Vacation Rental Owner Tips: Cancellation Etiquette

delayed flight

As a customer care representative at FlipKey, I have heard from many frustrated travelers who were confused and panicked because  their reservation was canceled at the last minute. Many of these travelers  were not contacted by the owner explaining the situation, but instead received an email from FlipKey stating that the reservation was canceled and that a refund is on its way. This can lead to some tense conversations, so I recommend that the traveler reach out to the owner to discuss why the reservation was canceled in the first place. Here are some tips to avoid this uncomfortable situation:

Be forthcoming

Before canceling a reservation, reach out to the traveler by email or phone. Once payment has been made in our system, you are able to see the traveler's personal email address or phone number and can use them in case situations like this occur.

In the email or phone call, be truthful about why you have to cancel the reservation. Travelers will understand if a pipe has burst at the property and there is water damage, or if a tree limb has fallen through the roof. However, FlipKey does not condone canceling a reservation because you received an inquiry from a second traveler for a larger amount of money.

Find an alternative

Once you have explained the situation to the traveler, work with them to try to find an alternative accommodation that fits their needs. If you have another property that  could accommodate the reservation, make sure to provide the traveler with plenty of pictures or a direct link so they can look at it before making their decision to proceed. Or, if you know another owner with availability and are able to work out an agreement, put the traveler in touch with them to work out the details.

In both situations, you'll want to make sure that you send the traveler a new rental agreement that outlines the updated information.

Offer a future discount

If neither option is available and you have to cancel the reservation, consider offering a discount to the traveler if they re-book during different dates. Try to keep your interaction on good terms so the traveler will consider re-booking with you again once the property is available. Sometimes travelers’ dates are flexible, and if work needs to be done at the property, they can move their vacation a couple of days. Also, the traveler might visit your area often, so there is an opportunity for them to book with you again.

Understand the refund policy 

It is also important to inform the traveler that once you issue the cancellation and refund, FlipKey will release those funds back to the card that the traveler paid with, but that it will take 7-10 days for the funds to be processed by the traveler's bank or credit card company.

While no one likes to have their plans canceled on them, it is still possible for both parties to come out of a situation like this with no hard feelings towards each other. For instance, a couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from a traveler who was contacted by the owner who canceled the reservation a couple days before check-in. The owner worked with the traveler to find alternative accommodations, but nothing was available. So, he issued a full refund and was apologetic and hoped that the traveler could book with him in the future.

When I asked the traveler if she was angry that the reservation was canceled at the last minute, she said she wasn't. In fact, she was grateful that the owner had actively reached out to her, explained the situation, worked with her to resolve it  and was apologetic about the inconvenience. To his credit, the owner was able to take a tense situation and create an outcome that satisfied both parties.

For more information on owner cancellations and refunds, visit our Help Center.


  1. It seems almost inevitable that sooner or later we need to let a guest who is coming know we have a problem and cannot host them after all.

    The first time this happened to me I got hives, and did everything I could to make sure our would-be guests had a place to come and stay that was comparable to ours. I paid for their stay at the new place, as they had paid me already for their stay. I made certain they felt good about the place they were going instead, and got their OK before I booked it.

    In managing the last minute booking, I take care of any cleanup needed at the last minute. This means the person who is helping me out on this end doesn't need to do anything to get their place ready.

    There is always a special treat waiting at the "new place" for the displaced guests, and I always offer them a special price should they choose to book again with me another time.

    This method works very well. The guest does not have to wait for a refund and have bad moments wondering how to cover vacation costs when they have to double up on rental payments.

  2. We just had two guests cancel at the last minute. We have a no refund policy if the guests cancel within x days of their visit. They asked the credit card company to reverse charges and it did. So much for our cancellation policy!

  3. We had to cancel on one of renters, for reasons I'd rather not go into, about 1 month before their check-in. Besides giving them a full refund we made sure their booking fee got refunded (a very difficult process on a different site) and we gave them $60 toward a new place. She was very disappointed but grateful for the added funds to find a new place.

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