Crime and Punishment under Airbnb’s Business Model

This morning I received a threatening robo-email from Airbnb titled “Remember: Cancellations impact your account.” I was charged $16 for speaking to a human at Airbnb, and had a threatening message telling me that “I’m off track” on my Airbnb Dashboard. The email listed the various penalties and punishments imposed upon hosts when they cancel a potential guest. Yesterday morning I cancelled my first guest because I felt that he was beyond creepy. Although I am super explicit about potential guests emailing me prior to booking to inquire about availability, this guest nevertheless used the Instant Book option at 3:00 AM (which I’ve since disconnected) to book a four-night stay, then modified to a three-night stay, two weeks in the future.

When I woke up in the morning, I checked him out and saw that he had only one previous Airbnb stay, which provided me with zero feedback about this person. Then I read his email, which began with “Hello, my lover” and it proceeded to go downhill from there. Needless to say, I was creeped out, so I cancelled the guest. Immediately, those dates were blocked by Airbnb and I was notified that I had been sanctioned.

Since yesterday, I’ve spoken to several customer service reps at Airbnb in an effort to get a resolution. That said, I cannot help feeling that there is a bigger issue at play here and it has to do about whether or not we, the hosts, and Airbnb are equal partners. If we are indeed partners, why then are we treated as adversaries? If we are partners, why does Airbnb threaten and intimidate us when we cancel a potential guest that makes us feel unsafe?

Hosts assume all the risk associated with having strangers in their home. I don’t have a problem with that. I have consented to having guests stay in my house. However, I have not consented to having someone in my house that makes me feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Airbnb demands that I make a quick decision, a judgement call, about whether on not to approve a guest. If I don’t act quickly, I get penalized. How can I do that when I have little to no information on this person? I’m not looking to waste anyone’s time.

As a seasoned traveller, I know that time is of the essence when guests are looking to book their accommodations.. Nevertheless, I also feel that I must be given the freedom to trust my instincts, which have rarely steered me wrong, especially when the site provides little or no data on a potential guest. All I’m saying is that safety must come first. Airbnb must take our safety concerns seriously, and not just pay lip service to the notion of host safety. If Airbnb were truly concerned about hosts’ comfort and safety, they would not punish hosts and make us jump through a million hoops when we dare to cancel a guest who makes us feel uncomfortable.

What would happen If a host gets seriously hurt or killed because Airbnb pressured him/her not to cancel a sketchy guest? I’m certain that Airbnb as a company would face a scandal and huge public backlash. The scandal would be “grist for the mill” for the many municipalities who vociferously object to home sharing. They could shut home sharing down because they would claim that it threatens public safety.

It would also most certainly become a PR nightmare similar to the one faced by Delta Airlines, when they somehow decided that it was a good idea to drag a 60-year-old doctor off an airplane that they themselves had overbooked. Delta had gotten away with treating passengers terribly for years, but that unfortunate incident focused a spotlight on the company’s greed, bad policies, and complete disregard for their guests. In short, it became a disaster of huge proportions. Everything was fine, until one day it wasn’t. If a host gets hurt because of Airbnb’s negligence, the Delta Airlines scandal will pale in comparison.

There are very few reasons that a responsible host would cancel a potential guest and forfeit making money. Most of us would do it only if we had real concerns regarding the guest. Airbnb is capable of tracking our bookings, our responses to guests, and the feedback we receive. The company is able to read guest reviews and determine how a host treats their guests. I am posting this because I am hoping that Airbnb will not be short-sighted, that they will think through their policies, and make host safety a priority and a core company value.

There are no “one size fits all” solutions. Perhaps cancellations ought to be judged on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps there should be a drop-down menu option, that allows hosts to cancel someone they deem unsuitable (even after they’ve booked automatically). Especially if the cancellation done within a reasonable time frame, which would allow the guest can find other accommodations. Please, let’s find a way that works for everyone.

Airbnb Steals My $550, Then Host Ghosts Me

I am planning a trip to NYC in mid-November. I usually book with VRBO but wasn’t finding exactly what I wanted, so I tried Airbnb. Being my first time on their site, I wasn’t aware of the “Instant Book” feature. When I pressed the button, I thought I was only contacting the host as I hadn’t read the listing fully yet, but my card was charged immediately. I realized also in that moment by reading a few reviews that it was a room in the house with many other random boarders and that had not been made clear. I canceled within minutes but only received half back. I contacted the host in all manner of ways and he did not respond. I contacted Airbnb and they said they would contact the host for me. Five days later, they told me the host refused to issue a refund and there was nothing they could do on their end. I asked to speak to a manager but no one ever called back.

