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Beware of fake reviews!

I have written this post in exasperation.

Moral of this story: Beware of sites with only positive reviews

My family booked a house on VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) in New Orleans for 7 of us to have a wonderful 3-generation family reunion in June of this year. My brother, his wife and my 4-year old niece were coming from the Cayman Islands and my husband and I were driving with mum and dad from a few days in Nashville and Memphis to the what was to be the culmination of our music road trip.

At the time of writing I am still battling with VRBO to have negative review published. (Review is now published, but scroll to the bottom to see what the owner emailed us)

Bourbon St New Orleans
Just a cyclist on Bourbon Street

Here’s what went down:

After weeks of online research for a suitable 3 bedroom house with a pool and a bbq area that was close to town, we settled on this particular property. All the reviews were fantastic. All 4 or 5 stars. Not a single negative thing, except a throwaway comment that they thought it was quite far but when they got the house, it was just what they hoped for.

We clicked BOOK!

Canal Street
The trams on Canal Street

Later we realised that the address was “hidden” on the site and therefore not showing on a city map, so we were reliant solely on the reviews to figure out how far away from the French Quarter we’d be. (Remember, we’re from New Zealand, we don’t know New Orleans very well!)

VRBO filthy house
Seriously, how long would it take to clean this door?!

But with a 7-seater car we figured the 10-minute drive that was described would be ok for what we were getting.

Dad was in charge of paying the deposit and there was either some problem with the site taking credit cards or dad stuffed it up (!). Either way, a bank cheque was mailed to the owner for our deposit, the first night’s accommodation of US$295.

Two days before we were to depart NZ I realised we still had no actual address. I emailed the owner and was sent a street name and number. No suburb or ZIP code. I followed him up and said we’d need that info for the GPS and my brother for the taxi driver. He replied Arabi. (Anyone who knows New Orleans will have red flags flapping by now, it’s beyond the Lower Ninth Ward).

Scroll forward and Richie and his family arrived before us on our long drive from Memphis. They had passed Katrina houses with X’s still on the walls and a homeless man sleeping on our street under a tree. The taxi driver told him in 10 years he’d never driven visitors here. He left them saying to lock the doors at night. Oh and that’s after I had found it on Google Earth before we left home which showed a run down shed! (The owner said no, no, no, his property is behind it)

So Richie texts while we’re on the road saying he doesn’t think we’d want to stay here for 4 nights. He had phoned the owner to say we’ve arrived and is met with, “how are you paying the balance”, and “I’ll be over shortly to pick up the cash”.

Fortunately he look photos inside of the wires hanging out of the wall, the hole in the door, the mould on the windows contributing to the musty smell and then we discovered the pool was shared by 3 properties and there was no gas bottle with the barbecue.

Beignets New Orleans
We just wanted to eat beignets!

How many red flags have you counted?

We decided to escape and forfeit dad’s deposit and headed for a hotel within walking distance from the French Quarter.

Trying to post my negative review on VRBO:

I posted a review to warn others about the state of this place, but VRBO declined to publish it stating it contained “rumour and hearsay”. When I asked which part was such, they said the part about the taxi driver having never dropped anyone here. I took that line out and resubmitted it. It was declined again as I now need to provide proof that we stayed (duh!), got a refund (again duh!) or emails from the owner to prove our booking.

VRBO damaged house
Not a biggie, but the whole feel was dodgy at this point

I forwarded the latter of our email exchanges (including finally getting the actual address which should be reason enough to be suspicious) along with the photos of the damage to substantiate my review. It was declined again as they needed to be able to “match my photos with that on the site”. Can you sense a theme here!

Fortunately I had a couple more photos that show a patterned duvet and the kitchen, so I sent more photos. It was declined again as I now needed to provide proof of our payment even though the email thread with the owner verifies he received it.

I sent the proof of a bank cheque and asked for this saga to be escalated to management. Two phone calls later from John at HQ in Texas and I got permission to have the review posted – but not before he told me that VRBO is an advertising site and they are loathe to upset their customers by posting reviews like this. WHAT??!!

The review is now up, but before it went live they obviously emailed the owner, who in turn emailed my dad calling him a douche. He and mum had to look up what that meant.

SO! Here’s my research on review guidelines so you can be wary of all those positive reviews with nary a negative one in sight:

VRBO Guidelines. Incidentally “rumour and hearsay” is not listed as a reason to decline a review. Evidence of stay must be provided.

Air BnB Guidelines. A review can be submitted after booking confirmation. Some further research however does show that people who have posted negative reviews have had them reviewed.

TripAdvisor Guidelines. In my experience of posting Tripadvisor reviews, it seems I can post anything (without profanity or breaking other obvious rules). And as you do see lots of negative reviews here, I’m inclined to trust this site the most.


What’s been your experience of posting negative reviews?

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Friday 9th of March 2018

Another things about VRBO~if the owner "cancels" your reservation at the last minute, as ours did, you cannot even leave a review warning others of this b/c you didn't actually STAY. We'd made a reservation months in advance, took personal days off from work and were looking forward to our stay at a popular "leaf-watching" area for October. Three days before our departure, owner/mgr emails and says they've decided that THEY have decided it's not available. (No explanation) We did get a refund 2 weeks later, but VRBO would not let me post a review about this b/c we did not stay. Personally, I think the owners are scammers, as I've heard other similar stories...I'm just thankful I got my refund.


Friday 9th of March 2018

I wouldn't let that lie! That is why I got this escalated to Head Office and insisted they post my review. You could try and take it up further and maybe get the host chucked out. The problem is the host pays them to be listed, so chances are they won't want to upset that little money go round!

Bill Smith

Thursday 2nd of November 2017

I recently read a posting about Trip Advisor doing something similar and decided to check on my post from a month ago to VBRO. It wasn’t horrible just pointing out things as an owner I would have wanted to know. Gave them a 2. From the snarky other replies from the owner I was expecting her to see all sorts of excuses. Much to my surprise, my review was not posted. I don’t think I will expend as much energy as you have though but will instead try to find as many places as I can to warm others that VBRO is not to be trusted at this time. Ooops! Maybe that will get me banned from this post! Lol.


Thursday 2nd of November 2017

That's shocking! Their business model is certainly "interesting". :D


Tuesday 18th of July 2017

We just had the EXACT same experience with a property we booked on VRBO. The property owner called me a "f******g c**t" on the phone and hung up on me. I will NEVER book with VRBO ever again!!!


Wednesday 19th of July 2017

Wow, I was thinking mine might have been a one off. The lesson is too many glowing reviews should make a punter wary!

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!