My first Airbnb experience

I know this isn't representative of all Airbnb experiences, but I felt my story was worth sharing. Names of Airbnb reps have been changed.

Background:

My friend and I traveled to Barcelona as a stop on our vacation. For our stay, we looked to book an apartment via Airbnb. I have many friends who've had great experiences with Airbnb, and I've been waiting for the chance to try it out.

A few days before we headed to Barcelona, we spent a couple of hours finding suitable properties on the site and contacted about 15 potential hosts to confirm availability. One of them got back with a confirmation, and I promptly accepted the reservation. The host even sent me a thank you note. My reservation was complete and confirmed.

The next day, after finishing a trip to the next city on our journey, I checked my email. A few hours eariler, roughly 25 hours before my scheduled check-in, the host (Michel) canceled my booking. The only explanation I got at that time was that the property was no longer available. Airbnb's support rep opened an issue with me using a boilerplate "reservation canceled" response that gave me two options:

  1. Find another booking, with up to a $150 credit to help make up the difference of a more expensive property
  2. Opt for a full refund

Since I was still going to be arriving in Barcelona the next day, I scrambled to try and find another place. Unfortunately, every other property I had applied for had received a response from the owner saying that the place was already booked. None of these hosts actually updated their calendars to reflect that, so it's clear that this is a widespread issue with Airbnb.

I had a few back-and-forth emails with Airbnb customer support (Jane), explaining that I was not satisfied with their response. I don't believe it mattered that this booking was made only a couple days in advance. It could have been scheduled months in advance, and I still would have been 25hrs from my arrival and without a place to stay.

Over the next few hours I vented some of my frustration on Twitter:

The rest of the story is covered pretty well by my detailed email response to Airbnb, which I sent in response to an additional follow-up by a support supervisor (Ellen) that arrived the morning after my tweets about my superior experience with HouseTrip. While I was finishing the response, a member of their support staff called me on the phone, which is noted inline.

Email response to Airbnb

Hi Ellen,

I had a reservation that was supposed to start yesterday, canceled on Monday. I spent all day Monday scrambling to find an alternate place, and Jane's placating response did nothing to help me in this search. I had already applied to many of the properties she recommended, only to find out that they were already booked. In spite of telling me this, the owners still did not update the calendars for their properties, and those properties still showed as available.

I applied for several other properties that I found on Monday, with only disappointing results. I made sure to avoid the owners who I knew did not keep their calendars up to date, which, unfortunately, eliminated the majority of properties from consideration. After hours of effort on my part, I did not find a suitable property via Airbnb that was actually available, so I booked a property via HouseTrip.

Coincidentally, that confirmed booking was also canceled the next morning. However, rather than send me condescending emails explaining to me how I was supposed to use their service (as Airbnb did), HouseTrip reached out to us and assigned a personal representative to assist in the way you seem to be offering now. Over the next few hours, this representative worked closely with us to directly call the hosts from a list of acceptable properties we gave them. In addition, they offered us a 10% discount on any property we booked, understanding that this was in no way our fault.

With Airbnb, I wrote several support emails highlighting my concerns. Most important was the fact that you charged the host a fee for canceling on me at the last minute, but in no way passed this fee along to the person who was substantially inconvenienced by this fiasco (me). Sure, you offered to help make up some of the difference on a higher-priced property, only if booked to replace the trip that had been canceled. Even if that had been a discount I could apply towards bookings of any price, it wouldn't have mattered as I actually couldn't find any suitable places that were in fact available. I explained this very clearly to Jane, but it didn't seem that she understood or cared.

So I complained loudly on Twitter about this, voicing my much better experience with HouseTrip. You are now reaching out to me the day after my stay began in Barcelona, offering to give me the same kind of assistance I really could have used 2 days ago. Unfortunately, it's too little too late.

I don't intend to use Airbnb in the future unless these concerns are addressed:

  1. Do something to more strongly encourage property owners to keep their schedules up to date. Sometimes this happens out of laziness, and sometimes they intentionally leave the calendars outdated so those properties can function as an advertising/funneling mechanism to direct customers at remaining properties that are actually available. Very rarely are the schedules out of date because of a race condition (i.e. minutes earlier the property was booked via another channel). Some ideas:
    • Force them to update their calendar when they tell the customer the property has already been booked
    • Charge them a small fee when the calendar is not accurate. If they've already booked the property via another site, then a $5-10 fee won't matter much to them. If they're using lots of properties in order to advertise for other properties, then the fees will add up. Fees can easily be avoided by spending a few timely minutes updating the availability calendar.
    • Penalize hosts whose calendars are routinely outdated by lowering their ranking in search results or temporarily hiding them.
  2. Do not make money when your users get screwed, ever. Until you offered this coupon, you were literally profiting from my misery.
  3. If a traveler's stay is canceled by the host, after confirmation, within a few days of the start of their trip, it should be the top priority to help them find a new property that suits their needs. Don't leave them stranded, scrambling for wifi access while in transit, stuck waiting on slow responses from hosts in a city where they have already seen that >90% of the "available" properties are already booked. To a lesser degree, hosts could use this same assistance when travelers cancel at the last minute, although in that case they're not at risk of being stranded in a foreign city, so it's less urgent.

I'm sure you can come up with other ways to address my concerns to (1), but the bottom line is that hosts have no incentive to keep their calendars up to date. In fact, hosts with many properties have an incentive not to do so, as it gives them the ability to dominate the search results and use that dominance to funnel customers into their remaining available properties. It also lets Airbnb look great by being able to claim there are many more properties available than is true in reality, so there's an obvious conflict of interest here. I think the balance here needs to be heavily shifted in favor of the traveler.

Although it is 2 days too late, I do appreciate you reaching out in an effort to better this situation, which is why I took the time to write such a detailed response.

(at this point in the email, I received a phone call from an Airbnb rep attempting to help me out. I informed them that I was almost done writing this detailed response, gave them a quick summary, and asked them to contact me again if they wished after reading this through).

Because I've been complaining about this experience on Twitter, I plan on sharing this response as well later on today. I feel like I should more fully explain my experience to others that heard my initial concerns. I will change the names of support reps prior to publishing. Hopefully that is alright with you.

Thanks again for reaching out to attempt to make this right.

Sincerely,

Blake Gentry
(A traveler that would really like to be a satisfied customer of your service.)