If the host promised me a refund why did Airbnb refuse?

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Christopher Elliott

The host of Carl Baeuerlen’s planned Airbnb vacation rental offered him a refund last May because of the pandemic. But Airbnb says he can’t get his money back. What’s going on here?

Question

Last spring, I made an Airbnb reservation for a vacation rental in Lanai, Hawaii, in November 2020. Because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions, I canceled the reservation in May.

The host told me I could have a refund, but Airbnb denied my request. I attempted to phone Airbnb to discuss this denial, but the hold time was consistently over two hours. Feeling I had no other recourse, I disputed the claim with Capital One, my credit card company, and was given a conditional refund.

Capital One sided with Airbnb a month later and urged me to resolve this directly with Airbnb. I attempted to do so. I applied for a refund on the Airbnb site and was told that, due to the vacation rental’s refund policy, I wasn’t eligible.
I called the owner and she said she does not have any money from me for my reservation. She also has no policy that would have denied me a refund through Airbnb.

I contacted Airbnb with this information. A representative promised to call the owner and get back to me. Although she didn’t call back, I received a notification from my credit card issuer that a refund of $282 had been issued to my credit card. But I never received it. Can you help me get my money back? — Carl Baeuerlen, Los Altos, Calif.

Answer

You should be able to get a full refund from Airbnb. But your case is a little complicated. Let’s see if we can unpack it.

Airbnb had an “extenuating circumstances” policy that allowed guests to cancel reservations for stays made on or before March 14, 2020, with check-in dates between March 14, 2020, and April 14, 2020. But you were outside of that window.

That means the Airbnb extenuating circumstances policy didn’t apply to your rental in Lanai. But here’s where things get interesting. Airbnb claims your rental wasn’t refundable, but the owner says there was no such policy. So who is right? I’ll get to the answer in a moment.

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You ran out of patience and filed a credit card dispute. In credit card parlance, that’s called a friendly dispute, because you were doing business with Airbnb. And your bank sided with Airbnb, which further complicated your case.

I think a brief, polite email to one of Airbnb’s executives might have helped. The Elliott Advocacy research team lists the names, numbers and email addresses of Airbnb’s top customer service managers in our database.

The bottom line: Here’s your refund from Airbnb

So whose refund policy should prevail — the owner’s or Airbnb’s? I think the rules to which you agree are the rules that bind you. But those weren’t the rules to which the owner agreed, so you have some wiggle room. I’m unhappy that the owner never received your deposit. That suggests Airbnb simply pocketed your deposit. I guess that’s how Airbnb justifies its $80 billion valuation.

Given the fact that Airbnb had already promised a refund, I think the process should have been pretty straightforward. I contacted Airbnb on your behalf, and you received your $282 deposit back.

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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 weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, Forbes and the Washington Post. He also publishes 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 Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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