Refund Run-Around: Vacation Rental Users Frustrated With Cancellation Policies

The pandemic has forced thousands of Californians to cancel trips. Many say they can't get their money back from certain lodging providers.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Multiple vacation rental customers tell NBC Bay Area they can't get their money back for out-of-town stays they planned this year, even though they won't be traveling any time soon.

In the time since the coronavirus outbreak first began to spread in the U.S. last month, NBC Responds stations across the country have received more than 80 complaints from viewers concerning short-term home and vacation rentals. Many say they cannot get a refund, even though they are unable to travel or events they hoped to attend are cancelled.

Patrick McEwen, who lives in Piedmont, booked a home in Arizona through Vrbo, a vacation rental site owned by Expedia, for a large gathering with friends and family. But the sudden onset of the virus crisis forced a change of plans.

"My brother and several other guests are active duty military and were under a travel restriction," McEwen wrote in an email to NBC Bay Area. "Many other guests worked essential services including the health field."

When he cancelled the booking, McEwen was frustrated to learn he wouldn't get his money back.

"The [property] owner refuses to give a partial refund or even allow us to reschedule," he said.

McEwen said he expects he's now out most of the $8,153.66 he paid for the rental through Vrbo. NBC Bay Area was unable to reach the property owner for comment.

In Palo Alto, Bonnie Street found herself in a similar predicament. She spent $6,048.50 on Vrbo to rent rooms for an April family reunion in Mendocino. The virus forced her family to call it off.

"My husband is 81 years old, and I have a compromised immune system," Street said. "We have not left the house since March 14th."

Street initially received a partial refund -- about $1,100, for items labeled as "damage protection" fees. Instead of giving the rest of the money back, Street says the property owner offered credit toward a future stay.

Street says the property owner told her she " ... can book another property in the next 12 months," but that doesn't fit with her family's plans.

Both Street and McEwen complained to Vrbo after they asked for their money back. At first, Vrbo pointed them to its refund policy, which stated: "Homeowners and property managers who list homes on Vrbo have been encouraged to adopt more flexible cancellation policies in light of COVID-19 and offer full refunds to those who wish to cancel for concerns of their own well-being."

"Encouraged" -- but not required -- to "offer full refunds."

NBC Bay Area asked Vrbo to take another look at McEwen and Street's complaints. A spokesperson responded via email, saying Vrbo believes "... there is no perfect solution. This crisis has been tough for everyone and we believe our policy strikes the best balance of protecting travelers, vacation home owners and property managers, and the public." (To read Vrbo's entire response, please see below.)

Vrbo also offered a 100% credit toward future travel to the McEwen and Street families. Both told us they still want their money back.

Vrbo's policy differs from other lodging companies. Airbnb is offering refunds for many cancelled bookings. Hilton and Marriott, two of the largest hotel chains, are also giving guests their money back.

If you find you cannot get your money back for a vacation rental, speak directly with the host. Look for common ground, to work out a compromise. If that fails, go back to the booking company, and let them know you tried. Then, ask them to give you a refund, or credit for future travel elsewhere.

As a last resort, see if your credit card provider will open a dispute, to challenge the charges that way.

Full statement from Vrbo:

As you may have seen in our emergency policy, here’s what happens if a homeowner or property manager does not follow the policy:

• Vrbo will reward partners with additional visibility in traveler searches. The more partners do now for travelers, the more we will reward them moving forward (so a 100% credit/refund will count more than 50% refund).
• Partners who do not abide by these standards (offering a 100% credit/refund of at least a 50%) will be disadvantaged vis-a-vis those who act within our policy.
• Any intimidation of travelers (such as suggesting that travel is safer for them than staying home or dismissing the severity of the crisis) will result in permanent removal from Vrbo and Expedia Group.

In this situation, there is no perfect solution. This crisis has been tough for everyone and we believe our policy strikes the best balance of protecting travelers, vacation home owners and property managers, and the public. Vrbo is a two-sided marketplace, so for every traveler who paid hard-earned money for a trip they cannot take, there is a homeowner or property manager who relies on clear cancellation policies and the associated money within those policies to pay their mortgage and hard-working employees. Despite that, the vast majority (>95% in the past week) of our partners are rising to the occasion and giving credits for future travel or refunds to travelers given these extreme circumstances.

For the two traveler cases [NBC Bay Area] sent [to Vrbo], both Bonnie Street and Patrick McEwen were offered a 100% credit to reschedule their booking by the property managers. That is within Vrbo’s policy, and under the policy both travelers will be refunded 100% of the fees paid to Vrbo for the booking.

Contact Us