Airbnb SadnessUpdate: airbnb has issued me a full refund, including the service fee. Awesome! They also sent me a box of chocolate covered strawberries at my next Airbnb stop, which was super nice.tl;dr:
I made an airbnb reservation, felt unsafe and left early, and was unable to get any of my money back. The effort to do so spiraled into a huge mess. I definitely made mistakes in this process, but I wish that airbnb would provide a more structured way to mediate disputes between hosts and guests.Full story:
I am doing a summer trip with my girlfriend. In support of this, I made three Airbnb reservations. It was my first time using the service, so I wasn't totally familiar with how everything worked. The first one had been a terrible experience. I sure hope the next two are better, because if not, I won't want to use Airbnb again. Throughout the experience, I was making do with a phone, and occasionally an iPad. This made it more difficult to use the Airbnb site. Also, I had other stuff taking up my time on the trip, so it's not like I had all day to sit around and deal with this mess.
Here is the timeline of events:2AM 8 July:
Arrive at the unit for the first night of a three night stay. We enter with the key left under the mat, as discussed with the host. My girlfriend and I are a little sketched out, but we are so tired we sleep anyway. (My girlfriend has a hard time getting to sleep because she is so uncomfortable.) The place is a little dirty and run down; various surfaces look like they havent been dusted in months; we never met the host so we don't know if he is a generally nice guy and not a predator; the used bar of soap in the shower is a bit frightening; the bedroom door didn't lock; there is a random pile of laundry in the corner; etc. I woke up in the middle of the night, and my first sleep-drunk thought was to check to see if I still had all my organs. Yes, perhaps my expectations were too high, or I'm too paranoid, but at a gut level I felt unsafe.11AM 8 July:
We decide that we are sufficiently sketched out that we want to find another place to stay. I call Airbnb support to explore our options, and see if we could get some of our money back. I got through to Lieren C., who advised that I change the reservation to be checking out today, rather than cancel, because it will optimize me getting a partial refund and looking best on the host's and my Airbnb profiles. I asked, "It sounds like altering the reservation is better than canceling it in every way. Why would anyone cancel?" Lieren responded that altering is always preferable to canceling. In retrospect, I didn't quite understand that altering is dependent on the host's agreement, and if you have an uncooperative host, you're better off canceling. Furthermore, it now looks like I should have taken pictures documenting why I felt unsafe, but Lieren failed to help me out by suggesting that this could be a good idea.
6:30 PM 8 July: After being out all day, we decide that would like to move to a new location. We return to the unit, pack up our things, change the reservation to be checking out on the 8th, and leave. I text the host to tell him what is happening. I was unsure if I should be honest or not about why we were leaving. I decided not to tell him that we were leaving because we felt unsafe, because I didn't want him to get annoyed and uncooperative. Here is the text conversation (we communicated entirely over texts):
Nick: "hey. Something came up and my girlfriend and I need to leave town early. I changed the reservation on airbnb so we are checking out today. Sorry for the short notice."
Host: "But I'm losing money cause I had someone else slotted for that time."
Host: "I'm getting screwed here."
Host: "Where is key?"
Nick: "under the mat, right where we found it."
Nick: "I recognize that this is not an ideal situation for you. I am sorry about that. This is not an ideal situation for me either."
Host: "true. But I should not lose money due to other people's situations."
Host: "I have a 3 night minimum."
(that is untrue. I checked the listing online, and it said the minimum was 2 nights.)
Nick: "The listing says it's a 2 night minimum. What if I pay for tonight even though I won't be there, but I won't pay for the last night, and we'll call it good?"
Host: "yep that's cool."
(I use a windows phone, which doesn't allow one to take screenshots, but I can find some way to verify these texts if anyone cares.)
I go to airbnb.com
from a phone, and try to submit another reservation change request, this time to be checking out on the 9th. However, the system won't take the request, because I already have a request pending. 7:05 PM
Nick: "ok, it says that I can't change it because there is already a change pending. Can you reject the first change, then submit one to me to check out a day early? Then I'll accept that, and we will be good to go."
Host: "I can't see it."
Nick: "Well that's frustrating. I'll call airbnb later tonight to see if I can straighten things out."
