Shell Cottage? More like Smell Cottage!

Last month my partner, young daughter and I checked in to our new reservation at the delightfully named Shell Cottage, planning on staying for a month. I’d paid over £2,000 up front to Airbnb – a bargain price, or so I thought, as it was listed at £160 per night and we’d got a great discount for a month’s stay. When we opened the door a stale, musty smell hit our senses, mingled with a strong aroma of artificial air fresheners which was obviously an unsuccessful attempt to mask the bad smell. We discovered the living room furniture was ancient and stained and there were a lot of marks on the paintwork. Clearly the place hadn’t been decorated for a long time, but we figured maybe we could put up with it if we could open the windows and let the smell out. We are between homes at the moment, having had to move out of our long term rental in August and still completing work on the new home we purchased last year. We had been staying in Poole for a month and it took us a couple of days to move all our belongings from that apartment to this new one. So we didn’t stay in the cottage until the third night.

It was at this point we discovered the state of the beds, carpets and bathroom. The mattresses were of varying degrees of age and uncomfortableness, on one the springs were actually visible through the thin fabric covering. The bed linen was so old and musty it made us feel sick. The carpets were dark brown, covering a multitude of sins, but they were clearly very old and smelly. At one point I decided to get closer for a sniff – the smell of old feet and dirt was quite overpowering. How the host could expect us to be happy about letting our 14-month old crawl over them is beyond me! And the smell from under the bath was just as bad – years of accumulated dirt in a damp room led to a strong smell of stinky socks emanating from the area. Plus there was mould around the bath and the shower didn’t stay on the shower rail – to use it, you had to hold it or prop it up with one hand.

It was 9:30 pm on this third night that I wrote to the host to tell her how deeply unhappy I was about staying with my family in accommodations with such a catalogue of problems. I listed every issue, from the smell to the stains, uncomfortable beds to mould. I told her I was not prepared to keep my family in such unsanitary conditions and for the sake of our health and well-being we would be checking out the next day. The host’s reply could not have been sweeter. She seemed so kind and understanding, sympathising with us being between homes. She ended her email by saying she would contact Airbnb the next day about our request to leave early and that “as stated on our website, a refund is made after satisfactory inspection of the property when you have vacated the premises.”

I felt so relieved to know we would have no trouble getting a refund. We spent the whole Sunday packing up all our belongings and moving out. Two days later (as I thought it was purely a formality) I cancelled our booking through Airbnb and requested from the host a refund of the £2139 I had paid. I was shocked when she declined to give any refund and stated we were not entitled to any refund in accordance with the long-term cancellation policy as we’d “cancelled our holiday on a whim” and that our “criticisms of the holiday home were just… our personal opinion” and claimed no one else had complained. The tone of her email was so brusque – the absolute opposite of the sweet charm of her email on the day we checked out. I felt so angry and sick.

I immediately contacted Airbnb to tell them what had happened and sent them photos and video evidence of the visual issues. However, the main issue was the disgusting smell of the carpets, the beds, living room furniture and from under the bath and the second main issue was the uncomfortable beds, both of which you’d have to visit the property to experience. Airbnb did their best to be helpful, but they confirmed that the host had a strict cancellation policy under which a guest leaving early from a long term reservation was not entitled to any refund. But I had not simply “cancelled on a whim” – I felt I had no choice but to leave for the health of my family. Airbnb agreed that the bathroom looked like it needed attention and liaised with the host on my behalf.

What I didn’t realise was that Airbnb had already paid out all my money to the host, so they would have to try to re-coup it from her. Judging by the tone of her last email I felt my chances of getting it back were slim. They managed to get me a 20% refund for cleanliness issues and an Airbnb credit for their fees. But that still leaves me more than £1,500 out of pocket without any clear next step to attempt to get my money back. Airbnb tell me they have done all they can, and it’s the host who has my money. I feel disgusted and powerless, and would like to share my story here in the hope that others will benefit from our experience and possibly be able to suggest what, if anything, I could do now to get my money back.

Seniors Beware: Don’t Waste Your Money

Months ago I booked two separate Airbnb rooms in two different cities. As the date neared for our travel, my husband and I both became ill. With a week’s notice, I notified Airbnb and the hosts that we had to cancel. I received a note that they could only refund $65 out of $237 due to their “policy” which they never shared, and could contact the host if I wanted more of a refund. I contacted the host and she related that Airbnb hadn’t paid her a cent; how could she give us a refund? In addition, she had no problem with the cancellation. Long story short, out of $500 paid (for two people) I’ve still only received $65. Trying to contact Airbnb is a nightmare in itself, and good luck trying to find someone to help. This is all still pending, but we are both seniors and losing so much money is a hardship. I will shout to the rooftops to anyone who will listen to avoid this company at all costs and book through other, more reputable sites.

Reservation Cancelled Last Minute in NYC

So, I had this wonderful, romantic trip planned for my girlfriend and me: tickets to a Broadway show and a “fantastic” room right in Times Square that I booked through Airbnb. However, less than two weeks before our scheduled trip, I received an email from Airbnb that simply said: “Unfortunately, your reservation has been cancelled.”

