Left in a Lurch by Airbnb

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We have used Airbnb for years on our travels all over the world. As a family of 5, Airbnbs are often the most economical option and has allowed us to stay in some really unique places and experience incredible hospitality from our hosts.

Unfortunately in June 2023, our Airbnb streak came to an end and we realized the risks of booking travel through Airbnbs. In this post, we will share our experience and our lessons learned so that you can avoid a situation like the one that happened to us.

We had a really bad experience with a Booking.com reservation a number of years ago that had me swear off Booking.com. That lasted about a year, before I started using them again because of convenience and because their system worked the best for us.

Am I recommending you avoid Airbnb? Not, at all. Unfortunately, there aren’t many alternatives to Airbnb and I wouldn’t want one bad experience to sour all the incredible experiences we have had at Airbnbs. I think by applying some of these recommendations and lessons learned, you can continue to enjoy traveling with Airbnbs.

What Happened to Us? An Unresponsive Airbnb Host

We had booked a 10 night stay in Crete, Greece on Airbnb six months in advance. I never did exchange any direct communication with the host at booking, which from our experience wasn’t unusual. AirBnB often allows you to book instantly. However, a day before we were to check in, I still hadn’t heard from the host with any check-in information. I sent a message through Airbnb to the host, waited half a day, and then sent a text to their cell phone. We woke up the day of our check-in and still had not had any response, so we contacted Airbnb via phone.

The Airbnb phone customer service is incredibly frustrating and there really isn’t an alternative option. They have no chat help, so your choices are to send them a message (with a 24 hour response) or call. You first get through to a very low level call centre which takes the job as gatekeeper very seriously. Even though the Help area of Airbnb instructed me to call in this situation, the initial call centre representative was not very helpful. Eventually I did get him to pass me along to the next level in the call centre.

This representative said they would reach out to the host and set a deadline that if the host didn’t reply by a certain time (1 hour from then since we were at the day of check in) the reservation would be cancelled. After an hour, we received an auto generated Airbnb message saying that our reservation was cancelled and we would be refunded. We then got a seperate message saying we could go ahead and book another stay with three auto-generated properties offered as options. We had booked a modern 3-bedroom house and the auto-generated properties were all small studios in poor condition. I responded that none of them were suitable and prices were much higher now to rebook a comparable property. The message indicated that we should call them if we needed further help.

So it was back to the first call centre where once again we had great difficulty getting beyond the katekeeper. They kept reiterating that a refund was their policy, they cannot provide compensation and that they were very sorry about the inconvenience. While I was fighting with the call centre to move me to someone who could actually help me, I received an Airbnb message. The previous rep I had spoken to offered to give me a credit of 30% of my booking, to help me book a suitable place, he also sent 3 hand-picked alternatives, which were at least closer to what had been cancelled.

Throughout all of this, I spent the few hours we had before we were supposed to check-in researching a replacement place to stay. We had a 10 day stay, it was important to me that we weren’t settling. We ended up booking a lovely place with super hosts, using the Airbnb coupon, but still spending more than what we had originally booked.

Did Airbnb help us? Yes, but it took a lot of work and time on our front to get them to. Could they do better? YES. We have never had to use their help services before, but we were very disappointed with the experience. The day after this all happened, they sent an email to provide me with some “Airbnb Love” to thank me for my “patience”. I could choose a branded tote bag, Barcelona print, branded salad tongs or a charitable donation. What I really would have liked was some empathy, accountability and help with our host’s day of check-in cancellation. That email and “Airbnb Love” didn’t help build goodwill!

Lesson Learned

A host can be unresponsive/cancel even on the day of check-in and Airbnb will refund you, but provide very minimal help finding you a new place and you have to fight very hard to get any help or compensation.

Booking Airbnbs – How to Not Get Screwed

  1. Read the Reviews – seems obvious and we always do this. However, for the this property, there were no reviews. I don’t usually book properties like that (even though I do believe you can find some great ones at great prices). However, if there are no reviews, make sure you do the next set of checks below rigorously.
  2. Instead of doing an instant booking, send them a message. If you have any questions, ask. Otherwise, just tell them a bit about who you are and that you are looking forward to booking their place. Even the Airbnb call centre recommended this when we had to rebook, this ensures you are dealing with an engaged host with good communication. Go to the bottom of the listing and you will see the Host information. You can click on “Contact Host”.
  3. Pay attention to what search page the property is listed on. The Airbnb algorithm displays the highest quality, best priced and most popular properties at the top of your search. They also consider host responsiveness, cancellations and reviews. If a property is on one of the last pages of your search, you don’t necesarily need to avoid it, but I would be cautious and do all the other checks.
  4. Check the Host’s Responsiveness Ratings. Scroll down to the bottom of the listing and look at the host’s responsiveness rate and time. This can be helpful to see how active they are on the platform. However, we have found that it sometimes isn’t displayed with the host information. I am not sure if this is because there isn’t enough data for some new hosts or if it is because they have a poor responsiveness. You can see more information about the host by clicking on their photo circle.
  5. Ensure your Host is “Identity verified”. Airbnb stated in Spring 2023 that this would be a requirement for all hosts and guests and it means you have to provide your official name, address and possibly government ID. Almost all profiles I look at have “Identity verified” in the host information area. However, the host who left us in this lurch, only had “Email verified”.

Airbnb Advice for Guests

We had gotten complascent using Airbnb for booking accomodation. This experience taught us that we need to do more due diligence when making a booking. I do a ton of research before making an Airbnb booking, but that is mostly focused on vetting the location, reading the reviews, and studying the photos. I will still be booking Airbnbs, but will add vetting the host, using the above tips, to try to ensure this horrible experience doesn’t happen to us again. I felt fortunate that we were travelling during shoulder season and had flexibility regarding location, which made rebooking a suitable place possible. I cannot imagine what would happen if you were stranded in a small location in holiday season.

What to do if you have an unresponsive host or have a booking cancelled

  • use multiple methods to reach out to your host, including contacting them through the Airbnb app or website
  • Contact Airbnb by going to Help in the menu. Once you have identified the issue, you will be provided with their phone number.
  • Be persistant if the first level call centre cannot help you. Once you are referred to the second level call centre, they will likely communicate with you through the messaging on the website/app. Check those frequently.
  • If you have to rebook and there isn’t suitable options at the price point of your original booking, push for compensation, which they may provide through a coupon code. This coupon code will hopefully allow you to rebook a new place comparable to what your original booking was for. If you are a frequent user, they are likely to be more cooperative, although even with 16 bookings in the last 6 months, we still had to fight hard before we were offered any compensation beyond a refund.

Have you had a similar bad experience with Airbnb? Do you have any other tips for using Airbnb as a guest? Send us a message and we would love to add to this post.

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