Airbnb takes another step in improving its cancellation policy


You’d still be wise to get travel insurance

Hurricanes are in but COVID-19 outbreaks are out in Airbnb's new cancellation policy. As part of the company’s ongoing efforts to improve things with travelers, it is introducing updates to its Extenuating Circumstances Policy – including renaming it to the Major Disruptive Events Policy – to better reflect its purpose.

That section will be overhauled to provide cancellation and refund support when major events like natural disasters, government travel restrictions, or weather events impact guests' ability to stay at a location.

Going forward, that shift accomplishes two things. First, it supersedes a host’s booking cancellation policy, thus enabling guests to cancel eligible upcoming and active reservations at the impacted location for a refund; and second, it also allows hosts to cancel reservations without fees and other related consequences.

Breaking that down to real-world situations, the policy will formally apply to foreseeable weather events – like a hurricane during hurricane season – that result in another covered event happening.

For example, if you were going to Florida during hurricane season, and the local government closed the roads or the power was out, you can cancel and receive a refund. Likewise, hosts can cancel without fees and related consequences -- both as long as the bookings are "eligible” reservations.

“The changes to this policy, including its new name, were made to create clarity for our guests and Hosts and ensure it’s meeting the diverse needs of our global community,” Juniper Downs, Airbnb’s head of Community Policy, said.

“Our aim was to clearly explain when the policy applies to a reservation, and to deliver fair and consistent outcomes for our users. These updates also bring the policy in line with industry standards.”

These policy updates come into effect for all reservations taking place on or after June 6, 2024.

Caveats, eligibility, and travel insurance

Airbnb suggested that there’s likely to be a little shakeout while it, guests, and hosts all get to the point where everyone knows what’s supposed to happen in these situations. 

As examples, it gave these three examples:

  • Limiting coverage to large-scale events at the destination location only to help balance the needs of our entire community. This means that the policy will only apply to reservations where a major disruptive event has impacted the location of the listing. 

  • Making clear that mid-trip cancellations can be made due to a covered event, with guests receiving a refund for any nights they didn’t stay and without fees and related consequences for hosts.

  • Reminding hosts that they’re obligated to cancel reservations if their listing is uninhabitable or no longer consistent with what was originally booked by their guest and that they are able to do this without cancellation fees and related consequences.

But, the bottom line appears to be that it’s still the guest’s responsibility to make sure how it impacts them. One of those caveats is the word "eligible" as it applies to a booking. 

ConsumerAffairs asked Airbnb for an explanation of what "eligible" meant and here is their response:

"Reservations outside of the defined area and timeframe may not be eligible, though Hosts may still be able to cancel without adverse consequences if they are unable to host. We continuously monitor these situations and adjust coverage as needed to reflect changing conditions. If you believe this Policy applies to your reservation, please contact us to inquire about eligibility."

The bottom line here is that if you’re going to a destination where there may be some sort of disruption, you should first contact Airbnb to ask what’s covered.

Airbnb goes has far as saying that the second thing is that you might want to consider is travel insurance. “As this cancellation and refund policy is not designed to apply to all types of unexpected issues and emergencies that can impact a trip, guests should consider purchasing travel insurance,” the company said.

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