Staying power: What are your rights if an Airbnb host cancels?
So you’re one of the lucky ones who’s secured tickets to a Taylor Swift concert. You’ve even been organised enough to book a reasonably priced Airbnb for the occasion. The excitement level is rising.
Then you get a message. The Airbnb host is cancelling your reservation. You will have to find somewhere else to stay closer to the event when almost everything is booked out or is really expensive. Worse still, you later discover the host has relisted your accommodation for a higher price for the same time.
This is what happened to Melissa, who booked an Airbnb property just 15 minutes from Accor Stadium where Swifties from all over Australia will descend in late February for the Eras tour. The Brisbane fan thought she was all sorted for the big event until the host sent her a message via the Airbnb app to say her booking had been cancelled due to a “change in management”. She was then horrified to see them list again for the same dates at double the original asking price.
“It’s not fair on the people who book the accommodation and it’s just an endless money grab from landlords from Airbnb,” she says.
So what can you do if something similar happens to you? Airbnb certainly doesn’t make it easy for you to find out what your rights are in this situation. So let's take a closer look at Airbnb and what you are entitled to expect when you book accommodation through them.
How do Airbnb reservations work?
Booking an Airbnb involves a few straightforward steps. You begin by browsing the Airbnb website or app listings, filtering by location, dates, number of guests, and desired amenities. You can also use the map view to get a visual sense of available options.
Once you’ve found your spot, the next is to book. You have two options for this:
- Instant book - If the listing has this option, you can confirm and pay for your stay immediately without waiting for the host's approval.
- Request to book - If Instant book isn't available, you can send a booking request to the host. They have 24 hours to respond and can either accept or decline.
The next step is to complete your booking by paying for the accommodation. Once your booking is confirmed, you'll receive a notification with details such as the address and check-in instructions.
Airbnb cancellation policies
Unexpected changes happen, so Airbnb offers different guest cancellation policies, where you may be entitled to a refund.
Cancellations after the window may be subject to a partial refund.
|At least 24 hours before check-in
|At least five days before check-in
|At least 30 days before check-in or within 48 hours of booking and 14 days before check-in
|Cancel within 48 hours of booking and at least 14 days before check-in
Cancellations after the window may be subject to a partial refund.
What if the property I have booked doesn’t meet what was advertised?
If you’ve already checked in and realised the property is not as advertised, you can
- Ask the host to fix it
- Request partial refund
- Cancel the reservation and request a full refund
For your requests to be honoured, you should submit them within 24 hours of checking in. Provide photos and videos of the property highlighting the discrepancies between the listing and the reality. Note specific details, such as missing amenities, cleanliness issues, inaccurate descriptions, or any safety concerns.
Your host has one hour to respond. You can escalate the matter to the Airbnb Resolution Centre if they are unresponsive or unwilling to resolve the issue. They will mediate between you and the host and try to find a fair resolution. This process usually involves submitting your documentation and evidence.
Airbnb hosts can cancel your reservation anytime, with or without a valid reason, unless your booking is within 24 hours. While the platform discourages and penalises the latter, the penalties may not be enough to compensate for the inconvenience it creates. More on this later.
Reasons for cancellation
Let’s start with the valid reasons. According to Airbnb’s policy, a host may cancel if:
- There are unforeseen events beyond the host’s control, also called Extenuating Circumstances. These events are:
- Changes to the government’s travel requirements
- Declared emergencies and epidemics
- Government travel restrictions
- Military actions and other hostilities
- Natural disasters
- They have valid reasons to cancel, such as when:
- There’s been significant damage to the listing after you booked
- They need emergency repairs (like a gas leak or a burst pipe)
- The host has a severe illness that prevents hosting
- You misrepresented your booking details, like the number of guests or the nature of your stay (eg: throwing a party)
- You have a history of negative reviews from previous hosts
- You breach the house rules.
If the host cancels your booking for reasons other than what’s listed above, they have to pay penalty fees and face other consequences, depending on the length of time between the cancellation and your check-in date, as well as the cancellation policy chosen by the host. Here's a breakdown:
|Cancellation window (before check-in)
|50% of the reservation amount
|48 hours or less before check-in or after check-in
|25% of the reservation amount
|Between 48 hours and 30 days before check-in
|10% of the reservation amount
|More than 30 days before check-in
*There is a minimum cancellation fee of US $50, even if 10 percent of the reservation amount is less than $50.
For stays 28 days or longer, the cancellation fees only apply to the part of your booking that you can't get refunded, based on the time left between cancellation and your check-in date. It won't be charged on the whole booking amount.
Besides these fees, hosts who cancel confirmed bookings without justification may face additional consequences. This could be suspension or removal of listings, account suspension, and loss of Superhost status.
There is concern about Airbnb’s slow response to Melissa’s complaint about the host canceling her reservation and then relisting under another name at a higher price for the same dates.
Melissa received little support regarding the vague “change of management” reason her host gave. The fact that the listing reappeared for the exact dates she originally booked raises concerns about transparency and fairness, and profiteering.
How to dispute unfair cancellations
Unfair Airbnb cancellations can leave you stranded and frustrated, especially when trying to travel on a budget and you’re suddenly forced to scramble for alternative accommodation at inflated prices. Here's how to protect yourself:
Understand the cancellation policy
Every Airbnb listing has a unique cancellation policy chosen by the host (listed above). This policy outlines the refund you're entitled to based on the timing of the cancellation.
Screenshots of the listing description, communication with the host, and documentation of the cancellation policy are essential. This evidence is crucial if you need to escalate the issue.
Contact Airbnb support
Airbnb offers the first line of defence. Clearly explain your concerns about the cancellation and why you consider it unfair. They can mediate with the host, try to find a solution, and offer alternative options like rebooking.
Explore legal actions
If negotiation and Airbnb support fail, contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) or your state or territory Fair Trading.
You may have ground for legal action if you believe the host violated Australian Consumer Law (ACL) by:
- Misrepresenting the cancellation policy
- Cancelling without a valid reason
- Engaging in manipulative practices.
ACL protects consumers from misleading and deceptive conduct, and in such cases, you may be entitled to:
- The full refund as per the cancellation policy
- Compensation for any consequential or associated loss or damage resulting from the cancellation. This could include additional expenses incurred from scrambling for alternative accommodation, missed travel connections, etc.
Let us handle it
As with any financial transaction, it pays to read the fine print. But Airbnb doesn’t make it easy to complain when you feel one of their hosts has done the wrong thing. If you have an issue with Airbnb and aren’t getting the support you need, lodge a complaint with us, and we’ll help you handle it.
Watch Jo's segment on Channel 9’s A Current Affair to learn how to deal with sudden Airbnb cancellations.