How to solve double booking when managing vacation rentals

One of the most common issues that can arise is double booking. I use the word “common” because it occurs much more frequently than one might think, particularly among beginners.

I have a friend Elena who’s working in a high manager’s position in a company. One of the things that always amaze me about her is her ability to manage clients. No matter what uncomfortable situation arises, Elena knows how to handle it and maintain a positive relationship.

I always knew that I needed to work on certain skills. However, my concentration was more on creating a beautiful design for my condo to offer guests a unique experience. What really thrilled me was the artistic aspect, such as the beautiful interiors. Or extra features. I never anticipated all the situations that could come up along the way.

When starting a business, it’s easy to spread ourselves too thin. Our focus is on making everything work, and mistakes can happen as a result. It is human nature. The hospitality industry is no different.

What is double booking?

Double booking occurs when you get reservations on multiple channels for the same date. For example, you may have a listing on Airbnb, Booking, or VRBO.

When someone books your listing on Airbnb, you must quickly block off the same dates on all other platforms to prevent double reservations.

Different media channels like email, social media, direct bookings

Double bookings can be a hassle for hosts to solve, and they can also result in costly penalties from the booking platforms. 

However, don’t stress too much if it happens to you. Booking.com reports that up to 25% of listings experience double bookings during their first year on the platform. Does iCal prevent double reservations?

More important than the problem itself is how you handle it. In my first year of renting out my condo, I experienced a double booking. I had been using iCal to sync all of my calendars, but there was a delay in updating, and I was double booked within minutes. (Note: never rely on iCal 100%, and always double-check manually.) 

When it happened, I panicked. I felt a cold shiver run through my body as I froze, wondering what to do next. One guest was a family with a young child coming to visit friends, while the other reservation was a couple from abroad. Both reservations had been booked on different platforms.

What bothered me most was not the double booking itself, but rather the fact that I was unprepared. I knew that booking platforms, especially Airbnb, have strict host cancellation policies. And I get it. The connection we establish with our guests is the heart of the business. I want my guests to feel welcome and comfortable in my home. To experience a coziness they can’t find in a random hotel.

After realizing my overbooking mistake, I began to think clearly. How I could compensate the guests and mitigate the consequences?

What are the consequences of double booking?

A confused man thinking what to do with double reservation..

First and foremost, it’s an unpleasant situation for the guest and a hassle for the host. It requires a quick resolution, and a scheduling conflict can affect the host’s listing on the platform. Double booking may occur once or twice, but repeated cancellations can eventually impact the host’s status. (Note that cancellations due to extenuating circumstances or uncontrollable situations like pipeline breaks are regulated differently.)

What does the host cancellation policy say?

Every OTA or booking platform has its own set of rules. Let’s take a look at the most popular ones and their cancellation penalties:

Airbnb

The host must pay a cancellation fee of at least $50.
The blocked-off dates cannot be reserved again.
A public review stating that the reservation was canceled automatically (the host can explain the situation later by responding to the review.).
Losing the Superhost status if the cancellation rate is above 1%
Account suspension or deactivation if the host cancels three or more reservations within a year.

Vrbo

Lower search result rankings, meaning fewer people can find the listing

Booking.com

The host must: – find a similar or better property for the guest.
– cover the price difference for the new accommodation.
– provide transportation to the new property.
The ranking of the listing will be negatively affected.

Out of these three booking systems, Airbnb imposes the most severe penalties on hosts who cancel reservations.

How to handle double booking?

I realized that there was an overlapping booking and began to look for a solution. Although I didn’t have an alternative condo myself, I knew some fellow rental owners in the area. I searched for an alternative to help my guests out. In these situations, the best thing you can do is to offer a sincere apology and admit your mistakes upfront.

But what if you try to solve the issue by yourself?

Let’s say you have two similar units on Airbnb.

Illustration: Two living rooms of similar design.

A guest agrees to stay in the other unit. He checks in. At a certain point notice that the apartment looks different than presented in the pictures. He may have agreed to it before. The problem is: A guest has the right to request a refund from Airbnb. 

He could possibly get a refund if the reality doesn’t correspond to the expectations set by the listing. Therefore, if you have two similar units, a better option is to alternate reservations (this option is available on Airbnb). In that case, you have the guest’s permission.

Have a backup plan

In my case, I found alternative accommodation for my guests in the area. I contacted my competition because the people I knew had already been booked. The new accommodation was even more expensive than mine, but the guests liked it and agreed to accept the alternative. 

At least I was able to do something. Upon their arrival (the family with the kid), I asked them if they were satisfied with the new place. They confirmed that they really liked the apartment I found for them.

The moral of the story is to ensure you have a backup plan if a double booking ever happens. Communicate clearly with your guest, accept responsibility, and offer to find a solution if possible. A host is not obligated to provide all these extras, but that’s my idea of hospitality.

How to apologize for double booking?

When I found a solution, I sent a message that read:

‘Dear ❴name❵, I’m very sorry to inform you that there was a mistake during the booking process, which resulted in a double booking due to a calendar connection issue. I have to cancel this reservation. Please accept my sincere apologies for the inconvenience this has caused. Let me help you solve the problem by finding a new place to stay for you and your family at no additional cost. I found one I think you will like. It’s only three streets away and offers the same level of comfort and amenities you originally scheduled. Please look at the offer I send you below. Let me know if you accept the proposal by the end of the day.’

When writing an apology, it’s best to express yourself concisely and directly. You don’t need to go into too much detail about why you must cancel. Instead, focus on offering a solution if possible.

Do I need a channel manager for my short-term rental?

Channel Manager is software that helps you manage your properties across different booking channels, such as Booking.com, Airbnb, Vrbo, Tripadvisor, and even your own website. Usually, it’s a feature of all-in-one rental management software. In the beginning, hotels we using this tool. Now, it is also common for vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts.

If you only have one, two, or three listings, you may not need a channel manager, although many companies offer solutions for up to five listings as well. However, if you have multiple units listed on different platforms, a channel manager can be essential in preventing double bookings.

Keep in mind that it’s a paid service, and the monthly fee typically depends on the number of listings you manage.

One of the benefits of using a channel manager is that it often includes additional features, such as:

  • automated messages
  • cleaning service reminders
  • payout management, etc.

That is why we usually refer to it as vacation rental software.

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