As Airbnb use grows, so do complaints about their refund policy

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Short-term vacation rentals like Airbnb are soaring in popularity - even as they are swirling in controversy. Some cities want to limit short term rentals, neighbors don't like tourists in and out, some guests claim hosts are spying on them -- and occasionally guests trash the places they rent.

Now a Bay Area woman has her own gripe over what she calls confusing Airbnb cancellation policies. She says convoluted wording cost her hundreds of dollars.

"When I originally booked this place it said I could cancel within 14 days of arrival for a full refund,'' Pleasanton resident Bhava Leva said. "When I went online and followed the steps, it only gave me a 50 percent refund."

Her ordeal began last October when Leva and her friend booked a condo in Hawaii through Airbnb. They paid in full for one week in February. However, her friend learned that family from overseas was coming to visit the same week, so he couldn't go to Hawaii after all.

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"So that left me to cancel all of our reservations,'' Leva said. However, she figured since check-in was three weeks away, she was well within the time period to cancel for a full refund.

She was wrong.

Airbnb told her she misunderstood the rules. The strict cancellation policy, which the host had invoked, did say 'cancel 14 days before check-in for a full refund ,' but it also required that the customer cancels "within 48 hours of booking. " In other words, you have to cancel within two days of booking, and it must also be at least 14 days ahead of check-in.

Leva said it left her head spinning, and that Airbnb agents sympathized.

"They said it's confusing and people have had difficulty understanding that refund policy,'' she said. "So I said, 'since it's confusing you should honor the full refund.' They said no it's just 50 percent, minus the Airbnb service fees."

Instead of a full $729 refund she was in line for about $300. Leva says she's so accustomed to liberal cancelation rules at major hotels, which often don't require full payment up front like the hosts of Airbnb.

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"Since I thought it was so unfair I decided to go ahead and reach out to Channel 7,'' Leva said. "Michael Finney always helps people with these types of problems.''

We contacted Airbnb. The company did not want to provide a statement for this report, or respond to her complaint. However, we noticed that it did change the wording of the strict cancelation policy.

Previously the wording on the host page said:

"Cancel within 48 hours of booking and 14 days ahead of check-in for a full refund."

Now it says:

"Free Cancelation for 48 hours. After that, cancel up to seven days before check-in and get a 50 percent refund minus service fees."

Customers can click on a "read more" link to get a full description of the cancelation policy with lots of details in the fine print.

Hosts can choose what type of cancelation policy they want to impose, ranging from flexible to strict. This host happened to choose the strict policy. Leva reached out to the property owner asking for a full refund but was denied.

However, without saying why, Airbnb did give Leva a full refund after all.

"It was great,'' Leva said. "And I was mostly glad to know they changed the wording so it's more clear, for everybody."

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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