$550 was literally stolen from me and there’s nothing I can do? This host lost no booking time because of my mistake; he is just collecting free money. I have written to him now five times over the course of a week and he is ghosting me. Airbnb won’t take responsibility for the host. Isn’t this supposed to be a hospitality business? The only thing I can think of is to threaten this host with eviction by telling his property management company that he is illegally profiteering on their property (I looked up the address and called the realty company to inquire about subletting). Any ideas?

Airbnb Host Never Responded to an Instant Book

I chose an apartment in Tangerang, Indonesia for a one-night stay. I chose the Instant Book option and without confirmation from the host, the reservation was instantly approved (and my credit card was instantly charged). I reserved the room a day before check in (April 25, 2017). Up until 11:00 AM in the day of the check in (April 26, 2017), the host never responded to any of my messages. As in any Airbnb booking, I need to have information on the exact location of the property (address and room number of the apartment) and also on how to obtain the key from the host. Up until noon, there was no response. And as I could not wait any longer, I then canceled the reservation. As the cancellation was made on the same day as the booking, my credit card was had already been fully charged by Airbnb and the host. I tried to explain this to Airbnb, but it turned out it was really difficult to contact and/or to find how to file a complaint. I think Airbnb has a great policy not taking complaints. Until today (my reservation was for April 26, 2017, while today is May 2, 2017), the host never responded to my messages and complaints. There were no responses from Airbnb. I used to use Airbnb to find cheaper accommodations. It however turned out that it cost me much more than that. Airbnb is a nightmare. I will never use it again.

Airbnb Booking and Reservation Issues: Can They Make Mistakes?

It’s not my first time using Airbnb. So far our first experiences have been great so we decided to use it and tried looking for a place in San Francisco. Upon checking I tried to ask some questions from 2-3 different hosts, e.g. how far their places are from downtown since it was my first time visiting. Anyway, I tried to check the dates and I’m sure that I just wanted to hold them for our reservation. I was just surprised that after a couple of days both bookings had been made and our debit card was charged. The first one was fine and I got a full refund less the Airbnb fees, but for the second one, which was more expensive, the host refunded only 50% of our payment. I tried to ask for some consideration since Airbnb’s policy states the host has the discretion of refunding the full amount since it had only been one or not even one day after they confirmed the reservation without my knowledge. Now I am trying to contact Airbnb but I have had to wait 72 hours for their replies. I have a valid reason for getting a full refund. Someone in the family just died and I hope and appreciate that someone can help me on this matter. For some people it might be a small amount of money but for me and our family and as a single parent almost $400 dollars is a huge amount for us to lose. I would appreciate if someone could at least help me resolve this issue as soon as possible. Below are some of the conversations. I have a lot of photos showing that I didn’t book the properties; I got a pre-approval (e.g. 1:39 but on the same date they charged my card as well). Thank you very much.

No Solution to Accidentally Using Instant Book

This is only the second time that I have used Airbnb. I understand the process to be: I message the host and the host returns the message and you both decide if there should be a booking. I thought I was messaging Dorothy, based in Washington DC. There is a new feature to automatically book. So that’s what happened; I didn’t want to automatically book. She has been a host since January 17th. I messaged her instantly that this had been a mistake, and requesting that she return my funds. I called Airbnb to return my funds. There are no features on Airbnb to correct this mistake. I cancelled the booking, but both Airbnb and Dorothy are refusing to give me the money back. The charge was $3389. Then I got a message after my multiple calls to Airbnb over a week and a half later that I would get a partial refund of $2477. Then I received another email from an Airbnb representative saying I would only get $2161. I said this was unacceptable. I did not agree to a partial refund, which is what he was trying to state in his email. I said I wanted a full refund. They insinuated that I couldn’t get a refund. They will not return even a partial refund if I don’t agree to their terms. This is how they trick you.

The thieving host and I texted a lot. She was trying to convince me she had nothing to do with the transactions, but as I found out later the hosts have the power to issue a complete and full refund; she is just refusing to do so. She lied and the amount she can steal from me is over $600. All because there is no recourse for correcting the automatic booking process. This is wrong and it’s stealing. I think this new feature is a scam on Airbnb’s part and the hosts (at least my thieving host) don’t care if they harm customers financially. Airbnb’s customer service is not helpful and difficult to reach. The representatives will not speak with you or hear your complaints. Then if you don’t agree with the resolution, they threaten you with getting nothing back. Dorothy from Washington DC is a scam artist because she knew this was a mistake. I tried to send her a message. I told her the second it happened because there is no feature to undo the automatic booking. She made a fast $600 with no regard to the harm she caused. I’m a hard working woman with four children, two in college. For Airbnb to have unhelpful and threatening customer service agents and thieving hosts keep these funds and not correct this mistake immediately is egregious. Beware of the instant booking. Thieves like Dorothy use this as a means of stealing your money and customer service representatives will not help you. If anything, they will actually threaten to withhold partial payments if you don’t agree with the resolution. I don’t agree with their resolution. I want and need all of my money back.

