Tag Archives: nyc

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

Could the New York Marathon still help the Sandy relief effort?

So the New York City marathon has been cancelled by Mayor Bloomberg. Of course it’s the right decision, but it should have been made earlier. If there are still bodies being pulled from wreckage then a major sporting event is just a distraction from the relief effort.

If the relief operation was a little further along the track then this could have been a great opportunity to see the city pull together around a major sporting event – to show the world that New Yorkers really can pull together and recover from any adverse situation. But the situation is obvious – while some TV cameras would be following runners along the streets, others in the media would be pointing out the ongoing relief effort and suggesting that 40,000 fit people with an entire Sunday free might want to do something more useful than just jogging around the city.

So the decision is right, but in all the debate I have seen so far, nobody has mentioned that the marathon itself is an enormous fundraiser for many charities. It’s not 40,000 middle-class folk just taking a stroll – many of those people have trained all year, setting the marathon as an enormous personal challenge that has allowed them to raise sponsorship and support for a chosen charity.

In the London marathon over 80% of the runners are doing it just to raise cash for good causes. New York is not quite at that level of charity runners yet, but let’s just do some sums.

Most charities will ask a runner to get a minimum amount… $2,500 to $3,000 is common for New York. So if 80% of the 40,000 New York runners are raising at least $3,000 then that is almost $100m being raised for charity from a single race. It could even be more if you assume that most runners will be raising more than the minimum expected.

The way it works is that the charities buy a guaranteed place in the race – they have to pay up front for a place and many charities will buy dozens or even hundreds of places. Then by ensuring runners get a minimum amount, the charity can ensure they raise a lot more than the places cost. Everyone wins.

If the race is now cancelled then what happens to all the money pledged by people who were supporting the runners?

One obvious answer here is to refund the charities all the money they invested in buying places in the race and to then ask runners to divert all the funds they would have raised from the race into the relief effort instead of their chosen charity.

That could put $100m on tap almost overnight and would ensure that cancelling the marathon still created something worthwhile for the city. It’s difficult though – many choose a charity to support for very personal reasons and some might feel that if they have gone to the effort of raising the cash then they should have some say in where it goes.

Will it happen?

I don’t know if the Mayor and the marathon organisers can get organised fast enough to make it work, but they need to make some fast decisions, because after the dust settles, hundreds of charities will be asking about their missing millions if nothing is done.

New York City Marathon

Photo by Young Yun licensed under Creative Commons