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Refunds can be trickier with ride-sharing, vacation rentals

Unhappy with Uber or Airbnb service? Check the fine print about refunds

By  |  Published: April 21, 2017

 Refunds trickier with on-demand services

Airbnb, Uber and other on-demand companies often can offer more convenience at less cost than traditional choices, but as with any service, things can go wrong. That cozy studio you rented has bedbugs, or your driver takes a circuitous route that makes you miss your flight.

In such cases, since you usually pay for these services with a credit card, can you get a refund? And what’s the best way to go about it: Seek a refund online, call your card issuer or complain on social media?

On-demand companies’ responsibilty for refunds murky
The reasons for seeking a refund can vary according to the service in question.

A common complaint among Uber riders is that they’re quoted a price that’s different from what they’re ultimately charged on their credit card, while Airbnb guests might discover that their accommodations are dirty, among other issues.

In any case, keep in mind that the role of the on-demand company is as an intermediary between a customer and a service provider. For that reason, the company’s responsibility is murky.

For example, Uber absolves itself of any guarantee of driver reliability. In its terms of use, Uber riders must agree to this before using the service. Risk “resides solely with you to the maximum extent permitted under applicable law,” according to the terms of use.

It was like a closet. There wasn’t even room for our luggage.

— Eleanor Seavey
Airbnb customer

Step 1: Directly dispute a charge or service
Your first point of contact when disputing a charge or service should be the person who delivered the service, says Michael Lai, CEO of Sitejabber.com, a consumer review platform for online services.

That’s especially important because service providers, whether they’re drivers or dog walkers, want to get good reviews from consumers. 

Take Airbnb customer Eleanor Seavey. In October, she and her husband went on vacation to New England, including a two-night stay in an Airbnb home in New Hampshire. While the place was clean and tidy, it also was 225 square feet, much smaller than she had expected.

“It was like a closet,” she says. “There wasn’t even room for our luggage.”  

Seavey emailed the host and asked for a partial refund. Within minutes, her host, fearing a negative write-up, called and offered to return all her money if she left the premises immediately. The host then contacted Airbnb. Several days later, Seavey received a refund.

Step 2: Escalate your complaint to the company
If you can’t work out a satisfactory arrangement with the service provider, “you need to escalate,” Lai says, by going to the company, via email, text or calling a customer service number.

Time often is of the essence when trying to recoup costs. For example, with Airbnb, you need to contact the company within two hours of check-in to place a hold on the host’s payment. “The amount of any refund will depend on the nature of the travel issue suffered,” an Airbnb spokeswoman said in an email.

With Uber, you can contact the company either through the website at help.uber.com or through the app. With the app, use the claim form in the “Trips” section. Tap the trip you want to dispute and the option that’s most pertinent (for example, “My driver took a poor route” or “I did not take this trip”). Add details about your dispute and tap submit. Uber probably will respond in three to five days, but if you don’t hear back within a week, try resubmitting your claim. 

With any complaint about a service, having documentation that supports your case is crucial – and more is better, Lai says.

For some sites, submitting documentation is easy. If there are, say, bedbugs in your Airbnb rental, photograph the critters and any place where there are traces of infestation, and also include all relevant correspondence with your hosts.

For ride services such as Uber and Lyft, take a screen shot of the price you expected to pay and the receipt you received after you arrived.

With any complaint about a service, it’s also best to communicate only via avenues that provide a record in case there’s a problem. That means going through the platform, text or email, and avoiding phone calls.

Step 3: Contact your card issuer
If you still aren’t satisfied with the response, you can try contacting your credit card issuer and request a chargeback. That means the charge will be removed from your bill temporarily while the issuer investigates your claim.

For best results when requesting a chargeback, you’ll need to send supporting documentation with your name, account number and dispute case number via email, fax or U.S. mail.

Social media shaming can be very effective.

— Linda Sherry
Consumer Action

According to Lai, card chargebacks have been increasing about 20 percent a year over the past five years, driven largely by the growth of e-commerce and online services. “That is likely to increase as the sharing economy expands,” he says.

Generally, issuers give consumers the benefit of the doubt and pass the costs on to the service provider, says Lai. Case in point: JPMorgan Chase reported transaction volume in 2015 increased by 7 percent, but chargebacks increased by 20 percent, according to Jessica Velasco, senior editor of Chargebacks911.

Step 4: Do some disrupting on social media
Another avenue to recoup your cash is social media. That’s what Mark and Michelle Aselstine did after they and their then 3-year-old stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Santa Cruz, California.

When the Aselstines arrived around dinner time, they discovered the apartment advertised as child-friendly wasn’t. Knives and alcohol were easily accessible, but there were other problems.

Michelle Aselstine called Airbnb’s customer service number. After being on hold for perhaps an hour, Mark Aselstine sent a tweet to the company’s Twitter account. “My wife worked the phones, while I worked social media,” he said.

Within a few minutes, he got a response. Ten minutes later, he was told he would receive a refund if the company couldn’t find a place within the Airbnb network. They ended up getting their money back and staying in a conventional hotel.

“Social media shaming can be very effective,” says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at Consumer Action. On-demand companies monitor their social media presence constantly, keeping a lookout for complaints and other comments.

Most companies mandate arbitration
If a customer is dissatisfied with an on-demand service’s response, the one option that’s not on the table is a regular lawsuit. On-demand service companies usually mandate in their contracts that consumers go through arbitration, instead of taking a case to court.

Why arbitration? Arbitration tends to favor companies instead of consumers, says Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center.

With TaskRabbit, a service that lets you hire “taskers,” though, you can opt out of the forced arbitration provision by notifying the company in writing within 30 days of the date you first register for the platform or 30 days from the date the agreement was last updated, according to the website. 

Before booking a service, do your research
Ultimately, your best protection is doing your homework. For example, before you make your next Airbnb reservation, check to see whether your host is “flexible,” “moderate” or “strict” on refunds in case of cancellation.

Also, carefully read refund policies, customer reviews of service providers and accommodations before you hire a driver, rent a home or contract with a dog walker. And although it may be a chore, read the terms of service. In the event you’re not a satisfied customer, you’ll know the rules to get a refund. 

See related: Uber, Lyft drivers in a hurry to pay down debt, 6 steps for getting a credit card chargeback

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Updated: 08-23-2017

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