Airbnb Charged USD when Price was in CAD

A few tips to potential Airbnb guests:

1. Customer Service is basically non-existent. So be extremely careful not to make any mistake, or you’ll have to pay for it.

2. Do not click “instant booking” if you are not 100% sure you want it, because you’ll be instantly charged if the host accepts, which usually happens in a few minutes. It’s better to contact your host if you have any concerns prior to booking.

3. Check Airbnb’s cancellation policies carefully. They’re stricter than those at most competitors.

4. Always double check the price with currency symbols because you might get overcharged.

I did my search via airbnb.ca and found an apartment listed for 157 CAD/night. I requested to book the apartment for seven nights with four guests. The host responded and the total price was 1238 CAD on the pre-approval email; the total price was calculated based on guest numbers plus service fees. I then clicked on the “Book Now” button from the email and got re-directed to Airbnb Canada’s payment site. The price amount on the page was still 1238 CAD, so I paid. Since I had been doing all the transactions through Airbnb Canada, I assumed everything was still in CAD. Apparently the currency symbol on the payment page switched to USD without me noticing. I was actually charged 1619 CAD and ended up paying $381 more in Canadian dollars. I tried to contact customer service but haven’t had much progress yet. Overall I think the Airbnb website has an appealing UI interface, but the business practice does not favor customers. I will not use it again or recommend to others.

Forcing Airbnb Hosts to Turn On Instant Booking

In early January 2016, I received an email from Airbnb that explained that since most guests preferred Instant Booking over talking to a prospective host, Airbnb would not list my home under guest searches. This is despite me usually getting great ratings from my Airbnb guests. Can you see how this could be seen as an aggressive attempt to make people offer Instant Booking when that feature does not work for their situation? Now, if Airbnb had sent me an email suggesting that I take more photos, I would do that. However, if I turn on Instant Booking, and/or offer a price considered below average for my area, I’ll lose money. My rate is already below average for my area. What will help me immensely is when Airbnb stops omitting my home from suggested places to stay. I had one guest in December 2016 and no guests in January 2017.

I have been very loyal to Airbnb and have advocated for their business in writing. I wrote a letter to the NYC Public Advocate in response to her scathing opinion of Airbnb. How do you think NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams would react to NYC homeowners being forced to offer Instant Booking? Please share your thoughts.

Host Cancelled 24 hours Before we Arrived in Paris

We had a last minute cancellation by a host 24 hours before our arrival in Paris because of bed bugs. That reservation was mostly made with Airbnb gift cards and a small charge placed on my credit card. We were contacted by Airbnb via email, (luckily I had connected to wifi while we were having lunch in Brussels) and while we were sent a list of available properties from Airbnb, none met the criteria of our original booking; we were given a one-bedroom unit when we needed a two bedroom for my mother, wife and myself. Our customer service representative told us just to make contact with new hosts directly and book what we wanted. Airbnb offered a 10% refund for our troubles, which sounded good at first.

We found and booked a new property with a host named Adjel, using the Instant Booking feature on the app. The gift card balance from the original cancellation was applied to this new reservation, and we thought we were set. Hours later, though, Adjel informed us that the property we had booked was not actually available, and he shouldn’t have accepted the Instant Booking request because he was having work done on the property. Rather than cancelling immediately, he tried to shift us into another property that simply wouldn’t work for our group of three. We asked several times for him to please just cancel. We notified our customer service representative that this was happening. By this time, it was late in the evening, the night before our arrival in Paris, and we still didn’t have a suitable place to stay. There was no response to our request to cancel the unavailable booking from Adjel, or Airbnb staff.

We found a third property that would work, connected with the host, Justin, and booked it as soon as he verified availability. In the morning, we got word from customer service that Adjel had finally cancelled, and that our gift card balance was refunded to our Airbnb account. We responded that we wanted the gift card balance applied to this new reservation with Justin, not just refunded to our account. I did not want Airbnb “store credit.” That didn’t happen as requested and now we’re struggling to get this settled. We don’t want a $550 Airbnb credit sitting in our account when there is a $600+ Airbnb charge on our credit card. We have called into customer service again this evening, and were promised by the representative with whom we spoke that this could and would be resolved.

