Extenuating circumstances policies

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We recently had the “pleasure” to test United Airlines and Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policies. I was quite surprised by the outcome that I feel like I should write about this!

Background: We recently visited a close family member who ended up having to go to the hospital with a potentially life threatening injury, and we ended up being the only family around who could take care of him. K and I already had flights via United Airlines (UA) and also an Airbnb booked in the subsequent days. We sort of begrudgingly (knew it had to be done, but my wallet, ouch) cancelled our Airbnb and paid the UA change fee, ~$1000 in total. We were also driving back and forth to the ER and hospital multiple times for almost a week — so it was just exhaustion all around.

Airbnb: Before I even cancelled I reached out to Airbnb via Twitter, and they called me on the phone probably within ~10  mins of back and forth via Twitter messaging. They told me my situation will be covered under the extenuating circumstance policy and just go ahead and cancel and get the documentation afterwards.

UA: I didn’t even think I could get a refund on the change fees until I started digging around their website. The policy is hidden behind a website so it’s not really indexed well by Google (if you search for “united refund policy” it doesn’t really show up). It’s also hidden under “Refund request for nonrefundable tickets — unplanned event”, where it says it will refund change fees and tickets under certain cases.

The most annoying part of all of this was the documentation — both companies required a doctors note stating specific details plus a fancy physician’s signature. The time frame was the thing that stressed me out the most, Airbnb claims you have about 14 days to submit a claim, and United said a year. I also considered using my credit card insurance, which said one has 20 days to file a claim. In the grand scheme of things, getting a doctor’s note within 2 weeks of a major health event is harder/more stressful than it sounds.

That said, this story has a happy ending. Said family member is now mostly recovered (yay!); and I got a doctor’s note in time. After I submitted the doctor’s note, and contacted the respective companies —

  • Airbnb: Refunded me within ~30 minutes of me contacting them (seriously Airbnb customer service is quite amazing).
  • United: After filling out the web form, I got a response in approx. 5 days saying my request has been processed and they are refunding my change fees!

It was a load of paperwork, and I’m quite surprised it actually worked. Everyone I spoke with, myself included, was quite skeptical I’d get any money back.