Airbnb ending refunds for guests who get COVID-19

Apr 30, 2022

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A case of COVID-19 will no longer allow Airbnb guests to get a refund if they have to make a last minute cancellation, starting May 31.

Airbnb announced the changes Friday as part of an update to the home-share site’s extenuating circumstances policy. Under the new rules no refunds will be issued when a member of the traveling party gets sick with the virus.

Airbnb said the changes follow other similar steps in the travel industry, and said this is part of adjusting to a “new way of living” as the virus “becomes part of our world.”

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“Some in the travel industry stopped this type of policy months ago, while others didn’t provide it at all,” the company said in a statement Friday. “After consultation with our medical advisors, as well as our community, we feel the time is now right to take the same step.”

(Photo courtesy of Airbnb)

While much of the travel industry allowed guests extra flexibility  for changing or canceling reservations during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous companies have moved away from total flexibility in bookings.

Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy during the pandemic included provisions that allowed guests to get a refund if they or a member of their traveling party came down with COVID-19 just before their trip. The rules often required the guest to provide documentation verifying the illness. Likewise, hosts could cancel a stay last minute without having their Superhost status impacted.

Related: What to do if you show up to a wrecked Airbnb

These policies will end with these changes taking effect in late May. Airbnb told TPG the changes would only apply to cases where someone comes down with COVID-19. So, in accordance with the company’s extenuating circumstances policy, you could still get a refund if the pandemic led to your travel to the region being restricted for some reason.

Airbnb noted, though, nearly two thirds of its active listings continue to offer a moderate or flexible cancellation policy.

For instance, take a look at a property I’m considering for my family’s summer vacation starting Aug. 20. I can cancel as late as Aug. 15 and get a complete refund. I could even cancel up until 4:00 p.m. on the day my stay would start and get a significant portion of the cost refunded.

airbnb booking screenshot
(Screenshot courtesy of Airbnb)

Numerous hotel chains have similar policies in place. The rules can differ from property to property, but as long as you don’t pay in advance, you can usuallycancel at no charge up until a day or two prior to booking.

Related: How Airbnb saved the day 

Take a random Marriott Bonvoy property, for example: I picked the JW Marriott in Miami, and plugged in a week-long stay starting Memorial Day weekend. The normal rate if I do not pay in advance comes to more than $3,200 for the week. However, I have flexibility to cancel at no charge up until 11:59 p.m. the night before I check in.

marriott booking screenshot
(Screenshot courtesy of Marriott Bonvoy)

The one caveat is if I choose to pay in advance. I save a few hundred dollars on the booking, but would only have a grace period until the next day to cancel for a full refund.

marriott booking screenshot
(Screenshot courtesy of Marriott Bonvoy)

Bottom line

As travel begins to look more like it did in pre-pandemic times, companies – including Airbnb –  are continuing to move away from some of the flexibility they offered to travelers during the height of COVID-19.

The omicron surge in the winter of 2021-2022 served as the most recent reminder to travelers that flexibility can still come in handy, and plenty of companies continue to offer at least some degree of flexibility.

As you book travel, be sure to closely review both the company’s overarching cancellation policies, and in the case of home rental reservations and hotels, also review the individual property’s policies so you make the right booking choice to ensure flexibility.

Featured photo courtesy of Airbnb.

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