Q: I made a reservation and paid $2,200 for a rental in Oceanside, Calif., through Vrbo. After the coronavirus outbreak, I contacted the owner to find out about my cancellation options. The owner said I would need to log into my account and click the “Cancel” option and they would refund 50% of the nightly rate.

I saw that there was also a flexible credit option on Vrbo that would allow me to reschedule. I didn’t feel a cancellation fee was reasonable, so I didn’t cancel. The property manager replied with an option to reschedule if I had my new dates to them within two days and that I would need to pay any difference in the rate.

One day later, I received a message from the property owner that said my stay had been canceled at “my request.” They also cited Vrbo’s policy that said homeowners have mortgages and employees to pay.

I didn’t cancel my stay. Since the property manager canceled my reservation without my authorization, they have to refund all my money. They breached the contract. Can you help me get my money back?

 

A: You’re right. If the owner canceled, you deserve a full refund.

Unfortunately, I’ve been getting a lot of complaints from Vrbo guests since the pandemic started. Vrbo is only “asking” property owners and managers to offer a full credit for the amount you already paid if you are outside of your cancellation window. And it is “strongly encouraging” the owners to issue at least a partial refund for situations in which a flexible credit cannot be accommodated. Vrbo is also refunding its fees, according to its coronavirus refund policy.

In other words, it’s up to the owner to issue a full refund. And when you get an e-mail from the owner about having to pay mortgages and staff, you know the answer before you ask.

I’m sympathetic to both sides. Guests have to cancel their trips because of the lockdowns and travel restrictions. Owners are facing staggering losses and can’t pay their bills. I favor a middle ground — offering a credit for a future stay. However, if the guest can’t travel in the future, I think the owner should issue a full refund.

But your owners appeared to have gone a step further by simply canceling your stay and then keeping everything. That’s wrong.

I see that you kept your correspondence through Vrbo’s internal messaging system. Well done! Having a reliable paper trail is the fastest way to resolve a consumer dispute.

I contacted Vrbo on your behalf. The company reviewed your case. Its assessment: This was a “complex” case involving extraordinary circumstances, emergency policies and miscommunication. “No one was at fault,” a representative said. Vrbo refunded your full stay in hopes that your next Vrbo experience will be seamless.

 

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit consumer organization. Contact him at elliott.org/help or chris@elliott.org.