A Vrbo host recently surprised TPG reader Diah Jones with a troubling ultimatum that felt a lot like a shakedown.
One year after confirming the price of Jones’ three-week vacation rental in Paris for next summer’s Olympics, the Vrbo host decided to change the rate. She told Jones that other hosts were charging thousands of dollars more for the same time frame. The previously agreed-upon price wasn’t fair, the owner said, so she demanded that Jones pay an increased rate or stay elsewhere.
When Jones didn’t immediately agree to the inflated cost of the small apartment, the host canceled the reservation. Without delay, she relisted the property on Vrbo at a new, much higher rate.
With Vrbo seemingly allowing the host to cancel her confirmed vacation rental and re-rent it at an inflated price, Jones hoped TPG could help. She wanted some answers from Vrbo and help finding a replacement property at a comparable price.
But with the 2024 Paris Olympics less than a year away, could that even be possible?
Booking a vacation rental for the 2024 Paris Olympics
Last September, Jones and her husband decided to spend their 2024 summer vacation in Paris to see the Olympics. Instead of staying in a hotel, they liked the idea of immersing themselves in a quiet residential area of the city.
“We chose to book a vacation rental to have more space,” Jones recalled. “At the time, since it was almost two years before the Olympics, the rates weren’t outrageous.”
The couple browsed the Vrbo site looking for a place and zeroed in on a one-bedroom apartment in St. Germain de Pres. Its central but quiet location in the city would be perfect for attending various Olympic events.
Jones wisely messaged the host through the Vrbo platform to ask a few questions about the property before booking. In that correspondence, which I have reviewed, she explained that the purpose of the visit to Paris was to attend the Summer Olympics.
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In response, the Vrbo host offered Jones a 10% discount on the rate if she booked the property for 20 nights. Jones was sold on the apartment and quickly agreed to the rate of 3,800 euros ($4,300 at the time).
After paying the initial deposit, Jones received confirmation from the owner and a cordial message.
That was the last time Jones and her husband heard from the Vrbo host until 11 months later. When the host got back in touch, she wasn’t so cordial. In fact, she had a downright unpleasant proposal.
The host decides she wants more money for the same Vrbo rental
The next time Jones heard from the Vrbo host was on Aug. 7, 2023. Now, the host claimed the rate on the contract for the vacation rental wasn’t fair to her.
She wrote to Jones:
My rates weren’t updated and are well below the prices charged for this period of the Olympic Games. I propose to add 1000 euros ($1,058 at time of publication) of additional costs to establish a fairer price. If this does not suit you, I suggest that you cancel the reservation. You can also, if you wish, reduce the occupation time of the apartment.
Believe in my warm feelings.
Jones says she read the message a few times, trying to make sense of it. The rate confirmed on her Vrbo contract was a rate the host had proposed nearly a year before. The dates of the Olympics had already been announced at that time, and Jones had told the host that attending the games was the purpose of their trip.
Now, afraid that if she agreed to the new rate, nothing would prevent the host from asking for another increase as time went on, Jones wasn’t sure what to do.
Jones sent a short message to the host through the Vrbo platform to ask a few questions before agreeing to the upcharge.
However, in response to Jones’ questions, the owner took action on her own.
Vrbo: ‘The host has canceled your reservation.’
A few minutes after sending her message to the host, Jones received an email from Vrbo. The host had canceled her reservation.
Then, an explanation from the host arrived. She had no intention of responding to Jones’ questions about the sudden change in the cost of the rental or negotiating further.
Instead, she wrote:
I offered you a compromise, but I understand very well that you are not satisfied with that. So I prefer to cancel the reservation. We are still one year away from the date of your reservation. There are still plenty of apartments available for rent. I had several requests from members of my family who wanted me to receive them in my apartment
The price (I gave you) corresponds to half the price charged for this period. I want to restore a normal price for part of the time and leave the other part of the time for my family.
Stunned by the sudden turn of events that left her with no place to stay in Paris during the Summer Olympics, Jones quickly contacted Vrbo.
Surely, the site would force the host to reinstate the reservation at the agreed-upon rate, Jones thought.
Quickly, Jones found out that Vrbo would not.
Vrbo will not force this host to honor the rate — or the reservation
Over the next several days, Jones made attempts to reach someone at Vrbo who could pressure the host to reinstate the reservation.
Desperate to reconfirm a place for the Olympics, Jones told the Vrbo customer service that she was willing to “limit her occupancy” as the host had suggested. Or, if Vrbo confirmed that the host was permitted to charge more post-confirmation, she would consider paying the extra fee.
But none of her efforts resulted in anything except a refund of her deposit paid to the host.
According to the Vrbo customer service agents whom Jones spoke to by phone and later by email, neither the host nor Vrbo owed her anything further. She was on her own to make alternative arrangements for her trip.
After further review, this case does not appear to qualify for rebooking or financial assistance under our Book with Confidence program. This is due to the date of stay in relation to the date of cancellation being beyond what is covered by our policy (30 days). More information on the Book with Confidence Guarantee may be found here.
