Airbnb customers complain that it’s difficult to get reimbursements for coronaviruses

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Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky at the New York Times Dealbook event on November 6, 2019.

Credit: Mike Cohen / The New York Times

Last month, Airbnb promised to fully reimburse eligible travelers whose travels were affected by the coronavirus, but some customers complain that Airbnb forces them to jump through hoops to get their money.

The coronavirus has disrupted many industries, but not more than the travel industry. As the pandemic spread, resulting in roadblocks, travelers massively canceled their business and personal trips. The U.S. Travel Association predicts that the industry will lose 4.6 million jobs this year.

Customers of Airbnb and other vacation rental companies have been particularly vulnerable because, unlike a hotel stay, customers have to pay for most of their accommodation before their trip. Airbnb’s refund policy has given customers some assurance that they will not lose hundreds or thousands of dollars for accommodation on trips they can no longer take.

But several guests told CNBC that they were being offered travel credits they didn’t want instead of cash, and they couldn’t get a full cash refund unless they presented documents proving that they were subject to travel restrictions or fell into other categories. Some customers continue to fight for their refunds while others have had to use email or complain on social media to push the company to follow suit. Meanwhile, hundreds of customers have turned to Reddit and Twitter to complain about the difficulty Airbnb made for them to receive a cash refund for their reservations.

It’s a dramatic turn of events for Airbnb, which was about to be the hottest technology flotation (or direct listing) of the year until the COVID-19 crisis. hit the United States last month. The company had lined up bankers to lead the bid, which would check if Airbnb could live up to its $ 31 billion valuation on the private market from 2017, but recently agreed to new private funding of $ 1 billion. dollars at a lower valuation. The Wall Street Journal reported in February that Airbnb lost $ 322 million in the first nine months of last year after reporting $ 200 million profit in 2018 due to increased spending .

If Airbnb doesn’t do more to help customers who feel they have a legitimate right to a refund, the company runs the risk of losing those customers and its hosts to competitors, said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.

“Airbnb must solve this problem before it becomes a bigger and more costly problem to solve,” said Harteveldt.

“Our community support team worked day and night to address this global crisis to help hosts and guests in a difficult situation for the entire industry,” an Airbnb spokesperson told CNBC. communicated. “We have activated our extenuating circumstances policy to offer customers a full refund or credit because we believe this is the responsible thing to do, under the leadership of governments and health experts. “

Documentation requests

On March 14, Airbnb announced that it would 100% reimburse customers who had already booked between April 14 and April 14, writing that “Airbnb’s policy of extenuating circumstances allows hosts and customers to ‘cancel eligible reservations without charge or penalty’.

This allowed Airbnb to stay ahead of its competitors in terms of a clear and comprehensive refund policy. For example, Expedia-owned VRBO said on March 18 that it would ask hosts to reimburse at least 50% of what customers have paid, and only if customers are unwilling to rebook another date. Booking.com asks hosts to work directly with customers to accommodate new travel dates or issue vouchers or refunds, but a spokesperson told CNBC the company would push refunds for bookings made before 6 April if guests and hosts could not come to an agreement.

On March 30, as the extent of coronavirus blockages increased, Airbnb extended its policy until May 31 and specifically stated that guests could receive money.

“When customers cancel due to circumstances related to COVID-19, we give them the option of taking a cash refund or travel credit that can be used for a stay at a later date,” the company said in a message announcing the extension of the cancellation window. In a help document, Airbnb wrote: “Airbnb stay and experience bookings made on or before March 14, 2020, with an arrival date between March 14, 2020 and May 31, 2020, can be canceled before the record. means that customers who cancel will receive a travel credit or full cash refund at their option… ”

But according to screenshots that customers have shared with CNBC, Airbnb tells some customers that it will only offer cash refunds if they can prove, with documents, that they match one of the four compartments:

  • There are government restrictions that prohibit them from leaving their place of residence or going to their destination.
  • They are sick and their health care provider has ordered them not to travel.
  • Their means of transport are no longer available.
  • They are medical professionals and cannot travel.

Several Airbnb customers who spoke to CNBC said they found it difficult to navigate the Airbnb website and customer support services to collect all of the cash refunds to which the company claimed to be eligible .

Courtesy of KJ Galvan

When KJ Galvan received the news on March 25 that her internship as a software engineer at Google would now be done remotely, she knew she had to cancel the three-month Airbnb she had booked to stay in Los Angeles for the summer.

Galvan tried to recover his reimbursement from April 1. She browsed the application and was offered a 100% refund of the travel credit or a partial cash refund in accordance with her host’s cancellation policy. Below, in very small print, a link to the process for collecting a full cash refund.

Galvan, who is based in Richland, Washington, tried to cancel the use of his state’s stay at home order as a reason for government restriction to claim reimbursement in cash, but Airbnb refused because the order from Washington only runs on May 4 and its reservation is not until May 21. She then submitted to Airbnb a screenshot of a government web page detailing the California home stay order.

“There are only tiny small characters that make things more stressful for me in an already stressful time,” said Galvan.

Galvan heard from Airbnb that his reimbursement would be approved after CNBC contacted Airbnb about his case.

Wei Shi of Brooklyn, New York, also struggled to get refunds for two Airbnb bookings she was trying to cancel. Shi planned to travel to parts of Greece in late April with a group of his friends.

When Shi attempted to cancel her Airbnb in Athens on May 1, she received a full refund, but she received the $ 115 service charge portion of the refund as travel credit. For her Airbnb in Naxos, Greece, on April 28, Shi was asked to prove that she met one of Airbnb’s four criteria in order to receive a full cash refund. On Monday, she submitted a screenshot of an email from her airline indicating that her flight had been canceled as well as a screenshot of the CDC’s travel restriction notice.

