The Fine Print of Airbnb’s Refund Policy You May Not Read

In the Reddit discussion group r/traveluser u/markvauxhall posted about his experience struggling to get a full refund for a canceled booking. Here’s the gist: Mark had to cancel a September 2021 Airbnb reservation he made for his family in April. He had chosen a listing that promised a full refund if he canceled by 4 p.m. on September 13, but when he went to cancel he said he could get a full refund, less a $200 service fee.

Because so many other travelers are likely rebooking and later canceling reservations because of the pandemic — especially now with the delta surge — we wanted to dig into what happened here.

Mark knew the platform fees. He, his wife and his newborn baby had traveled back and forth between the UK and the US to see their family. But ever-changing travel restrictions complicated their plans again and again. Their first cancellation, a November 2020 reservation in Southwest Florida, only resulted in a 50% refund.

“We just swallowed that based on the fact that we’re trying to travel during a pandemic and these things are happening,” Mark, who wasn’t comfortable sharing his last name, told Washington. Post.

After learning their lesson, the couple made sure their future bookings were more flexible. Over the following months, they had no problem getting a refund for two more bookings for June and July 2021. When they had to cancel a fourth booking due to rapid changes with UK travel restrictions, Mark was confused that Airbnb was going to withhold the resort fee.

Mark looked at his original email and saw the confirmation that clearly stated that he would get a full refund if he canceled before the 4pm deadline on September 13 – no further caveats, no mention of fees service (which are set by Airbnb, not the host). What he didn’t realize was in the fine print.

According to the terms of use found in Airbnb Help Center“if the canceled reservation overlaps another of your reservations or if you have already received 3 service fee refunds in the last 12 months, [the service fee] will not be refunded.” There is no risk of your account being banned for over-cancelling or canceling an overlapping reservation; you will simply stop recouping the service fee. Airbnb says these rules existed long before the pandemic .

Normally, if a customer had already reached the limit of three cancellations in 12 months, that person would see that they were not eligible for a service fee refund when searching for listings. Airbnb customer service told Mark that because he had canceled three reservations in nine months, he was no longer eligible for the cancellation policy he confirmed in April. He assumed he just wasn’t aware or alerted to the change because he made the reservation before his cancellations.

But, Mark said, he didn’t get three resort fee refunds, just the two from his June and July reservations. What he had done, it turned out, triggered the other part of the service charge policy, canceling an overlapping booking.

“Everyone knows their travel plans are in jeopardy,” Mark said. “People are trying to protect themselves, paying a premium for a better cancellation policy. So it feels like when people are trying to do the right thing… the hidden terms seem unreasonable.

After a 25 minute phone call with customer service, Mark got the full refund.

We asked Airbnb about Mark’s situation, and a spokesperson said in a statement, “While we recognize that this guest was not fully aware of the terms impacting their cancellation, we were able to ensure that received a full refund. We encourage consumers to review the terms of the cancellation policy before booking their stay.

The moral of the story: Always read the terms of service.

Unless you read the terms or track your service charge cancellations and refunds over the past 12 months, you may not know that your service charge will not be refunded to you until you will not have made this fourth cancellation, even if the reservation was fully refundable. (Also, service charges can vary widely: more info on this here.)

Keep in mind other factors that might affect the refund amount. One is the cleaning fee, which Airbnb says guests will still be refunded if they cancel before check-in. The other is their Onsite Property Fee Policy which states, “If a hotel or other professional host collects an onsite property fee, any reimbursement of such fee is at the discretion of the host.”

Airbnb fees have been angering customers on the internet lately, and not just service fees (which typically cost a customer about 14 percent of the subtotal of the reservation), but the tourist taxes and the cleaning costs. After a handful of angry tweets went viral, Airbnb said a team would review the company’s fees and make recommendations “with the goal of making pricing even more transparent and easy to navigate for hosts and The guests”.

Mark’s story is a warning to travelers to read the terms of service and book with careful consideration, especially while the coronavirus keeps our daily lives in motion. It’s a reminder to double-check your reservation to make sure you get what you paid for – or can get what you paid back.

“My philosophy is that you have to be ready for the changes,” Mark said after his experience. “Anytime you book a trip right now, the pandemic can come with a surprise. Your travel plans should be flexible.

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