The Cancellation Conundrum: B&Bs, Cottage Rentals, and Other Vacation Spots

Now that the snow has come and gone, you can soon start to hike, swim, or boat, listen for the call of a loon, or maybe watch Shakespearean characters brawl, bawl, and strut at Ontario’s Stratford Festival.

Just be prepared to book early if you hope to rent a comfortable bed and a private bath when you arrive, and watch out for stiff financial penalties if you must cancel a lengthy stay.

Yes, even vacations close to home can come with the risk of financial loss. And, yes, there is trip cancellation insurance to cover the loss of prepaid rental expenses, plus the cost of tickets to a theatre, music festival, or other event that you planned to attend while away on vacation. But if a private cottage or unlicensed bed & breakfast has caught your eye, watch out.

 

Summer warning: Don’t get burned

Cancellation charges can be as little as $100 ($50 if you give seven days’ notice) at Stratford’s historic Hughson Hall Bed and Breakfast, which charges a $260 nightly rate in the summer. The refund charge at the rustic Arowhon Pines Resort in Ontario’s Algonquin Park is $150 per person if you and a companion need to cancel your $4,000-plus week.

But if you cancel a booking for a condo apartment for six adults in Banff, Alberta, or an elegant cottage with room for seven in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, you could lose as much as a quarter, half, or even the full $2,000-per-week cost of a monthly rental.

The owners of seasonal properties count on summer bookings to carry their investment. So the cost of cancelling your booking there will depend on when you notify the owner, as well as the owner’s ability to find a new tenant.

When combining a cottage or B&B rental with a few days at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Stratford Festival, or the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, remember that refund policies are restrictive. There are no refunds at most music festivals, while Stratford and Shaw only offer an exchange of tickets for the current season provided you give more than 24 hours’ notice or a tax-deductible receipt if you donate the tickets.

Similarly, the insurance to protect you from heavy cancellation charges will also come with conditions. Generally speaking, your reason for cancelling must be serious, and the type of property you rent must fit with policy definitions.

Most trip cancellation coverage we examined requires you to have had a serious reason for cancelling, such as sickness, injury, or death, a natural disaster, major damage to your primary residence, jury duty, or the rescheduling of a student’s examination.

One exception we found to date is Manulife Global. With this policy, you could cancel your trip for any reason and be covered for half of your prepaid and non-refundable expenses, provided you give notice at least 14 days in advance.

 

Summer rentals: Not like cancelling a cruise

Bed-and-breakfast-vacation

While all insurers will cover cancellation expenses for a flight, cruise, hotel room, or resort, some won’t cover your bill for certain summer rentals. So it’s important to check.

A Manulife Global trip cancellation policy costing $179 before tax for up to $2,000 in losses will cover you at any age for a slightly wider range of rental options than, say, a Travel Insurance Co-ordinators (TIC) policy costing $116 for those age 59 or younger.

But neither policy would foot the cancellation bill for someone smitten by the décor and location of Simon Prud’homme’s cottage on Lac-des-Plages, Quebec, less than a two hours’ drive from either Ottawa or Montreal.

Employees of Manulife Financial, TIC, and RSA Canada have all confirmed in email messages to Ingle International that trip cancellation coverage would only apply to a rental property that is licensed or legally authorized to provide travel accommodations to the public. Of those three, only a TIC employee noted specifically: “if the B&B is privately owned then [prepaid travel arrangements] will not be covered.”

 

Those insurers: Not all are so picky

A fourth insurer, TuGo (formerly Travel Underwriters), is far less restrictive. An employee wrote: “We don’t specify the type of accommodations that can be covered under trip cancellation. So, as long as they are commercial accommodations where they have an invoice and/or receipt that shows the cost paid, the name the reservation is under and the dates booked, they can have that as a covered travel arrangement.”

Prud’homme, the Quebec cottage owner, says he is not worried about the lack of insurance to pay his 25 per cent charge for renters who cancel within two weeks of the rental period. While he has listed his cottage for rent on chaletsauquebec.com for the first time this year, he has rented to friends and family in the past. “To be honest, we have never had a cancellation,” he said.

He deals directly with potential renters and he sets his own cancellation charge. He only uses the Chalets au Quebec website to advertise, not to manage bookings, and his cottage is not licensed as a bed-and-breakfast business or resort. “We are not a hotel,” he emphasized.

 

Airbnb: The full-month treatment

Any rental property listed on the website Airbnb.ca must meet certain terms and conditions, including a guest refund policy. The website permits the property owners to choose one of its suggested cancellation charges, ranging as high as a month’s rental fee if the place is reserved for more than 28 days and the customer cancels with fewer than 30 days’ warning. For shorter rental periods, 39 per cent of landlords have chosen airbnb.ca’s most flexible cancellation policy, 24 per cent moderate, and 37 per cent strict, which provides for a 50 per cent refund if the notice of cancellation is given seven days in advance or longer. It is not apparent on the airbnb.ca website whether landlords are required to have a municipal licence, though the condo we found in Banff does.

 

That dream rental: It’s all about the memories

Whether you find your dream summer rental on a listings website, in a newspaper’s classified section, or on a supermarket’s bulletin board, it’s important to ask the property owner about cancellation charges and licensing before buying trip cancellation coverage. You wouldn’t want your summer plans to become nothing more than a sad memory.

 

View the rest of the articles on Ingle International for more travel guides and tips.

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