New Hosts Beware: Airbnb will Change your Listing

We are writing this in the hopes of saving other new Airbnb hosts the trouble we have had in our first two weeks as hosts. So, far we have encountered two major problems – three if you count Airbnb’s arrogant, incompetent, inadequate, and totally unacceptable response to our problems. I hope you keep reading because this stuff is actually hard to believe and you need to know it if you are going to try to become an Airbnb host.

In our first week as hosts, we encountered two major problems. One was disappointing. The other amounts to fraudulent representation and downright theft in my opinion. I’ll try to make this as concise and informative as possible.

Creating a listing is not hard. It is tedious. The Airbnb help system does little more than guide you through the screens. No insights, no explanations and absolutely no flexibility. But, with the assistance of the many hosts who posted their experiences in the Airbnb online community and other Airbnb informational websites, we got our listing up and running.

Our listing is a private home. We have two private (each with its own separate entrance) guest suites available. We set the price for our listing at $125, thinking we would be renting each suite for $125. We made sure to disable Smart Pricing and Instant Booking. We got our first booking at our set price of $125 minus a 20% discount as our first guests. The disappointment was learning from our first guests that although we made it clear in the text of our listing that we had two separate guests, that was not the way Airbnb presented our property.

Airbnb applied the pricing we set to the entire listing – i.e. “both rooms” not “each room” – resulting in us getting half as much revenue per room as we wanted and thought we were going to get. Furthermore, we learned when one room was booked, Airbnb marked that date as unavailable on the booking calendar, so no one could even see we had an additional room available. We were surprised by this (and monetarily penalized… keep reading).

After reading through the community forums we discovered we were just one of hundreds of Airbnb hosts who were both surprised and disappointed to learn this. We found out that if we wanted to rent each guest suite separately we had to list them separately. This cost us money with our very first booking. If our first guests would have known they could have booked our other guest suite, they would have booked another family member to stay with us.

We learned our lesson. We will list both guest suites separately, but why did we have to find this out the hard way? Nowhere is this made clear in Airbnb’s guidelines for setting up and creating a listing. We have noted hundreds of complaints going back more than five years about this particular issue but Airbnb has done absolutely nothing to address it. In fact, Airbnb appears to deliberately obscure this critical fact in its listing guidelines. That’s bad. What happened next is far worse.

Within a week we got our second booking, which we accepted. Big mistake. To all hosts: never accept a booking until you have examined every little detail. Here’s why: we had set our price. We made sure we turned off Instant Booking and Smart Pricing. We weren’t looking for bargain hunters. We were looking for folks who wanted a special experience in a magical place and were okay with paying a little more to get it. Airbnb cares nothing for that. If they see a new listing that isn’t getting enough action (making Airbnb money) then they will take action and arbitrarily lower the price without even notifying the host. That’s right – they will cut your listing price without even telling you. Little did we know Airbnb had lowered our price from $125 to to $60 for both rooms, i.e. $30 per room/per night.

Now, we are stuck with a booking that is paying us less than our set price, because as a new host we don’t want to cancel the booking. That’s not even enough to cover our costs. We reset the listing price, using the Airbnb hosting interface, to no avail. The host interface reports the price we set, but the listing continues to show on Airbnb’s website at much lower prices that on average are less than half of the price we set.

We thought this must be a glitch in their software. We spent hours on the phone with Airbnb support, who were absolutely no help. They could neither fix the problem nor explain why it occurred. They said they had to escalate it to “IT”. The bottom line is that Airbnb’s customer support people are essentially script readers. If the problem is not covered in their script then they are useless.

This problem is now a week old. Calling back Airbnb tech support is a waste of time. They just say the incident has been reported to IT and there is nothing they can do. They can supply no time frame as to when or if the problem will ever be resolved. Are you kidding me? I’ve worked in high tech for almost 40 years. I’ve run customer service departments and development projects. I worked in development at Microsoft. This is the most incompetent, arrogant, and totally inept customer service I’ve ever encountered. Microsoft’s customer support (of which I’m not a fan) is a 10 by comparison. Airbnb’s support doesn’t move the needle on the scale. It’s worse than nothing. You think it can’t get any worse? Nope. It can. Keep on reading…

As I said, this problem is now a week old. In that week, we’ve been doing lots more reading and research on Airbnb. We’ve read hundreds of online posts from other frustrated hosts. This is what we’ve learned: this pricing issue is apparently not a glitch but corporate policy. Many, many other hosts have had the same experience. Clearly, what’s happening is that Airbnb is using an algorithm (an automated computer program) to set whatever arbitrary price they think will net the most bookings (meaning money for Airbnb), totally ignoring, and in fact actively circumventing, the wishes of the owners of the property.

In my opinion this is fraudulent misrepresentation and essentially amounts to Airbnb stealing our money. We aren’t looking for bargain hunters. We have a special and beautiful property that is worth every penny and more. All we want Airbnb to to do is turn off their pricing algorithm and leave our pricing alone. That’s where we are now. We have had to snooze (temporarily disable) our listing because we don’t want any more bookings at the prices Airbnb is setting.

Airbnb is literally stealing money from us and apparently brazenly plans to continue doing so to us and others if we allow them to. Airbnb is the most unresponsive and arrogant company with the worst customer service of any company we have every dealt with. They are a multi-billion dollar company. They need to be held accountable. They need to support the folks that are making them money not abuse them.

P.S. This is just the tip of the iceberg. While researching our problems online we read of many others, including those from hosts who have had their listings suddenly disappear and their bookings drop to zero. Beware!