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Travel Troubleshooter: When your vacation rental owner goes AWOL

Travel Troubleshooter for Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017.

Q: I reserved a vacation rental in San Antonio through VRBO this spring and paid my deposit and fees. I made the final payment in July. I attempted to contact the owner to arrange access, but several emails and phone messages went unanswered.
I contacted VRBO by email, phone, and certified letter. Today, I was told by phone that in order to receive a refund, I must show up in San Antonio and prove that I cannot access the property. As  there is no response from the owner, I can't risk traveling there with my family and young  grandchildren when there's a possibility we won't have anywhere to stay.

I called back today and asked to speak with a supervisor but was told there is no supervisor. My vacation has been ruined. I'd like to get a full and immediate refund for my vacation rental. Can you help me?

— John Duncan, Longwood, Fla.

A: If you don't have a vacation rental, VRBO should offer a full refund without making you show up in San Antonio.

VRBO offers a Book With Confidence Guarantee that, as the name implies, is supposed to assure you your rental will be available when you arrive ( But read the fine print: The guarantee applies only if you're wrongfully denied access to the property at the start of or during the rental term "as the result of the intentional and/or wrongful act of the advertiser" and if your deposit is not refunded.

That's a lot of "ifs."

Technically, VRBO was correct in telling you to show up and get denied. But that wasn't a reasonable request, as you were traveling to San Antonio with your entire family. What would have happened if the owner had maintained radio silence?

Oh, and that business about there being no supervisor to talk to? That's nonsense, too. I publish the names, numbers, and email addresses of the key VRBO executives (it's owned by HomeAway) on my consumer-advocacy site:

I notice that a lot of your communication with VRBO was by phone. Though  you recorded the conversations — good for you! — it probably would have been more efficient to stick to writing. That creates a nice paper trail that can easily be forwarded to a company executive, or to me.

After I brought your problem to VRBO's attention, it not only refunded the $4,015 you'd spent, but also covered the cost of a new rental. It turns out your original rental had been tied up with some unexpected litigation — an understandable reason to deny your rental, but still no excuse to remain quiet.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler." You can read more travel tips on his blog,, or email him at