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Vrbo host canceled 24 hours before I arrived

DEAR TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER: Our Vrbo host canceled our reservation less than 24 hours before our arrival, resulting in lost airfare for my wife and daughter. I need your help getting a refund for our resulting hotel bill.

Christopher Elliott, the Travel Troubleshooter ...
Christopher Elliott, the Travel Troubleshooter 

I reserved a rental in El Paso, Texas, and paid for it in full. At 9:30 p.m. the night before my family’s flights to El Paso, I got a message from the host saying: “The house is not available. It’s already been booked.” Then another message that she canceled our reservation and initiated a refund.

I sent her panicked messages saying there must be some mistake — that we booked and paid in full more than six months earlier. I said we had flights and were arriving the next day. She didn’t respond. No help, no apology, no nothing. I found her cell phone number and called three times: each went straight to voicemail.

Vrbo said there were no other rentals available. So instead, they booked us a single night in a double room at a hotel. We would be left on our own to find a place for the other two nights. I can’t alert other Vrbo renters to the host’s unscrupulous behavior, and I would like a refund for all of the nights we had to stay in a hotel. Can you help me?

— Jim LoScalzo, Washington, D.C.

ANSWER: The host was wrong to cancel just before your arrival, but that’s not the worst of it. When you looked into your account, it turns out the host had given you a one-star review, even though you never stayed in the rental. (This could affect your ability to rent from Vrbo again.) Vrbo should have found a replacement rental for you and covered any additional cost. Instead, the company refunded your rental and paid for one night in a hotel.

Vrbo has a “book with confidence” guarantee that protects you from a last-minute cancellation. It promises guests rebooking assistance or emergency lodging if their reservation is “wrongfully canceled” at the last minute by the host.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Vrbo paid for only one night in the new hotel. You called and emailed the company half a dozen times, but it wouldn’t tell you. By the way, I list the names, numbers and emails of the Vrbo executives on my consumer advocacy site at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/vrbo-customer-service-contacts. A brief, polite email to one of them might have helped.

I contacted Vrbo about your case. Its records show that Vrbo covered emergency lodging for the first night.

“For the rest of his stay, Mr. LoScalzo was asked to book a hotel through one of our sites and submit receipts for reimbursement only if the cost of his hotel stay exceeded the cost of his original booking,” a representative said. “Because the total cost of his hotel reservation did not exceed the cost of his original booking, he is not eligible for reimbursement.”