How a VRBO booking lead to a post-Christmas nightmare

How my VRBO booking lead to a post-Christmas nightmare


Don’t ever book a room through VRBO.

You’re probably thinking, “Tamara, why so dramatic? What could possibly be so bad about a website that links property owners around the world with travellers, offering alternative accommodation to hotel rooms or hostels?” Well, get comfortable dear friends, because this story is a doozie. Police involvement, blatant lies and stolen money: yup, this one’s got it all. And at the root of it is VRBO’s complete unwillingness to do a single thing about it.

This tale began when my family was planning a Christmas getaway to Canada’s beautiful Rocky Mountains. Since there were so many of us we needed a couple units, so we booked a large suite at a hotel, and I managed to find a smaller suite in the same hotel that was owned independently, and listed on VRBO for half the price the hotel was charging. “Man, I’m so smart” I idiotically thought at the time, about my steal-of-a-deal. Guys, even travel writers get it wrong sometimes.

The unit owner who we’ll refer to as “P” was wonderful at first. He promptly accepted my reservation (plus a $200 damage deposit which I just *knew* we’d get back, because I’ve never so much as overturned a garbage can in a hotel room) and was good about staying in touch ahead of our check-in on Christmas Eve. Everything sounded great, and the whole fam jam was looking forward to our getaway.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve, and we had a couple of sudden cancellations in our group so we didn’t need the VRBO unit anymore. I emailed P right away, saying “I obviously don’t expect any sort of refund from you, but I’m wondering if there’s any chance of perhaps getting the cost of whatever you’d normally pay to have it cleaned refunded to us along with the damage deposit.”

To my delight, he said he’d be happy to refund us for the second night since it was more than 24 hours away, along with the damage deposit which would be a total of $300 back. I thanked him, wished him a happy holiday, and continued on my merry little way.

Well, after checking into our hotel room, we realized we had nothing to light our Christmas candles with. The attendant at the front desk was unable to help and my mother-in-law was getting a tad stressed about our lack of ambiance, until it suddenly dawned on me: the VRBO unit we’d rented (and paid for) might have something! So off I went down the hall, spending a grand total of 90 seconds in the suite opening kitchen drawers until I found some matches. I ran back to our room, lit the candles, then ran back to the VRBO unit and put the matches exactly where I’d found them before leaving and securely locking the door behind me. Christmas was saved!


Now, this is where it gets interesting. Days later, I received an email from P asking if we’d ended up staying in his unit. I replied that of course we hadn’t, but now that he mentioned it I had gone inside to grab matches— a fair trade I thought, since we technically spent $100 to rent the room that night and didn’t even use it.

Well. The email I got back was something else. To paraphrase, he essentially accused us of trespassing, trashing the unit, and threatened to call the RCMP. Oh, and we wouldn’t be getting any of our money back.

Now, I clearly don’t need to explain to you dear readers how ridic that is, because you are reasonable human beings with brains and sensibility. How could one person, who walked into a unit in their socks for two minutes, allegedly inflict so much damage to a unit…on Christmas Eve, no less? Oh, and shall I remind you that I make my living off travel writing, so trashing hotel rooms probably wouldn’t make for a great business model.

As you can imagine, my email back essentially consisted of asking what the deuce he was talking about, and please send back my money now. I also requested that he phone me so we could have a conversation about it like responsible adults—but *shocker* he refused, adding he’d been in “touch with local authorities.” Isn’t that interesting how someone who stole $300 is the one unwilling to communicate? Anyway, my husband managed to get him on the phone, but while P acknowledged that he knew we didn’t stay in the unit, he also refused to send us photos of the “damage.” What a surprise. Oh and for the record, we were never contacted by any “local authorities” regarding an “investigation.”


So at this point you’re probably wondering where VRBO was during all this. Well, let’s just say they washed their hands of it, fast. I contacted them early on in my dealings with P the Pathological Liar, explaining our arrangement and that he was refusing to return the damage deposit, and to please reverse the charges as I’d made the payment through their portal. Initially they were responsive, saying they’d recorded my complaint on his account and were waiting for him to respond. But a couple days later, with no further explanation, they played the Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card and wrote:

“Per our Terms of Use, we are an online marketplace that brings owners and travelers together. We are not involved in the rental transaction or management of a property; therefore, we are not able to mediate disputes between owners and travelers.”