Host: "Ok I'll lok [sic] for it but I don't see any alerts on my account I'm in now"
(While all this is happening, I'm trying to continue with all the planned activities for my trip, making everything more stressful and difficult.)9:00 PM 8 July:
I call airbnb and explain this whole mess to Kristopher Y. He says that he will email instructions to the host on how to use airbnb.com
to change the reservation as we had agreed. In the airbnb follow-up email, Kristopher writes, "It was my pleasure to reach out to [Host] and provide them with a link they could use to respond to the alter reservation request you sent and how he can send one of his own." 9:14 PM 8 July:
Nick: "I called airbnb. They said they emailed you instructions on what to do."
Host: "Ok."11:09 PM 8 July:
I had a text conversation with my brother:
Bro: "Where are you?"
Nick: "We are at a hotel in Beverly Hills. K was sketched out by the airbnb place so we left."
Bro: "Haha oh shit really? What was sketchy about it?"
Nick: "Shower was a bit weird; we never met the host in person; house was not 100% clean; felt empty and isolated as if something would jump out of the closet; bedroom door didn't lock"
Bro: "Weirdddd fuck that"7:17 PM 9 July:
Nick: "Hey did you get a chance to update the reservation?"
Host: "Dude I swear I don't see the option too?"
Nick: "Did you get an email from airbnb support?"
Host: "Nope not one."11 PM 9 July:
I call airbnb support again, explain this situation again, and ask what I should do. The person I reached said that the host had been sent an email. This means that one of the following must be true:
* Airbnb's systems have a bug and show that the email was sent when it wasn't
* The email ended up in the host's spam folder (host later denied this)
* Airbnb is lying that they sent the email (seems unlikely)
* The host is lying that he never received the email (which he has motivation to do, so he can get as much money from me as possible.)
Airbnb support said they would follow up again with the host, but again the host didn't report hearing anything from them. (Also, I didn't get the typical post-support email from them either.)8 PM 10 July
Nick: "Hey did you get anything from airbnb today?"
Host: "Did you call them?"
Nick: "Yep. They said they sent you an email. Did you check your spam? It may have ended up there."
Host: "Im there now. Nothing I promise."
So, at this point, I'm wondering: is the host honestly struggling to use airbnb, or is he just screwing with me so he can get all my money? It seems clear that I should have just cancelled as soon as I was sketched out, and avoided this whole mess. I wish that airbnb phone support had counseled me that changing a reservation is impossible if the host is acting obstructively. 11 July
The original reservation ended on the 10th, thus making changing it a moot point. Airbnb paid the host. I decided to switch to asking for a refund, although admittedly my approach was not good:
Nick: "well, in any event, there's no point now in trying to change the reservation since it has long since ended and airbnb has given you my money. We have two options: you issue a refund through airbnb for the price of one night ($110) as we agreed earlier, or we go on airbnb and leave each other bad reviews. The choice is yours."
The host felt like I was threatening him. In retrospect, I can totally see how he felt that, but at the time I just thought I was stating the obvious. I thought that he was planning on leaving me a bad review and keeping all my money anyway. Also, when I threatened to give him a bad review, he may have thought that I planned on lying, which I didn't. I was just going to honestly say that his unit creeped me out, and he was generally obstructive and difficult to deal with.
This was upsetting to the host, and we got into a big mess after that.
Host: "Wow I was more than ready to offer you a refund even b4 that text..."
Host: "But since you posed a threat, I choose option two."
Was he really ready to offer me a refund? I sorta doubt it. It's easy for him to say now and make me look like a douche. But why was he all of a sudden going to become nice and helpful when he'd been generally adversarial throughout the process? In retrospect, I clearly should have just asked for a refund first without making anything that could be construed as a threat.
Is the host really unfriendly and obstructive, or was this all a big misunderstanding? I don't know. Perhaps communicating entirely over text contributed to a breakdown in communication, but it's nice that everything is documented.
So, I come away from my first ever Airbnb experience $390 poorer, without having received lodging I felt safe in, and with a whole lot of emotional stress. I definitely did not make every choice perfectly, but it didn't feel like the host had any interest in being accommodating or understanding. Also, Airbnb could have done more to help a first-timer like me understand how to navigate such issues. For instance, it would have been really nice to have a single point of contact on their support team, instead of having to re-explain the situation each time I called. They also could provide a "read receipt" on reservation change requests, so I could know if the host was bullshitting me or not.
The host will now go leave me a bad review on my airbnb profile, but after the huge mess that this turned in to, I can't say it really bothers me. I have two more airbnb stays booked, and if those don't go really well, I will just stick to hotels in the future.