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TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Double booked on Airbnb — can I get a refund?

When Lisa Huynh accidentally double-books herself at an Airbnb, she tries to cancel one of the stays. But Airbnb insists that she keep her reservation, even though she can’t be in two places at the same time. Is there a way to cancel one booking?

Q. I was planning a bachelorette party in Los Angeles for 14 women. Just days before our trip, the Airbnb property that we had booked 2½ months in advance canceled because of water pipe issues. I did not have a property secured for a busy holiday weekend.

In the frenzy of contacting more than 20 potential hosts for a new property, I was accidentally double-booked on two properties for the same dates. I immediately contacted Airbnb — to cancel one of the properties, but they held me to the strict cancellation policy. I tried to speak with supervisors, but the answer was the same. I even tried filing a dispute with my credit card company, but that has been ruled in Airbnb’s favor.

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Airbnb’s policies are heavily skewed toward protecting hosts and penalizing users. Additionally, while cancellation policies are in place to minimize harm to hosts, in this case, these policies were enforced in such a way in which the host greatly benefited — to the tune of thousands of dollars — and they did not suffer any damages. I’d like to get my $5,058 refunded, please. Can you help?

LISA HUNYH, Bartlett, Ill.

A. Isn’t this ironic? Your first Airbnb home had to cancel, and you let the owner off scot-free. You didn’t insist on having the owner find a comparable Airbnb rental at the same price. And yet now that you have to cancel your rental because of what you say is an honest mistake, Airbnb is requiring you pay $5,058.

I don’t understand how you could have accidentally booked two Airbnb properties for the same dates. I mean, this isn’t Amazon, where you can do “1-Click” shopping. You have to navigate to several screens to confirm a booking.

A review of your case reveals the answer. You used Airbnb’s “request to book” feature that allows you to contact the owner directly to make a reservation. The owner of the first property said the home wasn’t available on your dates, so you booked the second property through Airbnb’s “book instantly” feature. But then the first property owner came back and said it was available and then charged your credit card. Oops.

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Airbnb’s most restrictive refund policy, known as the “strict” policy, allows you a free cancellation up to 48 hours after your initial reservation. Unfortunately, there’s some fine print. You have to cancel at least 14 days before check-in. You were past that window. Your case is a good reminder to read the confirmation emails you receive from Airbnb. You might find something in them that doesn’t align with your travel plans.

Next time you book something that costs $5,058, make sure you dot your i’s and cross your t’s. I might have tried to close the loop with the first property before making the second reservation.

I publish the names, numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Airbnb executives on my consumer advocacy site at elliott.org/company-contacts/airbnb. It’s possible that a brief, polite e-mail would have moved this case in your direction.

I contacted Airbnb on your behalf. Airbnb offered you a full refund.

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Contact him at elliott.org/help or chris@elliott.org.