Airbnb Cancellation Puts Me Up in Hilton Times Square for Free

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Hey, it’s Scott Grimmer–remember me? I founded MileValue in March 2012 and sold it to longtime writer Sarah Page last year, so I could spend more time with my grandchildren and golfing, like all retired people. I asked SP if I could write a guest post about my recent Airbnb snafu-success because I thought the info could be useful for others.

In September, I traveled from my base in Belgrade to the US for a two week vacation. The plan was to start with three days in New York City. My girlfriend and I wanted to see lots of attractions in Midtown, so I booked us a one bedroom in a three bedroom apartment near Times Square on Airbnb for $337.14 total or about $112 per night.

  • If you’ve never used Airbnb before, you can sign up through this link and get $40 off your first stay of $75 or more (and $15 off an experience of $50 or more.)

I was flying into Newark and my girlfriend was bussing into the Port Authority. The plan was to meet there around 3:30 PM and walk to the apartment. By the time I got my phone’s data working, I was about two train stops from Manhattan.

I was immediately inundated with Airbnb notifications. The host had sent me several messages, the main one being:

“Scott, how are you? I was instructed by the management of my building ( landlord ) that they will need to reconstruct the room this week due to the fire examination outcome. The room is blocking the access for other rooms to the fire escape and they will need to remove the pressures wall….. I just learned about it”.

Oh $h*t!

First thought: she’s probably lying and just wants to get out of the deal for some reason. Second thought: doesn’t matter. I need to solve this quickly. I’ve never had any last minute Airbnb cancellations, and I had no idea what level of customer service I’d receive, but I googled Airbnb’s number and called 855-424-7262.

I was very impressed by Airbnb’s procedures. Here’s the overview.

  1. You get connected to one person. He or she sees your case to conclusion.
  2. You are told to relax at a cafe or restaurant in the meantime and to send Airbnb a picture of your receipt for a refund of up to $25.
  3. Your representative cancels your reservation and works to get you another Airbnb or in some cases a hotel.
  4. The max hotel stay they will pay for is three days. The max the agent can pay per night for the hotel is $200 per night, but his supervisors can approve more expensive stays.

Grab a Burger and Wait

As I walked up 8th Avenue, I quickly worked through automated prompts and was connected to a human. My representative apologized for the inconvenience. He told me to pop into a cafe or restaurant while he solved the problem. He sent me an email and told me to reply to it with an image of my receipt that he could refund to me on PayPal up to $25.

Unfortunately my host hadn’t actually clicked the button to cancel the reservation, possibly hoping I would click it and save her some Airbnb penalties. Because of that, the agent had to first try to contact her and see if the stay was officially cancelled. She had one hour to reply to him, after which the reservation would be cancelled. I didn’t like to hear that we were going to have to sit around for an hour with several suitcases at some Midtown restaurant, but the agent was able to spend that hour looking for new options for us, so that we would minimize our time on the streets of New York with all our stuff.

We holed up in Shake Shack and got a free lunch.

Our agent pushed booking another Airbnb, and he was willing to let us book better and more expensive options (like an entire apartment when we had initially only booked one bedroom in a three-bedroom place.) Unfortunately the only options he found in Midtown were not Instant Book properties, meaning we’d have to request to stay, wait for a response, and organize key pick up with a host. I told him that I really wanted to minimize our time on the streets because we had a packed three days planned, so I would really prefer a hotel. He said that he totally understood that preference and asked me to price some hotel options.

I went onto Kayak.com and the Hotels Tonight app and found that the cheapest hotels in Midtown were over $1,100 for our three nights.

Begging Superiors

My agent was transparent with me. He told me the longest hotel stay he could reimburse me for was three nights, conveniently the length of our time in New York. He also told me the most he could reimburse was $200 per night, which he understood wasn’t enough for Midtown. He said he needed to ask his superiors for authorization to go over that limit, and that could take time to get an answer.

We sipped our milkshake. One hour passed, meaning that our original reservation was officially canceled, and we just needed word from above that $1,110 for the Hilton Times Square was approved.

He came back and said his superiors had approved one night, but wanted us to stay the next two nights in an Airbnb. I said I really didn’t want to move during a three day stay, but I would grudgingly accept that offer to get off the street and into our trip immediately. The first night at the Hilton Times Square was over $500 though, far more than a third of a three night stay. When I told him that, he told me to wait again. Fifteen minutes later he called me back and said I was authorized to pay the whole $1,110 for three nights at the Hilton Times Square, and I would get it all reimbursed. Score!

I booked the hotel; we walked two blocks and checked into a much nicer, more private, better located, and 350% more expensive room than I had originally booked. I told our Airbnb agent he had saved our trip!

That Airbnb cancellation really was our good luck charm. Later in the trip, we won two seats to Aladdin on Broadway in a lottery for $32 each, crushed the craps tables in Vegas, and were upgraded to a swanky Grand Suite at the Grand Hyatt in Washington DC, on a night I’d booked with an anniversary free night certificate from the Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card.

Reimbursement Logistics

Our agent sent me a link to set up my PayPal account to receive payments from Airbnb. He told me it could take up to two weeks to be reimbursed, but I had the money for Shake Shack and the Hilton before I even left New York.

