'Is this fair?' Man stung with bill after Airbnb Covid cancellation

When restrictions were reintroduced across NSW due to a growing cluster of coronavirus, thousands were forced to cancel Christmas holiday plans.

While travellers were eligible for reimbursement on flights interrupted by reinstated rules, the same could not be said for accomodation booked through house-sharing platform Airbnb.

Despite the latest resurgence of the virus in NSW, the company has made no change to its cancellation policy – unlike earlier in the year when all holidays booked before March were refunded.

After being stumped by his refusal of a full refund on accomodation in Sydney, one man was left wondering if the company’s approach to the latest wave was fair.

AirBnB phone app shown inside home.
Questions have been raised over AirBnB not allowing full refunds on trips cancelled due to the coronavirus. Source: AAP

He claimed that out of a trip that cost $323, he was eligible for a refund of just $105, explaining the host’s cancellation fee was 50 per cent of the booking, excluding the first night and service fee.

The Canberra local took his conundrum to a Facebook group, asking members if they thought he should pursue the matter with AirBnB and his would-be host.

“These were the conditions I booked under but with about 60 bookings and no cancellations, I never give cancellation policy a second look but I know other cancellation policies are more generous,” his post read.

Almost 200 people weighed in on the issue, some encouraging him to complain and arguing that he should be entitled to a full refund, given the circumstances were out of his control.

“Under the Covid restrictions, which is totally out of anyone’s control, I believe that is very unfair,” one person wrote in a comment.

Others were in the midst of their own struggle of the same kind – no longer able to stay in their accomodation but still being left out of pocket.

“I just had the same problem, I only got 50 per cent of my booking back. I’m trying to message them about it but nothing yet,” one person wrote in a comment.

“They shouldn’t have charged first night and service fee, that’s a bit rude,” another said.

Many said they had received a full refund but only after writing directly to their host and contacting AirBnB.

“I had to cancel a Christmas trip yesterday through Airbnb and was able to get my service fee back. The host was lovely and had set up a full refund (less the service fee), but I spoke with Airbnb and due to the circumstances they returned the service fee also,” one woman wrote.

While some hosts appear to be allowing refunds, AirBnB outlines on its website that bookings made after March 14, 2020 would not be covered by its “extenuating circumstances policy”.

“After the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation, the extenuating circumstances policy no longer applies because COVID-19 and its consequences are no longer unforeseen or unexpected,” the website states.

AirBnB property in Sydney.
People forced to cancel their Sydney accomodation have been struggling to get their money back. Source: Stock/AAP

“Please remember to carefully review the host's cancellation policy when booking and consider choosing an option that provides flexibility.”

Tourism minister encourages flexibility

AirBnB opted not to comment on the matter when it was approached by Yahoo News Australia.

Tourism minister Simon Birmingham has called on businesses to show flexibility in areas where the coronavirus has impacted people’s ability to travel throughout the Christmas period.

“I’d really urge both businesses and consumers to show a bit of consideration and a bit of patience in both directions,” Mr Birmingham told ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday.

“That for tourism operators, wherever they possibly can, to process refunds swiftly, to arrange travel credits as quickly as possible - that's all important to maintain confidence around future bookings and to get people back travelling as quickly as they possibly can.”

He also encouraged consumers to “show a little patience and understanding” when cancelling bookings and requesting refunds.

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