Is this enough compensation for my canceled room?

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By Christopher Elliott

With Superstorm Sandy bearing down on the New York area last fall, Monica Greene sent a concerned email to their Airbnb host in Jersey City. The host told her she could cancel her reservation in light of the looming natural disaster.

What her host didn’t say — but Greene now knows — is that the homeowner intended to keep her money. All of it.

“Our airline gave us full credit on our tickets,” she says. “Airbnb refunded its part of the fee, but she kept $1,500. I am wondering if there is any other recourse for us?”

As a matter of fact, there is. But before I get to that, and to the question of whether the resolution is adequate, let’s hit “replay.”

Greene and her husband were coming to town for a family reunion from Nov. 8 to 20. The storm hit the New York area on Oct. 29. Jersey City was hit hard, with downed trees, extensive property damage and school and hospital closings. I think everyone can understand her reasons for wanting to cancel.

She first contacted her host to find out if she could postpone her stay. But four days later she had heard nothing, which is understandable. The house was in a disaster area. So she contacted Airbnb.

That’s when she heard from her host.

“Both you and your spouse have reached out to me starting over a week before your reservation and in the middle of a crisis,” she said in a voice-mail message. “Feel free to cancel if you wish.”

Greene took that to mean she could cancel without penalty. Airbnb has five refund policies, ranging from flexible to long-term. It appears hers fell under this super-strict category, meaning she couldn’t get a refund unless she canceled a month before.

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In other words, under the rules Greene agreed to, she wasn’t entitled to any refund at all.

“There was no mention of conditions of her rental,” Greene says. “With no input from our host and only the information we could gather from the New Jersey web site, our daughter in Highland Park and what we were hearing on the news, we decided to cancel our trip.”

Two days after they canceled, they received another message from their host. Everything was “fine” she said, and she was holding the room for the Greenes.

“She said there had never been any problems and she did not owe us any part of a refund,” she added.

Next stop: the Airbnb arbitration process.

The result? Sorry, no refund.

I didn’t think that was the right call. I mean, the place is a disaster area, and maybe the host wasn’t entirely clear about the terms of the cancellation, leading Greene to believe she could get her money back. (Here’s how to find the best hotel at the best rate.)

I deal with a lot of complaints about Travelocity. I contacted Airbnb on her behalf.

A representative reviewed her case and agreed that this was an unfortunate “miscommunication.” The Greene’s reservation started only a day after the cut-off for no-questions-asked refund on reservations related to Sandy, which put them in a “tough spot.”

He added,

We decided in this case that the Greenes should get back 50 percent of what they paid the host, in addition to our guest fees, which had already been fully refunded.

That is what the host would have owed them under the host’s cancellation policy. We also threw in another $250 in credit on Airbnb.

Greene told me she’s happy with a partial refund. But is it enough? I know some readers will say, “But many hotels allowed their guests to cancel their reservations without penalty.” That’s true, but they weren’t staying in an Airbnb property.

Did Airbnb offer Monica Greene enough compensation?

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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.

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