There is something really strange about this Airbnb problem

Her Airbnb problem? The host canceled at the last minute.

There is something strange about Wendy Wang’s Airbnb problem. She and her husband booked a rental in Melbourne, Australia, but her host canceled the reservation at the last minute. What happened next though is truly perplexing. Wang says rebooking confusion led the couple to confirm a replacement property that cost $3,000 more than their original budget.

Now the Wangs want Airbnb to refund that $3,000.

This case is an important reminder to Airbnb users that there are established steps to take if a vacation rental host cancels your reservation just before arrival. To avoid confusion, travelers would be wise to familiarize themselves with these protocols before they have an Airbnb problem that needs resolution.

However, in this case, Wang’s confusion about these policies is particularly hard to grasp. I’ll get to that curious feature of this tale in a moment.

Wang’s Airbnb problem? The host canceled her reservation

Wang and her extended family were happily anticipating a seven-night trip to Melbourne. On the Monday before their Friday arrival, they received a disturbing email from Airbnb.

“We received word that the host canceled our reservation,” Wang recalled. “In a frantic panic, we quickly looked for another accommodation and sent an inquiry to a few.”

By Monday evening Wang’s husband was in negotiations with one owner in particular.

“It was a majestic home in East Melbourne close to tennis and had a front lawn and backyard,” Wang explained. “We thought we struck gold and decided to book.”

There was a problem though; the house was only available for five of their desired nights. But they were taken with the beautiful rental and arranged to stay with friends for the first two nights.

Happy to have found a replacement rental — and a much better one at that — the couple booked the property and slept peacefully that night.

It was Wednesday before Wang took a close look at the confirmation from the new host. And that’s when, she says, a costly misunderstanding came to light.

How much is this new Airbnb rental?

Wang says that when she and her husband discussed the new home, they believed the total cost was 2,746 Australian dollars(about $1,951). Since the host who canceled their reservation would be refunding around AU$1,600, the duo calculated that the new, better home, would end up costing them about AU$1,100 extra. They agreed that the extra space and great location were worth it.

After the first host canceled their reservation, the Wangs made a new -- much more expensive booking.
The Airbnb receipt for the new house in Melbourne.

However, on Wednesday evening when Wang took a close look at the reservation, she suddenly noticed a giant miscalculation. The house was much more expensive than Wang realized.

Before we booked this house there was a screen that showed the cost of AU$800 per night. But then under the total was a COUPON line and AU$1,821 was deducted from the total.

That left the balance of AU$2,746. We thought we were getting a special deal. On Wednesday to my horror, I realized that the AU$1,821 was just a credit from the original house. Initially, we paid around AU$1,600 for 7 nights accommodation now it’s AU$4,400 for 5 nights!

When Wang went through the entire confirmation, she saw the breakdown of the “coupon” of AU$1,821. It was two payments from her own American Express card made in anticipation of the original Airbnb rental. The additional credit was likely a small goodwill gesture that Airbnb often offers when a host cancels a reservation (around $100).

The payment listed as "coupon" was the credit from the original canceled Airbnb rental.
The payment listed as “coupon” was the credit from the original, canceled Airbnb rental.

Wang, though, says she didn’t have any idea that Airbnb would apply her prepayment on one rental to the next rental. She believed her refund was immediately processed when the host canceled the reservation. Unfortunately, that was an incorrect assumption.

Asking Airbnb to fix this expensive problem

Wang says that she called Airbnb and reported what she believed to be a deceptive tactic. The Airbnb representative, Andre, told her that she was incorrect and that only one screen displayed the word “coupon.” He told her that the other screens before the confirmation showed exactly where the payments were coming from.

Wang then asked to cancel this reservation, but Andre told her that she would lose the AU$2,200 deposit if she canceled. However, he suggested that she contact the host and ask if he would consider allowing the cancellation.

Wang’s next string of emails was with Robert, the host. She asked him to consider the cancellation since she believed Airbnb had deceptively used the word “coupon” on one screen. Robert declined, pointing out that when they booked his home, he had made alternative arrangements for his family. To try to smooth over hard feelings, he offered a discount of AU$400.

Wang accepted the discount, and the family began their rental a few days later.

Should this little garden mouse lead to an Airbnb refund?

Checking into the “majestic” replacement rental, Wang says all was fine — at first. But on the second day, they noticed a little mouse in the garden.

The mouse that caused the family to flee this Airbnb rental
This little garden mouse just escalated this Airbnb problem

“We didn’t think anything of it,” Wang says. “Until later that evening, we saw it inside the house!”

Wang called the owner and reported the rodent. She says he was very responsive and immediately sent a pest control service over to investigate. As Wang reported seeing a mouse inside the house, the company put down traps.

Wang says she grew disgruntled about the situation.

“Why are we sharing our accommodation with mice/rats?” she pondered. “I was afraid for our babies crawling on the floor.”

