When Amy Boyle arrived at her Airbnb rental near Paris, she knew she couldn’t stay. The closet-sized apartment was poorly ventilated and reeked of mold.
“The photos on Airbnb looked so beautiful,” said Boyle, a photographer from Chicago. “But when I came in, I had to get out again.”
Fortunately, Airbnb had just introduced AirCover for guests, a guarantee that promises you get what you booked. If she found something that wasn’t as advertised and her host couldn’t fix it easily, Airbnb promised to find a comparable or better home or a full refund.
Airbnb isn’t the only rental platform with a guarantee. Vrbo’s Book-with-Confidence Guarantee, which has been around for years, also promises to find you a replacement rental home if your property is “materially misrepresented” or if it needs a major repair and you can’t stay there.
But are these guarantees worth the digital ink they’re printed on? It depends. Sometimes vacation rental guarantees are difficult to use or have broad exclusions. But in general it is better to have a holiday rental guarantee than not.
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How hard is it to use a vacation rental guarantee?
For Boyle, using AirCover was easy. She immediately contacted Airbnb to report the issue. Then she found a better rental home at twice the rate of her original apartment. Airbnb offered her a full refund, with 20 percent credit toward a future rent.
“My new host was more than helpful and was even willing to meet me directly to make sure my transition went smoothly,” she says. “By the end of dinner that night, Airbnb wrote me back and refunded the original booking.”
But a refund doesn’t always solve the problem. Ron Scharman tried to call on Vrbo’s Book With Confidence guarantee last Thanksgiving after his Vrbo host canceled less than a month before his arrival.
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“When I tried to pay the second deposit, I couldn’t,” said Scharman, who runs a baggage claim in San Francisco. “I got a message from the owner that they sold the property a few months ago.”
A representative of VRBO agreed that the Book With Confidence Guarantee applied.
“They promised to find us another rental property, but unfortunately it was just before the holidays and there was very little available,” he says. “We had to nag them for two weeks during which they did nothing for us until I finally found another property for $1,200 more than the previous contract and insisted they eat the difference. And they did. So we ended up in a beautiful building, but with a lot of fear along the way.”
Vrbo spokeswoman Alison Kwong says that in situations like Scharman’s, the company always covers the cost difference of the rebooking “within reasonable limits”.
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What you need to know about vacation rental guarantees
Vacation rental guarantees give travelers the feeling that they have nothing to worry about. If they don’t like their vacation rental, all they have to do is rely on the promise of a full refund or a replacement stay.
But there are some important limitations. For example, Vrbo’s Book With Confidence Guarantee does not apply to every situation in which a holiday home does not meet your expectations.
When my Vrbo rental in Lisbon, Portugal, had no electricity, the company quickly found another rental and paid the extra cost. But when I checked into a Vrbo rental in Athens that was run-down and smelled of cigarette smoke, it didn’t meet the Book With Confidence threshold.
“The property did not meet criteria for significant misrepresentation, such as a discrepancy in the number of bedrooms or bathrooms, or if the property is in need of major repair,” explains Vrbo spokeswoman Alison Kwong.
In the end, the host decided to voluntarily refund my stay.
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Beware of the fine print in warranties
Likewise, Airbnb’s warranty is not a panacea. AirCover for guests is not a new guarantee. Instead, it builds on Airbnb’s existing rebooking and refund policies by extending the timeframe for filing complaints to 72 hours after discovery. Airbnb also guaranteed it would rebook or refund customers for more reasons, such as missing amenities or an incorrect listing.
Airbnb promises that if a host has to cancel your booking within 30 days of checking in, they’ll find you a “comparable or better home” or refund your money. But what if the other holiday homes are more expensive?
“Under AirCover, Airbnb will support and cover a portion of the cost difference if the guest chooses to rebook,” said spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco.
What does a “serving” mean?
“It will vary depending on the specific case and the rebooking,” she said. “In some cases we can cover all of the difference, and in others we can cover part of it.”
It’s not easy to know if guests will stumble upon the fine print in Airbnb’s AirCover for guests guarantee. If Boyle’s experience is the norm, it can be a useful guarantee protecting travelers.
So are vacation rental guarantees worth it? If you have a serious problem with your rental, the answer is yes.
“If there’s something in the property description and you’re still complaining about it, it’s going to be a huge challenge to make the warranty work for you because it was clearly arranged for you from the start,” says Steve Turk, a partner at Tangy Management, a vacation rental management company.
Plus, a vacation rental guarantee like AirCover for guests or Book With Confidence can protect you from fraud as long as you use the platform.
But a vacation rental guarantee is a lot like travel insurance. You should not assume that it applies to every situation. It is better to book your next holiday home carefully. Read the reviews, research the neighborhood crime stats, and don’t be fooled by those staged shots that use a wide-angle lens.
And hopefully you’ll never need to use a vacation rental guarantee.
A User’s Guide to Vacation Rental Warranties
What if you check into a vacation rental that doesn’t look like what you booked? Here are some expert tips for calling on a vacation rental guarantee.
Please contact your host. Try to resolve the issue with your landlord before invoking a vacation rental guarantee. Many common problems with vacation homes can be solved and there is no need to involve the platform. And most hosts want you to have a great stay and leave a five star review. Pro Tip: Keep a paper trail of your correspondence (text messages or email) so that there is written evidence that you tried to resolve the issue. You may need it later.
Do not wait. You have a limited time to invoke a vacation rental guarantee. Vrbo gives you 12 hours from check-in under the Book with Confidence guarantee. According to Airbnb’s AirCover program, you have 72 hours after discovering the issue to notify Airbnb. So if your host can’t help you, contact the platform immediately.
Know the exclusions. Vrbo’s Book with Confidence Guarantee does not cover cancellations due to “events beyond the owner’s control” such as natural disasters and pandemics or traveler cancellations such as flight delays, illness or job loss. However, it does cover any risk to your health or safety, such as no heating in the winter or no air conditioning in the summer. AirCover protects you from many problems that can arise during your stay, such as the heat that goes out in winter. But it doesn’t extend to more minor inconveniences, like a broken toaster.