The kinetics and mechanism of ether and alkanol cleavage reactions on Brønsted acid catalysts based on polyoxometalate (POM) clusters are described in terms of the identity and dynamics of elementary steps and the stability of the transition states involved. Measured rates and theoretical calculations show that the energies of cationic transition states and intermediates depend on the properties of reactants (proton affinity), POM clusters (deprotonation enthalpy), and ion-pairs in transition states or intermediates (stabilization energy). Rate equations and elementary steps were similar for dehydration of alkanols (2-propanol, 1- and 2-butanol, tert-butanol) and cleavage of sec-butyl-methyl ether on POM clusters with different central atoms (P, Si, Co, Al). Dehydration rates depend on the rate constant for elimination from adsorbed alkanols or ethers and on the equilibrium constant for the formation of unreactive reactant dimers. Elimination involves E1 pathways and late carbenium-ion transition states. This is consistent with small kinetic isotope effects for all deuterated alkanols, with strong effects of substituents on elimination rates, and with the similar alkene stereoselectivities measured for alkanol dehydration, ether cleavage, and alkene double-bond isomerization. n-Donor reactants (alkanols, ethers) and products (water) inhibit dehydration rates by forming stable dimers that do not undergo elimination; their stability is consistent with theoretical estimates, with the dynamics of homogeneous analogues, and with the structure and proton affinity of the n-donors. Elimination rate constants increased with increasing valence of the central POM atom, because of a concurrent decrease in deprotonation enthalpies (DPE), which leads to more stable anionic clusters and ion-pairs at transition states. The DPE of POM clusters influences catalytic rates less than the proton affinity of the alkene-like organic moiety at the late carbenium-ion-type transition states involved. These different sensitivities reflect the fact that weaker acids typically form anionic clusters with a higher charge density at the transition state; these clusters stabilize cationic fragments more effectively than those of stronger acids, which form more stable conjugate bases with lower charge densities. These compensation effects are ubiquitous in acid chemistry and also evident for mineral acids. The stabilization energy and the concomitant charge density and distribution in the anion, but not the acid strength (DPE), determine the kinetic tolerance of n-donors and the selectivity of reactions catalyzed by Brønsted acids.