So that evening, Wang called Airbnb and told a representative, Christina, her entire story. She says that Christina advised her that they could leave and get a refund for “hygiene reasons.”

So the Wangs were on the move again. They found a new Airbnb rental at the cost of AU$1,000 for the last two nights in Melbourne. And Wang expected several thousand Australian dollars back from the majestic but “unhygienic” Airbnb.

It wasn’t to be.

On the family’s last night in Melbourne, in their next and final Airbnb, Wang received a notice from Robert. The pest control company had done a thorough sweep of his home — they found no evidence of mice. Therefore, no refund from Robert would be coming her way.

And now, with nowhere else to turn, Wang submitted her plea for help to the Elliott Advocacy team.

A surprising twist with this Airbnb problem

When Wang submitted her request for help, I reviewed her entire paper trail, which was quite long. She had used the Airbnb resolution center, so there were chats with Airbnb and with Robert, the second Airbnb host.

The Elliott Advocacy team receives many complaints from travelers who have an Airbnb problem. For example:

So that part of Wang’s case was routine.

However, I soon found a part that was surprising.

Wang and her husband are Airbnb hosts.

In the paper trail, it seems that Robert offered the couple the AU$400 discount as a friendly gesture between fellow hosts. He recommends that since they are hosts in good standing, they should play up that aspect in their complaint with Airbnb.

I asked Wang, as a host, why she wasn’t familiar with the policy of Airbnb applying rental payments to a new rental when a host cancels your reservation.

“We are a host and understand the cancellation policy,” Wang told me. “But the pricing on the total payable confused our judgment as to whether to book or not in the first place.”

OK, but then I looked further into Wang’s own paper trail. It was very difficult to ignore the fact that her husband seemed aware of the total cost.

If your host cancels your reservation, Airbnb applies your prepayment to a new rental

Wang forwarded a chat with the second Airbnb host, Robert, that made it clear to me that we could not advocate this case. In that chat, her husband is attempting to negotiate the rental. He asks if the host would accept AU$2,500 or AU$3,000 for the five nights. Robert says no, he can’t.


After one host canceled their reservation, the Wangs made a new reservation -- and a big mistake.
Robert, the Airbnb host, makes it clear he can’t lower the listed rate of AU$800 per night.

It’s hard to argue that Wang’s husband was confused here. And I suggested to Wang that possibly her husband had known the full cost, but she didn’t. She said no, her husband didn’t know — he thought that coupon was a special deal from somewhere — even though Robert says he can’t lower the cost of AU$800 per night.

And neither Wang nor her husband asked for clarification before hitting the confirm button. But even then, all could have been saved if  Wang had read the confirmation immediately. Robert’s home had a five-day prior cancellation policy, and on Jan. 15 at 1 a.m. — when they made the reservation — the couple could have canceled without penalty.

Avoid Airbnb problems by immediately reviewing the confirmation

But Wang never looked at the confirmation until late on the second day. By then, it was too late to cancel this mistaken booking.

And then the mouse fiasco just added to this calamity.

The pest control company provided the host and Airbnb with a “rodent free” certification. No refund for any nights at the “majestic” home will be provided based on the family fleeing for “hygienic reasons.” Unfortunately, all of the conversations with Airbnb are documented in the resolution center — except for the conversation in which Wang says Christina offered the couple a refund for multiple nights at Robert’s home.

For all these reasons, I explained to Wang why our team would not be able to present this case to the executive resolution team at Airbnb.

Wang politely thanked me for reviewing her complaint. She told me that she has now filed a credit card dispute for Robert’s house. She is also contemplating a dispute for the third Airbnb rental. Based on the terms of the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), it is likely that Wang will lose both of those cases since neither involves a billing error. Consumers should review the FCBA before attempting to use it, since misusing it can have detrimental effects on both consumers and merchants.

Here’s what you should do when a host cancels your reservation at the last minute

The good news is that not many hosts will cancel reservations at the last minute. That’s because each time a host cancels a reservation, they incur a financial penalty. They also receive an automatic review under their listing that indicates they have a history of cancellations. And, of course, that will harm a host’s ability to attract future guests.

But the bad news is that sometimes unavoidable circumstances occur and a host may find it necessary to cancel a reservation. Here are a few things to keep in mind if it happens to you.

Concerning your prepayments, you have two choices

  1. Ask for a refund. You must do this manually, through the cancellation alert email, if your reservation is within four weeks. If your canceled reservation is scheduled beyond four weeks, Airbnb will automatically refund your prepayments.
  2. Allow Airbnb to apply your prepayment to a new rental. Since Airbnb does not make payments to hosts until after your stay has begun, it maintains control of your prepayments. If a host cancels your reservation before your stay, Airbnb can easily apply your payment to a new reservation.

Ask Airbnb to help you find alternative accommodations

Lastly, remember the Airbnb resolution center can also help you find a new rental should your host cancel on you. So you should download the app to your phone and use it if you find yourself with an Airbnb problem.

Does Airbnb owe Wang anything?

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