Frankfort family says COVID-19 forced vacation cancelation, say they can't get full refund from VRBO

FRANKFORT, Ill. (WLS) -- The coronavirus pandemic has forced most people to cancel their vacations, due to shelter-in-place orders, closed hotels and closed borders.

Popular services used to book vacation homes have different policies on issuing refunds and credits. One Frankfort mother, who said she has additional challenges in protecting a child with cancer, and other consumers are asking the home-sharing service VRBO, or Vacation Rentals By Owner, to do more.

"We thought, this is Spring Break. This is a perfect time for a family vacation," said Erin Haughton.

Her family booked a tropical getaway at the end of February. They were supposed to be in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, last week.

"The border to Mexico was closed, and so we thought we obviously can't go on this trip," she said. "We have three strikes: It's physically impossible to go on this trip and the borders are closed; it's legally impossible if we are in a state mandated quarantine in Illinois; and, ethically, we are not going to take our son out of the country."

The Haughtons' 10-year-old son, Andrew suffers from a rare form of brain cancer, so he has to be extra cautious right now. Haughton said she canceled her vacation home booking through VRBO but the company's policy puts responsibility of refunds or credits on the property manager, urging them to give a full refund.

"There are many property managers that get it. They understand, they understand and refund customers that money," says Haughton. But she said her property manager only offered a credit which had to be used this summer. Andrew has a cancer surgery then, so she asked for the credit to be extended.

"You get to keep all the money but let us go on vacation next year when we can," she explained.

But Haughton said her request to extend the credit was refused. After back and forth emails the property manager sent a release form saying the landlord was willing to refund $836, or 50 percent of what they paid. But they couldn't go to the media or complain to any "entity, agency or authority." Haughton refused to sign.
"At the end of the day we truly just want out family vacation," Haughton said. "That is what we want. The option of 50 percent doesn't give us our family vacation."

Haughton filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General, where VRBO is based. The Texas Attorney General said it has received nine total complaints regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Better Business Bureau website shows summaries of several other, similar COVID-19 disputes

VRBO 's website tells consumers that hosts and property managers are "highly encouraged to adopt flexible policies" when it comes to refunds and credits due to COVID-19. However competitor AirBNB's policy is different. It says depending on the dates booked that it will "either refund, or issue travel credit that includes all service fees for covered cancellations."

"When you book with VRBO, they take your money right away. No questions that sweep that money right away, but when there is a problem they say, 'oh it's not our money, you have to work with the property manager,'" said Haughton.
VRBO told the I-Team it refunds all of its "booking fees" and encourages hosts to give at least one-year credits or 50 percent refunds. They added that the company is a "two-sided marketplace," and for every traveler who cancels there's "a vacation home owner who relies on their rental income and clear cancellation policies to pay their mortgages and contract employees, like housekeepers and maintenance workers."

The property manager didn't respond to the I-Team but sent an email to Haughton complaining of not receiving any reservation money from VRBO, because the reservation is now "under review."

Home-share property managers usually get their payment at check-in. Since this is a hard time for them as well, you may want to take a long-term credit if it is an option.

Before you book with any home-share service or hotel, read the policies on credits and refunds.
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