Whether you're booking a weekend getaway or a longer trip, opting for a vacation rental property over a hotel has its perks. Vacation rentals can feel like a home away from home — but what happens if your plans change and you have to cancel unexpectedly?
If you purchased travel insurance for your trip, you might assume your vacation rental is covered and that you'll automatically be reimbursed for deposits, airfare or other prepaid travel expenses. But it's important to understand when you can (and can't) get a refund on canceled vacation rental plans.
» Learn more: How to find the best travel insurance
Read the fine print on your policy's trip cancellation rules
Travel insurance can cover both trip cancellation if you have to forgo your travel plans altogether and trip interruption if you have to cut your trip short.
Trip cancellation and trip interruption benefits can extend to vacation rentals — but it's not necessarily blanket coverage. For example, some insurance carriers specifically exclude epidemics and pandemics, like the COVID-19 outbreak, from their coverage for vacationers. You could purchase a separate Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) upgrade or rider to supplement an existing travel insurance policy, but if you have to cancel a vacation rental, there may still be coverage limits based on when you purchased it.
For example, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, many travel insurance companies require you to have purchased your plan prior to Jan. 21, 2020, for trip cancellation coverage to apply to trips canceled because of COVID-19. That's the point at which the coronavirus became a known event, allowing insurers to exclude it from coverage for travelers.
Keep in mind that CFAR coverage may not pay you back 100% of what you paid for a vacation rental. Depending on the insurer and the CFAR policy's terms, you may only be able to recoup 50% to 75% of your travel costs. And adding CFAR coverage to an existing travel insurance policy can make it more expensive.
» Learn more: Does my travel insurance cover the coronavirus?
Check your credit card's travel protections
If you've exhausted the limits of your vacation rental insurance, you could look to your credit card for additional coverage.
There are a number of cards that offer trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance for covered events. Again, you have to look at the fine print to see what's covered and what isn't.
For instance, many cards that offer trip cancellation will not cover you if your decision to cancel your vacation rental plan is based on a concern that you might get sick, so you likely wouldn't be able to get reimbursement.
On the other hand, you could be covered if you're quarantined, either by a doctor or a government entity. In those scenarios, your card's trip cancellation benefits may kick in and allow you to get back some or all of what you paid for your trip.
In some cases, coverage may be less clear-cut. For example, say you booked a two-week rental of a beachfront home, but because of coronavirus, local government authorities issued an order closing the beach to short-term renters.
In that scenario, you'd have to call your credit card company to determine whether that qualifies under the quarantine rules. You could also try to make a claim for reimbursement if your card's travel protections cover situations in which a rental property is uninhabitable.
» Learn more: 4 best credit cards for travel insurance coverage
Reach out to the rental company
Last but not least, stay in touch with the rental company to find out what rights you have for claiming a refund or reimbursement for canceled vacation rental plans.
Airbnb, for example, expanded its extenuating circumstances policy to accommodate cancellations for vacation rentals booked before March 14, 2020. This could help you get your money back, although you're still subject to the refund policy set by the property owner at the time of booking. VRBO is issuing service fee refunds for cancellations, though it doesn't offer refunds for trips directly.
If you booked through a local vacation rental property company, you'll have to consult their individual refund policies. Some companies include a disclaimer in the rental agreement stating that refunds are only available if the property can be re-rented.
Some vacation rental companies may opt to rebook you rather than refund your money. If you're able to reschedule your trip, that could be a good last resort for avoiding a total loss.
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