After seeing that the property had been blocked for the 2024 Paris Olympics, Jones realized she had lost that battle.
But now she had another idea: Ask TPG for help navigating this problem.
What protection do Vrbo guests have against hosts who change the rates?
In Jones’ initial email to TPG, it had been a few weeks since the host had canceled her reservation, but the frustration and anger that Jones was experiencing were still fresh.
We knew we didn’t have many alternatives (when the host asked for more money). But we wanted to ask about the Vrbo policy for changing the contract. Rather than answering our questions, the host canceled our reservation.
Now, we have to find a new location at higher rates, and the host doesn’t seem to have any penalty for doing this. We can’t leave a review since we didn’t get to stay.
We recognize this as a money grab since rates have now skyrocketed, and they felt they were missing out. Do you know if we have any recourse to complain or be compensated?
When I received Jones’ request for help, I was coincidentally working on a similar case. That one involved an Airbnb guest whose host tried to raise his rental rate by a staggering $13,314 after a pop-up music festival was announced. In that case, Airbnb took a hard line against the host. It forced the reinstatement of the reservation and gave the owner a formal warning.
But in Jones’ situation, the host had already rebooked the vacation rental, and the cost of properties in Paris had, as Jones said, skyrocketed. I sent her case to our executive contact at Vrbo to see what could be done now. (This is an executive I can reach as a member of the media and a consumer advocate. She is not customer-facing.)
A new Vrbo policy to prevent hosts from canceling and relisting at an increased rate
The same week I contacted Vrbo about Jones’ experience, I received a timely press release from the company.
On Sept. 14, Vrbo announced that it was cracking down on hosts who cancel guests’ reservations so that they can relist the property at a higher rate.
Unfortunately for Jones, this new policy, which financially penalizes Vrbo hosts who cancel on guests, did not come into effect until Oct. 14 — and it only pertains to U.S.-based hosts. Additionally, a reservation canceled by a host almost a year in advance — even if a host simply wants to relist at a higher rate — will have little repercussions.
But I hoped Vrbo could do something for Jones.
Vrbo: The host did violate our policies by canceling, but …
I asked Vrbo if this host’s behavior was permitted.
Our executive contact at Vrbo explained that this host did violate the company’s policies. Hosts are not allowed to cancel bookings or to ask guests for additional fees after booking.
Thanks for your patience while we worked through this. While the host is in violation of our policies by canceling the booking to increase their rates, they are in good standing and did issue a full refund to the guest. However, because the host initiated the cancellation, their listing performance and visibility to other travelers on the app and site will be negatively impacted. Canceling too often could also result in their Premier Host status being revoked.
Additionally, our policy in this situation is to warn the host that if their behavior persists, action will be taken, which could include banning them from the platform. In many cases, this warning suffices to correct their actions. We have done this with the host for this property.
I’m glad **** also shared the latest news on financial penalties for Vrbo hosts who cancel reservations. This will go into effect in October for hosts in the U.S. and is in addition to measures we already enact to discourage host cancellations, as mentioned above, including limiting search visibility on the app and site and revoking Premier Host status for repeat offenders.
But all of this meant very little to Jones, who still had tickets to the Olympics but no place to stay because of this Vrbo host’s actions.
What can Vrbo do for this customer now?
So, would Vrbo do something to help Jones find an alternative place to stay? I asked.
My contact got back to me with the following peace offering.
We will offer to help find another property for their upcoming trip to Paris for the Olympics. As a goodwill gesture to demonstrate our commitment to this traveler, we’ll also provide them with OneKeyCash. They can use this credit whether they choose to stay with Vrbo or explore accommodations on Expedia or Hotels.com.
As a general reminder, Vrbo offers rebooking assistance to all travelers as part of its Book with Confidence guarantee if a host cancels on them within 30 days of a trip.
Note: Expedia Group’s One Key unifies all of its brands (Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, Vrbo and others) into one centralized loyalty program for its customers. OneKeyCash is the reward currency of the program.
Vrbo will help find alternative accommodations outside of Paris
In the end, the final resolution provided by Vrbo to Jones was a $250 voucher and a list of available replacement accommodations. Unfortunately, all of those properties were nowhere near St. Germain de Pres, as Jones shared. In fact, they weren’t even in Paris’ city limits.
The replacement properties they suggest are nothing like what we had, based on distance to city center, size, amenities, etc.
After years of using VRBO without issue, I’m disappointed in their response and resolution. However, I’ve learned a good lesson. I should have booked multiple backups for this worldwide event.
Thanks so much for your help. I’m happy TPG will publish an article about my experience. Hopefully, it will help prevent this from happening to someone else.
And that’s what we hope as well.
How to protect yourself from a Vrbo host’s post-booking price increase
Most Vrbo hosts value their reputation and wouldn’t risk it by attempting to change the rental rate of their property after confirmation. But unfortunately, some ethically challenged vacation rental owners value profit over reputation.
