Friends lose £6,000 after Ibiza villa owner ‘disappears’ | consumer affairs

A A group of friends who lost more than £6,000 after the owner of the luxury Ibiza villa they had booked on Vrbo ‘disappeared’ say the company’s ‘book with confidence guarantee’ has failed turned out to be hopeless.

Elaine Forth, who lives in Birmingham, and her friend Lisa Colclough had booked the villa for a group of friends in 2020. They paid over £7,700 but were only able to recover their deposit and service charge.

They are the latest people to report booking expensive holiday accommodation only to find that there is very little consumer protection in place should something go wrong.

The booking was partly paid for with Forth’s credit card, in the belief that it would offer some protection if the worst happened, with the rest being put on a debit card.

When Covid hit the group was forced to cancel but was told by the owner he could reschedule the trip after the pandemic.

But by the time they were ready to book, the owner had stopped responding to messages. It later emerged that he had removed ownership from the Vrbo website.

The friends have since tried every means possible to get a refund, but say they have been pushed back.

The friends were forced to cancel their 2020 vacation to Ibiza, but the villa owner told them they could reschedule the trip after the pandemic. Photography: Juergen Sack/Getty Images

“We filed a complaint through Vrbo who tried to contact the owner but to no avail and the company eventually said they couldn’t do anything as they had no responsibility,” says Lisa. “They said the ‘book with confidence’ guarantee didn’t cover us because it was out of their control. What sort of guarantee is this?

The credit card provider, HSBC, denied a Section 75 claim on the grounds that it had paid Vrbo – an agent – ​​rather than the villa supplier directly. This is a major flaw in the protection of Article 75, which is supposed to hold card providers jointly and severally liable for providing the service.

Then they tried the debit card provider, Halifax, and asked for a chargeback of half the cost of the villa. This was refused on the grounds that they were out of time. Chargeback requests are limited to 120 days.

“We had been saving up to celebrate what was going to be a milestone anniversary and a chance for all of us to come together,” Forth says.

“We thought we were doing the right thing using a credit card – booking with a big company from Vrbo – but we were disappointed at every turn. There is no protection in place if an owner goes missing, which is extremely disappointing.

Vrbo, which is owned by Expedia, told Guardian Money it was acting only as an agent and that all rental contracts were between the traveler and the host.

“Refunds are at the discretion of the property host to decide what to offer the traveler. The Book with Confidence Guarantee policy for eligible guests offers some level of protection, but cancellations caused by or resulting from events beyond Vrbo’s control, such as Covid, are not covered,” a spokesperson said.

He said Vrbo refunded the guest’s service fee and €1,123 security deposit, and provided the host’s contact details to allow the group to take legal action against him in Spanish courts, if they wished.

The case shows the problems consumers face when booking holiday accommodation, particularly overseas, as there is very little feedback in the event of a booking error.

This is a particular problem in Ibiza and other popular Spanish destinations, where scammers advertise fake ads or take over real ads and change contact details. Holidaymakers found themselves standing, suitcase in hand, in front of villas they thought they had booked, to learn that they had been scammed.

Airbnb arguably offers the best protection in this regard in that it controls the process and only releases payment to the owner right after check-in. Until the likes of Vrbo adopt a similar scheme, it really is a case of caveat emptor.

About Gene Schafer

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