If a vacation rental owner lists the wrong location, shouldn’t Vrbo refund your money?

Karen Barney used Vrbo to book a vacation rental to celebrate Christmas in Puerto Vallarta with extended family. But after she pressed the confirm button, this first-time Vrbo user got a surprise from the vacation rental owner. It turns out the property wasn’t actually in Puerto Vallarta. Even more surprising? The rejection Barney received when she asked Vrbo to fix the problem by canceling and giving her a refund.

Now Barney is hoping our team can convince Vrbo to refund the money she spent on this mislabeled vacation rental.

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If you’re booking a vacation rental and the exact location is critical, Barney’s case should serve as a warning. Sites like Vrbo and Airbnb provide only a general idea of the property’s location until after you’ve already committed to the reservation. So what should a Vrbo user do if the location of their booked property varies significantly from the listing?

Let’s find out.

Booking a Vacation Rental By Owner (Vrbo) to spend Christmas in Mexico

In October, Barney and her extended family decided to travel to Puerto Vallarta for Christmas. They would spend one week in the Playa Camarones area of the city. As this was kind of a last-minute decision, there weren’t any available vacation rentals that could accommodate the whole crowd. So they would book separate properties.

“The rest of our family booked before we did,” Barney recalled. “They would be staying in a vacation rental in the Playa Camarones area, and I wanted a place nearby – within walking distance.”

Barney had heard excellent things about Vrbo and thought it could be an easy way to find a place to stay. She started scrolling through the 5 de Diciembre district of Puerto Vallarta, which included the Playa Camarones area.

This vacation rental listing has a big problem. The property isn't where the owner reports it to be on Vrbo. Now what?
This Vrbo guest was looking for a vacation rental in this specific area of Puerto Vallarta.

Suddenly, she saw a condo that, on first blush, looked perfect for their needs. The listing highlighted that it was in the 5 de Diciembre area. With ocean views and a seaside pool, this vacation rental had everything the family wanted.

Feeling a bit pressured because holiday vacation rentals were becoming scarce, Barney quickly booked the condo without further investigation.

This Vrbo property matched everything we needed. It looked quaint and clean, and the location was perfect. It was a condominium building right on the beach with lots of great amenities. Based on the general location on the Vrbo listing, we were sure we could walk to our family’s rental too.

And had the location of this Vrbo been where the listing suggested, the family could have walked from it to their family’s place.

But soon, Barney found out that the location of this vacation rental was very wrong. In reality, the property was nestled along the coast — about 7-8 miles south of where the Vrbo listing indicated.

Definitely not within walking distance.

This vacation rental is not where it’s supposed to be. We want a refund

As soon as Barney clicked “confirm,” she was able to ask for the specific address of the vacation rental.

“Just minutes after I entered my credit card, I accessed the property location,” Barney recalled. “I was confused because it seemed to be many miles south of Puerto Vallarta. It was in a place called Playas Gemelas.”

This Vrbo is definitely not within walking distance of the other vacation rental. What's going on here?
A big vacation rental problem here. It may only be 11 km to this Vrbo location, but it isn’t walking distance, and it isn’t where the listing indicated.

Barney assumed there was some mistake. She immediately sent an email to the host to ask about the discrepancies. When the host didn’t answer, she sent multiple messages to Vrbo.

Vrbo promised to contact the host for further information. But now Barney was quite concerned. This family trip was for Christmas week, and the dates weren’t negotiable. She could see very little inventory left on the Vrbo site and elsewhere.

“I feel like I don’t have much time to fix this,” Barney explained. “I think I have to start looking quickly for a new place. There is no way this [vacation rental] can work for us.”

But Barney’s pleas to the host continued to go unanswered.

She wondered why the host had listed this property as being in the 5 de Diciembre area when it most certainly was not.

“I was still hoping the original information was correct,” Barney recalled. “But the host just ignored all of my messages.”

There is no mistake. This Vrbo is in the wrong location

Several days passed before a Vrbo agent let her know that the owner was also unresponsive to the company. However, the decision on the Vrbo side was that the listing was fine and no refund would be issued. Vrbo expected Barney to fly to Puerto Vallarta, travel to the vacation rental’s address, and determine for herself if the listing existed and was accurate.

