Outrageous Bait & Switch: Airbnb No Help

Here is the letter I wrote to Airbnb feedback. I’m still in the process of working with a case manager, but I’m not very optimistic.

I’ve been working with someone in Airbnb Support, who has been spectacular. However, she encouraged me to share my feedback with the company, as I feel the policies of Airbnb are having unintended consequences. I’ll start by sharing my most recent experience, and close with a few suggestions based on my number interactions with my host and Airbnb support.

We have a group that goes to the Final Four (NCAA Basketball) every year. This year is special as it’s my father’s 60th birthday, so we wanted to make sure we had an upscale Airbnb close to US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

After communicating back and forth with the host about our intent to go to the Final Four, inquiring about how close the house was to the stadium, etc, we decided to book a listing on October 29, 2018 for April 6-9, 2019. We booked well in advance because we know it’s a busy weekend, and we have a large group of nine people to celebrate my father’s birthday. We paid a 50% deposit up front ($1,273 of the $2,547 total), and confirmed our reservation.

Fast forward to December 23rd, when I received an “alteration request” from our host. Our host stated: “We just sent you an alteration for your reservation; it being the final four week we had not updated our price, please let us know if this price works for your group”. The new price was $8,594, an additional $6,046.

As you can imagine, outrage struck me, as this is a classic bait and switch tactic by the host. More disappointing was how unethical and deceitful the host was being, as I clearly stated in my first note to the host before the reservation was confirmed “We are interested in staying for our annual Final Four Trip”.

I spoke with Airbnb support, and they suggested I decline the alteration request, and per Airbnb policies, the host would be required to honor the original reservation. I declined the request, on December 23rd, and the host replied to me on December 28th stating “Unfortunately we will not be able to host those dates, just wanna give you enough time so that you can find a different place, and you are still in the period for no fees on the cancellation!”

The audacity of this host to cancel my reservation because I didn’t want to pay 400% more, and to suggest I should cancel… Despite the host sending me that message, they still have not canceled my reservation as of January 2nd, 2019. As you can imagine, we are very worried that we will show up on April 6th and the house will be occupied or we won’t be able to get in, which would leave us scrambling.

I therefore spoke again with Airbnb support, and they said “don’t worry, you will get a full refund if the host cancels”. Let’s pause here. This is where my frustration with Airbnb policies is at an all time high, and I’d like to explain why:

1) We booked this reservation 2.5 months ago, and of course listing availability has gone down and prices have gone up since then.

2) A refund therefore will not cover any suitable replacement property.

3) Airbnb’s host policy is if they cancel there is a $100 fee and they cannot rent the property that weekend. That is a rather weak deterrent for a host cancelling in the scenario they realize they can rent the property out on a competitive platform (VRBO, Craigslist, etc), pay a small $100 fee, and then be back on the Airbnb platform with no penalty after those dates.

4) As a guest, I am now stuck with my money back, but no reservation, a lack of listings available, and more expensive options. I cannot imagine a scenario where a confirmed, paid hotel booking would be canceled with no replacement room at the same cost.

This is the second time this has happened to us on Airbnb: we book a reservation, the host finds out it’s a more popular weekend than anticipated, they cancel, pay a fee, rent it for higher, and we as guests are stuck high and dry.

Short term solution: We fully expect Airbnb to cover the cost of a comparable listing if it costs more than our initial reservation, which it will. We need to be less than two miles from the stadium, which our existing reservation was, and it needs to be at least six bedrooms and four baths.

Long term solution: Airbnb needs to fix the incentives/punishments in the policy and guidelines, as it is driving bad behavior. In this scenario, the host can rent out for three times that on VRBO, pay a $100 fee to Airbnb, and then have access to Airbnb as soon as the dates we originally reserved have passed. There is a near-zero deterrent for the host to act disingenuously.

On top of that, guests are left with a refund, but no place to stay. It’s very stressful and time consuming to have to search for a new place and correspond with Airbnb support. I’ve spent two hours on the phone with Airbnb support throughout this process and another three hours researching and messaging Airbnb through the platform.

I’m having second thoughts on Airbnb because of this experience, and I can only imagine how many other guests are experiencing this. Please fix your policies so guests aren’t left high and dry in the future. I’d be happy to chat further if anyone is interested in speaking to me.