Here’s what you need to know about protecting yourself from a post-confirmation price increase on your vacation rental and how to prevent a similar situation from happening to you.
Look at the listing’s reviews
Before you book any vacation rental, scroll through all its reviews. On Vrbo (and Airbnb), guests can’t publish a review of a listing unless they’ve stayed at the property. So, although you won’t find out if the host has ever canceled a reservation after attempting to increase the rental price post-confirmation, look for clues that they were successful with such a scheme (for example, a review that mentions a request for additional fees, or that the host contacted the traveler off-platform to discuss their rates).
Unless a review contains an untruth or violates other specific rules for commenting about a Vrbo property, the company will publish it. So, make sure your intended host’s reviews don’t include complaints about a rate change after booking.
Understand Vrbo’s rate changes policy
Vrbo policy allows hosts to “manage” (change) their published rates at any time through the online portal. However, they’re not permitted to adjust the cost of a confirmed reservation. An increased rate on a listing only applies to future bookings.
Be wary of booking over a year in advance
Although you can book a Vrbo property more than a year in advance, you should do so cautiously. Annual rate increases are standard among hosts, and if you book too far in advance, your host’s rates for the following year may not be loaded in the system yet. Confirm with the host before booking if he or she anticipates any rate fluctuation that might cause a problem later.
Make contact with the host
Although you can book a property with minimal contact with the Vrbo host, it’s not a good idea. It’s much harder for a vacation rental owner to try a cash grab on you if you’re just a depersonalized name in their reservation log.
Vrbo encourages guests and hosts to exchange questions and answers before and after booking. Always take advantage of that opportunity and develop a cordial relationship with your host.
Keep all conversations on the Vrbo platform
Keeping all conversations with Vrbo and your host within your online account is essential. This system is a great way to record your discussions with the host so there are no misunderstandings before, during or after your stay. If a problem develops, you’ll have a file of what was said and done.
Also, if you’ve kept your correspondence with the host inside the Vrbo platform, you won’t have to keep repeating yourself as you try to fix the problem. Vrbo customer service can access your message center remotely and review the situation in real time. Lastly, should you need to escalate your request for help to an outside organization, like TPG, you’ll be happy you have all your documentation that supports your case in one place.
Report rate problems immediately to Vrbo
If the worst has happened and your host demands you pay more after confirming your vacation rental reservation, don’t hesitate to report the scheme to Vrbo. Again, do this in writing through your account on the Vrbo platform. Stay off the phone since that creates no proof of what was said or done.
Quickly escalate your complaint
Unfortunately, with the rise of artificial intelligence, companies increasingly rely on chatbots and automated responses in favor of human customer support. That has been to the great detriment of consumers, who often find it nearly impossible to reach a sympathetic human customer service agent when faced with a problem.
However, my consumer advocacy organization, Consumer Rescue, provides free customer service and an executive contact finder. We can give you the real name and contact information of someone at nearly any company, including Vrbo, whom you can speak to about your customer service problem.
What to know about Vrbo’s new ‘Partner Cancellation Fee Policy’
On Oct. 14, 2023, Vrbo’s new Partner Cancellation Fee Policy went live. Vrbo hosts who cancel confirmed reservations without a valid reason now face financial penalties. Those penalties are assessed on a sliding scale based on the date of the host’s cancellation in relation to the guest’s scheduled check-in date.
As one might expect, the closer the cancellation is to the reservation date, the higher the fee. Vrbo hosts contemplating canceling a guest’s confirmed rental should take note of the new penalties. They include:
- 50% of the reservation cost if initiated within 48 hours of the guest’s scheduled check-in
- 25% of the rental price, when cancellation occurs within 30 days but more than 48 hours from check-in
- 10% of the rental price for host-initiated cancellations beyond 30 days
These penalties do not apply under certain circumstances, including events that are out of the host’s control that make the home unavailable (force majeure), national or local government-imposed travel restrictions and “maintenance emergencies,” among other things.
Unfortunately, this policy only applies to U.S.-located Vrbo properties, so it will not provide a deterrent to hosts of rentals abroad at this time.
My goal as a consumer advocate is always to fully resolve a reader’s problem so that they’re made whole. Sometimes, however, the official policies of the company involved make that goal impossible. That was the case here. The resolution offered by Vrbo did not make their customer whole, and Jones is left without any good options.
Vrbo doesn’t condone post-booking price increases by hosts, but it also doesn’t heavily penalize owners who do such a thing, except under time-constrained circumstances laid out in their policies. That leaves travelers vulnerable to opportunistic vacation rental hosts willing to risk their reputations for some extra cash.
Hopefully, the new Vrbo host cancellation fees that came into effect too late for Jones will deter this type of cash grab, at least on U.S. bookings. Time will tell.
If you have a problem with a vacation rental company, airline, cruise line or car rental agency, send your complaint to email@example.com, and I’ll be happy to investigate your case, too.