Before Dan Seaman moved into his rental apartment in Washington D.C. this summer, he didn’t review Airbnb’s refund policy for guests. Nor did he bother to check if the apartment had air conditioning.
What kind of Airbnb in D.C. wouldn’t offer a working AC?
But when he arrived on a blazing hot June day, his bedroom felt like the inside of an Istanbul steam bath. There was an air conditioning unit in the wall, but it didn’t work. He asked the host to fix the AC, but the host dismissed him. When he turned to Airbnb for help, he says the vacation rental platform also blew him off.
“My host failed to provide a listed amenity,” he says. He wants a refund of the $480 he had to pay for the apartment. But that’s not all.
Seaman’s case raises all kinds of questions. What is Airbnb’s refund policy for guests? Can you get a refund from Airbnb or another vacation rental platform if your air conditioner isn’t working? What about other amenities? What’s the best way to handle a problem like this, and what is Airbnb’s responsibility when a host fails to provide an amenity?
First, let’s see what happened in Seaman’s steamy rental.
An “intensely uncomfortable” experience
Seaman checked into the Airbnb for what he thought would be a pleasant three-day visit to the nation’s capital. But once he opened the door, he knew he had a problem. The inside of the apartment was an inferno. The AC was blowing air, but it was hot air. The apartment listed air conditioning as an amenity.
Seaman immediately texted the host.
“It took 18 hours to receive a response,” he recalls. The host agreed to send a technician to the apartment to look at the unit, but he never showed up.
Seaman’s family suffered for the next three nights.
“The apartment was over 80 degrees and humid, which made sleeping or spending any time there intensely uncomfortable,” he says.
Seaman also reached out to Airbnb. That’s when things got interesting.
Will the Airbnb refund policy save the day?
At first, Airbnb seemed sympathetic. Here’s the response from a “support ambassador” named Jess:
I’m sorry that the air conditioning did not work during your stay. This is definitely not the experience we wanted you to have when using our platform.
Situations like this are rare and I hope you go on to have many more positive experiences in the future. We take reports like this very seriously, and rest assured that we will [deal with the host].
I understand you’re requesting to get your refund. I’ll reach out to your host, so we can request it.
This case has my full attention right now, and I’ll provide you an update within 24 hours.
Seaman was expecting the next email to agree to a refund. (Related: What to do if you find roaches in your Airbnb rental.)
I would like to provide you with an update in this case. I contacted your host to request your refund. Your host responded by stating that a technician went to the property during your stay and did not identify any issues.
Despite my efforts, your host did not agree to any refund.
As much as I wanted to adjust his payout to refund you, Airbnb does not have any capability to do it if the requirements of our refund policy were not met.
Why not? At the time, Airbnb required guests with a problem to register their complaint within 24 hours of check in or within 24 hours of discovering the issue. Airbnb recently changed its policy to allow up to 72 hours to report an issue.
“This way, If your host is unable to fix the problem, Airbnb can assist you with rebooking or a refund,” Ambassador Jess explained.
What is the Airbnb refund policy for guests?
Seaman was covered under Airbnb’s Aircover policy, which Airbnb updated just a few months earlier. Aircover offers a full or partial refund for “travel issues” reported no later than 72 hours after discovery.
Aircover applies if:
Listing contains a material inaccuracy such as:
- Incorrect home type (e.g. entire home, private room or shared room).
Incorrect type or number of rooms (e.g. bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens).
- Incorrect location of the accommodation.
- Special amenity or feature described in the Listing is not present or does not function (e.g. pool, hot tub, bathroom – toilet, shower or bathtub, kitchen – sink, stove, refrigerator or other major appliance, electrical, heating or air conditioning systems).
Air conditioning is not standard in every home. I’ll never forget checking into a vacation rental on Hawaii’s Big Island a few years ago. The air conditioner was padlocked. The owner said she would send me the combination — if I paid her an extra $300.
But Airbnb’s Aircover doesn’t cover everything. As I explain in a recent USA Today story about vacation rental guarantees, there’s a cancellation issue.
The coverage only applies if a host cancels within 30 days of your stay. It promises to find a “similar or better home” or refund you. But what if the other vacation rentals are more expensive? Aircover covers only a portion of the cost difference, and it won’t say exactly how much. (Related: Airbnb price change after booking: Can they charge more for fewer days?)
Airbnb offered Seaman a 20 percent refund — $63 — under its Aircover policy. But that wasn’t enough for him. By now, the missing AC was about so much more than money.
“I don’t care about the refund”
So did Seaman just want the rest of his money back? No.
“Actually,” he told me, “I don’t care about the refund.”
What does he care about?
“I do care that this host got away with lying,” he says.
Not only did the host lie to Airbnb about a technician coming to the apartment, but it appears Airbnb believed him without asking for proof.
When Seaman tried to leave a negative review, the host asked Airbnb to delete the write-up. It did.
Then, to add insult to injury, the host started texting him to gloat. “The host has bragged about it to me in messages since then,” he says.
Whoa. Talk about a sore winner.
“He got away with having my review removed and got away with keeping my money,” says Seaman. “I don’t need the money back, I’m ok, but I’m pissed as all hell that this despicable person gets to keep it with zero consequences — and complete protection from Airbnb.”
