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- Like many accommodation providers, Airbnb has rolled out an Extenuating Circumstances policy to protect travelers in case of COVID-19 disruption to plans.
- However, it only applies to travelers who booked trips before March 14 with check-in dates before October 15, and even then it comes with some pretty big caveats.
- We've broken the plan down in full (as it stands at the time of publishing) so you know what you can expect if you need to cancel an Airbnb reservation.
- Read more: Are Airbnbs safe right now?
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Travel disruptions, while nothing new, have become even more common as the world continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus.
Many hotels and vacation home rental platforms are changing cancellation policies in response to COVID-19. Airbnb responded to the pandemic by implementing new policies aimed at protecting both guests and hosts, including new cleaning protocols and certification, and implementing changes to its cancellation policy.
For the latter, Airbnb developed a pandemic-specific "Extenuating Circumstances" policy in March that covers the majority of stays booked through July 31 (it excludes bookings for Airbnb's ultra-high-end Luxe vacation rental arm, as well as domestic reservations in mainland China).
However, keep in mind that this policy only applies to bookings made on or before March 14. It does not apply to any new vacation plans you might be thinking about making.
Bookings made from now on aren't currently covered under the company's extenuating circumstances policy unless either the host or the guest is sick with COVID-19. Those are considered to be booked under the host's normal cancellation policies, which can vary dramatically and are set by the host themselves. They can range from a flexible policy with a full refund for cancellations at least 14 days out, to a strict one with only a 48-hour window after booking to receive a refund.
According to Airbnb, "after the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, the extenuating circumstances policy no longer applies because COVID-19 and its consequences are no longer unforeseen or unexpected." Basically, as travel may be disrupted by COVID-19, you accept that risk when you make a booking. And, even if you booked before March 14 and are now worried about an upcoming trip in, say, August, the policy won't protect you.Additionally, Business Insider spoke with Airbnb users and found that some users ran into issues getting full refunds, even when reservations fell under the new policy.
While Airbnb might update its extending circumstances policy as the outbreak continues, it's best to carefully read the fine print when it comes to your host's cancellation policies.
When you're searching, you may also filter results by cancellation flexibility, which is located first on the highlighted filter options. On a listing page, you can spot the cancellation policy in the initial highlights at the top of a listing page and down at the bottom in the "Things to Know" section.
To find out the cancellation policy for your existing reservations, just log into your Airbnb account and click over to your Trips page. That's where your upcoming reservations are listed, and you can select the booking from there that you want to check on. We also detail the entire process of how to book with Airbnb here (and how it compares to other platforms), as well as how to identify their new cleaning protocols here.
Here's the breakdown of Airbnb's Extenuating Circumstances policy.
Bookings covered by the Extenuating Circumstances policy
If you booked on or before March 14 and your check-in date is between now and October 15.
Bookings that fall under these dates are covered by the Extenuating Circumstances policy. Note that this policy was recently updated and extended to cover bookings through October 15. However, you still need to have booked prior to March 14 to fit this policy.
Guests who cancel are entitled to either a full cash refund or travel credit if they'd prefer to rebook their trip for a later time. Airbnb will also either refund or issue travel credit for all service fees travelers pay to the company when making a booking, depending on if travelers are looking to cancel or rebook the trip.
Airbnb has also stressed that for eligible canceled reservations, this new policy overrides hosts' individual policies. "If a guest's reservation is eligible under Airbnb's Extenuating Circumstances policy, they will be refunded regardless of their host's cancellation policy," said an Airbnb spokesperson.
Hosts who need to cancel during this same timeframe also have protection. Hosts may cancel without charge or impact to their Superhost status. For guests, that means your host can unexpectedly cancel before July 31. However, if that does happen, guests are entitled to a full refund or the option to rebook.
It's important to note, however, that if you cancel under the Extenuating Circumstances policy, you'll need to prove why. According to Airbnb, documentation can include a "travel restriction or shelter in place order, a transportation cancellation, a medical recommendation, or other similar documentation."
While that sounds simple enough, in practice it can make getting a refund challenging and frustrating.
Emily Marx, a hospital worker, ran into issues when she tried to cancel a reservation for a May bachelorette party, and spoke to Business Insider about her experience. "The hosts of the Airbnb were great actually and were under the impression we'd get a full refund under the updated COVID policy," she said. "Airbnb, on the other hand, were requiring I prove my employment at the hospital during COVID as a reason to why I couldn't travel any longer. If I didn't do this, I'd only get half my money back."
