To start off, I’ve used Airbnb a lot. I’ve given them tons of money in fees and pretty much never had any problems in the many years and countries that I’ve used it. I have great reviews. I thought that being a long-term and good customer would be something they value but clearly they don’t.
I booked this place in Athens, which clearly said it was a house. The pictures suggested it was a house and all communication with the host suggested it was a house. Since I planned to stay there for December and January, I specifically looked for a place with heating, which was a given here. Also, I liked the fact that it was recently refurbished and certainly looked so in the pictures.
I arrived at the property at 7:00 PM only to discover that it was a ground floor flat. The heating was a single A/C unit located in the living room, with the host saying, that the master bedroom does get cold. In fact, when I arrived, he had locked the master bedroom and prepared only one room for me with one of the two single beds. He seemed very surprised that I said that I would like to have a double bed for myself. He unlocked the master bedroom and then went on to lock the two-bed bedroom, saying that I won’t need it anyway. I was surprised to say the least and said that if I pay for the whole property, I would like to have the whole property.
In addition, the flat looked sad and worn, with dampness in the bathroom, paint falling off the walls, an electricity socket falling out of the wall in the kitchen and the sofa cover being worn and looking dirty. Furthermore, I pointed out to the host that there was no TV nor hairdryer. The host replied that no one in his how-many-years doing Airbnb has asked for a TV. But in fairness he did say he would get a TV and hairdryer in a few days.
After spending about an hour in the really sad looking flat and freezing my butt off, I decided that it was time to give Airbnb a call. Little did I know that my nightmare was just about to begin. I got connected to a case manager who works in the PST time zone. The first few minutes she didn’t sound that terrible, until she saw that it was a long term reservation; then she let out a groan.
In that split second she flipped from someone trying to help to someone most definitely not trying to help. She started off: “Do you realize these aren’t big complaints at all? Do you realize it is around Christmas time, so all other places will be booked? How will you find a new place.?
I said, “Well, I can’t stay in this place.”
She said she would send me an email, which she wrote right there and then, to which I would need to reply with pictures of the defects and then she would contact the host. A mere half an hour later I received the email which among other things said:
“As per the call, please inform your Airbnb host of the issues you are experiencing. I should point out that if the reservation is cancelled under our guest refund policy this would have to happen tonight and as I mentioned on the call, it is getting late to find an alternative. If you stay at the listing tonight, and decided to leave tomorrow then an alterative to end the reservation could be possible and a partial refund for nights not stayed upon agreement with the host to end the reservation.”
At this point I was confused because she never said I had to contact the host. It was already 9:30 PM in Athens. I called Airbnb again; they had her call me back. She now started to use her favorite phrase which is “following the process.” There was a process and that was I had to write to the host right then and tell him about the issues. It didn’t matter that I had already told him and I couldn’t do it then next day; I had to do it then. She also looked at the pictures that I sent, but they were not good enough for her. Then she wanted wide angle ones. I also say that I wanted to get a full refund, so what was I supposed to do? Could I stay at the property that night? What about their 24-hour reporting policy? What if I’d only reported all this the next day?
She said that she had sent the host a message and that we would have to wait for him to respond, which might not happen that night. That did not solve my housing and refund crisis, so I asked her what I was supposed to do. It was two hours before midnight and I was willing to book a hotel. She said she would ask her manager and call me back in 5-10 minutes. A mere 25 minutes passed… no call. I called Airbnb again and asked for her. Meanwhile I got a support message on the Airbnb platform:
“As per our guest refund policy: have used reasonable efforts to remedy the circumstances of the Travel Issue with the host prior to making a claim, including messaging your host on Airbnb to notify them of the issue. We’ll verify this in your account. Also please send me the wider photos of the apartment you took. I will send him an email and inform him of the issues you are experiencing.”
This was not helping me at all, so I asked again and again: “What am I supposed to do regarding my overnight stay?
Airbnb customer service: “Please bear with me. As I mentioned we have to follow a process. Did you message the host over Airbnb as I mentioned?”
I told her I would go ahead and book a hotel (it was almost 11:00 PM)
Airbnb: As per our guest refund policy: have used reasonable efforts to remedy the circumstances of the Travel Issue with the host prior to making a claim, including messaging your host on Airbnb to notify them of the issue. We’ll verify this in your account.
Airbnb: We need you to raise the issues with your host over Airbnb messaging.
Me: Ok, I’ll do it after I go to the hotel. I have the 24 hour reporting time.
Airbnb: We spoke about this two times on the phone, that you have to message your host with the issues if you are to be valid for the guest refund policy. Also you host said he would replace TV tomorrow and the host also said that you mentioned the hairdryer to him and he said he would send a hair dryer. (So I don’t understand if she has actually been able to reach the host at this point?)
At this point I was taking off to the hotel and told her to contact me on the phone. That ended up a total clusterf&%k with her asking me to meet all of her demands by essentially midnight, without a care of how I could stay in a freezing cold flat, where I would sleep instead, that I am a human being, and so on. I told her I would continue the next morning. She sounded happy about that.
The next morning (doesn’t get any better) I called Hellbnb again at 9:00 AM. I was informed that the representative to whom I had spoken was not there and that they couldn’t do anything about my case until she came back. They didn’t know when she would be back. They said they were hopeful my case could be resolved that day. I told them that I literally didn’t have a place to stay so I would like to have a different case manager. After some struggle they agreed.
It didn’t get easier. I was told by the new agent that because I left the property, that means I didn’t try to resolve the issue, so it was not their problem anymore. No matter how I tried to explain the situation last night, I was at fault. I asked them how they imagined the host could have solved the issue that it wasn’t a house but a flat, that it was not refurbished, but apparently that was no problem for Airbnb:
“Did the flat have a separate entrance? If it did, then that is a house.”
“No,” I said, “it didn’t.”
“Aaah,” said the agent, “but you haven’t proven it! You have to film it!”
I said, “No problem; I’ll go back and film it.”
The agent clearly didn’t like that answer. She searched some more, then said that if I had searched for “entire place” on the Airbnb website then there was also a category for “entire apartment”. That’s what the flat clearly was and always has been, so clearly I was in the wrong. She completely dismissed the refurbishment and said that the host will bring a TV… so that surely solved all my problems?
At that point I was losing it. I had a long and difficult year so I was looking for at least a pleasant ending. Now I was literally having a nervous breakdown. The Airbnb agent couldn’t have cared less. She told me to talk to the host and plead with him to refund me.
At this point I needed to check out of the hotel and I was homeless on the streets of Athens. After a while I called the host and asked what was going on on his side. He told me he actually agreed to refund me because the flat didn’t fit the description but now Airbnb wasn’t approving the refund. We had to wait. It was 3:00 PM when I finally got someone helpful from Airbnb on the phone, who was actually nice and resolved all of the issues in 30 minutes. He also told me he would be able to transfer the money from my previous booking to the new booking.
At 3:30 PM Airbnb called me again. She said that nothing was possible; it was most definitely not possible to transfer the money. The nice person I spoke to clearly didn’t follow the process, because they have a process and returning money is not part of it.
I told her that I was on the streets and that I don’t have enough money to make a new booking. It was getting dark. Being a human being is clearly not part of this process, so she was more concerned about the nice person not following the process rather than helping me find a home. At this point I told her I didn’t want her on my case. I maxed out my credit cards and made a new booking, extremely stressed out and depressed at this point. Later that evening, I received a message from Airbnb:
“I am sorry if this has been a stressful time for you. If you experience any issues with your new reservation please do not hesitate to contact us.”
…if this has been a stressful time?