Umm…pardon? All of the queries take place through VRBO and payments are processed through their website, but they’re not “involved” in the transaction? That’s a new one.

I recognize that VRBO itself is not responsible for the conduct of its unit owners (and I’m sure 99.9% of the property owners listed on the site are fantastic humans), but in our case VRBO did absolutely nothing to try and rectify the situation despite the business transaction occurring through their website. Throughout the entire ordeal, all they did was send canned responses back including gems such as “we cannot make any reversal of the charges due to privacy reasons” (huh?!), which leads me to believe that VRBO makes a habit of facilitating and processing everyone’s payments, collects their commission, then skedaddles as soon as there’s even a hint of a problem.


I truly hate to have to publicize things like this, but unfortunately I had only rented through VRBO one other time before this incident and also encountered a problem. In that case, the unit owner double-charged my credit card a few months after our stay, and offered no apology or explanation when I called them out on the transaction, which leads me to believe it was completely intentional and they were hoping I wouldn’t notice $1400 disappearing from my account.

As someone who has stayed in hundreds of hotels, B&Bs and hostels on five different continents and never encountered an issue following my stay, I’m throwing in the towel on VRBO and its affiliated companies. It’s simply too risky to leave my money in the hands of a company that has no protective measures in place for its customers. For those considering a rental through VRBO, I urge you to consider my experiences and think strongly about whether you’re willing to expose yourself to so much risk while you should be enjoying your holiday.



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26 thoughts on “How my VRBO booking lead to a post-Christmas nightmare”

  1. Pingback: How to get a luxury hotel room for half price

  2. You had a bad experience but you learn something from this… For now on you would know and you are more careful 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience from us!! We learn more from this great post

  3. I’ve used VRBO before a couple of times and haven’t had any problems. It’s such a huge site that you are bound to have some bad apples, especially because there is no independent review of the rental homes like there is with hotels. It’s the same reason I no longer use Airbnb either.

    1. Yeah I have a feeling that there’s a reason there were only “good” reviews about the place we rented- everyone else who got scammed like us is probably too terrified to find out what would happen if they left a bad review!

  4. Yikes … and at freaking Christmas too! Obviously the guy was out for as much of your cash as possible, what a horrible human being 🙁 Sad that VRBO washed their hands of the situation … you can tell the worth of a company by how they act once conflict arises. Thankyou for letting us know about your experience. Steering clear!

  5. Wow! Talk about a nightmare! Sucks this was even a problem and VRBO did nothing to help. At least you learned a valuable lesson, albeit and expensive one!

  6. My god! This is scary but you shouldn’t have taken a risk again when the first time it disappoint. Sad that it happened at the time of Christmas and i am definitely never using VRBO ever in life.

  7. I have always had concerns about both sites. The more horror stories I hear the bigger fan of hotels and hostels I am. The reviews are accurate but at least they aren’t left by people who are worried about the relational from the owner.

  8. That really sucks! I’ve had fantastic experiences/luck with VRBO condos (mostly in Hawaii) and really prefer being in a condo than a hotel when travelling. I’m very disappointed the site management abandoned you like that. It makes it clear that the VRBO experience is completely dependent on the person whose place you’re renting.

    1. Totally agree, and as I said I’m sure 95% of the time people have no issues renting through VRBO. What really concerns me is VRBO’s total unwillingness to provide any form of customer service- Airbnb is famously excellent in that department, so next time I need to book owner-owned accommodation I’ll definitely book through them instead, and encourage others to do the same.

  9. Hmmmm well I understand you’re upset and the unit owner seems quite unreasonable on the face of it BUT……you cancelled your booking and so technically your entry was unauthorized and it breached your cancellation agreement. When you cancelled, the payment for the first night became a cancellation fee not a unit rental payment. You may feel that it gave you the right to enter but I don’t think it did – it was compensation to the owner for your booking cancellation and nothing more. Who knows what problems the owner has had in the past, he doesn’t know you, he wasn’t expecting anyone to enter the property, he’s probably a long way away and has no idea what actually happened and maybe the fact that you did enter just pissed him off.

