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What happens when a host cancels with Airbnb? (paulsavage.eu)
68 points by blackdogie on Feb 17, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 75 comments

Well, this is some way similar to the experience I had when renting through AirBNB in Rio de Janeiro during carnival. We were 4 people and booked a place with two bedrooms which said it accommodates 4 people. Sounds right.

When we showed up at the place, there were just 3 beds - a double bed in one room and a single bed in another.

Mind you, this being carnival season and stuff, we were paying a handsome amount for our rental. However, when we got in touch with the host (he lives in the US with his wife, a care taker opened the house for us..) he refused to acknowledge the issue. He said: "There's a couch in the living room, one of you can sleep there - that way the house accommodates 4 people".

So we got in touch with AirBNB support who said they would find us another place. Of course they couldn't - everything is sold out during carnival. So, they finally decided to refund the "AirBNB fee" to us (about USD 54) so that we could use it to buy an inflatable mattress to put on the floor.

I asked them why they couldn't give us a full refund considering this was absolutely unacceptable as they should take responsibility for incorrect listings that lead to situations like this. (for what it's worth, Expedia, etc. have a far higher standard of customer service when it comes to stuff like this) They replied saying that the host had already been paid out - as if that's our problem.. =/

Anyway, we had no choice but to stay so we did indeed buy an inflatable mattress... AirBNB's customer support however was pretty terrible and the host was a complete asshole to us.

Did you pay with a credit card? When companies try to blow me off like this and I used a credit card, the next email usually goes as follows:

> I'm sorry that we have been unable to resolve this issue. If {demand for refunded amount} is not processed by {date one week from now} I will begin the chargeback process with my credit card issuer {bankname} as I did not receive what I paid for. Please keep me updated if anything changes.

This puts the pinch on both the vendor that processed the transaction (since they're going to be the ones getting their merchant account dinged, and since they're going to lose whatever money was charged to the card + a fee for the chargeback) and the party ultimately responsible (wanna bet that AirBnB isn't going to be happy with your host for causing them to lose several hundred dollars on a transaction they only stood to gain $54 from in the first place?) Things should get resolved pretty quickly once you step outside of the box & assert whatever rights you have under your credit card agreement.

I've had to do this with Agoda over a reservation made in Thailand. And I used to sell stuff on Ebay - no one pulled this on me, but I know firsthand how much companies like PayPal hate it when their merchants get chargebacks.

In all respect I don't think issuing a chargeback is the way to go here. This doesn't solve anything really, and in fact it could really hurt a business. Why issue a chargeback when a company offers a refund ?

As I see it, the customer didn't get what they paid for. Instead of getting back a partial refund for what they didn't receive (4 beds vs 3 beds) they were refunded the fees that AirBnB charged - which according to AirBnB was because the host had already been paid out the rest of the money. Clearly AirBnB is capable of refunding this guy, regardless (or at least I'd hope they have more than a few hundred cash on hand for incidents like this...)

Ok, so customer didn't get what they paid for. Company takes a hardline stance & refuses to work with customer beyond telling them to buy an air mattress with the refunded fees. Where else does the customer have to turn at this point? The chargeback.

The whole point of putting it on the table and giving a 1 week deadline is exactly that it will hurt the business. You know it and they know it. Now suddenly they're not the only one with bargaining power in the relationship, so they might actually offer a partial refund of the actual rental based on the difference between what was offered & what was received. Or they might stick to their guns & fight the chargeback if they think they were correct in their initial assessment.

The chargeback is really like a turbo button - it boosts you up real quick past the grunt level CS people to actual decision makers who can and will do what they can to avoid the chargeback and maintain a positive relationship with you.

Because Airbnb should be withholding the host's fee, as they misrepresented the accommodations. If Airbnb doesn't stick up for the guest, the guest's credit card company surely will.

If there is a double bed, single bed, and a couch, that accommodates 4 people.

Remember, Airbnb is a marketplace so it is your responsibility as the guest to clarify the exact sleeping arrangements. If you want a higher level of service, go to a hotel. You'll pay a lot more, but if you require great service then it's probably a better option.

Uhh no. AirBNB has a field on listings that clearly indicates "Bed Type". In this case "Bed Type" said Real Bed. Random example: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1229577?checkin=02%2F21%2F2014&...

One isn't likely to clarify that with the host prior to arrival given that it's on the listing. AirBNB needs to take responsibility for this kind of thing given that you pay about 15% as AirBNB fees and 3% is also paid by the host. Refunding just the fees isn't what you pay the fees for. It is to take care of situations such as this.

