Airbnb is a corrupt, money grabbing, poorly operated business that should be avoided at all costs. Back in September 2015, we booked an apartment in Boracay, Philippines for 91 nights from November 2nd, 2016 at a price of around 8,534 Australian dollars (indulgent, I know, but not the point of this story). My credit card was immediately charged $2,874 to secure the booking and a schedule was made for two additional payments: $2,784 on November 28th and the final $2,786 on December 29th). All good. A few months later, I contacted the host to request the booking be shortened by two nights to better fit our flight schedule and the host agreed. I then proposed the change through the Airbnb app and he accepted it. I didn’t get an updated fee at the time but wasn’t too worried, trusting it would all be sorted out when the time came.
Around March 2016 I started getting emails saying that they were having trouble deducting $1,918 and that I needed to resolve the matter with my bank. I replied to the email saying that that amount was not due but the emails kept coming at regular intervals for the next several months – and I kept telling them that it was incorrect. I never received any reply or explanation. Around September 2016 the emails finally stopped so I assumed they’d figured out the glitch. We arrived at our accommodation on the newly scheduled date and the apartment and host were amazing.
After immersing ourselves in the holiday for a few weeks, something came up that meant we would have to head home 3.5 weeks earlier than planned. I spoke to our host, who was gracious and agreeable and told me to just submit the request through the Airbnb system; he would then accept the change to update the booking. Using the app, I submitted a change request and a screen came up saying that, with the new 65 nights (instead of 91) the price would be $9,279. This was a $745 increase for 25 fewer nights, so it would have been cheaper for us to just leave the apartment empty for the difference in time. As I looked closer, it said that the change meant that I would be refunded $5,500 from the original amount of $13,000-odd dollars which was definitely not the original amount.
I went to speak to the host and he had no idea why that had happened so we found a way to contact Airbnb tucked away in a convoluted area of the app and began contacting them that day (November 22nd). After a few days, they sent an email to say that the host had increased his prices since my initial booking so the new prices had been applied (I guess it went up to $13,000 when I changed it by two days but I was never alerted to any possible increase when submitting the change proposal or given a new remittance when it was accepted). Their only solution was that the host can overwrite the booking cost with the agreed total amount due. My host advised that he had not changed his prices so we asked Airbnb how they calculated the new fees. No answer.
In the meantime, I happened to check my online banking app and discovered that Airbnb had deducted $1,918 from my credit card on November 2nd. This was not a scheduled payment date or any authorised amount, but happened to be the exact amount that they had been emailing me about previously. Obviously they finally figured out how to steal that money from my credit card. Several more requests for help, including an explanation about the unauthorised credit card deduction, were sent. Still no response.
Eventually, the host and I sat down and worked out a mutually agreeable total. His login only allowed him to enter the amount in Philippine Pesos so we converted it according to the official exchange rate and he submitted the change proposal. While I still sat next to him, my phone came up with a change notification in the Airbnb app which I opened. It sent out the new amount on which we agreed($5,831) converted to Australian dollars within a few dollars of our calculations plus an Airbnb service fee of $407. So I pressed “accept”. It immediately changed to a screen saying that the changes have been made and the new amounts are: charges $105 AUD × 65 nights = $6815 AUD; service fee, $460 AUD; total $7275 AUD.
So the “proposal” that was accepted all of a sudden became $984 more for the accommodation and $53 more for the service fee? This is when we started calling the help desk to try to get them to change the figures to reflect the amount the host had entered into the Airbnb system. One of the staff tried to explain that it was because of the various currency conversions but that wouldn’t explain how it came through, converted through the app into Australian dollars, in the amount agreed with the host, in the proposed change. It only changed to some unfathomable amounts when I pressed accept.
Although we were being really polite and patient, this lady obviously couldn’t explain what their system had done so she just put us hold then hung up on us. We called the help desk back, went through the ID verification process again and had to tell the whole story to another staff member. This one, too, hung up on us. We called back again and talked to someone who seemed to be listening but then just “explained” that the new amount was $7,275. We started the explanation from the beginning and we think finally got him to understand that the new amount showing on their system was WRONG and needed to reflect the amount the host had entered and I had accepted. He said he would go get someone to fix it and call us back in 15-30 minutes.
So as not to miss the call, we sat with the host for two hours without a reply before calling them back and going through the ID verification process for about the 10th time that night and were told that a “case manager” had been assigned to us and he would call us in a few minutes. Another hour passed (we were now up to the fifth hour of this nightmare) and eventually we got an email from our Michael, our “case manager” saying that he would be happy to make the change once he got confirmation from both me and the host of the amount we wanted the system to reflect. He said he would be finishing his shift at 8:30; the email was sent at 8:24. The host and I both sent emails confirming the amounts in our respective currency and trusted that (because of the time difference) it would be fixed by the next day.
Instead, we received an email saying that this was all to do with exchange rates and “explaining” to us that exchange rates change in a daily basis – like we are complete idiots who don’t understand how exchange rates work. It gets better. He went on to say that they applied the exchange rate from the initial booking date (back in September 2015), which just happened to be much more beneficial to their fee calculation plus the 3% that they keep. So what their system does is: if you change your booking by even one day they apply any change in charges by the host and any increase in the service fee that has occurred in the interim according to the day of the alteration, but they don’t use the exchange rate of the day; in this case, they used an exchange rate from 15 months earlier. There is no other business on earth that would work this way. I am betting that, if the exchange had worked against them, they would have applied the new rate. If course, this ridiculous exchange rate excuse doesn’t explain how the Airbnb system correctly converted the Pesos into Australian dollars in the proposal that I accepted. It gets even better: hoping (naively) that they may have sorted it out overnight, my host checked my booking again the next day. The new amount I had to pay was now 420,069 euro, or about $600,000 Australian dollars.
I have now cancelled my credit card before I lose my house. The host has since changed his listing to TripAdvisor so he never has to deal with Airbnb again. Thankfully, throughout this whole thing, our host was amazing and supportive and as helpful as he could be given the deficiencies with the Airbnb system. There still has been no explanation, apology or solution from Airbnb. Please never use this service or this nightmare could happen to you.