We booked our vacation to New Orleans four months in advance through Airbnb. It was for Halloween, the second busiest time of the year after Mardi Gras. About two weeks before our flight and week-long vacation, I contacted the host about our arrival, getting the keys, etc. He never responded. His profile had been altered and he had no contact number. I did finally find his old number from an archived email and texted him. He said he was no longer a host for Airbnb and now lived in Texas. He claimed his profile had been taken down, but it was still up. Neither the host nor Airbnb had informed me of this. So, here my wife and I were, without accommodation, and almost all the hotels were booked up… a very stressful place to be right before your supposedly relaxing vacation.
Apparently, Airbnb hosts can just cancel on a whim with no financial consequences to them, but if you as a guest cancel, your penalties may vary from 50%-100% of your deposit depending on the terms to which you agreed. When I contacted Airbnb customer service, their response was apathetic and unhelpful; they just sent me about five links to other Airbnb properties that I could spend the better part of the next week frantically trying to contact on my own. What would guarantee any of these hosts from also canceling? Their response was that Airbnb is just a “Third Party Community Platform” that “brings people together” and they’re not responsible. I responded that this is the equivalent of me buying my plane ticket on Expedia, the airline not honoring my purchase, and Expedia simply denying responsibility since they “are just a third party that brings people together.” It’s pathetic.
In any case, I informed Airbnb that this is an appalling way to run a business. This would be the first and last time I would ever use their service and would be shutting my profile down. They never responded. Luckily, I was able to book a motel on Booking.com where our reservation would be Guaranteed. Truth be told, I never saw any big difference in price between Airbnb and their traditional hotel competition (at least not in NOLA).
Remember: your Airbnb host can cancel on you at any time for any reason. Planning your Honeymoon to Paris three months in advance at peak season? Watch out. I know lots of people have had great experiences with Airbnb, but the real test of a great company is how they handle problems and stand behind their customers, not when things go smoothly (which has nothing to do with Airbnb anyway – the host turned out to be good). So essentially, they take your money in service fees, but if things go wrong in any way, you’re on your own.