A good friend and I – both disabled vets – booked an apartment in Miami South Beach with an Airbnb host two months before our vacation days when prices were still affordable. We then booked cheap airfares – we both live on modest incomes – that could not be refunded.
Three weeks before our arrival date our reservation was cancelled by Airbnb with no reasons given. They offered us $129 as compensation for our inconvenience and invited us to re-book. We then looked at available bookings with the same amenities for January and they were now 50-200% more expensive than our original booking, which priced us out of the market.
With the $129 they attempted to fob off on us, one would be lucky to pay for one day of accommodations on South Beach; it wouldn’t cover our lost money for non-reimbursable airfares. This debacle occurred after yet another earlier booking was cancelled because the dates advertised as being available were not in fact available (or the host got a better deal with some other customer through another third party booking agency; or still yet, the host was perhaps racist and by tracking our emails on social media discovered that my veteran friend was African American).
We began to think that Airbnb is less a booking agent than an auctioneer. If hosts can cancel reservations a month after they are made without explanation to the customer one wonders if the room was rented to someone willing to pay more. In popular locations like Miami South Beach in January that is not an unreasonable suspicion.
I complained vociferously to the very polite Airbnb customer service representatives who duly commiserated with us over our misfortune at first, yet rendered no resolution. I was told to call back the next day, which is not what one wants to hear when someone has your money and has just cancelled your reservation a few weeks before arrival. Only after sending emails to their corporate headquarters in San Francisco threatening to file a breach of contract claim in Colorado courts did I finally receive a phone call from a manager of what appeared to be their customer service center in Idaho. She was a competent problem solver and she immediately offered to help with the increased cost of re-booking.
We luckily found a venue with similar amenities that cost $340 or about 30% more than our original booking. Airbnb covered the additional cost without making me jump through any hoops and we were satisfied. My warning to all is that a “confirmed reservation” with Airbnb is not the same as a confirmed reservation at a Motel 6 or a Holiday Inn. If you think you have a confirmed reservation and then feel safe to go and book an El Cheapo non-reimbursable air fare you are at risk of losing your accommodations and being stuck with a ticket to a destination without a room waiting for you. In peak travel season when the reasonably priced accommodations fill up fast your re-booking could be quite costly. Bottom line: reduce the risk by getting travel insurance.