A group of six UK pensioners, including one seriously ill from multiple sclerosis, had their six-months-in-advanced booked double 70th birthday celebration dream holiday to Florence, Italy cancelled the morning of check-in by a bait and switch scammer.
This “Superhost” was allowed to rack up 39 separate cancellations in a year. Rather than react to complaints and repeated scams, Airbnb simply did nothing, allowing him to ruin ten other families’ holidays over the next two months as new victims flew in from as far as the US, Algeria, and China. On the day of check-in, they found their “booked” apartment cancelled, forcing them to either take his alternative or be stranded in Florence, thousands of miles from home.
The “Romantic Flat in Historical Centre” with its high beautifully decorated ceilings, luxurious bedrooms and bathrooms and large dining area, looking out onto Il dumo, the famous domed cathedral in the centre of Florence, was used as bait to trap unsuspecting families into booking with the host. However, after flying thousands of miles to start their holiday months later, the flaky host shockingly informed them upon arrival in Italy that their booking was in fact cancelled, using excuses ranging from “the family needs it back up as an emergency” to “there has been a burst water main”.
He then offered a replacement, a run-of-the-mill bog-standard apartment, miles outside the centre of Florence and a far cry from the luxury of the booked one. This was done “as a favour” to the duped holiday makers, either at the same price or at a premium, as it was the middle of high season; “unfortunate, but that’s how it is.”
The group of pensioners were old friends who had booked the apartment in December to celebrate a double 70th birthday. One of the group, a 78-year old, had unfortunately been diagnosed with a serious case of multiple sclerosis two years before and his health and mobility had worsened drastically. This debilitating disease meant that this would be his final trip abroad. He loved Florence and Italy and was determined to enjoy it.
The pain caused by even basic movement such as walking meant that he had special requirements such as as a bath – he was unable to stand in a shower safely – and also an entrance with a lift, as stairs were also hugely problematic. They had booked this apartment so far in advance to ensure that his special needs were catered for, with two baths a lift, no steps and four bedrooms with a large dining area provided. They were also in the centre of Florence, minimising difficulty travelling.
However, when they were informed that instead of the luxury four-bedroom apartment that they had booked six months ago and had looked forward to, they were instead offered an insufficient three-bedroom flat, miles outside Florence, or otherwise find an alternative in the middle of summer season on the same day that they had flown in. They were forced to look for any last minute alternative and as you can imagine, none even remotely comparable, or suitable, were available.
They were forced to book two separate locations, via Booking.com, one thirty minutes outside paying a lot more, for a lot less, due to the last minute arrangements and total lack of availability. There were no baths, and there were no lifts resulting in a host of unwelcome mobility issues simply washing and entering and exiting the properties. The size and standard of the décor was woefully inferior to our original booking, being stuck with small, dark rooms with a lack of closet space.
One of the main and important features that we had most sought after was the large dining area, enabling us to eat together in our own comfortable and relaxed environment, without the hassle and stress – and expense – of having to eat out all the time. Neither of our replacement properties had a dining area even remotely sufficient to house all six of us, meaning we had to eat every single meal out, burdening everyone with significant additional unwanted expenses.
Instead of buying breakfast materials at a supermarket, every breakfast cost about €80 and each lunch and dinner at least in excess of €120. Suddenly, an additional £2,525.76 had to be immediately found and paid by six pensioners, most of whom had scrimped and saved to get the original sum paid, forcing them into debt and incredibly difficult, stressful situations as they attempted to source their share in just a few hours. This also impacted greatly on spending money available on the holiday.
The main intention of the holiday, namely living together, was now gone. Instead of a joint holiday and a joint birthday, they were now two separate parties, and a full fifteen minutes apart from each other by car. This meant that rather than being in the same property and location, they now had the difficulty, as well as the additional expense, of having to use taxis to transport one party to the other numerous times daily.
This resulted in significant previously unnecessary monies having to be spent over the duration of the holiday, not to mention the organisational and operational stress and effort and the extra time that this all took, getting everyone too and from the two separate locations, miles apart and away from the centre of Florence. Indeed, one of the elderly couples did not even have smartphones, which caused several difficult situations. These issues ruined everyone’s enjoyment of the holiday and sucked away time earmarked to enjoy the city and each other’s company, as originally planned and intended.
