We were less than 12 hours from leaving for our two-week trip to New York and Europe when I received a notification from Airbnb: Your host has canceled. That sucks, I thought, but I assumed it was for one of my bookings later into the vacation. Surely, an Airbnb host canceling last minute wasn’t legitimate? Turns out it very much was—this is the story of what happened and what to do if you find yourself in a similar pickle.
My long history with Airbnb
I’ve been using Airbnb for over a decade. I’ve been a Superhost for nearly as long. But I’m also the company’s biggest critic and will say that their customer service leaves a lot to be desired. Much has changed since Airbnb was a scrappy little startup where Millennials could rent out an extra room to make a buck; now, it’s gone the corporate way of Expedia.
I’ve had some really great experiences with Airbnb. I’ve had a couple awful ones. But for as much as I use the app, the great experiences far outweigh the awful. And SVV and I really love being able to live like locals when we travel, as well as share an accommodation with our family, friends or other travel companions. So it’s usually our preferred method of lodging when we’re traveling in a group.
Until this recent New York trip, an Airbnb host canceling last minute had not been on my travel disaster Bingo card.
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What happens if an Airbnb host cancels last minute?
According to Airbnb, this is what to expect if a host cancels your reservation: “When a cancellation occurs, you’ll get an email with full details, including your refund info. Refund times may differ depending on how you paid. If your cancellation happens within 30 days of check-in, we can also assist in rebooking a comparable or better listing.” The host incurs a small penalty, which really doesn’t matter to you if you’re still left without a place to stay.
But what happens when this is the day before or, worse, day OF travel, you are on the road and find yourself with nowhere to stay? You have to fight. Hard.
Our last-minute Airbnb cancellation in New York
On the front end of our Europe trip with our niece, we stopped in New York for four nights for a function with my husband’s family. His great-great-great-grandfather was a Union soldier buried in Green-Wood Cemetery. Like 5,000 other soldiers there, his grave had not properly been designated. So SVV’s Aunt Kathy worked hard for two years to make this happen, and we all met up in Brooklyn for the headstone dedication ceremony.
Originally, there were six of us—all adults, ranging in ages from 18 to 77—staying in an Airbnb, so back in January, I found a brownstone in Brooklyn owned by a company called Gotham Rentals that would accommodate all of us. On March 6, I booked the house for $3851.47. The week before we left, SVV’s parents canceled due to personal reasons, so that left four of us: my husband, me, Aunt Kathy and our niece Kiva.
On July 13 at 9pm, Gotham Rentals canceled on our reservation set to start the following day with no explanation offered upfront.
I received an email stating Airbnb would refund us the $3851.47, and I immediately searched Airbnb for other available bookings. There were none that matched the size of the original booking. In fact, in all of Manhattan and Brooklyn, there were exactly three available units for the weekend that would even house a group of six—and all were triple the price we originally paid.
Airbnb covers its tracks by issuing you a refund for your original stay, but that hardly accounts for a host canceling last minute when you booked months prior and the fact that limited inventory and demand for last-minute bookings will likely mean you’re going to pay a lot more than your initial booking.
At 9:05pm, I started to panic. I called Airbnb and sat on hold. They said they’d call me back. Two hours passed, and nothing. So I called again. Wash, rinse, repeat. In the end, going through the Airbnb app was quicker, especially that late at night when it appeared there weren’t a lot of Airbnb customer service reps available.
How we got resolution with Airbnb
I stayed up nearly the entire night before we flew out trying to find a new place to stay in New York after learning about our Airbnb host canceling last minute. After two hours of unsuccessfully getting Airbnb to help over the phone, I finally had better luck with the online portal. An hour after that, and I got someone who agreed to refund the difference in cost for a new Airbnb via a one-time coupon. I was able to book one of the three available New York Airbnbs and go to bed finally.
The next morning, I woke up at 5am to find that the new New York host canceled, too. At this point, I was three hours away from leaving. So I immediately started blowing up Airbnb’s messaging function, to which they directed me to a link of 1BR and 2BR apartments in New Jersey. Our booking was for a 6BR/5BA brownstone in Brooklyn. Hardly comparable in the least.
By this point, there was exactly one rental in all of Manhattan or Brooklyn available that weekend, and it was $10,600—a whopping $6,800 more than we paid for our original booking. I was not about to be out that kind of money for a cancellation out of our control. So I reached out to Airbnb once more, and once more, they sent me “Brooklyn” apartments in New Jersey, this time offering a credit of $3,000 toward the new booking.
That was not good enough for me.
Finally, finally, finally after I refused to relent, they agreed to the one-time coupon once more, which meant I had to request the one booking in the entire greater New York City area that was available that day and would accept us.
