“Smart Pricing” is a Zombie Algorithm from Hell

As new Airbnb hosts, we set our base price at $50 a night – low for our area – and chose “smart pricing” and “instant booking” so that the algorithm would make our listing more visible in searches. We got lots of bookings right away and quickly became “superhosts.”

However, Airbnb’s “smart pricing” tool never respected our minimum, listing the guest suite for as low as $35. We called Airbnb for help. The Airbnb representative suggested switching off “smart pricing” and manually resetting our prices at $50 on weekdays, $65 on weekends. That was on September 30th.

That night at midnight, every open date on our calendar reverted to a sub-minimum price. Every time we’ve tried to fix it since then, the algorithm overrides our prices while we’re asleep. We have worked with five customer service representatives and counting by chat and by phone so far, and no one can fix it. Each has insisted on manually resetting our prices for us, or having us do so, with the same result.

For 30 days now, the correct prices have disappeared again each morning and our listing has been advertised at far below what it’s worth – an exhausting, stressful waste of time. None of these customer service representatives has been able to explain why “smart pricing” keeps posting our place at sub-minimum rates, rather than our desired $50 or more. They all promised to try to find answers, but no one seems to have access to anyone with the authority to resolve it.

We now have a guest coming at a rate of $35. We are asking Airbnb to either cancel this reservation with a full refund to the guest, or pay us the difference. One said she would try to get Airbnb to pay us the $15. We appreciate that. It’s not much, but it’s the principle at stake. When we’re cleaning the toilet between each guest, we do want that money.

I’ve told them by phone and text messages (all saved, along with images of the bad prices on our calendar) that we’ll be demanding the difference from Airbnb for any future reservations made at below-minimum prices. One representative also asked if we would switch off “instant booking” to avoid getting more reservations at sub-minimum rates, but I pointed out that our listing is already harder to find with the “smart pricing” button switched off, so removing both that and “instant booking” could send our listing in some sort of oblivion, and Airbnb could then simply forget about resolving our problem.

She did relay that a software developer insisted this isn’t a bug. The developer apparently wrote that once ‘smart pricing’ is applied, those prices will remain after “smart pricing” is switched off, for every date initially affected by the pricing tool, until those dates are history. Apparently, each time we try to make a pricing change, this outcome is extended in time, into the future.

They also acknowledged, finally, that this should be bumped up to a “senior” developer. For more than a month now, customer reps have asked for our patience while Airbnb’s software denies us the right to either set our own prices, or use a dynamic pricing tool that doesn’t go below our minimum price. This is a major bug that contradicts what Airbnb promises its hosts. We are running out of patience. “Smart pricing” truly is the zombie algorithm from hell.

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