No, that indicates that you're not renting just a couch in someone's apartment (a la couchsurfing). In the vacation rental world, that max accommodation figure almost always includes the couches (especially if it's a pullout couch).

Did you visit the link provided? There is clearly a "Room type" classification, which would be used to indicate that you're renting a room in a house, a whole house, a bed in a room, or a couch in a room, for example. And there is also a "Bed type" classification to specify the type of bed you will be sleeping in.

"Bed Type" doesn't mean it's uniformly that type, it's sort of the max of the class, so it's not terribly useful. It would be nice if it was broken down by number of beds (it is on some sites), but that's more of a nice to have than the norm.

That's beside the point - the point being that you asserted that the "Real Bed" qualifier was referring to not getting a couch in an apartment, like couch surfing. Judging from your post history, you will argue on any point possible, and won't cede a thing. Consider this my last reply.

Sorry if I wasn't clear with what I was saying.

That field is mostly useful for distinguishing between whether you're getting a couch or a bed in the case that you're just renting part of the apartment. It's not very useful in the event that you're renting a whole apartment. It means there's at least one real bed, it doesn't mean that everyone in the "Accommodates" number will get a real bed.

It's not perfect, it would be better if it were more explicit, but this is a pretty common on these sorts of listings.

Sure, but usually that would be mentioned in the property description. Also, it was not a pullout couch. In fact, it wasn't big enough for a person to comfortably sleep on.

Oof, too short to sleep on is cheating on that number :-/ I think ideally Airbnb should change the listing to provide a breakdown of the sleeping surfaces so people can plan.

Airbnb could probably do better than just "real bed" for bed type. Maybe they should make the host list the different bed sizes/counts. Yours would have been: 1 double, 1 single & 1 couch.

Leading with "Remember" is a bit snarky. I've stayed in AirBNB about 10 times, and each one is a crap shoot.

There's a substantive difference between wanting great service, and simply wanting what you were promised.

AirBNB fails on both accounts.

Isn't that what the review system is for and the chance you take to save a few bucks over hotels?

Is it really that big of a deal that you didn't get 4 beds? 3 beds and 1 couch does accommodate 4 people, albeit not as nicely as 4 beds. I would have been a little miffed and left a review stating my experience.

It is a big deal because the listing clearly indicated that the place has real beds and accommodates 4 people.

I would expect AirBNB to take responsibility given that the incorrect info is on their website and you pay pretty hefty fees to use the service. (AirBNB charges about 15% to the tenant and 3% to the host so a total of 18% - not bad ;))

Except they refunded the fee... Honestly having used the service several times I can't say I have ever had an issue. However I have also been in contact with the host every time before arrival and discussed the accommodations. I can't imagine going to another country or something without even talking to the host. Either way it doesn't sound like it ruined the vacation.

Not to mention there are plenty of nightmare stories surrounding hotels, they are not perfect either.

Except they didn't refund the stay. They should have refunded them, at minimum, pro rata for the lack of sleeping arrangements that they paid for (they paid for 4 people, were giving space for 3). So 25% refund, at minimum. These are the types of things that have the potential to destroy peoples' vacations and one of the many reasons I would never use AirBNB in its current state.

"3 beds - a double bed in one room and a single bed in another" ?

At least you weren't stranded without a place all together, or...

I once booked a house via vrbo and found spaghetti in the sheets of one of the beds!

I had a late checkin (1:30), showed up 2 and the host was already passed out drunk and wouldn't answer the door. I ended up sleeping on the stoop until 6:30 when he finally woke up and called in a totally freakout apologizing profusely. I mostly AirBNB like Hemmingway ran with the bulls, for the lulz.

> I mostly AirBNB like Hemmingway ran with the bulls, for the lulz.

Same here. I AirBnb on my own, but never when traveling with wife, family, or for work.

That's an odd thing to find in sheets. I'd rather find spaghetti than some of the things I've found!

hey everyone, I have looked into this and a few things are going on here.

(1) Turns out there was a bug in our system where a guest was actually allowed to double-book this host's listing, so this was our fault. The host did not cancel, we double-booked. We are fixing this bug now, and I haven't heard of any other guests being affected by this.

(2) I just want to note this is a statistically rare event (though by reading comments some of you have experienced this), which is why we probably haven't spent enough time trying to solve this, but we should.

