995 on a vacation rental? You could put a down payment on a house for that kind of money! 

Bauer might have been renting on the wrong platform. For longer rentals, you might want to reach out to a real estate agent and find a less expensive home. 

Bauer also overlooked a few things. He tried to process the cancellation by email instead of doing it through the Vrbo system. The best way to cancel — really, the only way — is to follow the steps I outlined earlier in this story. If you don’t, Vrbo will assume you are still coming. And it will charge you.

It was also unclear if Bauer had a complete paper trail. He shared one or two emails but I never saw all the correspondence with Vrbo or the owner. That made me suspect that there was more to the story. 

So was there?

Will Vrbo refund his $31,995?

I contacted Vrbo on Bauer’s behalf. After the last Vrbo cancellation case, I thought there was a slim chance they would help, but I had to try. 

“Thanks for bringing this to our attention,” a representative replied. “When reviewing this case, there seemed to be a breakdown in communication between the host and guest regarding cancellations and refunds, which can happen from time to time.”

My source reminded me that guests agree to cancellation policies and terms when they book. It’s up to the guest and host to resolve any issues, and Vrbo considers itself nothing more than a platform that enables the transaction.

“While we can’t force hosts to make exceptions to their policy, we encourage hosts to do what they can to either provide a refund, move the reservation for the property to a later date, or provide a credit for a future stay,” the representative added.

So would Vrbo be keeping his money?

“While in this case, the host and guest could not find a resolution, we want to make sure Mr. Bauer’s experience with Vrbo is a good one,” the Vrbo representative said. “Vrbo will be issuing a one-time, out-of-pocket reimbursement to Mr. Bauer in the amount of $28,592.”

That’s a full refund, once you include the taxes that have already been returned to Bauer. It’s also a new Elliott Advocacy record.

Time to break out the cigars and dust off the Colonel’s favorite line from the A-Team: I love it when a plan comes together.

Should Vrbo have refunded Bauer? I’d love to get your thoughts. The comments are open. And don’t forget to take the poll.

Are Vrbo's refund policies fair to guests?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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