Guests rely on host’s generosity for Hurricane Ian booking refunds

United States: Guests with short-term rentals in Florida areas affected by Hurricane Ian will need to rely on the generosity of hosts to seek refunds due to specific caveats in platform cancellation policies reservations, including Airbnb and Vrbo.

The hurricane made landfall in southwest Florida on Wednesday as a category four storm, with wind speeds just two miles per hour of a category five storm. Coastal areas and roads were flooded, and trees and power lines fell in up to a foot of rain in some towns across the state.

As of this writing, approximately 2.6 million homes and businesses have been without power and approximately 2.5 million Floridians have been issued evacuation orders, while lists of areas of evacuation, emergency shelter and additional resources are now distributed across a range of platforms. Hurricane Ian is already expected to be one of the most powerful storms in US history, as President Joe Biden has called it “incredibly dangerous” and urged residents to heed all weather warnings.

With potential damage estimates running into the tens of millions of dollars and beyond, short-term renters have asked for help refunding reservations they can no longer honor.

According to Airbnb and Vrbo’s cancellation policies, a guest should be entitled to a refund or credit if the host cancels first. Representatives of both companies said The New York Times that they were trying to facilitate this by removing host penalties related to cancellations in areas affected by the storm.

However, if a host doesn’t cancel first, the situation becomes more complex, especially with Airbnb, given that its cancellation policy specifically excludes the annual Florida storm season. Airbnb says it offers refunds for “events beyond its control,” including certain extreme weather events and natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, but despite this the company considers tropical hurricanes and storms in the state between June and November are “predictable”. and its cancellation policy does not result in refunds in these circumstances.

Meanwhile, a Vrbo spokeswoman said The New York Times that “natural disasters, such as hurricanes or forest fires, do not override the cancellation policy set by the host and accepted by the guest when booking”.

Airbnb, in particular, came under fire early last year when it allegedly refused to refund travelers around the world who booked getaways after March 14, 2020, as government-mandated closures and level restrictions did not fall under the company’s “extenuating circumstances” policy. which was put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Travelers have claimed they were wronged after believing they would be entitled to refunds for canceled bookings. However, although Airbnb promises “coverage for Covid-19 to help protect our community and provide peace of mind”, hosts are only required to pay if they include a refund clause in their terms and conditions. .

At the start of 2021, the platform claimed to no longer see Covid-19 as an “unforeseen event”. In many cases, it is at the guest’s discretion to request a refund, although Airbnb can still claim the service fee from a canceled reservation.

Since then, Airbnb has launched its “AirCover” product as part of its summer 2022 release. It offers free protection in three separate cases, in which Airbnb will find the guest a similar/better accommodation or refund the reservation.

Air Cover provides protection for:

Reservation Guarantee – in the unlikely event that a host cancels the reservation within one month of arrival.

Registration Guarantee – if a guest cannot check in at home.

Guarantee Get what you book – if the Airbnb is not as advertised.

A 24-hour security line is also provided under AirCover. If a customer feels unsafe, they will be given priority access to a trained security guard. The communication line is available in 16 languages ​​through the Airbnb app and website.

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