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Navigating AirBNB’s Guest Refund Policy

Updated: May 17, 2022

Author's note: On April 29, 2022, Airbnb began offering Aircover on all rentals. Aircover is free for every rental and includes the following protections:

  • Booking Protection: If the host cancels within 30 days of your check-in date, Airbnb will help the guest find comparable accommodation or give a refund

  • Check-In Guarantee: If you're unable to enter the property at check-in time Airbnb will help you find comparable accommodation or give a refund

  • Get-What-You-Booked Guarantee: If the listing is not as advertised (wrong number of bedrooms, people on the premise that weren't disclosed in the advert, wrong location, missing or nonworking major appliances, etc) the guest has 3 days to report the discrepancy, Airbnb will help you find comparable accommodation or give a refund

  • 24-hr safety hotline: Guests have access to 24/7 help for any situation in which they feel unsafe, available in multiple languages

I applaud Airbnb for making these changes to their policy and am hopeful this will resolve issues such as the one listed below. Aircover covers all bookings made on April 29, 2022 or later. Otherwise the policy below will stand on previously-booked accommodation. Please share any stories or input about your Aircover policy experiences in the comments below.

Our family of five has been without a residence since May 2018…this means we rely on multiple rental platforms to find accommodation. For the most part, we’ve had superb luck renting units that meet our expectations based on their listing details and guest reviews.

However, we recently had an experience where our rental’s description was not as honest as it should have been. Due to a delay of reporting the issue on my end plus a misunderstanding of the AirBNB refund policy, we had very little recourse.

Not that we expect difficulties in the future, but now I understand the nuances of the guest satisfaction policies. I hope others can learn from our experience and be better prepared for any issues they encounter.

Rundown of Discrepancies of Unit We rented a 4BR/1Ba unit to accommodate 6 guests for a 30-day stay. [For those unfamiliar with AirBNB’s refund policies, month-long stays are non-refundable after 24 hours of booking. It’s a risk our family takes in order to receive monthly discounts and has not affected our travels adversely…but it did mean if we canceled our stay, we were ineligible for a refund.]

The listing stated the condo was “open concept”, so we were expecting one bedroom to have full privacy and the other three (including two loft rooms) to not have doors. Here were the main issues:

  1. The 4th ‘bedroom’ was a sitting area at the end of a hallway which needed to be walked through to access the only bathroom. The listing would be more accurately advertised as a 3BR unit with an additional bed in a common area.

  2. The unit’s pictures showed a futon in that ‘bedroom’ and no reviews had complained about the futon being uncomfortable. When we arrived, the futon had been replaced with an uncomfortable sofa bed (squeaky, saggy, thin mattress, unusable for our 78-year-old guest).

Note: We also were surprised that the internet dropped out daily and the pool time was limited to 1-hr per day, booked 24 hours in advance (covid rules). We would have appreciated a heads up on those factors because we specifically booked for those amenities.

Our Misunderstanding of AirBNB’s Help Policies When we realized our unit was not as advertised, I read through a handful of AirBNB help articles including the Guest Refund Policy, Cancelation Policy and What to Do if the Place You’re Staying in Isn’t Clean at Check In. These articles define which sort of Travel Issues are worthy of a refund and I’ve pasted them to the bottom of this post.*

AirBNB’s policies clearly stated that these discrepancies from the original listing are unacceptable. We decided we did not want a last-minute relocation with a party of six people, so we chose to request a partial refund.

I gathered that we should try to work it out with the hosts first and if we couldn’t come to an agreement, AirBNB would step in to find a resolution. Though the help articles state specific timelines for reporting an issue, they also encourage the guest to allow time for the host to sort it out; are vague about how to properly report a problem; and state that even if a problem is reported outside of the 24-hr period, concessions can be made.

My main mistakes:

  1. Because we were staying an entire month, I didn’t realize the importance of the reporting timelines: Guests need to report issues to the host within 1-hr of checking in and additionally to AirBNB within 24-hrs of the official check-in time (if a solution has not been reached)

  2. I contacted the hosts via a message and this is a good place to start…but in reality, AirBNB expects the guest and host to come to an agreement within the first 24-hours and the guest must access the Resolution Center to start a refund request for the agreed upon rate within 24 hours of the official check-in time.

Our Slow Approach to the Refund Request I need to mention we didn’t immediately realize the problem the pull-out sofa presented because our full party was not all present on check-in day. Once our entire party was present, we took 5-6 nights shuffling guests around to find the best sleeping solutions for us (it included putting a guest on a better-quality pull-out couch in the main living area, something we were trying to avoid).

  • I contacted the hosts one week into our stay, explained the situation and how we tried some novel sleeping arrangements, and asked for a partial refund. The hosts made some suggestions to help us be more comfortable (put a secondary mattress on the pull-out sofa) but none were viable solutions. We went back and forth for another two weeks.

  • After 25 nights of our stay the hosts said if we were unhappy, we could leave and they’d refund us their nightly rate for the unused days. Because we were not sleeping well, we secured new accommodation and left.

What Prompted Me to Contact Customer Support (fast forward to after the review period is over) After three weeks of back-and-forth with the hosts, we realized they were in no way going to give us a partial refund for misleading advertising; however, we fully expected to be refunded for the five unused nights. To our surprise, the hosts only reimbursed four nights because we left 2 hours after check-out time on our departure day (true, we left at 1pm but that was within a few hours of being allowed to cancel the rest of our stay).

