What to look for when booking a vacation online, and how to protect your money

“We’re anxious to get the heck outta here and have something to look forward to,” said Canonsburg mom Danielle McKain.

McKain and her family can’t wait for their post-COVID-19 summer vacation. In fact, they were so excited, they logged on to rental site Vrbo and booked last winter.

“We knew in December we were taking a risk of putting this money down that we might not even go because of COVID,” McKain said. Still, it was too good to pass up. It was a condo in their favorite resort town in Georgia for an incredible price.  But then on April 9, McKain got an email from the condo host saying, “with (a) heavy heart he ... sold his unit ... so we have to cancel your booking.”

McKain got a refund and understood, but she now needed a plan B.

“So we run back on Vrbo, we’re like trying to find something, and the first thing that pops up is our listing,” McKain said.

And it’s for more than double the price, listed by the same host. When Vrbo couldn’t explain what happened, McKain called Channel 11.

After hearing from us, Vrbo told Channel 11 that they worked with the host to remove the property from its website because it was sold. Three weeks later, the property is still up, offering very limited availability. Vrbo stopped answering our emails.

We reached out to the condo host, who told us that, if the property is still listed, “that’s on Vrbo.” As for doubling the price, she said: “We increased the rates to keep people from booking while we worked with everyone to get their cancelation processed and refunded. We had trouble figuring this all out.”

Caitlin Driscoll, of the Better Business Bureau, said that, while frustrating, it’s all part of the risk of using third-party rental sites.

“It’s so important for them to read that fine print,” Driscoll said.

McKain learned that lesson when she rushed to rebook a new condo. She missed out on Vrbo’s rebooking services, which might have found her a better deal. The Better Business Bureau also said to compare websites — everything from cancellation rights to customer reviews.

“You’re not allowed to post anything,” McKain said.

When McKain tried to post a bad review, she found out that Vrbo only allows you to post a review after your trip, whereas sites like Airbnb allow it before. These are all lessons learned for the next family vacation.

The Better Business Bureau said when you use third-party rental sites, you should always Google the property and verify it’s located where it says it’s located. Also, always pay by credit card so you can file a dispute with your card company.