Airbnb's Extenuating Circumstance Policy Overrides my Cancellation Policy

We had a booking request from a family who said they were visiting a very sick relative who was dying of stage IV lung cancer. This was for the Thanksgiving holiday-- Wed-Sunday. I have a “strict” cancellation policy and accepted their reservation a couple months prior to check-in. Three days prior to check-in, the guest emailed me to say that his daughter had contracted pink eye and they were afraid of exposing her to the sick relative whose immune system was compromised. He didn’t say they definitely could not come but they were essentially “fishing” for a refund. He did make a strange sort of threat saying that he would hate for them to infect our household with her pink eye.

Our kids have had pink eye before and we know that once they get the drops in their eyes, it is only contagious for another 24 hours. This was three full days before they were due to travel. Anyhow, I apologized and said there was nothing I could do. I wanted to ask-- why did you book my home, knowing it had a strict cancellation policy, given your situation visiting someone who was terminal but I did not.

I contacted Airbnb, and they said the guest could submit medical documentation to them if they wished to do so. I relayed that info to the guest. I asked the person on the phone from Airbnb what would happen if Airbnb accepted their excuse. She said we’d still get paid out minus the cleaning fee. Sure enough, we did get paid out (about $700) on the day they were supposed to check in. So I thought we were set even though we did not get a new reservation for Thanksgiving. (who plans a thanksgiving trip 2-3 days in advance?)

We are only occasional hosts— we rent our place to fund our own trips-- so for us to get our house ready to rent it is a major project. It takes 3-4 days of work. So two weeks ago was our first time renting again and on the day new guests checked in, Airbnb deposited the money from them MINUS the $700 or so from the previous guest. I called to find out what was going on and they said the Thanksgiving guests were able to provide a doctors note recommending against travel and so they took the money they had paid out to us back! I was shocked. We are always full for thanksgiving and I dont’ know why their poor planning/decision making-- booking a strict cancellation policy place and failing to get travel insurance-- are supposed to be my financial burden?

Furthermore, Airbnb had told me on the phone that we’d be paid minus the cleaning fee. I asked them to review this tape two weeks ago and they said they would but now they are stonewalling me. Do I have any hope of getting this money back? To be honest, it was spent back in November! Thanks!


No hope to get anything back

We have already discussed it. Air Bnb is refunding guests if they have medical issues.

Thanks. I can maybe understand their policy for “unforeseen” stuff-- I mean, if someone gets hit by a bus, what can you do? But does the fact that this person told me they were visiting someone who was very sick in their first message mean nothing? To me, this problem isn’t a surprise or unforeseen, as the person’s medical condition was known to them before they booked and they booked my “strict” cancellation home anyways.

Sorry to hear this happened and that the rep. lied to you (whether intentional or just not informed). Even if the guest gets hit by a bus…I feel like we hosts should still be paid out. No hotel in the world would block off the entire hotel and just let someone cancel all the rooms for free. In essence we are a hotel with one room (most of us anyway).

But, unfortunately Air has decided it is easier to make the hosts act as the guests’ “trip cancellation insurance.” I wonder if the guest would have still submitted a claim if you hadn’t mentioned it to him. Not that any of this your fault. But something is definintely fishy with the story. If your family is visiting someone before they die, then seems a bit silly for the entire family to stay home because one member has pink eye. Why not just keep the one family member away from the terminally ill family member? I think for whatever reason, the guest had decided to cancel and they had already looked up reasons that might “qualify” for a refund.


I agree with @cabinhost. Something is very fishy. I think they conned you, but unfortunately, I think Airbnb is VERY pro-guest. I have been complaining out this for years. You could ask Airbnb what your options are to appeal this decision, but I suspect it is nil. I am curious as to what other hosts think.

By the way, @Bend_Host, excellent retelling of this whole story. Often hosts leave out pertinent details. or include too many, but I felt like I had a real grasp of the situation after reading your synopsis. :wink:


I second that!! Sometimes playing “20 questions” gets tiresome…lol.


Thanks, guys. I do think their little girl had pink eye. They emailed us a few photos of her with puffy eyes. But it isn’t really the pink eye alone they are using, it’s really about the terminally ill person they were visiting here. My point to Airbnb is that they disclosed that they were visiting this very sick person in their original message, so how can it qualify as an extenuating circumstance when it shouldn’t have been too hard to predict that something like this might happen when you’re visiting someone on their death bed.

All I could get from Airbnb, so far, is a promise to listen to the recording of the phone call in which we were told we were going to get our money, minus the cleaning fee. That promise was on December 21. I sent tweet to Airbnb Help last night asking for a status update and someone from Airbnb called me this morning who played dumb and had no new information. I guess they will probably stonewall me and hope I give up. But we worked so hard to get the house ready, all just for this one guest who paid nothing.

If they do listen to my conversation with the Airbnb rep, they’ll hear a conversation that roughly went like this:
AIRBNB: "If they meet the criteria for our extenuating circumstances policy, then we will issue a refund."
ME: (Assuming that by “we” she meant Airbnb and not me!) So does that mean we will still get paid for this booking?
AIRBNB: You will. The money, minus the booking fee, will be deposited in your account on Wednesday.

Then sure enough, the money came in as promised on Wednesday (their check in day) so I thought the rep had been straight with me. It seems to me that she should have told me that, yeah, the money will be sent to you but it could be taken back too.

