Travel Troubleshooter: Airbnb refund is hard to land for Paris rental

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Q: Late last year, my wife and I rented an apartment in Paris for next September through Airbnb. The total cost of $3,692 was charged to my credit card, which I paid. It included a $41 cleaning fee and an Airbnb service fee of $209.

In March, we had to cancel this rental because of family health problems. Prior to doing so, we read what we believed to be Airbnb’s cancellation policy, which stated that for a full refund, cancellation must be made 24 hours prior to the listing’s local check-in time on the day of check-in.

Weeks went by, and I discovered that only $41 had been returned, the equivalent of the cleaning fee. I contacted Airbnb and was told that the apartment was a “long term” rental, and the first 30 days of the reservation are not refunded. We were told that we should have been aware of this.

We have asked the owner to apply what we have paid to a one-month rental in May 2015, but there has been no reply. Airbnb has washed its hands of the entire matter.

 

A: Airbnb actually has five cancellation policies, ranging from “flexible” to “long term.” They’re outlined on its website: https://www.airbnb.com/home/cancellation_policies.

You should have been advised of the exact cancellation policy for your rental at the time of your reservation. It appears that your rental fell under the “long term” policy, which stipulates that the first month of your reservation is completely nonrefundable.

I reviewed the correspondence between you and the property owner, and that convinced me to take your case. The owner not only refused to refund a penny of your rental, even though you were canceling half a year in advance, but also was denying you the opportunity to rebook at a later date. It was a cringe-worthy exchange that exposed the risks of renting from someone who is not a professional.

At the same time, I think you could have taken a more constructive tone with the property owner. The owner wasn’t your last option; you could have applied pressure to Airbnb or your credit card company.

I contacted Airbnb on your behalf. A representative responded to you, saying that the company does try to accommodate guests with “extenuating circumstances” if they can provide documentation of their situation. Airbnb refunded the remaining $3,651 to your credit card and sent you a $300 travel voucher by way of an apology.

 

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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