How to Get a Refund If Your Cottage Holiday Is Cancelled
Unfortunately, the best-laid travel plans of holidaymakers who book self-catering cottages can be ruined when owners cancel at short notice – leaving them with few rights of redress.
The holiday cottage has been sold, double booked or due to reasons outside their control; there are many reasons an owner or agent might cancel a holiday booking.
Here are some tips for recovering your money if your holiday is cancelled.
Check the cancellation terms in the booking contract
Lets be realistic, when you have found the perfect holiday property your priority is to get it booked before someone else does, not read through the booking terms and conditions. However, you may well be relying on the finer details of the cancellation terms if your booking is cancelled or if you believe the contract has been breached. So before booking a holiday let, check the cancellation terms in the booking contract.
There should be a clause which outlines what happens if the owner cancels a booking. Ideally, they should be refunding in full. If not, their cancellation terms should be fair and not breach consumer law.
If you booked the holiday rental via an agency or on a listing site such as HomeAway or Airbnb, check their terms and conditions with regards to cancelled bookings. The owner can be removed from the site or charged fees for cancelling bookings.
Unfortunately, the ongoing coronavirus lockdown restrictions are affecting cottage holidays. As per the Guidance from the Competition and Markets Authority, guests are either amending their holiday dates, receiving a credit or refund. Once restrictions are lifted, it’s likely that the owners (or booking agents) normal terms and conditions will apply to booking cancellations.
Why has the booking been cancelled?
Is the property for sale?
The holiday rental may be for sale or available for long-term rental at the same time as being a short term holiday let. Selling a holiday home can take many months so owners capitalise on rental income by continuing with rentals until a sale or tenant is confirmed.
Once you have a short-list of properties do a little detective work, a quick Google search on the property name or address to see what comes up. If you don’t have these details you can use Google image search by uploading an image of the property or url. You might be surprised where you find the property advertised for rental or sale.
If you do find the property advertised for sale, insist that before you make the booking you want a written guarantee from the owner that a full refund will be given if the accommodation is cancelled due to a sale. If the property is being booked through a letting agent, then ask if they can guarantee placement in a comparable holiday home if your booking is cancelled.
If your booking is cancelled due to the property being sold, it would be fair to get a full refund and be notified asap so you can turn to Plan B.
Is it double booked?
Thankfully, most owners and agents are professionals and want to maintain a good reputation. They will refund any money paid, try to accommodate you on alternative dates or try to find an alternative rental if they double book.
With the advancement of booking management systems and synchronised calendars, double bookings should be a problem of the past – but everyone makes mistakes.
Double bookings can happen when more than one person advertises the property i.e. the owner and an agent.
You’ve been scammed
Guests must stay vigilant when booking any form of accommodation online. Unless you take certain steps to protect your payment, it’s unlikely you will recover your money if scammed. Speak directly with the owner or agent before paying, use a secure payment method such as credit/debit and always pay via the listing site portal. Do not send any money without first receiving the booking terms and conditions, from which you can check the owners’ details.
What if the owner or agent refuses to refund?
If you find you are in a situation where an owner or agent refuses to refund a payment for a booking they have cancelled, what are your legal consumer rights?
If you paid by credit card, you may get your money back under Section 74 of the Consumer Credit Act.
Citizens Advice can also give you practical and impartial advice on how to resolve your problem. If you decide the only option is to take court action then here is some useful advice from the Citizens Advice and Which. The threat of legal action may be enough to recoup your money, especially if the owner or agent knows they are likely to lose and face legal cost that outweighs the money owed.
If justified, write a review of your unpleasant experience on the site where you booked the property (note some sites don’t let you review if you haven’t stayed in the accommodation) and other review sites where the property is listed.
For more advice read our article on how to make a complaint about a self-catering cottage.
Advice for owners who cancel bookings
As an owner, if you find yourself in a situation which results in the cancellation of a booking there are rules of etiquette to follow to ensure an amicable outcome. Apologise for the inconvenience and tell them the reason behind the cancellation.
Firstly, if you believe you may need to cancel future bookings, for example, if you have your property for sale, it’s only fair to advise guests booking the accommodation upfront. Although you may not want to lose bookings, you should let guests know in advance there is a possibility that you can’t fulfil their stay. Ideally, you would agree with any buyer that confirmed bookings are honoured.
No one wants to have their travel plans cancelled at the last minute and find themselves without accommodation. Inform the guest that the booking is cancelled as soon as possible so that they can try and find an alternative place to stay.
Where bookings are cancelled last minute and unavoidable, any refund is discretionary but you must not breach consumer law regardless of what your T & C’s say. If you want to maintain a good reputation, receive positive reviews and sleep at night, then it’s recommended that you offer a full refund to your guests if alternative dates aren’t an option. Maybe offer a goodwill gesture to ease the distress caused, e.g. a discount for other dates.
If your property is being promoted both directly by you and through an agent, then it’s important to make sure that your calendars are synchronized to avoid double bookings, and that an agreement in place as to how you determine who keeps or cancels a double booking.
If your property is unusable for a long period (e.g. after a flood) then a comprehensive holiday letting insurance policy should cover loss or rental income so you can reimburse bookings.
If you’ve double booked
It’s every owners’ worst nightmare – the dreaded double booking! If you are in the situation where you have inadvertently double-booked, you have to do everything in your power to make it right. You made a mistake and it’s your responsibility to refund or find alternative accommodation, even if it costs you.
Call the guest (don’t email) explain what you have done with a sincere apology. Most guests will understand and co-operate if your apology is genuine.
If you manage to find them alternative accommodation, don’t leave it there. Check-in with your guests during their holiday and send some flowers or a gift with a handwritten note.
Not all guests will be understanding but it’s your responsibility to find a solution that they are happy with.
Cancellations by owners are rare
You have limited protection when booking a cottage holiday direct, but paying by credit card provides added security should you fail to get a refund or if the provider ceases to operate.
However, nearly all owners and agents will provide a refund in the unlikely event that they cancel your holiday. In the rare instance they refuse to refund and it’s justified, then there is the option of the small claims court.
You may be worrying unnecessarily. Holiday cottage owners are honest individuals who will do everything in their power to ensure a holiday they regretfully have to cancel is refunded.