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Australia Airbnb rinses thousands from Aussie families with new refund policy

02:10  11 september  2021
02:10  11 september  2021 Source:   dailymail.co.uk

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A 'shifty' Airbnb policy change has rinsed thousands of dollars from locked-down families after the company removed border closures from their refund policy.

Dozens of devastated Australians say they have been left out-of-pocket by the refusal to refund bookings forced to be cancelled because of Covid lockdowns and border closures - with some spending as much as $7,000 and being refunded just $149.

Anita Birges, from Bondi in Sydney's east, had been looking forward to spending the school holidays with her family in a stunning Airbnb home on the beach.

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However, as Greater Sydney was plunged into a snap 14-day lockdown, Ms Birges explained to the property owner she and her family could no longer travel.

'I contacted the host directly and said there's restrictions. She said to me, "oh well, why should I take the loss?" Ms Birges told A Current Affair.

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The professional organiser said she asked the host to provide her a credit for the trip that could be used at a later date.

Instead, the host offered the family a mid-week vacation after the school holidays.

The frustrated Bondi mum said she had been saving up the money to rent the property and didn't want to see it thrown down the drain.

The trip - which had been organised with another family - cost each household $1,500.

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Border closures are no longer included in Airbnb's extenuating circumstances policy, meaning consequences of Covid-19 are no longer considered unforeseen or unexpected.

Prior to March 14 2020, customers who cancelled their booking were offered a refund or a credit for their stay, with one disappointed dad accusing the company of 'doing a shifty'.

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On March 11 last year, the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, prompting Airbnb to change its policy on refunds just three days later.

Mother-of-two Kathryn found herself in a similar situation when plans to stay in a home in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, were dashed by the virus.

She contacted the host of the barn-style home three days after making her booking with concerns the state was on the brink of a lockdown.

'She came back to me and said, 'well you haven't booked a refundable option, so basically there are no options for you,' Kathryn said.

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'How can it be ok for you to take my money and not offer me a service?', the frustrated mother said, who is now $2,200 out-of-pocket.

Kathyrn said she had been taken aback by the host's response after booking with 'someone as reputable as Airbnb'.

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The frustrated customer said she had assumed the company would have a universal policy that covered unforeseen consequences caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Travel writer Ute Junker explained that Airbnb offers three tiers of cancellation policy that can be chosen by the owners of the property.

A generous host will give guests a full refund up to 24 hours beforehand, however others will only give 48 hours after the booking has been made to cancel.

The other cancellation policy gives guests five days until check-in to cancel and still receive a full refund.

'If we start expecting Airbnb to start doing some sort of insurance to give people some kind of compensation, that's going to increase the amount you pay per night', Ms Junker explained.

Derek Nolan, the Head of Public Policy at Airbnb, said in a statement that almost two-thirds of active listings offer a moderate or flexible cancellation policy.

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However, this didn't help Victorian resident Craig who had planned to visit his step-son in Perth, booking a spacious five-bedroom home for his family.

Then restrictions hit, meaning his $2,000 vacation with the additional cost of airfares had to be canned.

Luckily for Craig, the host agreed to refund half of the money.

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Sydney and its surrounding areas have endured day three of a snap 14-day lockdown as the state recorded 19 local cases overnight.

The outbreak of cases that sparked when a Sydney airport limousine driver tested positive on June 16 has now reached 149 locally-acquired cases.

Sydney, Wollongong, the Blue Mountains, Shellharbour and the Central Coast are just three days into a 14-day lockdown, which includes strict stay-at-home orders.

Residents and anyone who has worked in Sydney in the last two weeks are only allowed to leave home to shop for food or other essential goods and services, give medical care or for compassionate needs, to exercise outdoors with a maximum of ten people, or for essential work or education.

Masks must be worn at all indoor public venues, while hospitality venues and pubs are only permitted to stay open to serve takeaway.

Households will not be allowed to have any visitors, although there are exceptions for partners that don't live with each other who can visit each other's homes.

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Queensland will join New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Western Australia in lockdown after recording a further two cases on Tuesday, including a 19-year-old hospital receptionist who spent 10 days infectious in the community.

The state entered a snap lockdown on Tuesday after recording a further two community cases, including an unvaccinated hospital receptionist who travelled from Brisbane to Townsville and Magnetic Island while infectious and symptomatic.

The lockdown will last for at least three days from 6pm Tuesday, but restrictions will remain in place for the next two weeks.

Meanwhile Darwin, Litchfield and Palmerston in the Northern Territory will remain in lockdown until Friday.

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