Let the Buyer Beware

by Nancy Bestor

I’m a big fan of owner operated vacation rentals. Sites such as www.airbnb.com and www.vrbo.com offer accommodations at good prices in cities all over the world. It’s great to stay in an apartment or small home, particularly when traveling as a family. Usually there’s a kitchen for cooking meals, and room to “hang out,” as opposed to just sitting on a hotel room bed or in a chair. We’ve stayed in some absolutely stunning homes for very affordable rates. In the dozen or so times that we’ve booked a rental directly from an owner, it has worked out mostly perfectly. In two instances however, our rental was cancelled by the owner. In one of those cases it was just two weeks before our stay.

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Last month Bob and I were headed to Corvallis, Oregon, to visit our two college-aged daughters (go Beavs!) on Dad’s and Families Weekend. I booked a vacation rental through airbnb nine months in advance, knowing that Dad’s weekend gets booked up crazy quickly, and that Corvallis hotel rooms are both crappy and expensive (particularly on popular weekends). I received a confirmation just after I booked, and was charged a $50 deposit, and all was good. Or so I thought. Two weeks before Dad’s weekend, I received an email from the owner, saying she had to cancel my reservation. She did not explain why, but offered me $200 towards another hotel booking, in addition to refunding my money. While this gesture was nice, it was pointless, because there were no hotels in Corvallis available two weeks before Dad’s weekend. Not even any crappy ones. So Bob and I ended up sleeping on the floor of our daughter’s collegiate apartment.

On another trip, many years ago, we booked an apartment in Paris through vrbo.com, only to have the owner cancel on us a month after booking, saying she had mistakenly “double booked.” Fortunately, we were able to find another apartment without much trouble, but it was disconcerting.

I tell these vacation rental stories to warn you—and to remind myself as well—that rentals by owners don’t give you much leeway if they’re cancelled just before a trip. I’ve never had a hotel cancel a room on me in all my years of travel, and have only stayed in vacation rentals about a dozen times, with two cancellations. I can’t say that I like those odds. I’m not going to stop booking vacation rentals, but I will definitely think twice about using one when I know there won’t be much other lodging available.

One thought on “Let the Buyer Beware

  1. Unlike a hotel that has hundreds of rooms and a full staff to run them, a home owner may have emergencies which can’t be helped. Their water pipes might break. Somebody might die. We certainly hope a host would not cancel for any frivolous reason, but, life is unpredictable. It’s a shame that the reason for cancelling was not explained. That is only courtesy.

    Speaking of… We recently hosted our first non-courteous guests. It was our first unpleasant AirBnB experience. So, people are unpredictable, too. But, it just makes good people seem all the more welcome! ;)

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