She went back and forth with customer service and the hosts even spoke with Airbnb on her behalf. She finally received a refund, but it took weeks. "I was blown away that Airbnb wanted me to burden my manager to get a certified letter in the middle of a pandemic to prove my employment as a reason for being unable to travel," Marx said.
As such, be prepared for refunds to take a while to reach your account and the possibility that you may have to spend a good chunk of time speaking with customer service even if your reservation does fall under the appropriate dates.
Bookings not covered by the Extenuating Circumstances policy
If you booked before March 14 but your check-in date is after October 15, and all new reservations.
According to Airbnb, bookings for both stays and Airbnb Experiences that were booked prior to March 14 but don't start until after July 31 are not covered for COVID-19-related extenuating circumstances. Additionally, all new reservations are not covered, so if you're currently thinking about booking a trip these policies won't apply or offer you any protections. The only time this would change is if the host or guest is sick with the virus, in which case the Extenuating Circumstances cancellation policies will come into effect.
Outside of that, travelers will have to work within the host's cancellation policy, which would fall into one of the below categories:
- Flexible: Free cancellation is available until 14 days before check-in. If the stay is booked less than 14 days before it starts, guests can cancel for free for 48 hours after booking. If it's outside the initial free cancellation windows but up to 24 hours before the reservation starts, customers get the full refund minus the service fee. According to the website, those who leave a stay early get "the nightly rate for the nights not spent 24 hours after cancellation fully refunded."
- Moderate: Guests can cancel for free until two weeks before check-in. If the reservation is made less than 14 days before the trip, but it's more than five days until the stay begins, guests have a 48-hour cooling-off period to cancel for free. If it's canceled less than five nights in advance, guests forfeit the first night's rate and half the rate for the remaining nights. According to the website, those who leave a stay early forfeit the nightly rate for 24 hours after canceling, then receive 50% of the nightly rate for the remaining nights not spent.
- Strict: Guests have a 48-hour window after booking to cancel for free, as long as the stay starts at least 14 days later. Up to seven days before check-in, guests can get a refund that's 50% of the total nightly rate and the cleaning fee, but they forfeit the service charge. If the guest cancels less than seven days before or leaves the stay early, there's no refund for the nights not spent.
- Long Term: This policy is what applies to stays of 28 nights or more. Guests can cancel up to 48 hours after booking for free, as long as that window is more than 28 days before check-in. After that 48 hour window, the guest forfeits the first 30 days' rate of their stay as well as the service fee. If guests cancel during the stay, they have to agree to a new checkout date online and pay the host for up to 30 days following the cancelation date (or until the end of their day, if that comes first).
- Super Strict 30 Days: This invite-only policy is available to guests from hosts under special circumstances only. Guests have 30 full days after booking to cancel and get half the nightly rate total back plus the cleaning fee. If guests leave early, there's no refund for nights not spent.
- Super Strict 60 Days: Also only available by invitation, guests under this policy can cancel 60 days before check-in and get half the total nightly rate back. Guests who decide to leave early also are not eligible for a refund for nights not spend there.
However, even if you book a flexible stay, keep in mind that Airbnb won't necessarily refund your service charge if you cancel, and these fees can be quite hefty. It can also take a long time for Airbnb to actually refund stays even if the host agrees.
Jess Aulenti, another Airbnb user who spoke with Business Insider, ran into issues when trying to cancel a booking made in early March for October. The reservation was for a large house for a reunion among friends that she and her boyfriend no longer felt was wise. It came with a hefty deposit of over $2,500. The host agreed to a full refund, but after a month went by, they still hadn't received the money back.
"We reached back out to the host and he said he did everything on his end and that he doesn't even get the payment until a week before the dates of your stay. So the money was held up with Airbnb," says Aulenti.
Like Marx, she also spent weeks going back and forth and trying to get in touch with Airbnb. When she finally got through, a customer service rep said they could process the refund, but wouldn't be able to refund the service fee of nearly $600. Aulenti is still going back and forth with customer service in the hopes of getting it resolved.
If you are considering booking an Airbnb with a large deposit or service fee, it's worth keeping in mind that even with a flexible cancellation plan from a host you may not see a full refund or it may take months to actually receive the funds back.
While these policies are current as of the time of publishing, always refer to Airbnb's website for the latest information.
Freelance Reporter, Insider Reviews
Krystin Arneson is a writer and editor who's been covering travel, culture, wine, style, and beauty since 2016. Her work has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic, Glamour, BBC Online, and other international publications. She's been based in her adopted home of Berlin since 2016 and holds an MSc in Cultural Studies from the University of Edinburgh. Learn more about how our team of experts tests and reviews products at Insider here.