When the group got back after this spoiled expensive and ruined holiday, they investigated the host in greater detail and was shocked to discover that he had perpetuated the same cancellation trick on 29 other families during the preceding nine months, almost every single week. The group immediately complained to Airbnb but they tried to pass it off as an “isolated incident” and refused to take action. They then refused to compensate the group for the loss of enjoyment suffered and the fact that they had fallen victim to a scam artist, closing the matter.
The group persisted with their complaints and tried to highlight the scam. Eventually, three months later, they relented and offered to refund the difference between the booked holiday and the replacement one. This still did not address the loss of enjoyment or the issues raised and the group was concerned that the scammer was still free to continue with the trick.
Airbnb’s case resolution specialist had now gotten involved, promising a fair and unbiased investigation. He eventually came to the conclusion that the “matter was wholly unacceptable, and Airbnb does not tolerate this kind of behaviour. When the reservation was cancelled the host was penalised in violation of our hosting standard. This would greatly impact his hosting here at Airbnb.”
When pressed what the penalty was, or how exactly it “would greatly impact his hosting at Airbnb”, he repeatedly refused to say. He also refused the claim for compensation, only offering €181 (the difference spent) to resolve the matter without addressing damages and loss of enjoyment suffered. He also failed to say why the host hadn’t been stopped from operating.
The elderly group were shocked to discover that since their complaint, the host had continued to repeat the scam, accepting bookings for the apartment in central Florence and then cancelling on the day of check in, once the families had arrived in Italy. Since the complaint was made by the elderly group, he had cancelled bookings a further ten times in two months with seven of those cancellations done on the day of check in when families had already landed in Italy from countries such as Brazil, USA, China, Algeria and UK. Each one had left comments on their dreadful experience on the host’s page:
“[The host] cancelled the booking three hours before the check-in when I was already in Firenze. Even before the cancellation, he did not reply to my inquiry. Out of blue, without responding to none of my inquiry, he cancelled. The only explanation I got was that he had an issue to accommodate me and my company. This has never happened to me during my use of service provided by the Airbnb. I am strongly against his status as super host given his irresponsible and unthoughtful dealing of the situations.”
“The host cancelled on us the morning of our reservation (without explanation) which totally messed up all our plans. Looking at his history this happens often. Beware when booking. This guy is flaky!”
“Bait and switch scam artist! Do not book with this person. They show one apt and when you show up, they try to give you a dump not even comparable while you feel like a fish over a barrel. Leaving you and your family 1000’s of miles from home with little choice. Find another rental. This guy is a fake and a scammer!”
“Avoid! Well where to start. Unfortunately we never got to stay at this host’s Airbnb. We had been confirmed for many weeks. On the run up to our holiday I messaged [the host] numerous times regarding checking in process but he didn’t respond. On the day of arrival [the host] sent a computerised cancellation with no explanation or apology leaving us stranded in Florence with no where to stay! Airbnb were good in assisting with our situation but this should not have been necessary and to date we still have had no apology or explanation from [the host]. Avoid at all costs, it’s just not worth it best book somewhere where you can actually stay.”
The damning evidence was sent to Airbnb, demanding why they had not acted since their complaint and stopped the host from repeating the scam. However, Airbnb refused to respond. Our party is in the process of taking Airbnb to court for loss of enjoyment and damages and essentially causing their problem by allowing this person to perpetuate thirty cancellations before they had even booked with him.
Airbnb is responsible for their and indeed all of the 39 victims cases. If Airbnb had cared about its customers’ suffering at the hands of this con-artist, then they would have immediately shut him down. However, they were getting commission out of it, regardless of how that commission was earned, and allowed – and continue to allow – scammers to operate in this disgraceful and damaging way within its business.
Incredibly, the group discovered that subsequently all of the negative reviews (above) have now been removed, allowing more unsuspecting victims to suffer. Now, unbelievably, only 15 reviews (instead of the 498, including the 39 cancellations) are viewable, with him receiving 4.93 out of 5 stars. This disgraceful fact shows exactly how Airbnb operates and the sad fact is that this host continues to operate in this shady way today.
This sad and murky episode is completely unacceptable. People should start voting with their feet and spreading the word that Airbnb is not deserving of their business. There is a clear and real danger that if you book with them then the booking is fake and will be cancelled when you arrive.
Do not trust Airbnb. Do not use Airbnb. They will leave you stranded. It’s all about the money for them. They do not care about your welfare.