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One more point. We aren’t supposed to discriminate against anyone making a reservation request but knowing what I know now, why would I accept a reservation request from someone who is telling me from the outset either that they are very sick or they are visiting someone who is very sick? Too much risk, right?

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That is ridiculous that Airbnb changed the reservation policy due to pink eye. I used to teach preschool (long, long ago) so I have plenty of experience with pink eye. As you said the drops work quickly. Also, pink eye is only transferred by touch; it is not air born. All they would have had to do is have the infected family member wash her hands before visiting the guest and not touch her eyes.

All of you who think that it’s a good idea to use Payfully; consider the scenario the original poster is describing.


I have a lot of sympathy for both sides of the coin.

As a host, I completely understand why you’re upset. Furthermore, I can see how the conversation with AirBNB could be read both ways, and there was ambiguity in the use of the word “we”. AirBNB issues the refund but it is funded by the host.

As a layperson, I can understand why the guests wanted to cancel their travel. While pink eye may not be contagious after 24h, it’s just not worth the risk especially if the relative has a compromised immune system. It seems that it was confirmed by a medical professional. There could be more to their story.

On a personal note, I have a trip to Hawaii coming up today. As part of that trip, I invited my mother, and my husband is also coming along. My mother is currently visiting me in Australia from Boston. Due to different reasons, we were booked on different airline tickets. (My mom is heading back to Boston after Hawaii and I am ticketed to return to Australia). We rented an AirBNB for part of our stay and a hotel for the remainder.

Unfortunately, my maternal grandmother passed away unexpectedly last week in Boston. As part of figuring out our options, we contacted each airline and accommodation we had booked for Hawaii in case we had to go back to Boston instead of Hawaii. Every single one of them were nothing but nice and accommodating including offering refunds for non-refundable tickets.

My mother decided that we should continue with our trip instead of returning home to Boston. Therefore, we did not cancel. However, as a traveler, I am so grateful for the compassion and understanding in what was (and still is) a very difficult time.

I understand the inconvenience and need for the money. My mind-set would be that if they were telling the truth, hopefully this made their life a little easier. I would not want to be in their situation. If they weren’t telling the truth then I hope karma bites them on the bum.


Does anyone know if VRBO, Flipkey and other competing sites retain the same ability to essentially veto/override the host’s cancellation policy as they see fit?

My condolences on the loss of your grandmother.

First and foremost, I’m very sorry for the loss of your grandmother. I hope you have lots of wonderful memories of her to comfort you.

I think that when guests agree to the strict cancellation policy, they should lose their money if they cancel; otherwise the policy is just a hurdle to get over if the guest is creative enough with his/her story. Pink eye is only contagious via touch. It’s not air born. Therefore all the affected family member had to do is wash her hands and not touch her eyes. If Airbnb is allowing people’s concerns that are contradicted by science to override the strict cancellation policy, the policy exists in name only. Personally, I think it’s crazy to book a place with a strict cancellation policy for the purpose of visiting a terminally ill relative as terminal illnesses don’t run on a preset timeline. However, the guests are presumably literate adults who have a grasp of consequences.


@Bend_Host my experience is that HA/VRBO does not really insert themselves between host and guest.

That is what travel insurance Is for. Cancelling a trip for pink eye is absurd. I am a palliative care RN, there are many ways that the family could have handled this and still protect the terminally ill person. Next people will be getting doctors notes for a hangnail. I wonder if their family member passed away?


Thank you @KKC and @EllenN

There is seemingly a gap in the market for insurance for hosts in these situations as AirBNB doesn’t provide the host protection and travel insurance requires insured to mitigate their loss at first instance (i.e. recover the money from AirBNB/host if possible). Under Air’s policy, they refund for medical issues/death of an immediate family member so travel insurance wouldn’t normally also cover this.

ETA: @Louise, as a layperson, I agree. However, there is a doctor that seemingly put their name to this, and I would query whether there was something else at play that perhaps the host isn’t privy to. (I assume he’s not privy to it because he’s provided such a comprehensive summary).

I agree that Airbnb should offer travel insurance. However in the case of the original poster, I don’t think it would apply. The relative was terminally ill when the guest booked the trip.

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It does not matter what the Customer Service rep promises.
The mgt supervisor can and will over-ride it at whim.= that happened to me in October.
I clarified, reiterated, and had them paraphrase back … an hour later the letter came from the CS supervisor establishing ABB policy.
BTW, if a guest does not check in then cleaning fee is always refunded, no matter what.
I see this as a HUGE issue, especially for houses ( like mine ) that accept 8 to 14 guests.
Between 14 guests, there can ALWAYS be an extenuating circumstance, somehow, to someone, or some family member.

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Thanks for your input. I’m very sorry about your grandmother.

Who makes a reservation several months in advance to visit someone who has end-stage cancer? Such a bizarre concept to me. I don’t believe that there is a strict cancelation policy at this point in time. AirBNB seems to be easily persuaded to refund monies and there is no obligation on their part to explain their actions.

I feel very lucky that if any of my short-term rentals pulled this crap, I would not be desperate since my room charges are rather modest, but for those that rely on this income to cover their mortgage or bills, this must be terribly scary.

I am truly sorry that your expected $700 payout was withdrawn.