I made (and paid for) reservations for a farmhouse outside of Frederick, Maryland for a weekend stay in summer 2020 so that my siblings and their children could all be together when we buried my mother’s ashes at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick. The pandemic caused us to postpone our stay until the summer of 2021 (after paying an additional amount representing the difference between the 2020 and higher 2021 rates).
Several months prior to our 2021 stay, my brother-in-law informed me he had a scheduling conflict, and because he is a preacher and my mother specified that she wanted him to officiate at her burial, I informed my host that we had to postpone until summer of 2022. She said she had no problem as long as dates were available (and they were).
Using Airbnb’s website, I attempted to make the date change, fully expecting to pay an additional amount representing the difference between the 2021 and the higher 2022 rates. Once I started the process of making the change, the website informed me that the stated rates were only good for a short specified period of time, and if I didn’t complete the transaction within that time, the rates would go up. The problem was I could not complete the change-of-date transaction without first paying full price for the new 2022 reservation — the website was not giving me the option of applying the funds from the fully paid-for 2021 reservation.
I sent the host a message asking for guidance, and while she had always gotten right back to me prior to this moment, for some reason, I did not hear back from her prior to the transaction deadline. I went ahead and charged the full 2022 reservation on my credit card, assuming that of course, the already paid full 2021 reservation amount would be refunded to me. I wasn’t trying to rip anyone off, but at this point, I had now paid the full amount twice for a weekend stay at the farmhouse. I thought surely I’ll be refunded the funds for the cancelled 2021 stay. I mean, I was using Airbnb’s website and the host didn’t respond to my request for guidance.
I contacted Airbnb’s customer service department who told me the host had to agree to me receiving a full refund of the cancelled 2021 reservation. I contacted the host who agreed to the full refund, and I informed Airbnb’s customer service of the host’s agreement. The customer service representative explained how my full refund would consist of two amounts: the amount paid for the original 2020 reservation ($1,980.87) and the additional several hundred dollars I paid for the 2021 reservation, representing the increase in rates between 2020 and 2021. The customer service representative repeatedly used the term ‘full refund,’ which frankly were the only two words I was listening for.
Within minutes, I received a full refund on my credit card for the smaller, several hundred dollar ‘increase in rates’ amount. As the minutes ticked by and the bigger $1,980.87 amount never showed up on my credit card account, I started to get worried. When I called Airbnb customer service back, I was informed the ‘full refund’ of $1,980.87 was actually a credit for future use. I told them I’d like to take that ‘credit for future use’ and apply it to the 2022 reservation. I was told that couldn’t be done. So my promised ‘full refund’ morphed into a ‘credit for future use’ — a future use of their choosing.
Airbnb customer service did suggest a possible resolution: I could cancel the 2022 reservation and make a new reservation and apply the ‘credit for future use’ funds toward that. I pointed out that their suggestion would certainly resolve the ‘credit for future use’ funds left over from the 2021 reservation, but now I’d be stuck with a new ‘credit for future use’ from the cancelled 2022 reservation. They suggested I work it out with the host. I called the host, and explained to her what had transpired. She seemed to be sympathetic, but she asked me to have Airbnb customer service call her and walk her through the process of fixing the situation because she didn’t want to make any mistakes, which I could understand after trying to use the badly coded ‘change of reservation date’ section of the Airbnb website.
When I contacted Airbnb customer service again, I pointed out that this all could be resolved within seconds, but the customer service representative insisted it couldn’t be done. The next time I called Airbnb customer service, I got a garbled recording stating that the number I was calling had been disconnected or was no longer in service. I figured I must have made a mistake punching the numbers when I made the call, so I called again, and again got the garbled recording.
Once I picked my jaw off the floor and pondered the thought of a customer service department of a major American corporation having a disconnected number and no apparent new or forwarding number, I was at a loss; it just didn’t make any sense. Then, a truly ridiculous thought entered my head: they didn’t block me, did they? To shoot down that ridiculous notion right away, I decided to call Airbnb customer service using my landline phone and not my cell phone (the number on my Airbnb account). Bingo: no garbled disconnection message when I called using my landline.
I got into customer service — that is, if you call answering a few questions put to me by a machine and being ultimately referred to an online FAQ page as ‘customer service.’ That is pathetic: I was blocked by Airbnb customer service.
Now I know what you’re thinking: I’m a hothead and I was speed dialing into Airbnb customer service 24/7, hurtling expletives at meek and mild customer service reps. Not quite. I called Airbnb customer service maybe four times total. I was always civil, and most of the time I was simply requesting information. The most confrontational (if you can call it that) was when I was told by the customer service representative “It can’t be done” in reference to the promised full refund. I very politely pointed out that actually it could be done — it was promised. A partial refund was accomplished within seconds after the first time I called in, and a full refund of the remaining funds could be done within seconds.
So as it stands now, I supposedly have a ‘credit for future use’ for $1,980.87, even though there is nothing in my account that indicates that. I guess I’d have to contact Airbnb customer service in order to access that credit, except they blocked me. I didn’t go to business school, but I can’t imagine there’s a business school out there that teaches business people that it is better to lie to and cheat a customer — a customer who is using your services so that he can bury his mother’s ashes and turn the customer into a lifetime enemy of your company than to put in perhaps twenty seconds worth of effort to push a button to issue a refund check. Whenever I hear someone utter the word ‘Airbnb,’ believe me, I let them know of my experience with them.