After months of looking for a special location for a quiet family vacation in Wisconsin my husband and my kids decide to take the Airbnb plunge. A few people at my office suggested I was crazy. The phrase “Aren’t you afraid of being killed?” came up more than a few times. A very good friend suggested that we might be video taped. Sadly, it turns out it might have been better if I had been. But I digress. We were tired of paying for tiny overpriced hotel rooms with stiff sheets and cream walls.
I started my search in early August for a quiet fall October weekend. I had specific needs: seclusion, a fire pit, a stream, and trees. Right away I noticed the limitations of the Airbnb search engine. I could not search for these criteria at all. I could only search for the number of guests allowed, the type of living arrangement, location dates, and other qualifiers that did not apply to my needs. I couldn’t search for any key words in my listings… all 350+. So, I searched and searched and searched. I found that many listings did not even match their own descriptions. Places that were listed as “the entire place” when they were half a house or even just a room. Many places said two guests only, but listed additional pricing for more guests.
I started to read the reviews of the actual guests. They made everything sound so good. Always five stars. Rarely did I see a grumpy review. Some reviews were so glowing, they seemed unreal. Certain hosts have little metals by their names. How did they get metals?Tonight, after a long hard week, I gave my kidney, drivers license, social security number, blood type, references, and money to go to an adorable purple cabin in Birchwood, Wisconsin. It was an uncomfortable bit of data collection that was scary… like, NSA, Snowden, scary. Two nights for $465, seclusion, peace, and cookies (all the reviews said we’d get cookies). I sent a message to the host about our four-year-old son. I asked if he was okay to come as he is four and pushed our numbers above the “limit of four people with $15 dollars extra per additional person.” I figured this would result in a price increase… Nope, I got a confirmation.
It was so fast. All the stress of planning and searching started to melt away. Victory! About six minutes after I was charged and my money was whisked away I got a message: the cabin is not safe for kids. Immediately, my mind went to the “guest experience” reviews that lead me to this magical looking place… they would say “great place for kids,” “great place for my family,” and “everything your family needs.” I did not text the host anything except for a question about how to get my money back. I started to cry. The app began to malfunction. I spent an hour or so steaming. Then I got the most “it’s your fault” email I have ever received from a company. Basically, the email said that Angel (yes, her name was Angel) from Airbnb was available to help me and that it was my fault that the host accepted and gobbled up my money before reading my questions.
After several nights of research I did not see the no-children clause for this place so many families have enjoyed. They said, and I quote, “It’s in small red letters underneath the About This Listing section.” Tiny, small, little red letters which probably should have been part of the filters for Airbnb or at least a series of questions about guests and ages. In addition, the host thought my four-year-old would not have been safe around a spiral staircase. The advertisement stated that we should use our best judgement regarding the use of the apparently deadly staircase. My son is very physically capable. I used my judgement. Airbnb called me twice while I started to look for another place to go and their voicemail directed me to an email. They have offered to help me find a place to go via email. How about an apology? How about reviewing your host locations’ reviews to make sure they are consistent? I called their number back just to see what I would get. If I wasn’t having an emergency I should email them. I emailed them.
Tomorrow, my family will wake up to realize our vacation is not happening and our money is gone. The money should be returned in ten days… I guess I’ll take a second vacation then. My boss doesn’t care. It’s not like I work for a living or anything! I might have to call so they can explain this to my kids.