(3) I agree with the author that our cancelation policy is not adequately balanced on both sides of the transaction. Our team has actually been developing a better system for some time, and we should have a more balance policy soon - unfortunate this happened though. Right now, when a host cancels a booking, there is an automated review left on their listing saying this happened, a penalization in their search rankings, and if they chronically cancel, they are removed from our platform; but I agree we could do more here. The changes we are making will hopefully lower the frequency of these instances occurring going forward. Open to feedback here, and if a host has canceled on you I would love to get your feedback on how we handled it.

(4) In the event that a host does cancel, I think we can do more to provide protection and peace of mind to the guest for their trip. We have a Guarantee for hosts, so we are looking at what an equivalent version would be for guests. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Hi Brian,

Your cancellation policy, as well as others are not balanced on either side.

I'm a host -- and I've been a guest. Once.

As a host, I get to choose the verification level I will accept; as a guest, I'm basically forced to hand over my government issued identification to AirBnB (to "verify" myself)

Now, I'm sure that if this was pre-Snowden, there might be some justification for this; but given that AirBnB has already had over 10,000,000 million night booked with them, it seems fairly arbitrary to require guests to provide this information.

On the other side of things, as both a host and a guest I've had exemplary support from AirBnB; perhaps when you are dealing with Europeans, you are just nicer?


On #3 it may be worth penalising those who do it during annual events like the Boston Marathon, Wimbledon, etc.

Accommodation is extremely hard to find and highly competitive at this time and the host should factor this in.

If it becomes an annual thing that hosts cancel and allow gazumping ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gazumping ) then it will seriously damage the AirBNB relationship with renters as AirBNB will become an untrusted place for accommodation during such events.

It is so hard to find replacement accommodation during such events that the inconvenience is greatly multiplied.

(And annual things go for conferences too, SXSW for example)

I would go so far as to suggest that during events the relationship be inverted and the renter be given more weight than the host. Once the host has priced fairly, they should be penalised harshly for causing great inconvenience to a renter. The extra money during such events already more than compensates the host side.

This is a very good insight. Thanks for the suggestion. You are definitely right here. In the past during events (e.g. SXSW), we have actually booked Airbnb's ourselves, and some hotel rooms, just in case a guest got canceled on last minute and all Airbnb's and hotels were sold out, but we should definitely go further.

>Turns out there was a bug in our system where the guest was actually allowed to double-book this host's listing, so this was our fault.

The way you worded this suggests it was the same guest, and not two separate guests (which is what the author's experience would suggest). Is this correct?

two different guests.

If it is a statistically rare event then offering a full refund shouldn't be much of a hit to you. If that's not the case then you should let renters know up front that there is a statistically significant chance that despite reserving a room, they may not actually get a room.

In this case the guest was, and always would be, offered a full refund when a host cancels. Unless you are referring to something else...?

Thanks for the clarification Brian, I appreciate your honesty.

> "I can’t even leave feedback... as we never got to stay there."

I think this is a bigger deal than the cancellation -- the fact that, on a site that's all about reputation, there's no reputation hit for a host canceling someone's rental. Airbnb should create a feedback system that allows feedback to be given for various steps of the process, not just the stay itself.

Yeah, I think this is the single biggest improvement they can make.

Indeed. Even if it's just an automated post saying that the reservation was cancelled by the host. More than one of those and I think that many people wouldn't want to take the risk.

See Brian's post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7254986

Airbnb does leave an automated review about the cancellation and dings the host's listing in search results.

If you think this is bad, wait until you see what regular hotels can do to you during busy season.

Most hotel chains have a "frequent guest" program. One little-known feature of those programs is that people with the highest status can "bump" other guests from the hotel when the hotel is full with about 24 hours advance notice. Now, usually they'll give you a free night or two in exchange for that happening to you, but it doesn't help you that night.

Regardless, this is a hazard of traveling anywhere and relying on someone else for a place to stay. It is by no means unique to Airbnb, and hotels do it all the time (and often with much less notice.)

I have top-level status with Marriott and have used the Guaranteed Room feature a few times; it's hard to say that using it results directly in displacing another guest since hotels don't really know how many people will show until the end of the day - what is does is guarantee you a room at rack-rate.

That said, as a top-level guest I would be THRILLED to get walked to another hotel due to no room being available since I'd get a free night at the other hotel, $200 USD, and 2 free nights anywhere in the world!

Well, generally hotels overbook their rooms regardless -- they know with 90% confidence that X% of people will no-show on a given day, so they can overbook (airlines do this too). Generally when using the guaranteed room feature, you ARE displacing someone. But you're right, you do have to pay the rack-rate (which is often $500 or more)

Airbnb hosts can't do any of this because they don't have enough rooms, so there are some definite advantages to the traditional hotel model. I like Airbnb and I have used it many times, but I do consider the rooms I get off Airbnb as less "guaranteed" than a hotel room.

