My Airbnb.com home is a guesthouse – how about a refund?

When Kevin Calaba reserves a home on Airbnb.com, he expects a home. When he gets a guest house, he expects a refund. Is he expecting too much?

Question: I am writing to express my frustration and disappointment with Airbnb. We have been loyal Airbnb users as well as highly reviewed guests during stays in Milan, Portland and Santa Monica.

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We recently booked another rental in Los Angeles. Six months before we were supposed to arrive, a friend was in the area of the home and he called us to let us know that the house was a guesthouse located in the backyard of a primary residence and not in fact a standalone home as advertised and described in the listing.

This in no way was indicated in any photographs nor was the property described as being adjacent to another home. I prefer the privacy of our own space. I reviewed Airbnb’s refund policy, believed that we would lose no money by canceling nearly half a year in advance, and pressed a single button to cancel the reservation before booking another Airbnb property for the duration of our stay.

We’ve been debited $5,283 for our canceled stay. Airbnb’s resolutions center hasn’t been able to help us. I look at Airbnb’s refusal to provide us with a refund as an act of theft. Can you help us get our money back? — Kevin Calaba, Brooklyn, NY

Answer: You should have received a home, as advertised. But what was advertised? You carefully reviewed the listing and found that indeed, buried deep within the property listing, was an “oh-by-the-way” mention that it was a guest house. To some — including, apparently, Airbnb — that was enough to close your case. But not for me.

You actually don’t have as many rights as you’d think. Check out Airbnb’s terms, which state that it doesn’t control the content in a listing or that it’s not responsible for it. I’m not impressed by that kind of language, and I’ll bet most people booking a home through Airbnb have no idea that such fine print exists.

Well, I guess they do now.

You followed your steps to resolution, filing a complaint through the Airbnb “help” section on its website. When that failed, you could have appealed your case to one of Airbnb’s executives. I list them on my site.

I’m not sure how far it would have gotten you. Airbnb was interpreting its own terms correctly yet arriving at the wrong conclusion. I believe your host intentionally misled you with the intent of pocketing your money, even though it’s likely the room would have been resold. That’s just wrong.

I contacted Airbnb and it processed a full refund for your rental.

11 thoughts on “My Airbnb.com home is a guesthouse – how about a refund?

  1. I can’t comment on the specific property in Santa Monica.

    But for what it is worth, every AirBnB listing includes a very prominent and very clear cancellation policy. The property is classified as Strict, Moderate, or Flexible. The definitions are easily found, and they are consistent across every property listed on AirBnB. For my money, it’s a much better system than you’ll find for hotels, where every property has an individualised cancellation policy full of gotchas buried in the fine print.

    Moral of the story…. don’t book an Airbnb property with a “Strict” cancellation policy unless you’re absolutely sure of your decision.

    1. Good advise, but … although “Strict” is already a red flag – a smell test and the attempt to hide the real nature of the rental can invalidate any such restriction and any T&C of AirBnB.
      I just hope that AirBnB – forced the owner of that property to make corrections.

  2. I think that, lately, there are too many cases in this site
    regarding cancelation of non-refundable reservations. I’m afraid that the
    underlying problem is that the cancelation policies are becoming more and more
    restricted.

    However, the solution cannot be to book something that is
    non-refundable, and then try to get help from everybody to get a refund when
    something happens, but to DO NOT BOOK NON-REFUNDABLE FARES. If we all did the
    same, companies would offer better refundable fares.

    In the case of Airbnb, I’ve always found the cancellation
    policy very clear, so I just don’t book anything with “strict” cancellation
    policy.

    This case can be slightly different because of the wrong
    description of the property, but in that case, the customer shouldn’t have
    cancelled the reservation though the website knowing that it is a non-refundable
    fare, but contacted Airbnb to complain about the wrong description, although
    most probably it wouldn’t have changed anything.

    Anyway, I cannot understand how so many people can book that
    expensive trips without knowing the cancellation policy…

  3. Am I assuming a DEBIT card was used? Personally I think you should warn travelers about using debit cards for hotels, car rentals, airlines. Any major travel related expense, especially the ones that “hold” a security deposit. Money is removed immediately, and disputes can take months to solve (without access to the actual money)

    1. Unless the debit cards have at least the same protections as credit cards under the law – stay away from them.
      The only time to use debit cards is when you want to part with your money forever.

  4. let the buyer beware. Looks like the owner of the property, has had few people reject his guesthouse, so carefully changed the description.

  5. recently looked at airbnb’s in Manhattan NYC & found almost all to be far more expensive than most 3 or 4 star suites hotels (with kitchens).
    Maybe it’s the time of year after New Years Day or maybe hotels in NYC are at war with airbnb because of perception that they might be losing business.

  6. I’d no sooner book through Airbnb than sleep in a tent in Central Park. I want an established brand where I don’t have to read the fine print because they value their brand and provide what is offered.

  7. so it was disclosed that it’s a guesthouse, the OP didn’t pay enough attention and then didn’t try to resolve the situation before jumping directly to cancellation?
    ok…

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