The great coronavirus refund debate

Controversies about coronavirus-related refunds are bubbling up everywhere, but forking over cash to frustrated consumers can be complicated.


April 3, 2020

The pandemic put a pin in your Parisian vacay and you want your payments back, pronto.

It sounds simple, but forking over cash to frustrated consumers can be complicated — and controversial.

There are rebate riddles everywhere…

 …and they’re especially touchy in the travel and live-entertainment industries, whose itineraries have been totally scrambled.

One reason why travelers are angry: The refund might not actually BE a refund. Some airlines are offering vouchers instead, but some customers say we don’t want no stinkin’ coupons.

  • This week, 9 US senators sent letters to airline CEOs pressing them to offer customers full refunds (since, y’know, the industry just got a whopper of a bailout).
  • Some international carriers are getting stingy. Thirty of them told a ticket-processing company that only the airlines themselves can give the money back.
  • On the high seas, cruisin’ took a bruisin’. Cruise companies are offering extra perks (shipboard credits, ahoy!) to entice customers to reschedule. But if you do postpone, you lose the right to a refund.

Another wrinkle: When a middleman is involved, things can get REALLY hairy.

Just ask Airbnb and StubHub

Airbnb is basically letting customers who booked trips through the end of May cancel them for a full refund. But the new policy wreaked havoc on the OTHER end of Airbnb’s business — its hosts.

  • So this week, Airbnb said it was committing $250m to do right by them. Bookings have disappeared fast, though, and some sellers have said the money isn’t enough.
  • VRBO, an Airbnb competitor, has taken a more laissez-faire approach — and pissed off LOTS of customers in the process. It’s nixing service fees and “strongly encouraging” property owners to issue “at least a partial refund,” but otherwise says it’s just a middleman.

As Axios reported this week, the giant online ticket broker StubHub said fin to refunds for now.

The ‘hub’s president said they’ve had more than 20k events called off. She said the old canceled-gig refund policy (which involved issuing refunds to ticket buyers for canceled events before collecting money from sellers) wouldn’t work at such a high volume.

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