Luckily, Ralph was our guardian angel and took the booking. We were his first guests, and it could not have been a better situation. We stayed in SoHo in a three-bedroom penthouse with rooftop views for four days. I loved the location, I loved the Airbnb, I loved Ralph.
View of the World Trade Center from our private rooftop at Ralph’s.
In the end, the Airbnb we stayed in was much nicer than the original brownstone—the monthly rent for this same place was $37,000!—so I do feel we came out on top. However, the 24 hours of stress leading up to our check-in, as well as the fact that if SVV’s parents had come, we wouldn’t have had enough bedrooms for everyone, definitely diluted the experience.
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Still, we got to spend a long weekend in New York, we made it to the dedication, and we had a blast showing our niece my former city.
The next week, another Airbnb host canceled on our friend
I wasn’t even home from my trip when I saw a good friend post online that her host in Charlotte canceled on her the day before she arrived for a week-long vacation with her family. The Airbnb host canceled on her the day of her booking, and the only other condo available was three times the amount.
She booked it because they were leaving that day and she had no other choice. I advised her to start a paper trail through Airbnb and send the following email:
“On [X DATE], my host in Charlotte canceled on me hours before we were set to leave. I tried to contact Airbnb to help me rebook a place, but [insert what happened here]. Given that I was already en route to my destination, I was forced to book the only Charlotte apartment available that could accommodate my family. The difference I paid in price was $Z. I expect Airbnb will refund me the difference, particularly given that you’ve committed to taking measures to prevent this epidemic of mass host cancellations.”
She reported back that she received a $500 refund from Airbnb and could have pushed it further, but was tired of the hassle and just took it.
What to do when your Airbnb host cancels
If you’re booking as a guest, there’s really no way you can prevent an Airbnb host canceling last minute. That said, here are some tips to using Airbnb and what to do if it happens to you:
Read the reviews thoroughly before you book. If there are any red flags in previous guests’ comments, consider booking elsewhere. If you want to get private feedback from a guest who has stayed at the accommodation previously, go to his/her profile and send a message with your exact questions. Sometimes guests are afraid to leave candid feedback publicly for fear of host retribution.
Take out insurance or make sure your credit card has a cancellation policy. I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve for all my travel bookings because it covers trip cancellation, trip delays and more. Would it have covered a last-minute Airbnb host cancellation when Airbnb technically refunded me? I’m not sure. But it’s worth it to have a credit card that does offer some sort of insurance policy, just make sure you read the fine print in your terms and conditions.
If something does happen with your host, start a claim with Airbnb immediately. Had I not been proactive, we might have been SOL in New York. Airbnb isn’t always the quickest to respond, and ultimately, it’s going to be on you to fix your host’s mess, which isn’t fair but it’s reality.
Escalate the case. Most customer service reps or Airbnb “Support Ambassadors” are going to give you the run-around like we got. Ask to speak to their manager. Ask to speak to their manager’s manager. Escalate the case until you get someone willing to help you and book you a new Airbnb at no additional cost to you.
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Airbnb’s new policy about host cancellations
Since it sounds like an Airbnb host canceling last minute isn’t all that rare, I wasn’t surprised to see that this week the company rolled out a new Host Cancellation Policy. Here’s what it looks like:
…when Hosts cancel on guests for preventable reasons—like accidentally double-booking or wanting to host friends and family instead—guests lose the confidence to book on Airbnb, and this ends up hurting all Hosts. Airbnb also absorbs the cost of these cancellations when we need to help guests find a new place to stay.
For these reasons, we’re updating our Host Cancellation Policy, which has been in place for years.
If a Host cancels a reservation for a preventable reason, a fee will be deducted from future payouts. The fee depends on the reservation amount and how close to check-in the reservation is canceled.
The minimum cancellation fee is $50 USD and the maximum is $1,000 USD under the updated policy. The total reservation cost used to calculate the fee includes the nightly rate, cleaning fee, and any pet fee, but excludes taxes and guest fees.
- If the reservation is canceled more than 30 days before check-in, the fee is 10% of the reservation amount.
- If the reservation is canceled more than 48 hours and less than 30 days before check-in, the fee is 25% of the reservation amount.
- If the reservation is canceled 48 hours or less before check-in, or after check-in, the fee is 50% of the reservation amount for the nights not stayed.
If you have to cancel for unavoidable reasons, we’ll work with you and help your guests find another place to stay, without fees. These situations include:
- A valid reason beyond your control, such as emergency repairs (like a gas leak or a burst pipe) or serious personal illness, that prevents you from hosting.
- Proof that a guest intends to have a party or break your house rules.
- An extenuating circumstance, such as declared emergencies and epidemics, certain natural disasters, or government travel restrictions.
Have you ever been the victim of an Airbnb host canceling last minute? What did you do to resolve it?