If you haven’t heard about the nuclear war between HomeAway and its hosts, take a minute to catch up on the spectacle. And then curl up with your tablet for the next chapter.
(Readers Digest version: HomeAway added a controversial new booking fee and strongly encouraging its owners to use its online booking system. Owners are apoplectic. Consumers, unfortunately, are pretty oblivious.)
The latest episode comes to us via Rupinder Kang, who reports that he made a reservation through HomeAway-owned VRBO.com in East Hampton, N.Y., this summer.
“I got in touch with the owner and did the payment using my credit card for the property rental,” he says. “Once I got back to the owner after payment, I was told that the contract with the merchant has expired and only wire transfers will be accepted.”
All of this was going down at about the time of the HomeAway dispute, so it’s possible that the owner canceled the contract.
“I was refunded the initial payment I had made using the credit card and I was told by the owner to do the reservation over and pay by wire transfer,” he says.
Repeat after me: Never wire money. Never wire money. Never wire money.
Of course, his reservation is missing in action. Specifically, his dates in July haven’t been confirmed.
“I called HomeAway and VRBO and was given the same answer: How a wire transfer is a third party matter. Basically, they were no help at all,” he says.
Kang wants his $2,453 back.
I have some bad news for him: Once you wire money, it’s gone. Permanently.
(Theoretically, a reversal is possible if both of the banks agree the transaction is an error or is fraudulent. But in all of my years of advocating cases like this, I haven’t seen a single reversal.)
We may be looking at the latest casualty in the conflict between HomeAway and its hosts. And it’s unfortunate, because there really isn’t anything for me to advocate. HomeAway is out of the picture. The owner (or perhaps a scammer) has the money and will not return it.
The only glimmer of hope is that there still is a reservation somewhere and that it will come through. But I’m not sure.
Lesson learned? At the risk of repeating myself, never, ever wire money.
We’re going to try to help Kang retrieve his reservation, if not his money, but this is one of those “Mission:Impossible” cases. I have personally contacted HomeAway on his behalf.
“We regret that the traveler had such a negative experience,” Jeff Mosler, HomeAway’s chief services officer, told me. “This incident underscores how important it is for travelers to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves. Prior to booking a rental, travelers should request an agreement from the owner and review it to ensure they will be reimbursed by the owner if there is something wrong with the property. Travelers should also book and pay for a property directly through HomeAway’s checkout system making them eligible for our Book with Confidence Guarantee which includes comprehensive payment protection for properties significantly misrepresented.”
In other words, this is between the property owner and Kang.
I’m unhappy about the outcome in this case. If my reading of it is correct, then an innocent consumer has gotten caught in the crossfire between a large company and an vacation rental owner (or possibly a scammer) — and no one wants to step up to take responsibility for this problem. Someone should help Kang get his money.
Why do I have the feeling he’s out of luck?