Millions of Americans have canceled their spring and summer travel plans.
Most are getting refunds. But if you booked through VRBO — Vacation Rentals By Owner — it's complicated.
Kathy Saalfeld is one such frustrated renter. She spends her days now tending to her spring flowers at her home.
Until COVID-19 hit, she was planning a trip to a Siesta Key beach house on Florida's Gulf Coast with her five children and all the grandkids.
"It ended up costing us $14,000 for the nine-bedroom home," she said.
She and her adult children would have shared the expenses, but now they are not going, and none of them can get back the money they pre-paid for the home.
She is especially frustrated because other travel spots, from cruise lines to Disney hotels, have offered refunds to travelers.
Why VRBO is different
But Saalfeld had rented through VRBO, which is only suggesting that owners issue refunds.
Florida's beaches were closed. The beach restaurants were closed, too, and Gov. Ron DeSantis wanted spring breakers to stop visiting his state.
Despite that, Saalfeld said, the homeowners from whom she had planned to rent still wanted their money.
"I contacted them again and they said, 'We won't do that,'" she said. "'The best we can give you is a $14,000 credit toward a future stay.'"
The problem is that VRBO is a multi-layered travel site, with properties all individually owned. The company itself can't or won't tell those owners what to do.
VRBO sent renters a letter explaining: "We are encouraging partners to refund travelers. Unfortunately, the partner has to initiate the refund, and we are unable to further push partners to do the right thing during these times of crisis. Most partners are refunding. However, not all share the same flexible perspective. We cannot mediate a dispute between a partner and a traveler."
Some VRBO owners count on their rental income to pay their home's mortgage and bills, and it appears they could have financial problems if they have to refund all deposits.
We contacted the listing agent for Saalfeld's rental. The owner's representative in Siesta Key told us they will see if they can come up with something satisfactory to both the Saalfelds and the homeowner. Kathy Saalfeld hopes so.
Competitor Airbnb, meantime, is allowing full refunds for canceled rentals this spring.
Airbnb told us in a statement "In response to the extraordinary events and global disruption to travel caused by COVID-19, Airbnb announced its Extenuating Circumstances policy which applies to existing reservations for stays and Airbnb Experiences made on or before March 14, 2020, with check-in dates between March 14, 2020 and May 31, 2020. We did not want guests making the decision to put themselves in unsafe situations."
But keep in mind that VRBO is just a go-between for renters and owners, not a company that can issue refunds. As always, don't waste your money.
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