That was several weeks ago and I finally received an email from Airbnb saying that they would not do anything. I had spent several hours with their “customer service” department and was hung up, put on hold for an hour, etc. I explained the situation to my credit card company and they made a charge back to Airbnb since they were not willing to help. I have dealt with credit card processing in the past and it really is not that hard to credit an account and charge the correct amount, but apparently Airbnb was not willing to take care of this. My wife and I started using Airbnb back in 2009 and have had great experiences; we’ve never had a problem before. Our third Paris property had a view of Notre Dame, was right on the Seine, and had all the charm of what I expect from an Airbnb property. Over the years I have raved about Airbnb but this event has completely called their business practices into question.

Deceitful Guests with Unauthorized Dogs Given Full Refund

I own two La Jolla, CA beach area homes that I manage.I use HomeAway and also Airbnb. I’ve been hosting and managing the properties since early 2013 and haven’t had one negative review. I accepted an Instant Book – never again! – 65 days prior for Thanksgiving: November 22nd for 6 nights. During the summer, peak season dates require a minimum 60-day cancellation notice to receive a full refund. The guests were a family of six, the renter’s name Elizabeth Razanno from Franklin, Massachusetts. Hosts should make a note of this name and blacklist her; otherwise, you will have problems. She’s a true deceitful law bender. During our chat (after the booking was confirmed, thanks to Instant Book, I specifically asked her to confirm the total number of guests, and if they would have a pet dog; pets were open to discussion, but I wanted them to declare them first.

She skirted the question pertaining to the dog. Again, I stated: “Please answer the question regarding the dog or I will cancel your reservation.”

She replied “Oh, it’s just us.” I should have cancelled her reservation… A few days before their arrival, she contacted me and stated, “Our flight doesn’t get in until the 23rd, one day after our arrival date. My daughter who lives in San Diego will be staying the first night.” A bell went off… not a good vibe.

I said, “Well, okay, but you are the responsible guest and I don’t have a good feeling about having someone other than the responsible guest entering my $2,200,000 home.” I stated, “She must be at least 25 and she cannot have any guests with her as the rental agreement states.”

She replied “Yes, she is 25 and won’t have any other guests with her.”

At 7:00 PM my Cellular Controlled Electronic Front Door Lock notified me her access code was used. I waited until 8:00 PM and arrived to greet her and verify her ID as I do all guests. I walked up as a male was unloading a box of alcohol from the trunk; the gate was open and the front door was wide open. As I knocked on the outside front door before walking in, I verbally announced myself, saying “Hello, owner.” The young girl appeared quickly and attempted to close the door in my face. I said, “I’m the owner of this house and I need to speak with you please. I need to check you in as per the listing states and the rental agreement your mother signed, may I please see your photo ID?”

At that point, two large black dogs appeared. One jumped up and with its front paws almost pushed me down the front steps. The girl had to restrain the one dog while the second was hurling itself from one sofa to the other across the living room wooden table. I immediately saw scratches in the coffee table. I was pissed off… I asked the girl, “What are these dogs doing in my home? They are not authorized, nor discussed with your mother. They are not authorized. You have not paid the pet fee, and I never would allow these types of hyper-aggressive dogs.”

She responded, “Oh, these are my dogs, your listing says ‘pet friendly.’ What’s the problem?”

I responded, “Get these dogs off my property now, before I evict your mother before she even arrives. These dogs are not authorized and your mother failed to declare them and ask permission to have them.”

The girl then said, “Oh, and what if they were service animals?”

I responded, “You and god know neither of these aggressive dogs are service animals so don’t even attempt to go there. If one was a service animal you would have informed me as soon as I walked in, and even more likely, your mother would have made it clear when I vetted her. But she did not.” I told her to get the dogs off my property now: “You can stay, but your pet dogs are out now.”

The next day at approximately 5:00 PM (almost 19 hours later, Airbnb called me and said, “We are giving the guest a full refund and cancelling the reservation from you, the host.” I went home and all three beds’ white linens were stained with dirt marks from the damn dogs jumping on the beds. Every light, every ceiling fan, the central heating, and all four wall-mounted flat screen TVs were on. I argued with Airbnb and they basically told me to pound salt. They said, “The guests said they had a service animal and you forced them to remove it.”

I have eight future reservations booked on Airbnb (Christmas, New Year’s Eve, January, February). However, I am going to terminate my Airbnb account and tell the guests to find me on HomeAway. I would never suggest Airbnb to anyone, ever.

