It was the kind of Airbnb horror story that any self-respecting journalist would write into a lede for an easy takedown story on the sharing economy.
It involved a “weird” rental owner, drug paraphernalia and a request to pay for the unit in cash — all red flags for this consumer advocate.
Coincidentally, it happened to a colleague a few days ago. I wish I’d had the new executive contacts for Airbnb posted. A polite email to one of them would have probably taken care of this problem immediately.
But that’s not how it went down.
Her daughter checked out the rental and decided she didn’t want the unit, called Airbnb to cancel, and received a verbal confirmation.
“Well, apparently it wasn’t canceled,” she says. “And they say there is no record of it. It was finally canceled, but a day later, and the apartment owner is not refunding the money.”
The company couldn’t help her recover the $700 she’d spent, either.
“Airbnb says their hands are tied,” she told me.
Here’s where having the executive contacts would have come in handy. As is so often the case with the problems we handle, there’s contract “right,” and there’s doing-the-right-thing “right.” Airbnb was following its contract to the letter but still leaving a disappointed customer behind.
Plus, it was a colleague. How could I not get involved?
Airbnb and other rental sites are struggling to be accepted by the mainstream lodging industry. They certainly have the respect of Wall Street, with their billion-dollar valuations, but customers complain about their lack of standards. I covered these challenges in my USA Today column yesterday.
The way I see it, either Airbnb and others have to adjust their guests’ expectations — in other words, lower them — or raise their hosts’ standards. I hope it’s the latter, but I also know there’s an economic reality and practical considerations. It’s not easy to turn your apartment into a hotel, in other words.
But even so, you shouldn’t throw the book in your guests’ face. Not when they’re dealing with a suspicious owner who demands to be paid in cash and has drug paraphernalia on the property. There’s just no excuse for that. If my colleague’s account is completely accurate, Airbnb should not allow someone like that to rent out a room.
I contacted Airbnb, and to its credit, it responded almost immediately.
“Someone called, admitted their error and agreed to refund the full amount,” my colleague said.
I’m happy to hear about this resolution — and hopeful that if it happens to someone else, they’ll now have a place to turn.