Q: I recently tried to rent an apartment in New York from VRBO. I sent the owner a message. She promptly responded and asked me to issue payment for renting the property by clicking a button on the VRBO site. I paid $7,700 for a one-week rental.
Several days before my stay, I contacted the owner again, with no response. I got in touch with VRBO, and a representative assured me that if the owner didn’t respond, I would receive a refund or it would assist me with booking another property.
I finally received a text message from the property owner shortly before I arrived, saying that her property was not available because she had an emergency, but she would connect me to a friend who had another property. I declined and requested a refund since the property I paid for was unavailable.
I filed a dispute with PayPal, called VRBO and opened a case, and contacted my bank. But my bank said that because it had been over 90 days, I couldn’t dispute the charges.
VRBO basically told me to work with the property owner. But the owner won’t even answer my calls. I am very frustrated. I had to spend another $6,000 for a hotel in New York. I feel like VRBO aided this woman in scamming me out of my money.
I need to have the $7,700 returned because I did not get what I paid for and no one has helped me.
Kimberly LaRocca, Clearwater, Florida
A: You should have received the apartment you rented, as promised. And if not, you certainly deserve a VRBO refund.
Can a VRBO host cancel a reservation? In a word, yes. The VRBO listing policy forbids owners only from canceling a “material number” of confirmed reservations.
“Canceling a confirmed reservation is a huge disappointment and can result in lost time, money, and a bad overall experience for travelers,” it says.
I’ll second that.
The problem is, VRBO never defines “material number,” so the apartment owner might have done this before and might do it again, with no consequence to her. Still, she owes you a refund, and if she can’t come up with it, a VRBO refund is the only available resolution.
You thought you made your reservation through VRBO, which has a Book With Confidence Guarantee. It promises comprehensive payment protection against listing fraud, phishing and misrepresentation. It also guarantees security-deposit protection to help you recover your deposit “if it is wrongfully withheld” – which yours was.
But it turns out that while you’d made your reservation while logged into the VRBO system, the owner somehow managed to send you booking instructions that redirected you from VRBO to PayPal.
So, how to get a VRBO refund? A brief, polite email to a VRBO executive – I list the names, numbers and email addresses for VRBO’s parent company, HomeAway, on my nonprofit consumer-advocacy site – might have moved your refund in the right direction.
VRBO never should have sent you back to the owner for a resolution. You used VRBO’s booking system, and its guarantee should have covered you.
I contacted the company. A representative said that because of a “miscommunication” that occurred when you initially contacted VRBO, it took an unusually long time to find a resolution. “We regret any inconvenience this has caused,” a spokesman said. VRBO returned your $7,700 and issued a $100 refund as an apology. VRBO is also revising its systems to prevent future redirects from its system to ensure that an error like this never happens again.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more at elliott.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.