Well, we’ll have to see about that.
When can you get a refund for an Airbnb stay?
Airbnb won’t directly say when someone can get a full refund for a stay. But having mediated hundreds of Airbnb cases, I have a pretty good idea about what Airbnb’s refund policy for a bad experience actually means.
Canceled by host
If a host cancels your Airbnb stay, you get your money back, no questions asked. Airbnb may, under its guarantee, try to find new accommodations. But if you want your money back, you can get it.
Can’t get in
If, for some reason, you can’t get into your apartment or vacation rental, and after making an effort to contact your host, you’re still locked out, you deserve a full refund.
If you find you’re staying with an extra guest that wasn’t disclosed — like another person or a cat or dog — you can get your money back, too. So technically, I could have gotten a full refund for that dreadful Airbnb I rented in Colorado Springs a few years ago. It came with a cat.
Property not as advertised
If you check into an Airbnb and find that it has a missing bedroom or has a kitchen without a refrigerator, and you contact Airbnb within 72 hours of discovering the problem, you can get a refund. Note that you should also give the host an opportunity to fix the problem before contacting Airbnb.
Basic utilities missing
If water or electricity stops working, that’s grounds for an immediate check-out and refund. In some places, heat and air conditioning are also considered a basic utility, because without them, you would freeze to death — or bake. Don’t give your host too much time to fix the problem. Anything more than 24 hours and you’re being too nice about it. Get a refund and leave.
Something goes catastrophically wrong
True story: We stayed in a vacation rental in Scottsdale, Ariz., a few years ago, and the sink and toilets overflowed. A plumber came to fix it and gave us bad news. The contractor had made a rookie mistake when installing the pipe, and the only fix was to rip up the tile and redo it. The owner offered us a full refund. Catastrophes come in many shapes and sizes. They range from small catastrophes, like infestations of ants and mice, to bigger ones like no electricity or heat. And, of course, there would be refunds for major catastrophes like fires, floods and alien invasions.
Note: For almost all of these circumstances, you can only get a refund if you report it promptly. Well, maybe not the alien invasion. But seriously, I couldn’t have gotten a refund on my Colorado Springs rental if I’d stayed in it for the full week and then complained about the cat. It doesn’t work that way.
I have more information on handling a vacation rental gone bad in my complete guide on vacation rentals.
Something about this Airbnb refund policy case left me steamed
Something didn’t seem quite right about this case. Seaman had contacted the owner about the broken air conditioner and notified Airbnb about the problem as soon as possible. But he’d been a nice guy about it. He believed the host would try to fix the air conditioning. Instead, the host did nothing and then lied to Airbnb about the technician. Seaman missed the 72-hour deadline.
And Seaman never expected Airbnb to just take the host’s word for it.
So when I saw the Airbnb apology and 20 percent refund, I suspected there might be more to this story.
And so I asked Airbnb about Seaman’s case and its refund policy for guests.
A day later, Seaman received the following text message from Airbnb:
My name is Saloni, supervisor at Airbnb. I am reaching out in regard to the concerns you have expressed about your recent reservation. I am so sorry to hear about your experience.
I will address all your concerns and work on a resolution for you to remedy how you are feeling about this experience.
Please give me some time to review the details of your case and I will reach out with further updates.
In the meantime, if you have any queries or concerns, feel free to message me, and I am happy to address them for you.
That’s progress. Seaman seemed happy about that, too.
Then, a few days later, Seaman reported a resolution:
“Airbnb issued me a full refund today, minus their service fees,” he told me. (Airbnb had already refunded the service fees.) “They assured me they were following up with the host for proof of his alleged technician visit. I doubt he’ll have any, but hopefully, either way, the money that was refunded to me came out of his payment. Thank you so much for your help. I wouldn’t have been able to get to this point without you.” (Airbnb won’t let the traveler review her unfortunate rental. Find out why here.)
How to avoid having to invoke the Airbnb refund policy for guests
I’m pleased that this case got resolved in Seaman’s favor. But how do you avoid getting stuck with an AC-less vacation rental in the future — and having to pay for it?
Check the listing carefully
Assume nothing. Look for basic amenities. Most overlooked: Dishwashers, washers and dryers, wireless internet and air conditioning. If you don’t see them, don’t assume they come with those amenities.
Test the equipment when you check in
Kick the tires on a vacation rental immediately when you check in. Make sure the AC or heat is running and that the water and electricity work in all the rooms. If it doesn’t, say something right away. The sooner you speak up, the better your chance of getting a refund.
Don’t wait too long to report a problem
You should give the host some time to address the issue, but never more than 24 hours. Remember, that’s the cutoff time for most vacation rentals. If you wait more than 24 hours, you forfeit your right to a refund. (Airbnb recently changed its deadline to 72 hours, but other vacation rental platforms require a report within a day.)
Initially, I felt almost uncomfortable that Seaman had received a full refund. He had stayed in the apartment for three days, and I would have probably argued for a partial refund. But in the end, the host’s attitude made me much more comfortable with this resolution. You don’t text your former guests to gloat when you censor their review and then keep their money.
And like Seaman, I hope this comes out of the host’s pocket.