When I made our reservation with Airbnb, I took advantage of their “Pay Less Up Front” program. I paid for only half the reservation at booking, and about two weeks later, I paid the rest. Who would know this would come back to bite me in the end? Let me back up a bit.
My group and I planned to meet at the airport for our flights to Atlanta at 11:00 AM Friday morning. Our flight was from about 1:00-3:00 PM and we were scheduled to check into the house we rented at 5:00 PM that day. At exactly 11:13 PM on the Thursday night before the trip, I received a heart-stopping message from my host:
“Dear Kayla, I am hoping you will get this. Airbnb Customer Service is getting in touch with you, as well. I am having huge septic tank issues and there is sewage in the house. I am not allowed to safely have anyone stay at this home. I have tried to let you know much earlier but Airbnb’s website would not let me cancel or notify you. I had to call Airbnb to cancel and they are now trying to notify you. I am so sorry for the inconvenience to your trip! Thank you for your kind understanding!”
Let me just put this out there: I had been in constant contact with the host, letting her know our arrival and departure times, and just discussing other little things related to the booking. I was just baffled as to how it was that she was unable to contact me until 11:13 PM the night before I was scheduled to stay with her. I thought it best that I not respond to her, as I know my words would not have been kind or understanding.
Instead, I immediately contacted Airbnb who had not even called me yet. The representative had no clue what I was talking about. The reservation was active and there were no notes on the account stating that it should be cancelled. She had to hang up with me and call the host to verify. Meanwhile, she told me to look for other listings and reach out to the hosts of the ones I like to see if they could take me at the last minute. Another blank stare moment.
Once Airbnb spoke to the host, she called me back and asked me if there were any listings that I saw that I liked. I explained to her that since I was looking to book something on what was now the same date I was expecting to arrive, that the prices were much more expensive than what I had paid. The only listing I found with a host that was willing to take my party at such short notice was $400 more expensive than what I had paid. Airbnb only gave me a $200 coupon, leaving me to come up with $200 more than what I had paid, all for something that was not my fault.
What the representative said next is what really blew my mind. I was informed that because I paid for the booking in two installments, instead of them transferring the money I’d already paid onto the new reservation, they had to charge me for the new one and I had to wait for the refund for the cancelled one. After escalating to a supervisor, I was told that the funds would be released to my bank in 1-2 hours and all I had to do was call the bank so they could make it available to me.
While speaking with my bank I learned that was hogwash and poppycock, told to pacify me and get me off the phone. Meanwhile, my account was severely overdrawn and I still had a flight to catch in the morning. To make matters worse, I only got an automated confirmation of a refund about the first half of my payment, which finally posted to my account on Tuesday. I never received an automated confirmation about the second refund. When I inquired via chat about the second portion of the refund, I was told the funds were never received.
Like I said, when I booked the reservation, I paid half upfront. I received several confirmation and reminder emails that the second half would be charged on Thursday, December 18th. Airbnb charged my account for the second payment on Wednesday December 17th, and sent me a confirmation email dated for Thursday, December 18th, thanking me for my payment.
What the heck is going on at Airbnb? Why are they charging folks earlier than they should, and sending confirmations for a later date? The first representative I spoke to that Wednesday night, when I called in irate about being prematurely charged, processed a refund for that payment. I escalated to a supervisor because I did not want to be charged again on the correct date while waiting for a refund, since that would mean double the amount would be taken from my account. The supervisor then cancelled the refund, kept the money and compensated me for my overdraft fees.
Fast forward to 2:00 AM last Friday, the day of my trip, when I was going back and forth with Airbnb. After reading the message that the second payment was never received, I demanded the supervisor I had been speaking with call me back. She called me back and told me the last message was an error; they did receive the second payment and they did process the refund. She typed an email to me confirming the two refunds and their respective amounts. A week later, I have not received the second refund. If they were both processed at the same time, shouldn’t they be in my account by now?
The madness does not stop there. The new host that I booked with was freaking me out from the beginning. She asked me the purpose of my trip, and constantly drilled that she lives in a conservative neighborhood and that her home is not a “party house”. I understood that – no one wants to have problems with their neighbors. However, the first red flag came when she asked me how my guests and I know each other. I let her know we’re coworkers and classmates, but I could not understand what that had to do with anything.
The second red flag came when she called me before we checked in. She let me know that once I got to the house, I would hold my license up to the camera at the doorbell, she’d verify my identity and give me a code to put in the keypad and gain access to the house. No problem. The issue is that she said the latch on her door “sticks”. She said we’d have to hold the latch tightly and push really hard on the door to get in. Every time we went to go inside the house, it literally felt like we were breaking in. I’m so glad we had two strong guys with us, because if not, I doubt us ladies would have been able to get in.
The third issue arose when we returned to the house Saturday night at about 2:00 AM and attempted to turn on the downstairs heater. It was 27 degrees outside. We are South Floridians who are not used to the cold, so we were beyond shocked when we tried to turn the heater on and discovered that the thermostat was now asking for a PIN number. I felt bad about contacting the host at such an hour, but heat in such conditions is like a basic human right. It couldn’t wait.
I practically found myself in an argument with this woman. The most unsettling part about this text exchange was the realization that she was eavesdropping on me and my guests. Notice her comment to me about her power bill. I never mentioned anything to her about it, but one of my guests had just said the reason she blocked us from adjusting the temperature was because she did not want to have to pay a high power bill. It was so scary that she turned around and mentioned it. She claims she was just clarifying, but who clarifies something like that without a question being asked?
We learned that the system she used to identify me at the door and remotely adjust the thermostat is called NEST and it provides clear audio and visual surveillance. I’m still creeped out by this. To make matters worse, the house smelled dank and musty when we first got there. We had to spray everything down with Febreeze. The host only gave us one set of towels each for the weekend. Imagine being a person that is used to changing towels daily, and having to use the same towel all weekend.
She claimed she had a cleaning crew but the house was horribly dusty. There was broken glass on the floor in one of the bedrooms and dog hair everywhere. The pots, pans and dish sponges were filthy. We had to buy dish detergent and new sponges so we could properly clean the dishes and cook our breakfast. I did my very best to overlook this situation, but Airbnb nearly ruined my birthday that I had spent months planning.
I cannot believe that a company that is supposedly the standard in home rentals is so careless and irresponsible with its guests and with who they allow to host. I’ve since learned that Airbnb does not even do background checks on its hosts. What if the lady that hosted us is some kind of sick voyeur and records or watches the people that she rents her home to all the time? I will never, ever, deal with Airbnb again.