AUSTIN (KXAN) — Paul Danigelis was excited about his trip to Colorado — then COVID-19 started making headlines.
He was supposed to head to Vail on March 19.
Before he could get there, Vail Resorts closed all but three ski resorts for the year. Local governments started urging people to cancel all non-essential travel.
At that point, Danigelis looked into canceling his TurnKey vacation rental, only to find out the Austin-based company wasn’t offering refunds.
“If you dial 9, it says you’ll get a call back,” he said. “Well, you don’t.”
After a few days of waiting on the phone and still getting automated texts about the rental, he was finally told there was no way he could receive a refund.
TurnKey said they’ve changed their usual “no refunds within 30 days of arrival policy” to instead offer credit to be used within 18 months at the same vacation rental.
Adam Pedowitz, Director of Brand Marketing, said they were trying to balance the needs of guests with those of hosts who are also affected by this pandemic.
“We do understand the frustration many guests may have as we adapt to this unprecedented situation,” he told KXAN last week. “As a property management company, we have responsibilities to both our guest and our homeowners, and are trying to do the right thing for everyone involved.
He compared their new policy with Southwest Airlines, explaining that issuing credits for a future stay “helps guests retain the value of their reservation, while helping homeowners who are facing multiple cancel requests, which may impact their ability to maintain mortgage and utility payments, or other essential items during these uncertain times.”
Another spokesperson for Turnkey sent KXAN this statement, which reads in part, “Our focus to help our guests has been to relax our non-cancellation policy and follow Southwest Airlines’ general philosophy to offer credits for future stays. The bulk of travelers we’ve heard from think TurnKey has struck a fair balance, especially as our guests can use their credits to stay at a home up to 18 months from now.“
For Danigelis, that’s not enough.
He tracked down the owner of the rental where he was supposed to stay.
“From talking to the owner, he hasn’t a clue,” he said. “That they were going to rent his unit out in the future and ‘save the money’ for him.”
KXAN has received dozens of tips over the past few weeks from concerned travelers, many of whom have joined the Facebook group TurnKey, DO THE RIGHT THING!!!!!. The group now has more than 400 members.
Founder of the group, Erika Haynal, argues that TurnKey’s claims about balancing the needs of home owners are misleading.
“They continually put out these statements that they need to protect their owners. ‘Their owners have mortgages to pay, utilities to pay,'” she said. “But they are not getting it to them. They [the owners] don’t get it until after we stay and re-book.”
She’s been fighting the company for weeks, and said she keeps getting different answers.
“There’s zero trust that TurnKey is going to honor those credits fairly, or even stay in business for that matter,” she said.
She explained that many of their Facebook group’s members are healthcare workers, first responders and even military members who can’t “reschedule” vacations for later in the year with credits.
“One of the saddest stories was this family who rented two houses. They have a stage 4 cancer patient, and it was going to their last, final family reunion. They pleaded with TurnKey,” Haynal said. “Our loved one is not going to outlive this virus, like, we have no reason for this house. It’s going to be too sad.”
She said they have “example after example” of price gouging of the same properties, too.
According to the tally on their page from travelers and home owners, Turnkey is keeping more than $400,000.
“That’s a lot of money that TurnKey is holding onto, that the owners don’t have and we don’t have.”
Several of these travelers have pointed out that competitors, like Airbnb, have offered full refunds.
Airbnb’s website said, “We are now offering Guests full refunds and Hosts no charge cancellations for reservations booked on or before March 14th with a check in date of April 14th or earlier. Please note this policy will not cover any new bookings.”
Danigelis said he’s “baffled” as to why TurnKey has taken this stance amid all the unknowns caused by COVID-19.
“The lack of empathy and communication from TurnKey VR has me telling — well, I’d tell anyone, don’t use this company.”