That’s it! No explanation, nothing except the option to credit my account or receive a refund. There is no option to contact the owner from whom I was renting. This is my first experience with Airbnb and will very likely be my last. How can one make plans under these circumstances? My son has several upcoming Airbnb reservations. I will advise him to cancel and book hotels. I would certainly never recommend Airbnb and have no intention of giving them a second chance. Oh well, back to Hotels.com.

Host Cancels – and I Lose the Fees!

This is a very simple story like most of those you read. My host cancelled at the very last minute (while I was at airport on my way to Bali). She told me she did not have the accommodations after all, and offered an alternative which was much less suitable. So I ask her to cancel, thinking (like all standard hotels) that if the provider cancels then naturally all fees will be refunded. Not so in this case. No matter what I did, Airbnb takes a cut from their guests. So a host can cancel under any circumstances and it costs the guest. This is not professional at all.

So, when it works, Airbnb is great. I have had some cool stays through the site, but this experience has just been gouging: taking money wherever you can, trying to navigate their website and so-called resolution process. It is circular and guarantees you either fall over from boredom or fatigue trying to recover small amounts (in my case $150), which is probably half the intent. I realize now: they are more about making money than “providing great experiences”. The brand presents wonderfully but there is a dark side. Hopefully more will realize this: every time they book they take a chance that a host will cancel at the last minute (tolerable) but Airbnb wont refund your guest fee (intolerable and dodgy). Imagine charging a guest anything when they didn’t initiate the change.

This has been a hard lesson but a good one. Bye bye Airbnb! Comfortable in cyberspace and outside international law!

Strict Cancellation Policy, Dangerous Neighborhoods

I was looking for a property that we could reserve for four nights to take a long awaited family vacation. We are two adults and two younger children, ages 2 and 8. I thought I had found the perfect place; from the pictures it seemed very nice. However, after I booked the reservation and the host confirmed it, she sent me an email and said that she “pre-approved” my request to book and then asked me to review the house rules and let her know if there was anything I was uncomfortable with. So I did. A couple house rules suggested that I should have something to worry about: close the shades at night and don’t bring a gun? That’s fine. I didn’t have a problem doing that… but why was this necessary? So I decided to further research the neighborhood now that I was able to view the address. I was shocked. There were several shootings just around the block within the last couple of weeks, as well as arrests for drugs, car theft, larceny, and so on. Just within a couple of blocks!

To me, this did not seem like a “relaxing” destination for our family of four. I had hoped to push the stroller around town and check out the sights. There was no way I was going to put my family in danger, so I cancelled the reservation within two hours of booking it. Wouldn’t you know… I only received half of my money back, even though the dates were 90 days out and I cancelled less than 12 hours after submitting the request! This host wasn’t losing any money. She has ample time to book those dates. The host uses a strict cancellation policy. I’m okay with this and I understand the reasoning behind it. However, 90 days out and cancelled within 12 hours? That’s just not fair. So the host writes to me and says she will give me a full refund if someone books the dates in the mean time. I told her that is fine with me.

What does she do? She makes those dates unavailable so they cannot be booked. She has a four night minimum and marks one of those days on her calendar as being unavailable, effectively making them all unavailable, and then she reduces the nightly costs by 50%. I have a suspicion that she knows this is a dangerous neighborhood and that this happens all the time. I don’t think I’m the first (nor will I be the last) person who has booked with her, cancelled when we found out where this place is and then lost half of our money. This host is getting paid for doing nothing. She does have several reviews, some mentioning the neighborhood on a negative light, though I wonder how many cancelled and cannot leave feedback. I’d love to see those numbers, because all I keep hearing from Airbnb is that “she has good feedback on the property.”

Yes, I read that feedback and none of the reviewers mention having children. It would be one thing if just my husband and I were staying there. I don’t mind the risk if we are solely responsible for ourselves, but I have two children to be responsible for and I will not put them in harm’s way for the sake of a family vacation. No thanks! Not to mention that dodging bullets and crackheads is not my idea of a “relaxing family vacation”!

At this point I’m beyond frustrated. I’ve reached out to Airbnb customer service several times over the past couple of weeks, spent hours on hold, spoken to several representatives who keep saying that my case is being “escalated.” I talked to someone in the “experience department,” who said he’d call me back after they speak to the host. The host doesn’t have my money. I know it’s in an escrow with Airbnb and they could return it to me at any time. I asked them what sort of liability they would have if someone were murdered at a property they advertise and she expressed concern, then said, “Some people may be comfortable walking around Compton while others would not be.”

I realize this. I totally get it. I grew up outside of Atlanta in an unsavory neighborhood as a child, but I did not have a choice at that time. However, as an adult, I have a choice to not bring my kids to a dangerous neighborhood on vacation. Does anyone choose to vacation in Compton? I doubt it! The next step is filing a claim with my credit card company because I just want to move on with my life! By the way, this is not the first property I’ve booked on Airbnb with a strict cancellation policy. In fact, we just got married at a property less than six months ago and it went flawlessly. However, this individual is hosting a shady rip off while Airbnb idly stands by.

