Airbnb customer wins $1100 refund for holiday cancelled by Covid-19

Tribunal orders refund for Airbnb customer.

21mar airbnb customer wins hero

An Airbnb customer denied a $1100 refund for a booking she had to cancel due to Covid-19 has got her money back after taking the case to the Disputes Tribunal.

Sue Hogg booked three nights’ accommodation for her and her husband in Auckland in August 2020. But two days before they were due to arrive at the Airbnb apartment, Auckland went into lockdown and the Bay of Plenty couple had to cancel their booking.

The host initially offered a 50 percent refund or to transfer the booking to a later date, Sue said. However, they later withdrew this offer. Airbnb also declined to provide a refund.

When Sue advised Airbnb she’d lodged a claim in the Disputes Tribunal, it offered her a $931 voucher, provided she agreed to withdraw her claim. Airbnb sent her a 1300-word agreement to sign, waiving her rights to take any future claims against the company in relation to the dispute.

Airbnb’s conditions were “over the top”, Sue said. She didn’t sign the agreement and continued her case in the tribunal, naming the property manager and property owner as respondents.


“This Airbnb Payment Agreement is full and final settlement between Airbnb and myself of any and all claims by or on behalf of myself, and of any other claims, counterclaims, appeals, rights and/or obligations, past, present or future whatsoever arising out of or in any way connected with the facts and/or subject matter of the Subject and whether between the parties to this Airbnb Payment Agreement (including an Airbnb group company) or between any of such parties and any third party.” - Extract from 1300-word agreement Airbnb wanted Sue Hogg to sign.


Tribunal orders full refund

At a hearing in February, the tribunal referee held Sue was entitled to a full refund from the property owner.

“As the lockdown made it impossible for Mrs Hogg to obtain a benefit from her contract, the contract must be regarded as frustrated,” the referee said.

A contract is “frustrated” when it’s impossible to perform for reasons outside the control of the parties. If the contract doesn’t state what happens in these situations, the Contract and Commercial Law Act entitles consumers to a refund, less any reasonable expenses incurred by the company.

The referee found the property owner had failed to provide evidence of costs they’d incurred.

The owner claimed Sue hadn’t cancelled the booking in time to enable the accommodation to be re-let. However, the referee rejected this, finding adequate notice was given on the day the lockdown was announced. “If there was demand [the owner] could have found another booking. I see no unfairness to [the owner] on this ground,” the referee said.

The tribunal also found the owner had failed to provide evidence of the contract terms offered to Sue when she made the booking.

The owner provided copies of Airbnb policies and contract terms limiting refund rights. This included Airbnb’s policy that customers unable to travel due to Covid-19 restrictions couldn’t claim there were extenuating circumstances and request a refund for cancelled bookings.

However, the referee rejected this evidence, stating “without the actual text of what was set out on the [Airbnb] website and evidence of agreement to the terms by Mrs Hogg I find that she did not agree to them”.

Airbnb complaints

Complaints about Airbnb jumped after the Covid-19 lockdown in August.

Airbnb customers who contacted us said they were denied full refunds when they had to cancel bookings due to lockdown restrictions. Some were left hundreds of dollars out of pocket.

In November, we made a complaint to the Commerce Commission asking it to take court action against Airbnb for imposing cancellation terms we think are unfair.

If you’ve been unreasonably denied a refund by Airbnb, make a complaint to the commission. Let us know too.

You also have the option of lodging a claim in the Disputes Tribunal against the Airbnb host.

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Member comments

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Joy M.
29 Mar 2021
Booking.Com and greedy host

I purchased tickets to 2 netball international matches in Mt Maunganui and then booked 2 nights' accommodation.
Subsequently COVID-19 Levels changed and the matches were to transferred to Christchurch with no audience. Netball NZ have refunded the cost of the tickets.
I tried to a week to cancel my booking on the Booking.Com site and advised the host on numerous occasions that we wished to cancel and that I was having problems cancelling through their site. This was 7 days prior to the booking. I was only able to get through and cancel on the Saturday (first night of the accommodation). She has refused to refund my money ($400 total). Is it worth pursuing?

Frank - Consumer staff
31 Mar 2021
Re: Booking.Com and greedy host

Hi Joy,

It may be worth pursuing, so please send us the email trail you have had with the accommodation provider so we can check the terms and conditions for you.

Kind regards,
Maggie - Consumer NZ adviser

Frank - Consumer staff
31 Mar 2021
Re: Booking.Com and greedy host

Hi Joy,

It may be worth pursuing, so please send us the email trail you have had with the accommodation provider so we can check the terms and conditions for you.

Kind regards,
Maggie - Consumer NZ adviser

Margaret B.
28 Mar 2021
Full refund

I made several bookings last month. When I booked I told them that I needed certain facilities for medical reasons. All affirmed except one. Well, not until I arrived. And they couldn't comply. I couldn't use the accommodation. I applied to AirBnB for a full refund on the basis that I should have been notified in advance. And got it. But this has put me off using AirBnB again.

Dorothy M.
27 Mar 2021
Similar...but Rental Car

Had a car booked (through portal RentalCars.com) with Go Rentals at the beginning of March. 2-3 days scheduled in Auckland, then 5 further south...but Covid Level 3 in Auckland dictated I couldn't leave Auckland. So I returned the car and flew home. But no refund/discount available.

James C.
27 Mar 2021
Hosts too greedy

I searched for accomodation on AirBnB last week and was surprised by the number of hosts still offering harsh cancellation policies in this covid environment pushing all risk onto the guest. Such as 'cancel within 5 days for a full refund - otherwise loose 100% of booking excluding service charge'. I refuse to book with such unreasonable and greedy hosts. Also the service costs are getting silly.

Elizabeth I.
27 Mar 2021
Property owner

I own a holiday let and fully refunded all bookings. Surely goodwill, fairness and word of mouth for future bookings is very valuable to an owner.

Jane B.
27 Mar 2021
Airbnb refund

I had a booking in Wellington last year for WOW in October. When the March lockdown was announced I emailed the property owner that we would have to cancel due to WOW being cancelled. I had an immediate response and my money was refunded in full. It shows there are some very good and Airbnb properties owners, not just ones trying to make a quick buck.

Remo Casale
27 Mar 2021
Airbnb cancellation policy

I am not normally an apologist for international American corporations but my experience with Airbnb and the property owner (host) last August was the polar opposite of Ms Hoggs. We had to cut short our stay in Upper Hutt due to the lockdown and found both our host and the company sympathetic and understanding. The five day unused was promptly refunded. I suspect she encountered a rogue owner.