Lost $900 Because of Airbnb’s COVID Policy

I have tried getting Airbnb’s help over the phone, I’ve tried getting help from the host and I have messaged four senior executives, including the CEO. I have not received a positive response so far. So now I’m sharing my issue publicly, to see if the company does something about it.

I booked a trip to Istanbul from May 7 to May 12, and made a reservation with an Airbnb host for all those days. A few days after I made the reservation, the government in Turkey has announced their first full lockdown. Although tourists would still be able to walk around, I’m sure you can understand that traveling to a place that has just entered their first full lockdown is not ideal, for many reasons. The main one for me was the possibility of being locked in Turkey and not able to travel back to my country of residence, Dubai.

Once we heard the news, my husband and I decided to postpone the trip. I messaged my host and politely asked to change the dates of my trip. He refused. I then asked for a refund, as I spent $900. He refused. He refused any refund whatsoever… not even 10% or 20%. I lost $900.

With that, I called Airbnb, who informed me that they have an extenuating circumstances policy. It says that trips booked before March 2020 could fall under this policy, but since I booked my trip two weeks ago, I’m not entitled to it.  Obviously, Airbnb is entitled to define its cancellation policies, but in my opinion, I believe this extenuating circumstances policy is completely outdated.

During COVID, all the major players in the tourism business, like hotels, airline companies and travel agencies have implemented much more flexible cancellation policies to encourage people to continue traveling during the pandemic. Today, if I buy a ticket with Emirates for example, I can change the dates without no extra charges. If I book a hotel, I can most likely change the dates or get a refund.

I had no issues at all changing the dates of my flight to Istanbul, the dates of my flight from Istanbul to Cappadocia or canceling my hotel reservation in Cappadocia. None of them have charged me anything for it, because they all understood the situation in the country.  Only Airbnb couldn’t be flexible on their policy and its host couldn’t offer new dates or even a partial refund.

I don’t think this is fair. But more than that, I don’t think this is smart. I would love to hear something positive from Airbnb, to help me get my $900 back. Is anyone interested in helping?

Customer Service? Airbnb Doesn’t Know the Meaning

I joined Airbnb in 2020 but had to cancel all my trips due to the pandemic. Now that the EU is considering opening up to fully vaccinated Americans, I thought I could re-visit Italy. Having had a good experience with the different hosts on a previous trip (booked by my traveling companion), I made the (terrible) decision to join.

I made my first reservation and that was accepted. When I tried to make the second, a dialog box showed up saying “we can’t let you pay as your account is under review.” This was the start of the nightmare customer service saga. Service cannot be used in the same sentence as Airbnb as it’s a complete oxymoron.

The first line of representatives you reach on the number, which is deftly hidden behind multiple tabs, leaves you feeling frustrated, angry but most of all, powerless. Here’s some of what the representatives told me about my account review:

  • They were carrying out background checks on me. I’ve been in various government jobs that required those. I didn’t know registering on Airbnb required a background check.
  • From Jan. 2021, all Airbnb customers not only had to inform their banks about potential transactions with the company, but in fact, had to get in touch with Visa and Mastercard to let them know that reservations would be made on this platform. Didn’t these representatives get the training memo that it’s actually banks that block/unblock transactions because Visa and Mastercard supply the plastic and technology that makes our life simple with credit cards?
  • I had to get in touch with the potential host I was going to stay with in Italy because apparently, her software hadn’t been linked to Airbnb and this was what was stopping me reserving with her. Don’t they have an IT department to do that? Isn’t that their responsibility?
  • I did actually contact the host in Italy. She took the trouble to contact the Italian customer service platform and they were scathing in their response. They laid the blame squarely on the U.S. side saying that tech support was clearly able to help me and should do so without pushing blame on to the host. Sound familiar?
  • The trite sentence of “I’m so sorry. I know how you feel.” No, you don’t, so stop trying the empathy game with me. If you were really sorry, your IT team would stop faffing around and could have fixed this block on my account already.

There will be customers who have had a flawless experience with their hosts, as I did on my previous trip. My particular experience isn’t one I’d wish on my worst enemy. I have to agree with a review I read in that their representatives do seem to follow a script. It can’t be great for them to have to put up with aggravated, stressed and livid customers but if their management put robust resolution protocols in place, namely timely responses and updates to customers’ email, then perhaps 90% of this could be avoided.

What seems patently obvious from my dealings with Airbnb is that no supervisors are around to handle calls in the moment. Their procedure is to “escalate” and this gets attention within 24 to 48 hours. In the meantime, you get zero communication.

The other horrendously annoying aspect of dealing with this company is the multiple security checks that take place. If you phone from a number that isn’t on your account or if you log in from a laptop/desktop and not the app, you get a string of emails/texts asking you to confirm. Can’t somebody tell their Information Security Officer that security is only good when it doesn’t interfere with legitimate users?

That is the paradox of this company. Their engineers have crafted multiple security checks on users yet they still haven’t put in place a system to communicate with their customers that they are dealing with technical problems that hamper customers from using their accounts. How could they have not seen the importance of keeping customers informed?

It really seems to be a company that has little regard for treating its customers with a modicum of respect. My experience has shown that timely responses are not something they do. There is no communication about the progress of problem resolution and some of their representatives are clearly out of their depth. I’m just annoyed at myself for having joined such a thoughtless, uncaring company.

Airbnb Literally Endangering People’s Lives for Profit

After making the responsible choice last year to cancel all reservations when the pandemic hit and subsequently not receiving any compensation, I received $25. I took it as an opportunity to review my cancellation policy to better protect myself to reflect the new realities of travel.

Fast forward a year later and I made my place available for the month of April and received three bookings, two of which my guests responsibly cancelled due to the lockdown in the province of Ontario. The third one admitted her travel was unnecessary and that she was coming to walk around with her boyfriend. Now she booked a non-refundable option but would not cancel the reservation because she did not want to lose the money despite her choice to book a non-refundable option. Again being responsible, I chose to cancel and the guest was refunded.

I am not the brightest, but I am failing to see how after I adapted and my guest booked a non-refundable option, how she is still being refunded. At first I was upset over the money but at some point it’s not about the money. It’s about the safety of my community and I couldn’t believe the position Airbnb put me in. They refunded some person who booked a non-refundable option and did nothing to respect my cancellation policy or do the right thing and cancel all reservations in Ontario.

This didn’t sit well so I asked them to donate the money to Black Lives Matter (I am a Black person so figured this money could go to some good) instead of refunding this low life guest. They refused, stating their policy. I was laughing at their “support” team. The guy clearly was in no position to even have a conversation and was reminiscent of a robot, programmed to repeat the policy and failing to understand what “human” is.

Companies like these are greasy and hope the collective group robot think pushes your billion-dollar company to higher profits while putting the lives of people at risk. The fact that they are allowing hosts to operate in Ontario at the moment is baffling. They are literally putting profits before the public good and this goes for housing as well. Simply ruining communities.