Do you trust online vacation rental sites like HomeAway.com?

I’m going to New York next month. As there are three of us travelling and we are staying in town for four nights I thought I would book an apartment, rather than two hotel rooms.

I checked out homeaway.com because I met their UK sales director a while ago and I remember thinking that I should try their service sometime.

They have hundreds of great places all over the world and I was spoiled for choice looking at the map of Manhattan – eventually deciding on a 2-bed apartment on 50th street. I sent my details to the owner and he confirmed that it was available on the dates I needed.

He sent me an invoice via PayPal and I paid it immediately – $1370 – not a small amount, but certainly cheaper than 2 decent hotel rooms in midtown Manhattan for 4 nights.

After paying, I immediately emailed the property owner to ask for the exact address, what time I could arrive and all that basic check-in stuff. He never responded. Five days later I tried calling. The number was a dud.

So I emailed again, but I started worrying. What if this guy has just stiffed me for over a thousand dollars? I still need to book a place to stay in New York whatever happens with this guy!

So I filed a complaint with HomeAway. Typically their customer service team promised to get back to me “in a few days”… is that acceptable from any customer service team today? I’m in the hole for over a grand and I just have to sit tight and wait.

Fortunately, PayPal were very helpful and have reassured me that even if this guy has stolen from me, they will underwrite the loss. In short, they have a dispute resolution centre where I can contact the person I sent money to. Usually they would allow a week to see if the person responds. After that week, PayPal would get directly involved in the chase and if another 10 days passes with no resolution then PayPal will reverse the transaction.

That still feels like a long time to wait, given the amount and given that in a couple of weeks I need a place to stay. PayPal agreed and said that because of the amount involved, they would waive the usual 7 day wait and they will get immediately involved in chasing the funds.

So I’m shell-shocked because of the experience. This was my great welcome to HomeAway.com… the best I can hope for is that I have a property owner who forgets to reply to email and doesn’t have a working phone – it was all a misunderstanding. The worst is that my money has gone, but will be refunded in 10 days.

And if I know this will be resolved one way or the other in 10 days that still gives me about a week to find a place to stay in New York – but you can bet it won’t be on HomeAway this time, or any time in future.

Manhattan Panorama

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2 responses to “Do you trust online vacation rental sites like HomeAway.com?

  1. As an update to this and to be fair to HomeAway, my incessant chasing by email and the fact that I had escalated this to a PayPal investigation finally got the property owner to respond to me today. There was an apology, but no explanation why they took my cash and then never sent any acknowledgement to all the questions I was sending, and no explanation for the dud phone either. They wanted to carry on with the deal as it stood. I considered asking for a small amount back as security – like $500 refunded that I would play in cash when I checked in. However, my wife was not so sure about dealing with this property owner any longer – and she might be right. I could drop the complaint, get $500 back and then arrive in NYC to find he doesn’t meet me, the phone doesn’t work, and I’d still be $870 down… so I’ve asked him to just refund the money. I’ll update the blog if he does – he can do his own explaining to PayPal and HomeAway.

  2. Update… got a refund from the property owner directly today. It took a lot of chasing to get it and it seems this particular owner is just very poorly organised rather than a crook. A very bad experience though.

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