Dodgy Keys, Dodgy Hosts, and Airbnb Scheisters

I can honestly say Airbnb is the worst company ever. My very first experience: halfway through my stay the host was caught stealing utilities, the Internet was cut off, the entrance lock was broken, there were no bins, causing rubbish to be left in open bags for days on end, and to cap it off, my host left me with a departing gift: head lice. Upon heading to the nearest Internet cafe (because there was no Internet) and sharing my woes with Airbnb customer service, were they able to quickly offer a resolution? No, that was too complex, but they would call me back at their leisure. Four hours later I got called back while I was in the middle of the city. Obviously I didn’t want to share the more embarrassing elements of my stay in the middle of the street, but I agreed with the case manager that because the host was unresponsive and they had been caught stealing Internet that had been cut off, I could terminate my stay.

The next morning the host still had not been in contact to arrange an orderly exit so I headed out into the street at 6:00 AM to get reception. I contacted customer service to terminate my stay, only to have the new customer service agent decide that not being able to offer the agreed services wasn’t a good enough reason to terminate my stay and I would have to get pictures of the cockroaches and a doctor’s note for head lice. After some battling we agreed if I could capture pictures of the cockroaches I could leave, so I went off to sneak around the flat taking pictures. I sent the pictures to Airbnb and customer service promised they would sort it out. Meanwhile, I headed off to sort out my own accommodation.

So how do you imagine they sorted it out? A full refund, maybe? That would be the least you expect, right? Nope. What about a refund for the portion of the stay that had to be cancelled (you would expect there would be no debate on that)? Nope. They nickel and dimed me and gave me a partial refund of the amount of the stay that couldn’t be completed. You would expect that now they had photographic evidence of hygiene issues, cockroach infestation, an unresponsive host, the previous guests’ reviews all raising hygiene issues, and a guest who now suffered health problems because of his stay the listing would be suspended, right? Nope. It was still open for bookings. It took an angry week and multiple case managers until finally one agent looked at the case and after an angry email finally came to the conclusion that this was really bad (cockroaches, rubbish left out, key didn’t work, Internet cut off, and I got head lice; it took five case managers to get to someone who agreed this wasn’t acceptable).

So finally Airbnb grudgingly offered a refund (but cancelled their goodwill voucher gesture). Since this agent was streets ahead of her awful colleagues and by this point it was way beyond my expectations of Airbnb, I actually felt really good about having achieved something. I decided I would give them another chance by taking my nephew away for a short couple of days; this would be a perfect no-risk way of giving Airbnb a second chance. I tried to book a cabin in the mountains for two days. I found a cabin that was available on instant book, confirmed the dates, clicked instant book, was routed to the payment page, and everything looked good: Airbnb won’t charge you until the booking is confirmed. Instant book is easy: either it gets booked, or it doesn’t; there is no risk.

I clicked the payment button when suddenly there was a new step that hadn’t been there when I chose instant book. My first awful experience: they required government ID (passport or driver’s license). I didn’t have a driver’s license and my passport was being renewed, but it seemed all good because the booking was marked as pending. There was no payment success message and no text or receipt was issued. I thought to myself: Airbnb won’t charge anything until the booking is confirmed. I just cancelled the pending request, safe in the knowledge I still had money in my account and headed off into the real world armed with my phone to book somewhere else, only for my card to be declined. It turns out that despite not having confirmed the booking, not having displayed a message highlighting that there were further steps needed, not having displayed a payment confirmation, and not having issued a receipt, Airbnb had taken payment just in case it would go through.

Having given them a second chance, I would have expected customer service to be super helpful. Not at all. They just lied about what the process was like, claiming I had been warned, until I told them I had screen captures of the payment steps. Then they claimed that instant booking wasn’t instant booking, no payment had been taken, and it had already been refunded. In the end, I just wanted a receipt so I could take the issue further here in the UK with the authorities. The agent tried to send me to a blank page claiming it was a receipt, just point blank refused to provide a receipt for the funds taken, refused to discuss it, refused to escalate the matter and then he just hung up. Despite the rest of this story being appalling both with regards to the accommodation provided initially and the customer support, how could Airbnb refuse to provide a receipt for funds taken? This is statutorily required both in your jurisdiction and mine. The initial accommodation was appalling but the customer support and the disregard with which they treat guests in stressful situations is just beyond imagination. My experience has been embarrassing, frustrating, tedious and unrewarding. Now despite having had to stay in an unfit, unhygienic property, suffering health issues as a result of my stay, I am out of pocket yet again and because of Airbnb’s behavior my nephew and I are disappointed.