Travelers Beware Or Your Money May Disappear Into Thin Air(bnb)!

I’ve been a huge fan of Airbnb since we booked our first stay in 2015. Through the years we’ve stayed in houses and apartments all across the globe for a fraction of the price of what a hotel would cost. Since most properties are nestled in residential areas and have all the amenities of home, the Airbnb experience makes you feel less like a tourist and more like a local. It's nice to come "home" after a long day of sightseeing and make yourself a nice dinner and relax. I’ve sung Airbnb's praises in countless blogs throughout the years.

Amsterdam, London, Montreal, New York City, St. Thomas, Arizona

In well over a dozen stays in the past six years we’ve only had two sketchy experiences using Airbnb. The first time was in Montreal when a host stopped communicating with us the day we arrived then pulled a “bait and switch” scheme and left a friend and I stranded in a coffee shop for two hours wondering if we would have a roof over our heads that night. The second bad experience was in St. Thomas (USVI) when my wife and I rented a filthy, bug-infested oceanfront condo from an absentee host that lived thousands of miles away.

“After these bad experiences with Airbnb we quickly learned to only book with Superhosts, who are held to a higher standard by Airbnb than run-of-the-mill hosts.”

We chalked both of these bad experiences up to individual host negligence (St. Thomas)/shadiness (Montreal) and not Airbnb itself. In both of these instances Airbnb customer support actually appeared to care and be helpful in doing the right thing and reaching an equitable resolution. After these bad experiences with Airbnb my wife and I quickly learned to only book with Superhosts, who are held to a higher standard by Airbnb than run-of-the-mill hosts.

How The Honeymoon Came To An Abrupt End

The honeymoon phase of our relationship with Airbnb officially came to an end last week. Let me explain exactly how it happened. In fall of 2019 my wife and I planned an epic trip to Ireland for August of 2020. We bought the Rick Steves guide book, did lots of research, and booked three Airbnbs for our two week stay on the Emerald Isle. We were taking our son on his first overseas trip and for the grand tour - Dublin, The Ring of Kerry, The Cliffs of Moher, Dingle, and lots more. I couldn't wait to see how this trip would expand his horizons as only international travel can. I was also looking forward to finding a cozy pub, listening to some local music, and experiencing a hearty Irish meal.

Alas, there was no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. The global pandemic hit and like most other international travelers, we were forced to cancel our trip in 2020. When we cancelled, Airbnb offered us a credit towards a future stay in lieu of a cash refund. They credited us the full amount we paid and we planned on rescheduling our trip to Ireland as soon as we could so we were okay with that. No harm, no foul. We actually thought we might be able to reschedule the trip for this year but we underestimated the virus’ staying power and impact on international travel. With the threat of future quarantines and uncertainties due to the delta variant we just aren’t prepared to take the chance of booking international travel just yet.

My wife logged onto Airbnb recently and discovered our nearly $1,500 in credits expire at the end of this year. After several frustrating calls and emails with Airbnb customer support we learned that they won’t budge in extending our credits to 2022 citing a system limitation that won’t let them extend the date of the credit or allow them to process a refund.

So we’re forced to either travel this year, which we likely can’t, or lose a very substantial sum of money. One creative Airbnb representative we spoke with, however, encouraged us to use an “alternative work around”. This workaround entailed coming to an agreement with a host beforehand to book a stay in 2021 and have the host agree to change the reservations to 2022 on their end. I can’t believe any reputable company would ask a customer to do this and I can’t imagine what a headache this will be for the hosts.

“This lawsuit on behalf of hosts will do little to deter Airbnb’s proposed initial public offering. Although it will generate negative headlines, large companies like Airbnb often treat class action lawsuits as the price of doing business. — Dennis Schaal

After a little online research we discovered we aren’t the only ones who’ve experienced this kind of treatment. Many Airbnb guests are complaining online about losing their credits and Airbnb refusing to extend dates or offer refunds. We discovered there is even a class action lawsuit brought about by hosts against Airbnb to seek refunds and damages from the company. To add insult to injury, customers are reporting that they are being booted off Airbnb if they make too much of a fuss about their grievances publicly, although I can't attest to the validity of those claims.

Airbnb became a publicly traded company in December of 2020. We all know as soon as a company is listed on the stock exchange there is great pressure to increase earnings each quarter or stock prices plummet. The only reason I can think of for them treating customers like this is they need to declare a good financial year in 2021 to make up for the massive losses sustained in the travel and tourism sector during the height of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Forcing customers to use or lose credits from cancelled 2020 trips in 2021 all but ensures this. This is a huge roll of the dice on their part because of the potential of alienating longtime loyal customers like us.

I can’t speak for others but as long time customers we feel disappointed and cheated. Money was taken from us for a service that was, and probably never will be provided. After this experience, for the first time in years, we’re looking to other Airbnb competitors like VRBO for future trips.

Travelers, Protect Yourselves

My advice to anyone booking on Airbnb is to look out for yourself in the following ways:

  1. Only book with Superhosts;
  2. Read and make sure you COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND both Airbnb’s and the host's cancellation policy and all of the fine print in the Airbnb listings before you book or you may discover your money has vanished into thin air(bnb); and
  3. Last but not least, read host and property reviews extremely carefully for any red flags. Also be suspicious of many short, positive reviews piled on top of negative ones. We’ve learned this is a common practice to bury negative reviews on the website. If hosts manage multiple properties check reviews for each of their properties.

Best of luck to you and happy traveling.

With Gratitude,

Eric Vance Walton

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