Airbnb Nightmare: Marooned in Montreal

My family had come to Canada from various other international destinations for a highly anticipated and active family vacation. However, while we were in transit to our Airbnb lodging in Montreal from Toronto, we received a somewhat cryptic text message from our hosts stating that they were cancelling our Montreal reservation (for that day) due to some “unavoidable issues” with our lodging. My husband had to lookup our original reservation as there was no contact information for our Montreal hosts to ask for clarification. After we were “eventually” able to make contact with our hosts they continued to be exceptionally vague as to what happened that caused our reservation to be cancelled. When we asked what happens now that our reservation was null and void – thus, making my ENTIRE INTERNATIONAL FAMILY NOW HOMELESS – our hosts simply advised that we would have to “consult” the Airbnb contracts to determine if we were entitled to a refund if we “chose not to find and use another Airbnb lodging.”

We attempted to ask additional questions and for assistance in locating alternative housing, but our hosts stopped responding to our requests and Airbnb has no direct lines of communication to their corporate headquarters or any legitimate form of customer service or quality control services. We were forced to find what we honestly believe happened to be the last two very over-priced hotel rooms in Montreal that ALL of our extended and immediate family had to share as it also happened to be Canada Day. The situation certainly brought our family together, but in a most uncomfortable and precarious fashion. So, if you are thinking of utilizing Airbnb as lodging for your travels, make sure you have investigated all other options FIRST. I would advise that you especially avoid Host Kick in Montreal on Airbnb as they can cancel on you at the last minute.

Airbnb Nightmare: Transient Hippie Flophouse

This was my first experience with Airbnb and I will never recommend it to anyone. My lesson: Always use a legitimate hotel. I booked a long-term rental in a place that looked deceptively nice in the photo and description. I thought I would be staying with a woman and her children: a safe, family-oriented home, or so I thought. When I asked if the bathroom was shared, I was told it was but that Carissa, the “host” (a loosely used term because flophouse operator is more accurate), could work around my schedule. Unfortunately, Carissa didn’t tell me the bathroom would also be shared with any transient she could shove into any space she had. She tried to make it out to be some hippie idea of communal living, but her real colours showed when it came time for money. She is very much in this to try to squeeze as much out of unsuspecting renters as she can. I’m not exaggerating when I say she rents out every place she can: all the bedrooms, the basement, the shed in the backyard (for real), and a grungy algae-covered camping trailer in the driveway. And all these people use the same bathroom.

The biggest problem was that despite the numerous unknown characters lingering about, she left the doors unlocked to the house at all times and didn’t have a door that locked on the room I rented for me to secure my things while I was out. I stayed one night, only because I had nowhere else to go, then left. That started the second part of the horrible Airbnb experience. I tried to get a refund, but Carissa said it was “non-refundable.” I had booked for five weeks! She was going to keep all that money for one night. Finally, she said she’d look at how many times she rented the room during the time and give me a refund based on this at the end of the originally booked stay. I tracked that she rented that same room out for 13 days. But, when I contacted Carissa, there was no reply within the 72 hours she had to respond.

So I started the resolution process through Airbnb. After a number of emails, Airbnb told me I’d get a partial refund (so my one night stay in a hellhole would only cost me about $700 after the supposed refund). I was told the refund would reach me within five business days. It’s been seven business days and still nothing. When I tried to email Airbnb about it, the automated response told me the issue was “closed” so they wouldn’t be responding! I’ll reiterate: Stick with hotels. Don’t be fooled by seemingly normal rentals.

Airbnb Does NOT Respect Strict Cancellation Policy

My family decided to vacate the house they live in throughout the year during the summer to rent it out and help pay the bills. The property is located in southern Europe in a region that’s highly sought after during the high season. After accepting reservations booked by guests months in advance we had to turn many away, including requests from other guest on alternative booking sites. We had many added expenses getting the place ready, including cleaning as well as check in and check out fees.

Two consecutive guests decided to cancel their booking at the last minute for medical reasons. (for two separate reservations); the second guest cancelled his booking days AFTER he was supposed to check in. In spite of us having a “strict” cancellation policy, Airbnb agreed to reimburse them for the full cost of their booking leaving us with an empty house at the last minute in the midst of the high season. To justify their decisions, Airbnb only sent us the link to their extenuating circumstances policy, which lists a very wide variety of circumstances left broad and vague on purposes. In this instance, given that both guests had emailed saying their cancellation was due to medical issues, we asked Airbnb which objective criteria had been applied and the list of documents provided by guests to justify the fact they had to cancel at the last minute. In spite of our repeated queries, Airbnb refused to provide any objective criteria used to determine the circumstances of the cancellations. Of course they make these arbitrary decisions without losing any money themselves. Hosts end up losing money without having any say in the decision. These cancellations should be handled with a strict process similar to those applied by travel insurance policies. Hosts are NOT protected by Airbnb and this certainly doesn’t feel like a community.