How Can Hosts Fight Airbnb’s COVID-19 Cancellation Switch-up?

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Airbnb recently announced that it would be waiving all guest cancellation fees for customers canceling reservations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Although this is great news for people who booked stays that now can’t be used, it’s a nightmare for hosts who are losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in cancellation fees, compounding an already tough financial time. 

Airbnb has offered to pay hosts 25% of what they would have kept from the cancelled stays, but for many hosts that may not be enough to meet their own financial obligations.

If you’re an Airbnb host who has lost money because of Airbnb’s COVID-19 cancellation policy, we asked an attorney what you need to know.

Question: Is Airbnb allowed to waive cancellation fees without my permission?


Airbnb’s terms of service state the following:

Guests can cancel a confirmed booking at any time pursuant to the Listing’s cancellation policy set by the Host, and Airbnb Payments will refund the amount of the Total Fees due to the Guest in accordance with such cancellation policy. Unless extenuating circumstances exist, any portion of the Total Fees due to the Host under the applicable cancellation policy will be remitted to the Host by Airbnb Payments pursuant to the Payments Terms.

This language gives Airbnb the right to withhold your cancellation fees in “extenuating circumstances,” which includes “epidemic disease or illness,” according to the contract. The “extenuating circumstances” policy isn’t new; Airbnb has had this clause since at least November 2019.

While the contract you have as a host with Airbnb does say that the company has the right to waive or withhold your cancellation fees because of extenuating circumstances, it’s still possible for you to challenge the company’s COVID-19 policy under some legal circumstances.

For instance, you could argue the clause in their click-through contract is unenforceable because it’s unfair, or that the company’s determination that COVID-19 is an “extenuating circumstance” is incorrect, or that company is acting in bad faith by forfeiting your cancellation fees to bolster their consumer facing brand.

If you’re looking to fight Airbnb’s decision, and ask for 100% of your cancellation fees, you can submit a claim:

Question: If I accept Airbnb’s offer to cover 25% of my cancellation fees, will that waive my right to ask for 100%?

Unfortunately, the answer here isn’t clear yet.

If you have to take any sort of action to “accept” the 25% payment of cancellation fees, doing so could waive your rights to ask for more. 

Airbnb has notified hosts that it plans to contact them by email in early April with more information about this 25% payout. Pay close attention to what that email says. If Airbnb makes you agree to language that says that this 25% payment satisfies all of their obligations regarding COVID-19 cancellations, then accepting the offer will definitely waive your right to ask for more at a later date.

Even if there is not explicit language releasing Airbnb from further liability, you should still be careful. Taking any sort of action (this could include clicking through an online screen, submitting an application, or sending an email) to collect, redeem, or accept the payment could be considered “waiver of breach of contract through conduct.” 

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