Bottom Line

If your Airbnb reservation is cancelled by a host at the last minute, Airbnb has excellent customer service that will work to get you a new Airbnb or hotel at no extra cost to you as quickly as possible. In my case, my $337 bedroom in a shared apartment 10 blocks from Times Square turned into an $1,110 room at the Hilton Times Square.

Further Airbnb Reading

You should never pay full price for an Airbnb. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, you can sign up through this link and get $40 off your first stay of $75 or more (and $15 off an experience of $50 or more.)

If you have used Airbnb before, you need to read Three Ways to Save Money on Airbnb. The exact message in that post just scored me a two bedroom penthouse in Prague’s Old Town for $422 total for nine days.

Has anyone else suffered a last minute cancellation on Airbnb? How was it handled?


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18 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Scott,
    Good to see a story from you. Grandchildren? Really?
    I am surprised that you don’t mention earning Delta miles (ok, Sky Pesos) through AirBnB. You need to sign up and book through deltaairbnb.com. You get 1 mile per $ spent (plus whatever you get through your credit card for travel). Last year there was a 2000 mile sign-up bonus. Don’t know if that is the case now. Prices are identical than on just plain airbnb.com (I checked repeatedly) so why not double dip?
    WE just returned from Argentina where we had two absolutely fabulous apartments in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia for far less than neighboring hotels. The one in Ushuaia (end of the world) had a completely glassed in living room and master bedroom with incredible views of the mountains and Beagle Chanel. Champagne on a beer budget!

  2. @Antonio: What a blast. Looking forward to Euro 2020 and World Cup 2026. (I think I’ll give Qatar a pass.)

    @Norm: I was very surprised myself.

    @John: Thanks

    @Carol: It’s criminal that I’m not double dipping that way. I’ll rectify that right now. Thanks! That Ushuaia airbnb sounds fantastic. I don’t buy Ushuaia’s marketing as the southernmost city though since I took a boat south from there to Puerto Williams, Chile. Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego are so lovely.

  3. This happened to us in Costa Rica with VRBO. Their response: Tough, find yourself another place to stay. Needless to say, that was my last VRBO reservation.

  4. Great to see you writing again, and hope to see more. I miss the detailed how-to articles on award redemptions using the quirks of each program to maximize value.

  5. You wouldn’t think this is analogous but in South Africa, one has to book rentals for the Christmas season more than a year in advance. These are also the school holidays and the whole country migrates to the coasts. I spent hours trying to find something and got a house near Cape Town in a place called Betty’s Bay, 13 months in advance and places were mostly filled, if you can believe it on almost all sites. About a month later, i got a message from the host and he cancelled. Panic! Luckily I did find something else but it was definitely more expensive, though nicer as it turned out with a dishwasher and wifi, neither of which is usual for these rentals. Of course, the host was penalized but I don’t know if that is enough of a disincentive for these people. I’m still nervous about the upcoming rental that this might happen and then we are truly done for. I’d like to see Airbnb find us something then. We will be driving 15 hours, taking three days to get there.

  6. Wow! I’m an avid airbnb’er with good reviews who never had issues until this year. I had a nightmare of a time in Manchester, UK when I arrived at a property (booked a private room) where the common area & kitchen were a mess. Bathroom was not quite up to snuff either. The airbnb check in was late (and I was tired & hungry) so it no fun looking for alternatives and I didn’t get any help. The agent was nice but he didn’t offer much above the credit you get for late or host cancellations. To make matters worse, there were major events happening during my stay (3/4 days of Ed Sheeran concerts & a marathon) so hotel and airbnb availability was low. I had to stay at 3 airbnbs and a hotel that were not even close to each other, which meant more money spent on transport.

  7. I too had a last minute cancelation with Airbnb while my husband and I were traveling in England. This issue took way more time for Airbnb to follow up upon than your trip but I was reimbursed for a my Airbnb room bc the host refused to cancel. It took weeks but we finally got it settled. I still had the stress of being in an unfamiliar area looking for a hotel on a busy holiday weekend. The stress of it nearly ended all of my hopes of using Airbnb abroad ever again but the last two places we stayed while in England made up for it.

  8. If you arrive and there are bedbugs, AirBNB is NOT helpful. My wife enocuntered, this, got diagnosed by a doctor as having been bit by bedbuds and AirBNB made no offer of new accomodations just a partial refund. Done using AirBNB.

  9. Scott
    Nice to see a post from u I think I’ll keep with the hotels and condo hotels . I don’t trust them and better things to worry about . I’ve been allover thanks to ur posts just back from DownUnder for a month will go back next Christmas
    Take Care
    Jeff

  10. This was not the experience we had unfortunately. Our host in SF told us she was evicted from the apartment the day we were arriving. For Airbnbing in violation of her lease. Go figure. But she didn’t cancel. So we had to wait but they made us wait three hours to cancel it. They insisted we stay in another AirBnb that was much smaller than we booked, not entirely private, as we had booked, and not in walking distance of public transit or downtown. So not at all comparable. We ended up spending most of our four day trip taking Lyft around the city and had a huge added expense of $200 in Lyft rides. They would not reimburse that cost. We also basically just had a tiny room in a rooming house with a shared living area which was not exactly a great getaway for our anniversary. I will never use them again. Glad you had a good experience but I’m sticking to hotels from now on. Obviously you can have a problem at a hotel, I’ve had many, but you have management on site to help and other options to resolve the issue. Never again with AirBnb. My vacation time is precious.

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