DALLAS, Texas — Two months in a Spanish beach paradise is all a Dallas couple wanted, but now they're out big bucks thanks to pandemic travel restrictions and a Vrbo host who won't refund or reschedule the trip they never took.
Gretchen Soldat and her husband retired in 2016. Pictures they've taken since then show that their newfound passion is traveling around the world.
The pair has visited places like Ecuador, Rome, Venice, Greece, and the Galapagos Islands. They've worked hard all their life, and Soldat said they've earned a little time to themselves.
"Traveling was a big part of our retirement," Soldat said. "We try to find the cheapest places, and before this, Vrbo has been pretty useful."
Vrbo is short for Vacation Rentals by Owner. Its site serves as a kind of middleman for vacation property owners who can list their homes directly, which avoids going through a management company.
Unlike Airbnb, only entire homes are listed on Vrbo, so you don't have to share your booking with the host or any other guest.
Soldat and her husband loved the website and were Vrbo hosts themselves at one point.
But their perspective changed when they decided to book a two-month trip to the Cabopino Beach area on the southern coast of Spain in February 2020, just as COVID-19 started to take hold of the world.
"It's been trouble-free until now; we've used them for 10 years," said Soldat.
The rental that Soldat and her husband booked is breathtaking, without question.
And Soldat wants anyone reading this to know one thing: she's not an idiot.
She and her husband were well aware that COVID-19 could impact travel, especially overseas. So, they didn't book their stay (which was scheduled from Jan. 4, 2021, to March 4, 2021) without consulting with the host, a woman named Ann Jung.
In communication between Jung and Soldat, Soldat queried what would happen if she and her husband couldn't travel to Spain due to COVID-19.
"Then I will be happy to give you a credit of the full amount you have paid (you will be able to use yourself, sell it on or give to friends/family) and you will be able to use it towards any booking in any of my 7 properties within the next 2 years."
Having confidence that their payment wouldn't be wasted and that COVID-19 would be under control in two years, Soldat and her husband went ahead and booked their stay.
Spain would later close its border in March of 2020. To this day, U.S. citizens can't enter Spain unless they meet precise requirements or have already obtained special permission from their government.
"Because we were guaranteed a credit voucher, we felt it was safe to take this trip," said Soldat.
Soldat and her husband made three payments that totaled $4,397.
But when the booking date rolled around in January of this year, Soldat said she hadn't received anything official on paper regarding a credit voucher from Jung. All she had was the communication from Jung dating back to almost a year ago.
Soldat said she reached out but had no luck. She also reached out to Vrbo and said no one got in touch with her.
"We just wanted what she promised us in the beginning," said Soldat.
So, with no answers, Soldat left a negative review on the listing.
That, sparked a response from Jung.
In an email, she wrote to Soldat:
"Thank you for posting a comment on the stay, you did not make, to my place...However, I must inform you that if the comment is not pleasant, of course: I will not be able to give you the credit for a future stay in the next 2 years."
Jung also threatened to bring in her company's legal counsel.
"I mean it's right there in writing, we paid for a credit voucher and we can't get it," Soldat said. "She told us she didn't have to do anything by law. She completely ripped us off."
WFAA reached out to Vrbo about what happened. In a statement, a spokesperson said that Soldat's booking was not protected by the company's COVID-19 emergency policy.
That policy is only applied to bookings made before March 13, 2020 with a stay date between March 13 and June 30, 2020.
So, there's no way to get a refund or a credit that way.
The spokesperson said that outside of the policy, refunds are issued by the host, according to their cancellation policy.
The spokesperson then said, "We looked into Gretchen Soldat’s case - her booking does not fall under the emergency policy nor was it eligible for a refund based on the property’s cancellation policy."
Still, Vrbo refunded Soldat's €299 traveler service fee once WFAA got involved.
But, Soldat said she was fully aware that her booking wouldn't be refunded after she communicated with Jung.
She, ultimately, just wants the credit Jung promised in writing to be honored.
"I really thought that Vrbo would take this kind of thing seriously, but they don't care," said Soldat.
WFAA also reached out to Jung, who replied through Vrbo:
"Dear Sir, I had no legal obligation towards this couple. In order to make a goodwill gesture, I offered them à cedrit voucher If this couple wrote à bad review when I made à goodwill gesture. I was not obliged to, how do you want me to offer à credit anymore? And even make a refund? Kind regards, Ann."
Jung then followed up with an offer, delete the review and she will honor the credit:
"As it is unfair to write à bad review when I made à goodwill gesture when I was not legally obliged to do, if this couple delete their bad review then their credit voucher will be reactivated. Warm regards, Ann."
But, WFAA couldn't even find the review on the listing.
At this point, Soldat doesn't trust the word from someone overseas she's never met.
She only wants anyone looking to travel outside the U.S. to know what they're up against if they find themselves in this situation.
"I think anyone would make the assumption that we did and think they're protected," Soldat said. "We want to keep people from falling for this."