Family paid nearly $8,000 for reunion trip, canceled because of COVID-19; VRBO host keeping money

Better Call Behnken

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – First, a family reunion was ruined when it was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the family is out nearly $8,000 for the trip they paid for in full in September.

The VRBO property owner is refusing to move the vacation to another date in the future or refund any of the money.

“I’m a small business owner, so I understand this is hard on everyone, and that is why we didn’t ask for our money back,” Jackie Ruben said. “We just asked to move the dates, and we were willing to accept dates that worked for him. But he said no.”

Part of the Ruben family lives in Pasco County and part of the family lives in Wisconsin. They choose a VRBO rental house in Davenport for their vacation. Their arrival date was March 21.

When the cornavirus spread was deemed a pandemic and President Trump declared a national emergency, the family canceled their travel plans and requested a refund.

VRBO issued its COVID-19 policy on its website and encouraged hosts to give refunds or move dates. They are now strongly encouraging hosts to refund at least 50 percent of the money.

In this case, though, the Rubens say VRBO has reached out to the property owner, and the request was denied.

The family shared an email with Better Call Behnken from the owner in which he writes, “When you booked this, it prevented us from renting it to anyone else during your reserved time frameThis is not a company or a business, it is a family and this is a second home of ours, one we only can afford based on subsidizing some of the large operating expenses by frequent rentals. The bank isn’t canceling mortgage payments, the HOA fee and insurance bills are still due. I cannot cancel or refund you. 

The only thing offered by the owner was the option of booking at a later time, but the family would be expected to pay for that trip. However, there would be no credit. The owner wrote: “We can … make you a better deal on your stay.”

The Rubens say this is unreasonable and they think VRBO should do more to help. If they don’t, Ruben said, she would be reluctant to book one of their properties in the future.

Better Call Behnken reached out to VRBO and received an email that this situation will be investigated. VRBO said it is trying to work with customers as well as struggling small business owners who rely on rental income to pay mortgages and bills.

VRBO said it has asked owners to issue credits in full for a future stay at no additional cost. If that doesn’t work for customers, VRBO has asked owners to issue refunds, of at least 50 percent. It’s unclear what will happen if owners refuse to do either.

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