I attended a conference in Chicago in April. I decided to attend based upon the anticipated total travel expenses. To assure costs were low enough to justify attending the conference, I booked both flights and accommodations well in advance. The airline booking process was straightforward. I knew the services and transportation that I would have, as well as the protections in place and remedies should they fail to perform to their commitment and industry standards.
I decided to try Airbnb for the accommodation portion of this trip. I received confirmation for a one-bedroom “whole home” in Chicago for five nights through Airbnb. The host, Evie, sent a welcome note and suggested I send an email to arrange a meeting point to receive the keys prior to my arrival. Airbnb required and received $599 on February 7th, 2017 at the time of the booking, about seven weeks before my trip was scheduled.
The day before my departure I sent an email to Evie to set up the key exchange at Airbnb’s instruction. I was surprised to receive an automatic reply from Airbnb that her email address had “expired”. Note that Airbnb had made no apparent attempt to inform me the contact information was no longer valid. It is clear that they were aware of this change in Evie’s email status, and that I had a reservation with her. However, Airbnb made no attempt to inform me of that situation; in fact, the website was still recommending this means of contact. I had to leave early the following day on a non-refundable ticket.
In the interim I informed Airbnb of the problem. Have you ever tried getting in touch with Airbnb customer service? It’s not an easy task.
Once I arrived in Chicago I finally got an Airbnb response asking me to wait an hour while they tried to contact their host. The next communication was that I should look for other accommodations. They were going to refund me $499 ($100 less than I had paid). I learned this while on the train from the airport. As it was cold, raining and late in the evening and Airbnb was completely indifferent to my situation, I got a room on HotelTonight – which I highly recommend – for one night.
That evening Airbnb responded, stated they had failed, and offered a full refund plus $53 for booking an alternate location. I thought I’d give them another shot; I found another (more expensive) Airbnb and tried to book it. I was informed I would have to wait 24 hours before they could confirm. In the interim I saw the same accommodation listed again, but at an even higher rate. I then received notification that my accommodation had been declined because “we are sold out, unfortunately.” It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see what had happened with the booking.
Having no other viable options, I booked a room for the balance of my trip at another hotel. After arriving at the hotel I connected to the internet and ran an internet search for telephone numbers to reach Airbnb. I found a number, but not on Airbnb’s website. I was able to reach customer service. I explained the situation and they promised to have a supervisor call to discuss this situation. I received an email several days later. In subsequent phone calls I explained Airbnb’s failures to meet commitments and how these failures caused me financial and emotional harm. The accommodations in Chicago were $1003.78, or $404.78 more than the $599 I had already paid for the Evie accommodation. In addition, the stress of being adrift in Chicago certainly made my time there less than fully productive.
The facts are clear that Airbnb:
1. Was aware that the only email contact between myself and Evie was using the Airbnb system.
2. Was aware, or should have been aware, that Evie’s email had “expired” on the Airbnb system prior to March 31.
3. Was negligent by failing to inform me of the change in status of Evie’s email contact information.
4. Was aware that Evie had cancelled other accommodation commitments on or shortly before the commitment start date. Note that these occurred after I made the reservation and therefore I was not aware of these failures to meet commitments at any time prior to my arrival in Chicago.
5. Was negligent by failing to provide any indication that the Airbnb accommodation commitment was at risk due to Evie’s repeated failure to perform.