When searching for a place to live, you look for things like the number of bedrooms, the price and, of course, the location. But 5 on Your Side wants travelers to focus on who you book with and their cancellation policy as much as the other things.
It’s something Tracy Parks wishes she had done.
A frequent user of vacation rental company Vrbo, Parks used the online booking site to book a girls’ trip to Charlotte.
“I ran into girlfriends that I hadn’t seen in 30 years,” Parks said. “One of us called us out and said ‘Let’s reconnect before I die,'” she joked.
The day for the mid-January vacation arrived, but Parks told WRAL she hadn’t heard from the host, despite sending him messages.
“I called Vrbo and they said, ‘Hosts have up to an hour before you’re going to provide the information,'” Parks said.
When Parks arrived at the house, however, there was no way to gain entry. She called Vrbo and spoke to four more agents, who assured her they would contact the host.
“There’s no keyless entry, there’s no lockbox, there’s nothing you’d get with a regular Vrbo,” Parks said. “I told them I said this is cheating, there’s no way this is the real deal, there’s no way you’re getting into this house.”
Vrbo offered Parks a hotel room as a replacement, but she didn’t feel it was a fair trade. The house she ordered had three bedrooms and two bathrooms. She canceled the reservation with Vrbo and booked an Airbnb instead.
“We had a great time,” Parks said of the trip.
5 On Your Side caught up with the host. He said he never heard from Parks or Vrbo until after the weekend was over and blamed Vrbo for the lack of communication. He told 5 On Your Side he owned a total of 15 properties in the area.
Weeks after the incident, the host gave Parks a one-star review on Vrbo. She couldn’t rate him because she never stayed with him, according to Vrbo.
Nneya Richards is a travel expert and tells 5 On Your Side that Vrbo hosts must communicate with their guests if guests have questions.
“There is no excuse for a lack of response. If they’re on the platform, customer service is part of their hosting duties, Richards said.
Richards also recommends booking accommodation with a credit card, which will give you travel and fraud protection. Parks booked the Vrbo using her Capitol One card, disputed the charge and was able to get a refund that way. She was hoping that she would get an official refund from Vrbo.
After 39 days and many emails from 5 On Your Side, that’s what she got. Her bad review was also removed.
“Thank you. I know they wouldn’t have done it without your help,” Parks told 5 On Your Side.
Here is Vrbo’s full email to 5 On Your Side:
“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Our teams are investigating what happened and we apologize that Tracy had a negative experience with her booking. We will issue her a full refund for the cost of her booking and the host’s review of Tracy will be removed because the stay did not happen.
In this case, the listing was temporarily removed while the host did not respond. However, we have since contacted the host to gather more information and the listing has been reactivated. When hosts misbehave or violate our policies, penalties may include disabling the host’s ability to receive booking requests, removing the host’s listing from search results, or removing the host and their listing from our platform.
“If they have a problem, it’s a human being who picks up the phone and says ‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry you’re experiencing that I can send someone to help you.’ You’re just not going to be able to get that from online-only companies,” she said.
Cancellation with Emerald Isle Realty usually comes with a $200 fee. However, Brienza told 5 On Your Side that they handle things on a case-by-case basis.
“We have a heart and we know things happen,” Brienza said.
For maximum flexibility, many hotels have 48-hour cancellation policies, you’ll just lose your place.
Here are five other things to consider before ordering:
- Read through all reviews and look for narrative reviews such as “the house was nice, but contact/communication with the owner/manager was difficult.”
- If it’s a brand new listing or has no reviews, be careful.
- If possible, use the description to cross-reference other vacation rental websites. Hosts often post to more than one site.
- Familiarize yourself with the cancellation policy and make sure it works for your circumstances.
- And always choose the travel insurance, if it is available.