“You need to cancel your Airbnb reservation or you’ll be charged.”
The message was from David, an Airbnb host with whom I’d made a summer-long reservation earlier last month and it stopped me still in my tracks. We were talking about over $2,000 here of which $575 was a non-refundable deposit for June and an additional $116 for Airbnb’s fee. Moreover, when I tried to cancel online today, the website was clear: too late. My credit card had been charged. I had literally just burned $700 – the cost of a brand new iPhone 6S.
The month before, I’d booked a room with David for our son who needed a place to stay near VELCO where he has a paid engineering internship. VELCO is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, north of Rutland, VT, and about two hours from home. The plan had been for him to live in David’s BNB in Pittsford from Sunday through Thursday and come home on weekends. It wasn’t cheap, but it also wasn’t the local Comfort Inn where other interns were staying for way more.
However, a few days after making that booking, I received a call from a local municipal official who lives about a mile and a half from VELCO, a nice woman in her 70s, a widow who offered to make Sam dinner as well as provide him with a private room, bath and Wifi. She’d heard about Sam through a fellow Town Clerk whom I’d called earlier, putting out feelers. She sounded sweet and smart.
“I understand about runners,” she said, after I explained that Sam was a dedicated college XC and track runner who practiced religiously. “My oldest son was a XC runner.”
Aha! Here was a mother who understood about crazy diets and ten-mile runs at dawn. “Does he still run?”
“No. You see, he was running with his track team when a drunk driver drove off the road and killed him. That was thirty years ago. He was only thirteen.”
Heart. Stop. Heart. Break. Pain. Pain.
Okay, so immediately I knew two things. 1) This was a woman who had lived every mother’s nightmare. 2) This was a woman who had survived every mother’s nightmare. 3) Sam needed to stay with her, no question. And while he was there he needed to mow her lawn, clean her gutters, change a few lightbulbs, and do whatever else she needed even if that meant cribbage.
Sam instantly agreed. Besides, he likes the idea of meals at six, a tidy home, quiet and order. Maybe it’s an engineering thing.
Anyway, I emailed David through the Airbnb site to cancel last month and he instantly understood. Really nice guy. Sure, no problem. I assumed everything was set and I’m sure I pressed that cancel button on the Airbnb site…but then David’s message.
“Call them,” my twenty-something, newspaper reporter daughter said. “You always taught me to call people or meet them face-to-face for a story.”
Hot damn, the kid had learned something. So, I called Airbnb (1-855-4-AIRBNB) and got Jacob right away. After confirming personal data, the next thing he did was read all the emails between David the host and me. That’s right. They’re saved and their Airbnb’s property to provide a digital trail if hosts (or guests) got out of line. Like the NSA – but in a nice way. In my case, there was my May 16th message, “I’m sorry, but I have to cancel,” along with David’s generous reply.
In fifteen minutes – following Airbnb’s confirmation with David – the matter was settled. All my money was refunded, including Airbnb’s fee.
There could have been other, perfectly legal outcomes. David could have kept mum and not sent me the message to begin with and I wouldn’t have found my error until I opened my Discover bill later in the month. He could have put up a stink. He could have claimed – perhaps, rightly so – that he might have lost a summer-long reservation due to my idiocy. I certainly cost Airbnb more than they made on the deal – which was zero. They could have kept the fee and, again, perhaps rightly so.
But they didn’t.
You can argue that’s just prudent business. However, I prefer to believe they are building good karma. Like the other day when I was pulling into a parking spot and a woman swung by, leaned out of her window and gave me temporary parking permit for the space that she didn’t need. This morning, having put two dollars in the meter that I didn’t use, I remembered that and waved in a driver searching for a space.
Yeah, silly. So what? It’s the little kindnesses that make the difference between a world that is hostile and one that’s joyful. A free parking space goes a long way. So does a refund of nearly $700.
Thank you everyone. Going out to pay it forward.