Moments after checking into an Airbnb in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, I realized there were problems. A loud construction project obstructed the front door, the bed had been left with obviously soiled sheets, and the apartment looked nothing like the listing. To make matters worse, neither the host nor the AC promised in the listing could be found.
Did I stay and chalk this up to a moment of cultural learning, or did I go?
After sweating through a closer inspection of the apartment, guess which I picked?
I got out of this situation and learned that taking advantage of Airbnb’s cancellation and refund policies wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined.
Here’s what you should know to make your cancellation process go as smoothly as possible.
If You Want to Cancel Before You Show Up
This one’s easy. Before you book, pay close attention to the cancellation policy on the listing, found to the right of the prices in the “About This Listing” description. There are six distinct policies of varying degree of leniency; Airbnb does a good job of clearly explaining them in words and, yes, graphs. Bottom line here: You can void your reservation anytime, but you won’t always get your money back, so read carefully before clicking the “Cancel” button posted in the listing.
If a Host Cancels
If a booking needs to be canceled due to host error (for example, they’ve contacted you at the last minute to say there’s a gas leak), ask your host to cancel the listing via their account. This will alert Airbnb that it wasn’t your fault.
Airbnb will refund your total payment within seven business days and immediately send you an email with substitute listings that resemble your canceled booking. You can request Airbnb to transfer your initial payment to the new location. If that room costs less, Airbnb will credit your account with the difference; if it costs more, Airbnb will cover the extra charge, also through your account.
When Things Go Awry
Airbnb’s policy stipulates that a guest is entitled to a refund—irrespective of the host’s cancellation policy—if the listing fails to meet one of a fixed set of criteria, generally that the lodging was misrepresented or is unclean, as happened to me in Vietnam.
Your job is to prove the subpar listing by documenting the situation and uploading proof to Airbnb’s Help Center. Photos, a transcript of correspondence with the host, or a map showing that the listing is not located where it was advertised are all acceptable forms of proof. The key is submitting this data within the first 24 hours after check-in. That’s when Airbnb transfers your pending payment to the host’s bank account.
Airbnb strongly encourages guests and hosts to first sort out problems on their own though its Resolution Center. However, if your bedroom is overrun with, say, cockroaches and you need to find alternative accommodation immediately, it’s appropriate to bypass that step and get in touch with customer service.
You can call, email, or even tweet Airbnb, which offers 24/7 support from 200 customer service reps (at least one in every time zone, according to Airbnb spokesperson Jakob Kerr). You’ll be assigned one rep who will help assess the situation. If you absolutely cannot stay in your reserved room, Airbnb will work directly with you to find a new place to crash.
This is what happened to me. I jumped on email, explained my situation, and, lo and behold, Airbnb’s policies rang true. The company canceled the reservation and sent some alternatives. Since I couldn’t find a comparably priced option HCMC, Airbnb credited my account for the difference of the new one.
I ended up sleeping like a baby and still walking away with a cool new cultural experience.