This was certainly something Barney did not want to put on her to-do list for her Christmas holiday.

I don’t understand why Vrbo would side with a host that is not responding to their guest OR Vrbo. What’s going on here? I booked a vacation rental on the Vrbo site in a specific location. It’s clear now that this vacation rental is nowhere within the 5 Diciembre area. I think the whole thing is a scam. Why won’t Vrbo look closer at this property?? I want to cancel and get my money back now. 

Throughout the next week, Barney sent many more messages to this vacation rental owner, but to no avail.

Then she decided to send her plea to the Elliott Advocacy team.

Asking the Elliott Advocacy team for help with this vacation rental problem

When Barney’s request for help landed on my desk, I did a preliminary review of her paper trail. Right away, I could see that the vacation rental she booked was not in the same area that the listing clearly advertised.

Not only that, the pictures looked very old and dated. We know from experience that old, blurry photos are hallmarks of fake listings. And the fact that the host wouldn’t respond to Barney just increased my suspicions.

I gathered Barney’s documents and sent her case over to our executive contact at Vrbo.

Asking Vrbo to have a closer look at this property

Hi *****,

We have a Vrbo case here that could use your team’s help.

Karen Barney booked a Vrbo in Puerto Vallarta for the Christmas holidays. She’s meeting family members there who have booked another property in town. After confirming this vacation rental, she could see a more specific location of the condo. It is significantly out of the radius of where the host is portraying this property to be on the listing’s map. In fact, this condo is quite far south of the city of Puerto Vallarta. Karen has attempted to contact the owner multiple times, and this host does not respond. Also, the photos on this listing look old and as if they’ve been copied from somewhere else. Vrbo has also attempted to reach the host, and it doesn’t appear your team has had any better luck reaching this lady.

Karen has now booked a different place, but she would like to cancel this other property based on its misrepresented location and the fact that we’re not even sure that it is an actual listing. The pictures look like something a scammer would post from another site.

Would your team be able to have a look and see what’s happening here? Thank you! 😊 (Michelle to Vrbo)

And soon, our friends at Vrbo had an answer for Barney.

Merry Christmas! Here’s your refund from Vrbo

While the response from Vrbo wasn’t 100 percent what I hoped for (this wasn’t a goodwill gesture, in my opinion), it was great news for Barney.

Hi Michelle,

We looked into this case for you – although the host has been unresponsive, the property is legitimate, and multiple guests have stayed there before. However, after reviewing the details of the case, we’ve decided to issue Karen Barney a refund for her booking. Our billing team will contact her for the next steps.

The map pins displayed on a property listing page show an approximate location for the property as well as nearby attractions, which are automatically generated. Additionally, property addresses are not shared with guests until after booking a property for security. Any difference in the exact location of a property compared to the approximate location shared on the property listing page map is not considered misrepresentation. We’re working with the host to help make sure the map on her listing more accurately shows the approximate location of her property. (Vrbo executive team to Michelle)

And that is where we will definitely need to disagree. The pins of this host and her description indicated that she was in the 5 de Diciembre area. She is not.

However, the fact that today this vacation rental is no longer on the Vrbo site speaks for itself.

Thank you for helping with my vacation rental fiasco — a lesson learned

Barney has some final thoughts about her experience.

Even with how cautious I typically am, I made big mistakes when booking this property. I can see both sides – the host who doesn’t want to disclose the exact address until after the booking – the traveler who has to have trust that the property is in the area as described.

And definitely have detailed emails between the host and yourself before sending a payment.

I am absolutely convinced there would be no refund if not for your help in reaching out to Vrbo for me. We made numerous phone calls trying to escalate with no success. We were out of options until, on one of my Google searches, I read about Elliott Advocacy. I subscribed to your newsletter and sure have had my eyes opened to significantly worse travel situations than I was involved in.

We booked a hotel close to where our family is staying in Puerto Vallarta near Playa Carmarone beach. It’s such a relief to be able to put this behind us, and we can look forward to our family vacation in Puerto Vallarta over Christmas.