After CNBC contacted Airbnb, Shi received his full cash refund for booking Naxos, and his $ 115 travel credit for booking Athens was also refunded in cash.

“I just feel like it’s pretty fishy,” said Shi. “My heart goes to the hosts of Airbnb. It really hurts their source of income, but at the same time, the traveler should not be penalized for a pandemic. “

Mike Brosch of Chanhassen, Minnesota, planned to stay in an Airbnb in Galveston, Texas on April 15 to spend the spring break with his wife, daughter and mom. After Airbnb extended its cancellation window, Brosch decided to cancel its Airbnb reservation. Brosch said he had read the amount of documents he had to include in his cancellation request, which did not tell him whether he would be eligible for full cash reimbursement.

Brosch submitted copies of the Minnesota on-site shelter order, Galveston on-site shelter order, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for travel as document. Airbnb then approved its refund request.

“Simple, huh? Brosch told CNBC.

Several Airbnb customers who spoke to CNBC said they found it difficult to navigate the Airbnb website and customer support services to collect all of the cash refunds to which the company claimed to be eligible .

Courtesy of KJ Galvan

Moving windows

Other customers were unable to get a refund because they fell outside of Airbnb’s original window for refunds.

Susan Youngquist of Sacramento, California, had booked an Airbnb in Cologne, Germany since February, and had already paid 50% of the reservation. She tried to cancel and get her money back, but the reservation was made on April 21, just outside of Airbnb’s original cancellation window from March 14 to April 14.

Youngquist made several attempts to get help from Airbnb customer service, but was told by the company that he had fallen out of the window. Rather than wait and be charged for the second half of the reservation, Youngquist decided to cancel the reservation. She received $ 4 in cash and an Airbnb credit of $ 30.

After the company extended its cancellation window, it tried to recover the rest of its money, but Airbnb customer service told it it was unlucky and that it should have waited until ‘they extend the window.

“Why did they even choose April 14? Would COVID magically disappear on April 14? Said Youngquist.

Taylor Anderson of Charleston, South Carolina had a similar problem.

He and 15 of his friends had planned a reunion trip to San Diego, California on April 16 – outside of Airbnb’s initial cancellation window. When it became clear that the trip was not going to take place, Anderson tried to cancel and get his money back. After Airbnb expanded its full refund window, Anderson attempted to collect the $ 3,000 deposit he had made, but came across Airbnb’s page asking for documents proving he was in one of the four compartments required to obtain a refund. In the meantime, he had to pay an additional $ 3,000 in a few days.

Concerned that Airbnb would reject its documents and charge its credit card for additional money, Anderson abandoned the entire refund process and just accepted the $ 3,000 travel credit, rather than risking loss of money. $ 6,000.

“I prefer to have this money in my account right now,” said Anderson. “I think that’s what most customers feel. We are all trying to save money in this current environment. We do not want these large costs to turn into travel credits that we do not plan to use anytime soon. “

Several Airbnb customers who spoke to CNBC said they found it difficult to navigate the Airbnb website and customer support services to collect all of the cash refunds to which the company claimed to be eligible .

Courtesy of KJ Galvan

Dean Dudley of Barrington, New Hampshire, faces a similar situation. After paying $ 1,100 for a May 1 reservation for an Airbnb in Austin, Texas, Dudley canceled the reservation, even though it did not match the original Airbnb window from March 14 to April 14. Dudley hoped to avoid paying a second charge of $ 1,200.

His cancellation resulted in a refund of $ 70 and a credit of approximately $ 250.

Now that Airbnb has extended its coronavirus cancellation window, Dudley has tried to get his extra money back without success.

“I think it’s a drain on technology, because they don’t know how much this pandemic will affect them,” said Dudley. “They prefer to have a policy that sounds good on paper, but they can actually get money back for stays that have been canceled. “

Emails to the CEO and complaints on social networks

Some guests managed to get their money back, but they had to take drastic measures along the way.

Noel Lane of Union, New Jersey, had booked a trip to Las Vegas for early May. He planned to fly there with friends and family to marry his fiancé, but once the coronavirus had deteriorated, he started trying to cancel his trip.

Lane tried every step of Airbnb’s customer service to get his money, but nothing worked. It wasn’t until after emailing Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky and Vice President of Community Support Aisling Hassell directly that Lane’s case progressed and he received a refund.

“This is a national emergency, but your policies only reflect self-preservation and do not put the customer first,” Lane wrote in his email to executives. “This is how hotels turn out to be superior because there are reasonable cancellation policies allowing people to get their money back in the event of unforeseen events (sic) like this. “

Amy Shoemaker of Orange County, California also had to get aggressive to get his money back.

Shoemaker was going to Chicago for its 10 year reunion. After canceling his reunion on March 14, Shoemaker contacted Airbnb on March 15 to cancel his reservation.. After two weeks of trying to get his money back, Shoemaker finally accessed his Instagram and LinkedIn accounts on March 31 to publicly complain about the company. The next day, Airbnb customer service contacted her. Airbnb told Shoemaker that it would receive a full cash refund, but that it would take five to 15 business days for it to appear.

Shoemaker and other Airbnb guests who spoke to CNBC said that the experience of trying to collect their refunds had left a bad taste in their mouths, and they were unsure if they would be traveling with Airbnb at the airport. ‘to come up.

“It definitely made me think twice about using Airbnb in the future,” said Shoemaker. “I shouldn’t have to face this. I have other things to worry about besides my Airbnb refund. “

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