- Booking platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo let their hosts choose their refund policies.
- Airbnb guests who contract COVID-19 are eligible for a refund or travel credit.
- Vrbo guests will still need to comply with their host’s cancellation policy, even if they contract COVID-19
When Janice Shokrian discovered she and her family could spend two weeks in Europe for just $800 a person – airfare and lodging included – she jumped on the deal.
The two-week trip, split between Airbnbs in Portugal and Spain, was supposed to be one of the last big family getaways with Shokrian and her two kids, aged 21 and 25. The family had been extremely cautious throughout the pandemic.
“We were the ones who washed our groceries, we were that family,” the Portland, Oregon, resident told USA TODAY. But Shokrian felt the two countries would be a safe bet since they had high vaccination rates.
What Shokrian didn’t see coming was a new variant of concern.
“Omicron was our game changer,” she said.
On Nov. 30, Shokrian decided to pull the plug on the family vacation. Not only was she worried about breakthrough cases among her family while abroad, but her son contracted COVID-19 and was supposed to be in quarantine on the first day of the trip.
► Which EU countries are open?:A breakdown of EU travel restrictions by country
Shokrian was able to get her money back easily with her Portugal booking, but her hosts in Spain only offered her a 50% refund.
“I did not realize that I need to look at cancellation policies for every Airbnb host,” she said.
It took multiple phone calls with Airbnb and hours spent on hold, but Shokrian was able to get a full refund after explaining that her son had contracted COVID. But other travelers with last-minute cancellations aren’t so lucky.
Booking platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo let their hosts choose their refund policies, so even though the pandemic is still impacting travel – especially international trips – travelers should be aware that canceling a booking can be costly.
Here are some tips for travelers who are looking to cancel their short-term rental booking.
Relaxed refund policies for short term rentals are a thing of the past
While Airbnb and Vrbo introduced more flexible cancellation policies in the early days of the pandemic, both short-term rental platforms have since reverted to letting their hosts choose their refund policies.
Airbnb offers a total of nine cancellation policies, but the most common for short-term stays are:
- Flexible: Guests can get a full refund on their nightly rate as long as they cancel 24 , hours before check in. Guests who cancel less than 24 hours before check in pay for one night, plus each night they stay at the property.
- Moderate: Guests can get a full refund if they cancel at least five days before check in. If they cancel with less than five days of notice, they’ll need to pay for one night, plus 50% for all unspent nights and each night they stay in full.
- Firm: Guests can cancel and get a firm refund if they cancel at least 30 days before check in or within 48 hours of booking if the reservation is at least 14 days out. Guests who cancel between seven and 30 days before check in will receive a 50% refund, but will need to pay in full if they cancel less than seven days before check in.
- Strict: Guests can get a full refund if they cancel within 48 hours of booking for a reservation at least 14 days out. If they cancel between seven and 14 days before check in, they are eligible for a 50% refund but must pay the full amount if they cancel any later.
Airbnb notes that a “full refund” applies to the nightly rate only; service fees are refunded if travelers cancel during the free cancellation period. Airbnb recommends travelers read each property’s cancellation policy and reach out to the host with questions before booking.
Current cancellation policies from Vrbo hosts include:
- No refund policy: Bookings are nonrefundable.
- 60-day policy: Travelers can get a full refund if they cancel 60 days before check in.
- 60/30 day policy: Travelers can get a full refund if they cancel 60 days before check in and a 50% refund (not including the service fee) if they cancel at least 30 days before check in.
- 30/14 day policy: Travelers can get a full refund if they cancel at least 30 days before check in and a 50% refund (not including the service fee) if they cancel at least 14 days before check in.
- 14/7 day policy: Travelers can get a full refund if they cancel at least 14 days before check in and a 50% refund (not including the service fee) if they cancel at least 7 days before check in.
- Custom policy: Some properties have custom cancellation policies, which are usually available to view on the property page. Vrbo suggests travelers contact the host directly if they can’t find their refund policy on the property page.
Can’t avoid a last-minute cancelation? Try getting in touch with your host.
Ivy Flowers, an Airbnb super host who rents out a home near Cleveland, Ohio, suggests travelers in last-minute binds contact their host if they want a refund.
“Definitely reach out,” she said. “Preferably a phone call because I always like to hear the people’s voices and picture them and know who they are, rather than through the Airbnb platform.”
Flowers gives her guests refunds if they can explain their situation, but said she will still enforce the cleaning fee if she’s already paid for the service.
Airbnb’s website suggests also travelers reach out to their host if they need to cancel their stay.
“Most hosts prefer to quickly resolve any issue by fixing it, offering a partial refund, or both,” Airbnb says on its website.
VRBO spokesperson Alison Kwong said Vrbo hosts can sometimes offer a voucher for a future trip if their guest reaches out when canceling the booking.
“There’s no guarantee there, but I think hosts want to be hospitable. They really take a lot of pride in creating great memories for the people that stay with them,” Kwong said. “(But) they also have to protect themselves and their properties and their investment.”
She added that “a lot” of hosts have adopted relaxed cancelation policies in recent months. Vrbo and Airbnb have made finding booking with these relaxed policies on their apps easy with search filters.
How to cancel an Airbnb after contracting COVID-19
Airbnb guests who contract COVID-19 are eligible for a refund or travel credit under the company’s “extenuating circumstances” policy.
Travelers will need to contact Airbnb’s community support team and should be prepared to verify their claim with documents such as a positive COVID-19 test result.
Reservations made after March 14, 2020, are eligible so long as the guest or someone in their travel party is currently sick with COVID-19 and they haven’t already canceled the booking or checked in. The policy does not cover transportation disruptions such as border closures.
Kwong said Vrbo guests will still need to comply with their host’s cancellation policy, even if they contract COVID-19.
► Europe travel restrictions:How to enjoy your trip and avoid the headaches
Travel insurance can help with last-minute trip cancellations
Because canceling an Airbnb or Vrbo isn’t as easy as a hotel reservation, both companies suggest customers look into travel insurance for their trips.
“We always advise guests to buy trip insurance because trip insurance does cover illness,” Kwong said. “There is an option to buy trip insurance through Vrbo, but you can also buy your trip insurance through whichever provider covers what you need.”
Airbnb’s website says its customers “may want to consider” purchasing travel insurance, which can offer a “wide array of benefits.”
► What is travel insurance and do I need it?:Here’s what it actually covers
Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.