Again Thank You, Michelle. Happy Thanksgiving! (Barney)

And with that, we can happily put to rest yet another consumer fiasco. Yay! 💖

How to get a refund from Vrbo for a vacation rental problem

To qualify for a refund from Vrbo if things go wrong with your next vacation rental, there are a few things to consider – before, during, and after you click “confirm.”

  1. Understand the Vacation Rental By Owner platform and its terms of use.
    Unfortunately, many people who book through Vrbo misunderstand the platform. Remember, Vrbo is just a vacation rental listing site. It is not a management company, and the properties have not been individually vetted. Travelers must do their due diligence before booking any property – starting with reading through the Vrbo Terms and Conditions. That document will give you a clear insight into the nature of Vrbo. Especially this line: “The Site is a Venue, and We are Not a Party to any Rental Agreement or other Transaction Between Users of the Site.” So keep that in mind — the vacation rental owners do not work for Vrbo. Your agreement is between you and the host. Vrbo views itself as a neutral third party to your contract with the owner.
  2. Study the listing – especially the location, using Google Maps.
    There are many things to consider as you’re browsing vacation rental properties on Vrbo: Reviews of the listing (or lack of reviews), photos, amenities, and, of course, location. Remember that the vacation rental can be located anywhere within the general vicinity indicated on the listing. Before committing to the property, pull up Google maps and study the area of the vacation rental. Taking a look via satellite view will let you see landscape and buildings not visible in regular mode. Don’t want to stay beside a giant petroleum plant like this surprised Airbnb guest? You’ll be able to see those types of deal breakers courtesy of Google maps. The bottom line is that if you book a property without properly investigating its location, Vrbo will not approve a refund if you don’t like the area when you get there.
  3. Review the cancellation policy.
    The Vrbo host determines the cancellation policy of their listing. Do not overlook this detail. Once you click confirm on any Vrbo reservation, you’ve entered a legally binding agreement. Do not proceed to that step until you’ve read all of the terms and agreed. If you don’t understand any part of the cancellation policy, message the host for clarification – before you book.
  4. Ask the vacation rental owner for specifics.
    You should always contact the vacation rental owner before booking any property. There are a variety of reasons this is so. But the primary reason is that the time to ask questions about the property is before you’ve committed to it. Not only will you be able to get your questions answered, but you’ll also get a feeling about the host and whether you’re compatible with each other, too. You can assume that the speed at which the owner responds to you before you make the reservation will match the response time should there be a problem later. And, as we saw in this case, an owner’s complete silence could mean that there is an ominous problem with the listing. It’s a fact that there are fake listings that exist on both Vrbo and Airbnb. And although Vrbo will likely refund you if you travel to destinations unknown and find that the property doesn’t exist (Like this guy did), who wants to end up in that unpleasant situation? Scammers don’t have a lot of patience to respond to your inquiries, so making significant contact with the host can weed out fake listings.
  5. Ask Vrbo for help.
    If, despite all of your diligence in following the company’s guidelines, you run into insurmountable problems with a vacation rental, you must contact Vrbo ASAP. Remember those terms and conditions I mentioned above? They require you to give Vrbo a chance to correct whatever problem you’ve encountered at the property before you hit the eject button. Their team should act as a mediator between you and the host. If Vrbo agrees with your assessment of the situation, the company will help rehouse you OR refund you so that you can find your own substitute accommodation. What you absolutely can’t do (and still expect a refund) is to leave the property before giving the Vrbo resolution team a crack at fixing the problem. Make sure to contact Vrbo through its message center via your account so that you create a paper trail documenting the problem and the company’s response. Stay off the phone!
  6. Ask the Elliott Advocacy team for help.
    Finally, we know that sometimes, even when a traveler does everything right, something can go wrong at the customer service level. Just ask Franklin Wu, who somehow ended up with a shared space Vrbo rental – even though the company doesn’t allow such arrangements. He almost lost nearly $10,000 in that fiasco before he found the Elliott Advocacy team. Should you find yourself in a similar circumstance, you can contact us, too. We’re always here to help. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Elliott Advocacy)