So basically, we paid full-price for 26 nights at this rental which clearly did not meet the listing’s description. At this point, I contacted AirBNB and started a help request.

My assigned customer service representative was kind, supportive and understanding, but even though I had everything well-documented including pictures of the bed substitution, I had missed deadlines on reporting the issue. From what I understand, the host receives their final payment 24-hours after official check-in time…in order for AirBNB to freeze the host’s money and use it for reimbursement, all issues/discrepancies must be reported within that 24-hour timeframe.

AirBNB’s solutions:

1. Our customer service rep made a report of the discrepancies in the unit to be forwarded to the team that oversees rental listings.

2. AirBNB contacted the host to request the 5th night of reimbursement, which was denied.

3. AirBNB offered to pick up the 5th night of reimbursement.

Final Outcome We submitted our review of the property prior to being reimbursed as the hosts claimed their cleaner was not coming until three weeks after our departure date. Our review unemotionally stated the discrepancies and mentioned that if other reviews had been more accurate, our expectations would have been met. It wasn’t a bad rental overall, but we did not get the beds, space or amenities that we were led to believe were available. Unfortunately I had no idea the hosts planned not to reimburse that night, I certainly would have left that tidbit in my review.

The listing now has a picture of the sofa bed instead of the futon, but it is still advertised as a 4BR unit. The hosts received full-price for 26 nights of our rental period. And FYI, they are listed as Superhosts.

After some complaining on my part AirBNB did pick up one extra night’s rent, so we paid for 24-nights accommodation and got a free night. Not exactly worth all the time of back-and-forth with the host and AirBNB, but it’s something. Next time we won’t mess around with the deadlines.

The Takeaway AirBNB’s policies state that a wide range of Travel Issues* are unacceptable for their listings. If anything is askew, immediately report concerns to the host and do not be afraid to submit a Refund Request via the Resolution Center.

Feedback We have one other experience with the AirBNB resolution center which was super easy…they took great care of us. That’s probably why I didn’t expect difficulties with this situation. I’ll briefly describe that story in the comments if you’re interested.

What have your experiences been with refunds through major booking platforms? Please share in the comments.

*AirBNB’s Travel Issue Definitions (copied & pasted from the Guest Refund Policy):

A “Travel Issue” means any one of the following:

(a) the Host of the Accommodation (i) cancels a booking shortly before the scheduled start of the booking, or (ii) fails to provide the Guest with the reasonable ability to access the Accommodation (e.g. does not provide the keys and/or a security code).

(b) the Listing’s description or depiction of the Accommodation is materially inaccurate with respect to:

  • the size of the Accommodation (e.g., number and size of the bedroom, bathroom and/or kitchen or other rooms),

  • whether the booking for the Accommodation is for an entire home, private room or shared room, and whether another party, including the Host, is staying at the Accommodation during the booking,

  • special amenities or features represented in the Listing are not provided or do not function, such as decks, pools, hot tubs, bathrooms (toilet/shower/bathtub), kitchen (sink/stove/refrigerator or major other appliances), and electrical, heating or air conditioning systems, or

  • the physical location of the Accommodation (proximity).

(c) at the start of the Guest’s booking, the Accommodation: (i) is not generally clean and sanitary (including unclean bedding and/or bathroom towels); (ii) contains safety or health hazards that would be reasonably expected to adversely affect the Guest’s stay at the Accommodation in Airbnb’s judgment, or (iii) has vermin or contains pets not disclosed in the Listing.

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3 comentarios

Mara Simmons
Mara Simmons
30 nov 2021

Thanks for sharing this. We too had a similar/different situation with AirBnB recently too with respects to a 30 day rental. Like you the place we rented did not match the description. No hot water, no desk for working, and kitchen that was not workable. We immediately contacted the host with our frustrations and followed up with him in the morning. We told him we want to leave and that we were willing to pay for the night, the service fee and the cleaning. He agreed.

When it came time for us to cancel the AirBnB on their system it only gave us the option of cancelling without a refund due to their refund policy. We went ahead with i…

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WPH Director
WPH Director
30 nov 2021
Contestando a

Wow, Mara, Thanks for sharing...I'm so sorry that has been your experience. I do hope your credit card will come through for you. What a headache! I'm curious if AirBnB needs to look into their long-stay cancelation policy. Other platforms do not have such a strict policy and it seems that this non-refundable stance creates extraneous issues. FYI, we were unable to formally 'cancel' the remainder of our stay after we were given permission to end the contract. The platform did not allow us to do so because our unit's minimum stay was 30 days. I asked the hosts to cancel from their end but they chose to just wait until the stay expired, probably to protect their interest. I'm so…

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Rachel Carlson
Rachel Carlson
29 nov 2021

Here’s the customer service story with a happy ending: In 2020 we had a 3-night stay so we could explore the city a bit before our flight out of the country. Turns out the dining room had visible mold growing up the walls and ceiling. Because the dining room was separated from the rest of the rental by French doors, we just closed the room off and used the remainder of the space. I contacted AirBNB after our stay to report the mold problem and send pictures. They asked why we didn’t immediately contact AirBNB so we could switch locations. I explained we had so many canceled trips throughout 2020 that we weren’t in the mood to swap accommodation, especially for a…

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