Airbnb Charged Me $700 for My Wifi Not Working

I had a last minute request for booking from a guest in my villa in Jamaica. The guest had suffered a last-minute cancellation from another host and booked via automatic booking. The guest was treated to my message and warned that there was a public phone line outage in the locality of the villa. The guest understood and asked if purchasing a wifi portable dongle would work and which carrier I would recommend.

The guest and seven other people arrived at the property, did the check in, and was greeted by the villa staff. I double checked on the guest and she told me all was well. We kept calling the utility company in question for updates on repairs and we also paid a local contractor to speed up the repairs outside the grounds of our villa on the main road. We advised the guest that the issue was resolved and apologised for the inconvenience politely, even if she knew it was outside our control and all other properties in the village were disconnected.

I did a review for this guest, polite and positive. The property in question is a large villa with four bedrooms, five terraces, a 2,400-square meter garden, garage, infinity pool overlooking the Caribbean Sea, its own beach, gazebos, and an outdoor dining and living room. The property was already heavily discounted due to COVID-19 and all the staff trained for these circumstances with face masks.

Almost a month later, I received a message from an Airbnb agent saying that I had 24 hours to explain why my property was not providing all the facilities in the description. This guest had complained and was heavily inconvenienced by the lack of wifi. Obviously I reply showing all the guest messages that there was a public outage and it was totally outside my control. The guest was promptly advised of this issue and she purchased a wifi dongle as alternative.

I am a Superhost and have never received any negative feedback. The Airbnb agent replied that they had reviewed this case and they had awarded 50% of the rental as a refund to be fair to the guest. The guest stayed three nights, booked at the last minute, and used four bedrooms with air conditioning and the pool.

I naively spent additional money to speed up the repair and ended up with this cost. I have tried to escalate this issue without success so far. I am now considering cancelling my membership both as host and guest and cancel all future reservations but I do not want to punish people that have already purchased their flights.

I believe the guest in question did this on purpose and knew very well how to rig the system and probably had done this to other hosts. Beware: do not have automatic booking on. Beware of trouble makers that book at the last minute.


“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.


Left Out in the Cold After Instant Booking Fails

In 2017, I was touring Europe with my bicycle. I camped most of the time, but it was quite cold and rainy during a week in September. I decided to stay with Airbnb. The first night went quite well, so I made another booking the next morning. It was 60 km away, in a small village in Germany. Instant Book was enabled, so I immediately got a confirmation.

I set off and reached the address around 5:00 PM. When I rang the bell, there was no response. I messaged the host. After approximately an hour, the booking was canceled, without any explanation. It was cold and getting dark fast, so I headed to the nearest hotel. It was only five kilometers, but with the rain and the mud, it took me another hour to get there. At 75 euro, it was much more expensive than some of the other hotels I could have stayed with. Later Airbnb messaged me, saying the host enabled Instant Book without realizing the implications. They kind of blamed me for choosing a host with little experience and did not offer to pay part of the hotel bill. They have much more data on the host than me. They should not allow inexperienced hosts to enable instant booking.


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.