I booked a vacation to travel to Hawaii with family and friends for the week of July 4th. We excitedly booked a beautiful home in early February, and counted the weeks down until we would land for our respite in paradise. I’ve used Airbnb many times, recommended it highly to friends, and have had nothing buy incredible experiences, until 11:00 PM on June 30th.
We arrived at the airport, rented a car, and headed toward the property. It dawned on me that I had not received the email I had grown to expect from each host with a greeting and instructions. I had received numerous emails from Airbnb, and recalled seeing one with the house rules, so I decided that I must have just overlooked the details on how to enter the home. We were weary travelers, and had wandered our way to this property down a narrow road with no street lights.
As we arrived, we exited the rental car and went to the front door, assuming there would be a lock box, or instructions, or an indicator of sorts how to enter the home. Nothing. I promptly pulled out my cell phone and dialed the property manager. No answer. I pulled out my laptop and looked up the email from Airbnb to see if I had overlooked instructions. Under the ‘House Rules,’ there was no information about entering the home. I dialed the property manager again. No answer. I sent a text message. I looked up the number for Airbnb and called them. An automated system placed me on hold. There was no messaging explaining how long I would be waiting, and given the fact that it was late at night on a Friday, I had no idea if a person would even come on the phone.
I waited and waited and waited (for twelve minutes), and finally I received a call from the woman who was listed as the property owner (who was actually the property manager) on Airbnb. She explained that she had been fired by the owners, and they had retained a new property manager. She told me I needed to call the new manager. I promptly hung up and dialed the number she provided. The woman explained that someone else was in the home, and I wouldn’t be able to check in until they checked out the next day. I asked her what she would have me do in the interim. She told me she’d have the former property manager phone me back. I tried to call Airbnb again and waited and waited and waited yet again (in excess of ten minutes).
We decided to drive to a restaurant so that we could have light and hopefully wifi. About twenty minutes passed when both women called me back on a conference call. One explained that they had a miscommunication and the property had been double booked, and that I can only stay there for 2 of the 8 nights I had rented. I asked them what they would have me do. Both women sat in complete silence on the phone. I explained that it was now midnight on an island that was closed down for the evening, on one of the busy travel weekends of the year to Hawaii, and we had no housing accommodations. I again asked them if they had suggestions about what we should do. Again, dead silence. I explained, calmly, mind you, that I was traveling with four additional people, and that we have no familiarity with hotel or rental accommodations on the island, and asked what they can suggest. My questions were met with silence.
The fired property manager explained that she would have Airbnb refund my money. I asked if they had any suggestions about a hotel I could call to get last minute reservations. Silence. Literally. I finally explained that they were not being helpful, and that I needed to hang up so that I could find accommodations for five travelers at midnight. With no wifi (the little diner didn’t have it) and bad cell reception, all five of us got on our cell phones to research options, which turned out to be a painfully slow process. Every hotel was labeled “sold out” except two.
I called the first one, and they explained they no longer had rooms. I called the second one, and explained our circumstances. The front desk staff at the resort explained that they had one room prepared and one room that was dirty. She said she would find a way to get the room cleaned, and advised us to come over. Traveling to the resort required us to traverse the entire island.
En route, during the 1.5-hour drive, a representative from Airbnb called me, and explained that the property manager called to advise that they were canceling my reservation and had requested my money be refunded. He was very nice, and kept repeating that this situation was horrible and unacceptable. He repeatedly apologized. He advised that he was going to do something to make this right, and he would send me an email with the details so that I could focus on driving. Including tax we paid $600 for each of the two hotel rooms, a total of $1,200 (the only two hotel rooms we could find on the island).
Our entire week at the house rental was going to be $2,300. I was panicked because we could not afford a $9,000 hotel bill for our vacation. I woke up the next day and phoned Airbnb to see if we could find another property. The agent told me they would have my particular customer service agent call me back. Fearful of being unable to check out of the hotel, and with the clock ticking, I got online to see if I could find another property myself. I lucked out. I found a beautiful house and the property owners were lovely, and incredibly kind. I was able to do an “Instant Booking” which allowed me to get contact information for the homeowner. I called them immediately, and explained our circumstances. The couple was great, and prepared the house for us.
Eventually, the agent from Airbnb called me back. By this point I had received an email from Airbnb explaining that they were going to refund my money, and give me an additional $100 refund to held defray my expenses of having to stay some place else, and additionally they would give me $100 credit towards a future rental. When the agent phoned me, I explained that I had already booked a new property, and no longer required his assistance to do so as time was of the essence. I inquired about whether Airbnb would considering reimbursing my additional out of pocket expenses due to this mishap. He explained that he would have been able to do more for me had I called Airbnb the night prior when the crisis was occurring.
I explained that I had attempted to reach Airbnb multiple times with no success. He explained that due to the holiday week, they were exceptionally busy and their hold times were very long. I shared that there was not even an indicator in any of their recordings that someone was actually working that late at night. I told him I just started to assume that it was so late, I actually might be holding until someone reported for the next workday. I explained I was very surprised when someone actually did call me back, and considering that he had worked the late shift, I was further surprised that he himself was calling me back again the next morning to help me find a new place. I jokingly asked him was he working a 24-hour shift. Ultimately, I asked Airbnb if they would refund me any additional money, as I was out $1,000 in hotel expenses. They refused.
Lessons learned: check, double, and triple check with the host prior to departure. Assure they are ready for your arrival. When a host is not personally responding timely to your email messages or seems to have disappeared, that’s a huge red flag. Based on my past experiences, I assumed all was well. I had found Airbnb hosts to be remarkable people with incredible attention to detail. My mistake.
Lesson number two: don’t count on Airbnb to rescue you or reimburse your expenses. Had I not found another location, I could have netted an additional $6,000 in hotel expenses, and Airbnb would have not suffered any loss. Additionally, the moment Airbnb cancelled the reservation at the original property that night, they disconnected my ability to leave a review or comment about my experience with the property owners/agents. The Airbnb agent assured me that they were taking ‘disciplinary’ action against the property owners, noting that they had ‘other complaints’ from other travelers about them as well. By the agent’s comment, Airbnb knew there was an issue was this property, but I had not been warned. I was out $1,000 in addition to the night from hell we spent on the first night of our vacation finding new accommodations and driving. Buyer beware. I wouldn’t have believed it myself had it not happened to me.