California travel restrictions prohibit short-term rentals. Why can’t travelers get a refund?

Travel and trip planning are disrupted by the global spread of the coronavirus. For the latest updates read The New York Times Covid-19 coverage here.

California’s new travel restrictions, put in place to help prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by the pandemic, have reversed vacation planning as travelers begin to cancel accommodation reservations. From now until at least December 31, it is illegal for all owners of hotels and short-term accommodation in California to make or honor reservations for people coming from outside the United States. State, unless they plan to quarantine in place for 14 days or come for essential purposes like healthcare or infrastructure work. In much of the state, restrictions are even tighter, with only essential travel allowed.

However, there is a big difference when it comes to cancellation and refund policies. Overall, hotel chains greet travelers with a full refund. Many small hotels do the same. But some large colocation companies, like Airbnb and Vrbo, tell customers there’s no guarantee they’ll get their money back.

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All aspects of the travel industry have been hit hard during the pandemic, but colocation companies have had an advantage over hotels – they are seen as safer. Social distancing is easier when you have your own entrance and kitchen, and you are away from other guests. Short-term rentals were seen as a pandemic getaway for those who work or learn remotely and can still afford a trip.

Airbnb, whose recent IPO reported co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky around $ 11 billion based on the company’s overall valuation, has one of the most successful accommodation cancellation policies. strict. While it gave refunds early in the pandemic and then partially reimbursed hosts, since mid-March the company has taken the position that customers understand that travel can be disrupted by the pandemic, and has used pre-pandemic rules that allow hosts to choose from one of three standard cancellation policies. The payment pages contain information about the cancellation rules. Airbnb has a “Mitigating Circumstances Policy“but explicitly states that it does not apply to bookings made after March 14 for Covid-related circumstances other than actual illness. Individual hosts may accept full or partial refunds.

Vrbo, an Expedia-owned vacation rental company, follows policies similar to Airbnb. His coronavirus resource page advises travelers to “review property cancellation policies.” They apply even if your reservation is affected by COVID-19. In the same vein, VRBO’s “Book with confidenceThe explanation on its website states that the warranty was designed to protect customers “from fraudulent advertisements and misrepresentation of ownership. It does not cover cancellations due to unforeseeable circumstances, such as COVID-19. »Customers who have purchased travel insurance may be able to request a voucher for future dates.

Essentially, travelers could bear 100% of the financial impact of any local closure when booking with companies.

Vrbo said in an email that he has no plans to change his policies and that “travelers should work directly with the host on an alternative that works for both parties, such as re-booking the trip or crediting the trip. trip available for use at a later date. ”Hosts are under no obligation to provide these alternatives.

Airbnb said in an email that “our extenuating circumstances policy is to protect guests and hosts from unforeseen circumstances that arise after booking,” and that after the declaration of a global pandemic in March, “the Covid-19 and its consequences were no longer unexpected. , including the risk of continued or new travel and movement restrictions. He noted that hosts choose a level of flexibility when offering their accommodation for rent and that renters are made aware of the policy when making a reservation.

These policies don’t suit guests like AJ Sheffield, a software engineer in Silicon Valley, who booked an Airbnb in Southern California with his girlfriend and kids for December. When the Stay At Home order was declared and he requested a refund from Airbnb, the company cited their rule and the refund was declined. “I understand they created the policy based on the previous blocks, but it’s more serious,” said Mr Sheffield, referring to the fact that Airbnb home rentals were able to remain open during previous closings. Under current rules, hosts are breaking the law by continuing to rent for non-essential travel.

“Should we just take the hit with every new situation?” ” He asked. “Should we just no longer book with them until we are sure the government doesn’t surprise us with further restrictions?”

Big hotel chains, on the other hand, have tried to financially accommodate guests as the pandemic unfolds. Hyatt hotels in California are proactively advising guests of new California travel restrictions before they arrive, according to the company. The more flexible cancellation policy that the company put in place at the start of the pandemic stay in place. Hilton hotels will notify affected guests via email and will cancel out-of-state guest reservations with a full refund, according to the company. Marriott recently extended its cancellation policy until the end of March 2021. IHG continues to extend dates for customers who had prepaid non-refundable reservations so that they can cancel without penalty.

Some smaller hotels are also trying to accommodate travelers’ changing plans. Patty Baird is the owner of Cedar House Sport Hotel in Truckee, near two major ski resorts and in an area now limited to essential travelers. Predicting that there would be travel disruption, Ms Baird has been taking reservations without requiring deposits since late spring, so there is no negative financial impact for customers who cancel or reschedule. Much of her clientele returns year after year, she said. “We would never charge them if they couldn’t come,” she said. Those who come are asked to sign a declaration stating that they are there for essential travel.

Ms Baird is reaching out to people with reservations, but some are trying to play with the system, she said. “If you are an essential worker taking a few days of vacation, that is not considered essential travel,” she said. As the owner of a small hotel, she said she wants the government to provide financial assistance to compensate for the closures that are going on at least until the end of the year. “This is our busiest time of the year,” she said.

However, travelers get the message to stop coming. California hotels and vacation rentals have 47% fewer bookings in the first week of December in 2020 compared to the same week in 2019, according to Transparent, a company that analyzes vacation rental information for 35 million listings worldwide.

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