DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: I read your article about Vrbo refund problems and was hoping for your help. A few months ago, I made a reservation for a home in Orlando, Fla. After the outbreak, I emailed the owner of my property asking to cancel, but only if I could get a full refund. The owner refused.
I called Vrbo and explained to them that I would not be able to travel to the property to meet my family and wanted to get a full refund because of COVID-19. My family lives in Miami. They could have driven, but we live in Westchester County, N.Y., so it would have been hard to fly because we were in the epicenter of the outbreak at the time. New Rochelle, the town next to us, was hit particularly hard.
Vrbo’s rep promised to email the owner and remind them of Vrbo’s COVID-19 policy. I then got an email from Vrbo stating that the stay was “canceled by owner.” I was thrilled, because I thought Vrbo convinced them to give me a refund. They did not.
Both the owners and Vrbo refused to refund me. Shockingly, they said that I had requested to cancel. I even spoke with someone in executive customer service, who refused to help. I explained to them that — though not ideal — had they known we wouldn’t be refunded, my sister and brother-in-law would have driven to the property without us.
I disputed the charge, and the credit card company stated that even though it was canceled by the owner — they saw the email from Vrbo that confirmed it — the owner does not have to refund me.Can you help me get my $3,563 back?
— Frustrated Traveler, White Plains, N.Y.
ANSWER: It’s true that Vrbo has an owner-friendly COVID-19 cancellation policy. But it’s not that owner-friendly. An owner can’t just cancel your stay and refuse a refund. So something went wrong with your cancellation — and you deserve an answer.
You’ve probably already seen the Vrbo COVID-19 policy, but here’s what it says: Vrbo hasn’t forced its owners to refund stays during the pandemic. Instead, it asked owners to offer “flexible” credits for the amount paid. It encouraged, but did not require, refunds for situations where a flexible credit wasn’t an option. But it doesn’t say that an owner can cancel and pocket the money.
So if your owner canceled your stay, you should receive a full refund. Clearly, there were some crossed wires here. I reviewed the correspondence between you and the owner. I can’t see any evidence that you canceled your stay. It looks as if the owner canceled and decided to keep your money. And Vrbo appears to be supporting the owner.
I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the Vrbo customer service contacts on my consumer advocacy site at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/vrbo-customer-service-contacts/. You might have reached out to one of them and asked for clarification.
I’m surprised your credit card didn’t help with a dispute. Maybe it’s time for you to find a new credit card company — one that gives your disputes more careful consideration.
I contacted Vrbo on your behalf. It agreed to refund you $3,000 “in hopes that his next Vrbo experience is seamless,” and you accepted.