Q: I recently tried to rent an apartment in New York from VRBO. I sent the owner a message. She promptly responded and asked me to pay by clicking a button on the VRBO site. I paid $7,700 for a one-week rental.
Several days before my stay, I contacted the owner again, with no response. I got in touch with VRBO, and a representative assured me that if the owner didn't respond, I would receive a refund or it would assist me with booking another property.
I finally received a text message from the property owner shortly before I arrived, saying that her property was not available because she had an emergency, but she would connect me to a friend who had another property. I declined and requested a refund.
I filed a dispute with PayPal, called VRBO and opened a case, and contacted my bank. But my bank said that because it had been over 90 days, I couldn't dispute the charges.
VRBO basically told me to work with the property owner. But she won't even answer my calls. I am very frustrated. I had to spend another $6,000 for a hotel in New York. I feel like VRBO aided this woman in scamming me out of my money.
A: You should have received the apartment you rented. And if not, you certainly deserve a VRBO refund.
Can a VRBO host cancel a reservation? In a word, yes. The VRBO listing policy forbids owners only from canceling a "material number" of confirmed reservations.
The problem is, VRBO never defines "material number," so the apartment owner might have done this before and might do it again, with no consequence to her. Still, she owes you a refund, and if she can't come up with it, a VRBO refund is the only available resolution.
You thought you made your reservation through VRBO, which has a Book With Confidence Guarantee. It promises payment protection against listing fraud, phishing and misrepresentation. It also guarantees security-deposit protection to help you recover your deposit "if it is wrongfully withheld" — which yours was.
But it turns out that the owner somehow managed to send you booking instructions that redirected you from VRBO to PayPal.
VRBO never should have sent you to the owner for a resolution. You used VRBO's booking system, and its guarantee should have covered you.
I contacted the company. A representative said that because of a "miscommunication," it took an unusually long time to find a resolution. "We regret any inconvenience this has caused," a spokesman said. VRBO returned your $7,700 and issued $100 as an apology. VRBO is also revising its systems to prevent future redirects from its system to ensure that an error like this never happens again.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at email@example.com.