What Happens if Your Airbnb Cancels at the Last Minute? (Spoiler: You're Not Going to Love the Answer)

What Happens if Your Airbnb Cancels at the Last Minute? (Spoiler: You're Not Going to Love the Answer)

It's one peril of the sharing economy.

By Karen Gardiner

You've spent hours, days, maybe even weeks trawling through Airbnb's website selecting just the right property for your big group getaway. You've read the details carefully, agreed to the house rules and sent payment. You've done everything you're supposed to do, so there's no way that the nice host you messaged with can just turn around and cancel. Is there?

Sadly, yes. Yes, your Airbnb host can turn your, up until this point, meticulously organized vacation on its head with nothing but an abrupt message telling you they've canceled your reservation due to "personal reasons."

At its website, Airbnb clearly, if rather unsympathetically, outlines your options should this happen to you.

"If your reservation is canceled by your host," it reads, "you'll have two options: transfer your payment to a new Airbnb reservation (or) get a full refund. In the event that your reservation is more than 4 weeks away, your payment will be automatically refunded." 

If you should choose to take another chance on Airbnb and transfer the cost of the now-canceled reservation to another booking, the original payment is automatically transferred to the new reservation. But what if you can't find a new reservation at a comparable cost? At their discretion, Airbnb "may help by covering a portion of the difference." However, the fine print continues, "the credit amount will vary based on reservation and might not cover the full difference in cost."

The general consensus seems that the credit usually only covers around 10 percent of the cost. And, also: "Airbnb doesn’t provide credit if your new reservation costs less than the original." That's a pretty rough deal even without taking into account the additional time and effort that finding a new place to stay will cost you. Especially if your host lets you down at the very last minute in a heavily touristed city; that's what happened to this British group whose Airbnb was unceremoniously canceled an hour before they showed up (they were eventually compensated after taking their complaint to a newspaper).

That said, the company does take specific steps to avoid this very travel nightmare. If a host cancels a reservation more than seven days before check-in, it deducts $50 from their next payout... less than seven days and they’ll deduct $100. The host also will not be eligible for "Superhost" status for one year following the cancelation, and, if they cancel more or more reservations within a year, the company may deactivate the listing. Which means all we can hope is that potential negative impact upon a hosts pocketbook and, perhaps more critically, online reputation is enough motivation to honor their bookings.

One way of protecting yourself is quite obvious: Check the reviews. While you are searching for a place to stay, you will see any reservations your potential host has previously canceled — an automatic message is posted saying that the host canceled the reservation. More than one of those one single host's account is a pretty clear flag to look elsewhere.

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