    As for VRBO – I think that’s a tough one too because they are caught in the middle and have to deal with the facts of the situation – the facts are that you cancelled, came to a mutual agreement with the owner and then breached it. You’re asking them to adjudicate a very muddy situation. What is it that you want them to do?

    You likely don’t agree and although I empathize and I think it’s too bad it went so badly wrong – if I look at what was the root cause this whole problem it’s the fact that you entered the property when you should not have done so. You assumed that was OK to do but from the owner’s perspective it wasn’t. What you entered for or how long you were in there is actually irrelevant. I think you’re fortunate it did not go further. It could have done. Be grateful for that.

    You’re throwing out lots of accusations and seem very angry but have you honestly considered your own part in this?

    If this had been a hotel room that you cancelled, do you think you would have the right to enter the hotel room anyway?

    What actually concerns me most about this is someone else could have been in the unit thinking they had privacy and security and apparently that was not the case.

    My opinions are based on what you have stated here only.

  10. I had a VRBO CHRISTMAS NIGHTMARE AS WELL.. will never trust them again. We had $2000 not returned to us. There is no recourse. They said our family trashed the rental home . We cleaned very hard. We washed all towels, cleaned the fridge, cleaned the floors and bathrooms. They did not return our damage deposit or the cleaning fee. We were appalled. Not one thong was broken or misplaced. Shame on VRBO.

    1. !!! I wonder if you stayed at the same place as we did…or if VRBO listers are just that shady that it happens so frequently. So sorry to hear the same thing happened to you- such a nightmare, isn’t it!

  11. So you cancelled your booking, then proceeded to enter a property you no longer had access to?
    I think he was being super nice NOT to call the authorities. I probably would have. You don’t go into someone home like that without permission.

    If I had been the owner that would have freaked me out. Some places have cameras in the hallway so it would not have been difficult to see you. AND you took something?! Stealing is stealing, big or small.

    1. Hi Kristen, I cancelled the second night’s booking, not the first night as it was within 24 hours and I didn’t expect any money back based on that. So yes we still had access to the unit for the first night which is when I went inside, and had fully paid for it as well.

  12. Same for Airbnb. NEVER use them because a person can lie in their review of you and Air will do nothing about it. They even had proof in the Airbnb email system but it didn’t matter. The review stays and I received a similar email showing that they don’t care about the customer experience or the truth. Neither did the host so I guess they’re a good match.
    Some people are just horrible. We even left them a thank you gift for opening their home to us, finished two loads of laundry they left and our own folded before we left, purchased the supplies promised in their amenities list and tried to remove stains from the previous guests and mold on the cutting board. My only contact with her during the week was to ask for the amenities promised and what to do for the check out. The rest I was going to overlook because I realize that flipping a home can be difficult sometimes, I will never grant anyone that kindness again thanks to this host and Airbnb.
    These two companies have no care for the truth or for supporting what’s fundamentally right.
    I’m not one of those people so when stuff like this happens to me I’m pretty thrown.
    Really sorry to hear that you’ve also had this experience because I was hoping to use VRBO instead but looks like they both support a culture where people can say or do whatever they want knowing that there is no recourse. There are a lot of angry people in the world who will do that kind of thing just for fun.
    Makes me sad that they are supporting this type of behavior. Thank you for sharing!

  13. Oh my goodness, you sound like a total dream guest who went above and beyond, and was still treated so unfairly. So frustrating, and what I’ve found is there’s no real recourse as a consumer, which is why I’ll gladly continue to stay at hotels.

  14. I stayed once in an Airbnd and the photos did not match the interior of the guy’s home…nor was I aware that the owner was going to be staying there, as well. So he was always around, in the living room, in the kitchen and it felt creepy to me. Bad experience. I stayed once in a VRBO. The cottage was about 50 yards from the owner’s home and she watched every move we made from an upstairs bedroom window. Not fun. Secondly, we had informed her about our dog but when we arrived she denied it and went crazy over it. We offered to leave. She let us stay. Two days later she apologized when she found the email about our dog. Crazy stuff. Never again.

    1. Eugh so frustrating! I’m encouraged to see that recent media reports (and a subsequent call from the FBI) are sparking Airbnb to make some long overdue changes. We’ll see if they make a difference, but for now I stick to hotels.

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