After the coronavirus outbreak, Laureen McCluen is trying to get a refund on her Airbnb leasing. But the host declines. Is she out of luck?
Q: I recently leased a house in Washington, D.C., for the month of April through Airbnb. The Smithsonian museums have been closed in Washington and the Centers for Disease Control and Avoidance is telling individuals my age not to fly or take a trip.
I feel these are extenuating situations that require a refund. But the host declines to return our money and I can’t seem to get in touch with Airbnb. I have sent questions online however there’s been no reply. I have prepaid $8,457 for the leasing, so this would be a substantial hit for me. Can you help?– Laureen McCluen, Santa Maria, California
A: I agree that these are remarkable circumstances which you should get a refund. However at the time you contacted me, Airbnb’s policy was clear. Although it had a provision that allowed customers to cancel for “extenuating” circumstances, it didn’t apply to reservations in the country’s capital. There were only a few coronavirus cases in the United States, however that was changing rapidly.
Your case is a crucial pointer to read the cancellation terms before you click the “book” button. If you believe you may require to cancel, then consider purchasing a travel insurance coverage. A “cancel for any factor” policy would have permitted you to do that and recover in between 50 and 75% of your money. However at the time, you had no factor to believe you ‘d require to cancel.
Airbnb is a platform that links owners and tenants. It can’t force new cancellation terms on owners without major effects. So, unless Airbnb wished to pay you $8,457, it had to leave the refund approximately the owner.
There are methods around the system. You could have contacted a supervisor at Airbnb to plead your case. I think you would have prevailed because you have a strong case. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the Airbnb customer care executives on my consumer advocacy website, Elliott.org. I would have recommended sending a quick, respectful email to one of them.
However when you asked me about the cancellation, I might currently see other travel business loosening their refund policies. So I recommended you to wait a few days. I was quite sure Airbnb would ultimately widen its meaning of “extenuating” circumstances to cover you. And it did. (Here’s the current variation of the Airbnb policy.)Airbnb called you and assured a refund within 15 working days.