JAMAICA BEACH, Texas – So you’ve planned your vacation down to the minute. You’ve purchased your plane tickets, your car rental is locked in and your lodging is reserved. All signs point to go. Then you get an email that the home you reserved has been canceled. It happened to Houstonian Kelly Keenan when he booked a 5-star Galveston bayfront beach house through VRBO for his extended family over the holidays. He made the reservation and paid in full in July for the week of Christmas. It was 11 days before his scheduled check-in that Keenan got the bad news via email. Property management company Vacasa told Keenan the property owner wanted the beach house for his own use. Keenan was offered a full refund and some assistance finding a new place, but at that late date, there weren’t many properties available to accommodate their family of 16 flying in from four states.
Property owners can cancel reservations you’ve made at any time
“If it’s happened to me, it’s happened to others,” said Keenan, explaining why he called consumer expert Amy Davis.
Out of frustration, Keenan did some digging and found the name and contact information for the man who owns the beach house. He called Houston attorney Joseph DiCecco to get to the bottom of why he canceled the reservation nearly six months after he made it.
“He said, ‘Well, I just didn’t want to rent it for the amount that you had it booked for,’ Keenan said, recounting his conversation with DiCecco. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He says, ‘Well, that’s worth a lot more money than what you guys agreed to pay.’”
Keenan was confused, wondering why DiCecco and the property management company would have even listed the home at the price he paid.
“'Ok, but we have an agreement,’ Keenan said he told DiCecco. "And he goes, ‘Well I’m not going to honor it.’”
We’ve learned under VRBO’s terms and conditions property hosts can cancel reservations with no penalty. You have no way to know if the owner of the property you’re booking has canceled on prior customers.
“The only way you can give a bad review of an owner is if you actually rented from the owner. Well we didn’t rent from this guy, so there’s no way for us to tell people what happened,” Keenan explained.
VRBO, which also owns Home Away, emailed KPRC 2 this statement:
“Each homeowner or property manager who lists a property on VRBO sets their own rates and manages their own calendar. Homeowners or property managers who repeatedly cancel reservations may be removed from the site.”
Two months after Keenan’s canceled reservation, we found the same property still listed on VRBO.
“Certainly the agreement says that they can do whatever they want, and that’s basically what I wanted to get across,” said Keenan. “You just have no rights as the renter.”
Airbnb offers more consumer protections and penalties for hosts who cancel
DiCecco’s beach house is also on TripAdvisor and Airbnb, but not all property booking sites handle cancellations like VRBO. On Airbnb’s listing, we found an automated post under the reviews that reads, “The host canceled this reservation 77 days before arrival.”
Anytime a host cancels an existing reservation, Airbnb posts that information to the property listing so potential guests can see it. The site also blocks the host from rebooking the property for the same dates to someone else. And lastly, after a host cancels a reservation, Airbnb docks up to $100 (depending on when they cancel) from the next booking.
We asked the property owner what happened
When KPRC 2 called attorney Joseph DiCecco, who owns that Galveston beach house, he blamed the pricing error on a website snafu and property management company Vacasa, asking us to reach out to them. Vacasa said there was no error. A representative answered our questions via email:
“Our homeowner agreement authorizes Vacasa to set nightly rental rates based on property and market characteristics and demand. To do so, we use our dynamic pricing algorithm, which adjusts in real-time based on a variety of factors including seasonality, weather and local events, among others. We list our vacation homes on Vacasa.com, as well as a variety of other channels, including VRBO, to increase exposure and bookings for our homeowners. The situation that occurred with this reservation is rare. However, we want to ensure that it does not happen again, so have taken the property offline until we can reach an agreement with the homeowner regarding nightly rates. Our homeowners trust us to set nightly rates that will increase bookings and overall revenue for their vacation rental properties. In this specific and uncommon case, the homeowner reviewed his upcoming reservations through our secure homeowner portal, and ultimately refused the rate. This is why we are taking steps to ensure we are in agreement on nightly rates before allowing future guests to book the home.”