Airbnb Refuses to Refund SXSW Reservations — Points to Fine Print on ‘Pandemics’

SXSW apartments left empty (photo: Patrick Perkins)
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SXSW apartments left empty (photo: Patrick Perkins)
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SXSW apartments left empty (photo: Patrick Perkins)

Frustration mounts as SXSW ticketholders are denied refunds for Austin Airbnb stays.  It’s all in the very, very fine print.

Airbnb previously expanded its “Extenuating Circumstances” refund policy to cover renters who had planned to stay in (or who live in) countries and areas that have been especially affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including China, South Korea, and Italy. 

However, many who purchased tickets to the recently canceled SXSW mega festival have been unable to get their Airbnb rental money back, and their (understandable) frustration is mounting.  

In announcing the stunning cancellation of their 10-day-long event, SXSW organizers emphasized that the decision had been prompted by the City of Austin. Evidently, Austin government officials wished to avoid an uptick of COVID-19 cases within city limits, particularly as a result of community— that is, person-to-person — spread. To date, Austin hasn’t reported any community infections. 

Stated succinctly, cities in Texas have issued emergency orders in response to the coronavirus. But Texas state officials have not done so; a governor-mandated state of emergency will need to be declared before Airbnb allows extenuating-circumstance refunds for rentals in Austin and other Texas destinations. Thus far, 16 COVID-19 cases have been reported in “The Lone Star State.”

Expanding on this point, it seems that only travel/movement restrictions issued by state or federal governments will suffice in terms of Airbnb extenuating-circumstances cancellations. 

Additionally, flights nixed because of the coronavirus will enable impacted Airbnb renters to cancel their reservations and receive full refunds. Those who work in healthcare/disease control and are responding to the pandemic, as well as those who are infected with COVID-19 (or are being monitored for symptoms), can also get their Airbnb rental money back via the extenuating-circumstances route. 

On Twitter, piqued would-be SXSW attendees and Airbnb renters are venting their frustrations. For example, one user who’d been denied a refund for his Austin Airbnb reservation wrote, “I’m taiing [taking] my business elsewhere next time. Hotels don’t do this.” Another individual said that Airbnb’s support and refund policies constitute “abusive behavior,” and a separate tweet yet identified Airbnb’s practices as “shameful,” before stating that the brand “lost my respect.” 

According to numerous threads and Twitter posts, guests are now trying to see if their stays qualify for cancelation under Airbnb’s fine print.  So far, those efforts appear to have fallen flat, though Airbnb is now facing an avalanche of complaints worldwide from out-of-luck travelers — and, some seriously bad PR.  Though Airbnb is being inundated with angry messages, complaints, and refund requests stemming from those who’d planned to attend SXSW, company officials hadn’t issued a public statement on the matter at the time of this piece’s writing. 

Earlier today, Michigan confirmed a pair of COVID-19 cases, and the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, declared a state of emergency. In doing so, Governor Whitmer followed the lead of California, Washington, Florida, and several other U.S. states. 

3 Responses

  1. Darrell Gest

    It’s my understanding that Every Airbnb host can Tell Airbnb to issue a full refund and that Airbnb will do so, less some small amount of fees. So, hosts bear some responsibility.

    • T. B-burg

      You are correct. However, we only HOST our property during a local special event and incur a considerable expense. What percentage do you recommend returning? In our case, we have a non-cancellation agreement. Your thoughts?

  2. JoJo

    Half. Return half. You both lose in this case, and then you both win. Being kind costs sometimes but it will bring you back riches.