Airbnb host’s refund policy under fire
An Airbnb host has been accused of “profiteering” from the Covid-19 pandemic over the booking site's refunds policy in case of cancellation.
Patricia Symonds-Powell planned a trip to Bermuda to stay at Seven Arches on Hill View Lane, Warwick, over Cup Match, but her flight was cancelled because of the coronavirus lockdown after she made the booking.
She said Ade Brown, the property owner, assured her that she would get a 100 per cent refund as long as she cancelled 30 days before to check-in.
But she added he later “recanted” and told her that he had read Airbnb's policy and had changed his own cancellation policy.
Ms Symonds-Powell, from Massachusetts, now stands to lose close to $900 for a deposit, despite the host retaining the right to waive the cancellation fee.
She said: “I feel taken advantage of. It makes no sense to me — my flight was cancelled because of the situation with the virus, so what was I supposed to do?
“I asked him if I could have credit for when I was available to fly, but he just kept coming back with Airbnb's policy. He was unwilling to negotiate.”
Ms Symonds-Powell said she made the booking on January 26 for a stay from July 28 to August 6 and paid $895 in advance.
She added she contacted Mr Brown after the scale of the pandemic became evident to discuss the possibility of a cancellation.
Ms Symonds-Powell said he assured her on March 31 that she would be entitled to a full refund if she cancelled 30 days before check-in.
She later found out that her flight had been cancelled and tried to cancel her booking on May 27.
But as she went through the online cancellation process it became clear that she would not get a 100 per cent refund and contacted Mr Brown.
He wrote back that the booking fell outside of Airbnb's extenuating circumstances policy, introduced as a result of Covid-19, and she was ineligible for a full refund.
Mr Brown said in an e-mail to Ms Symonds-Powell: “Airbnb requested an agreement in writing to refund in full from Seven Arches as they were aware that you did not qualify for either the extenuating circumstances refund policy or our own cancellation policy. I was not clear on the Airbnb policy. Hence my response to you regarding a full refund.
“Having read the extenuating circumstances refund policy that Airbnb forwarded to me today, as it stands, you will be charged cancellation fees by Airbnb and will be granted a 50 per cent refund based on the Seven Arches' cancellation policy.
“Your booking was made before March 14, 2020 with a check-in date after June 30 (check-in is July 28).
“Therefore, your booking is not covered by the Airbnb extenuating circumstances cancellation policy.
“Hence the cancellation policy of Seven Arches remains in force. That is, you are entitled to a full refund up to 48 hours after booking.
“Cancellations made after that up until 30 days prior to check-in, will receive a 50 per cent refund.”
Ms Symonds-Powell contacted an Airbnb representative who said that the host reserved the right to override his policy and refund her the full amount on the nightly rate.
The representative said: “I did review the communication between you and your host. Because this reservation does not qualify, if cancelled at this point, it will be refunded according to the cancellation policy in place for this reservation.
“If you would like to get a full refund, you can discuss further with your host and ask if they would be willing to allow you to receive a full refund if you choose to cancel.”
But Ms Symonds-Powell said Mr Brown would not budge.
She cancelled her booking on June 9 and Airbnb told her they would have to uphold her host's policy.
She said that Airbnb refunded her $76 — which she presumed was for taxes charged by Airbnb and that the host retained her full deposit.
She added her bank — TD Bank in Massachusetts — had launched an investigation and that she had not ruled out taking legal action.
Ms Symonds-Powell said: “I don't think Airbnb are within their rights because they kept changing the policy as things changed with Covid-19.
“Their policies are made to not work for you — I would have had to look at their site all day every day to see when they instituted the changes.
“Had I not cancelled — the last change was July 15 — the dates I was supposed to be travelling would have been covered, but they kept moving the dates up and up.”
Ms Symonds-Powell added she had highlighted her problem on social media and had heard of many other similar cases.
She said: “I think there are some class action [lawsuits] going on. I saw on social media people telling their stories and arguing in public about not getting their money back — it is a combination of Airbnb and hosts.”
Ms Symonds-Powell also contacted the Bermuda Tourism Authority, but the organisation has no regulatory powers over holiday rentals or hotels and normally refers complaints to the Government, which issues licences for tourism properties.
Ms Symonds-Powell said she planned to take up her case with the Government.
Airbnb and Mr Brown did not respond to a request for comment.