Airbnb should have a public % number for hosts for both acceptance rate for "open" dates on their calendar and for cancellations.

I was traveling the world for the last 9 months and we fairly quickly stopped using AirBnB in favor of Booking.com and Agoda (which had hotels, guesthouses, and even hostels if you're so inclined).

Host behavior was the problem. We'd contact a place that supposedly had an opening. Nope. Contact another. Nope. Contact a third. Yes, but they work until 10pm so we need to go find them for a key. AirBnb was an amazing experience when it worked, but time-intensive and frustrating for most transactions.

I've been traveling for the past two years, and fortunately have only had positive experiences with Airbnb. I agree that some hosts can be less responsive others, so I've taken more time on my end to have a bit of back-and-forth with the right ones before booking.

Paul does make a good point regarding host cancellations, and your suggestion to publicly display acceptance or cancellation rates might be helpful to prospective guests.

Yeah, I've always loved it when it works, but the back-and-forth can be frustrating on near term bookings... Especially when you are traveling with semi-shakey internet connections.

What part(s) of the world did this happen to you? I've used it at least a dozen times and this hasn't happened to me. I've only used it in the US (SF & DC), a few countries in Western Europe, and in South America. Maybe hosts' behavior is different in different countries?

Most recently, 3 "nos" in New Orleans (non mardi-gras season). All had time in their calendars.

Also had some difficulties in Spain.

I always have had great experiences when I successfully book, but it was aggravating in places with slow internet to have to cycle through the "request" process rather than being able to predictably just book something (or at least 95% of the time).

I'd much rather just blast an "are you really available" note to a shortlist of 5-10 properties and then 1-click book something.

One thing that I cannot find on AirBNB is how to post a review and attach photos to it. Is it possible? On several occasions the apartments were not even remotely the same as in the photographs. (For example, on photos they look spacious and clean, in real life they are not.)

Amazon customers can upload their photos of the stuff they bought. This functionality is really something we need.

I think that AirBNB by doing things like this gives the hosts too much power (which in turn they abuse).

Funny, this mirrors my first Airbnb experience from a year and a half ago: https://bgentry.io/blog/2012/07/18/my-first-airbnb-experienc...

Sad to hear that the experience hasn't gotten any better when a host cancels on you, especially when it's at the last minute.

I wonder if the issues with hosts' calendars not being up-to-date are still as big of an issue. Airbnb hosts are incentivized to not update their calendars because it gives them an avenue to direct you to their other properties.

My attempt to book an apartment with AirBNB in Helsinki for Slush.org last year ended up in 3 cancelations (people got better offers) and us staying in a hotel. No word from AirBNB support.

I am sadly not going to use AirBNB agin to big events.

I am sorry you did not get better support from Airbnb. That is a bad experience. You can email me at brian.chesky@airbnb.com if you would like to elaborate further.

In October I had a host cancel on me with in 7 days of arrival. The host did not want to cancel through the AirBnB system because of fees I presume, instead they western union'ed me a refund....but it took several days for us to work out the logistics on the transfer. It worked out because I was able to book another (better) apartment, albeit for a higher fee, and I received the refund before I left for the trip. Handling situations where the host does not cancel through the system did not seem intuitive and resulted in me searching for a phone number to contact AirBnb and make them aware of the situation in case the host was scamming.

I'll be traveling internationally for a couple of weeks in the fall and using AirBnb for much of that trip. Deep down I have a feeling that at least one of the rentals will have a choppy transaction. Until they tighten up on holding hosts accountable and make the transfer of the key more uniform and streamline there will always be a degree of uncertainty.

Yes, I have had this same exact experience and worse. One host started insulting my girlfriend and kept suggesting I cancel if I didn't like the place. Total bull. I lost the whole payment and STILL couldn't leave review.

The "voucher" seems paltry. How does it compare to the price difference of using a hotel?

any party in almost any such setting, including hotels, could cancel two months in advance without fees. I really don't know what the big deal is.

OP here. My points were 1) the host said there was a glitch in the airbnb system & doubled booked somehow, but I think they either wanted either a longer tenant or they got a better offer for Marathon Weekend in Boston 2) if I cancel I lose 50% , if they do it they lose 3%.

That's not the way Airbnb works. You can't cancel someone's booking on Airbnb for a "better offer" from another Airbnb user. If you cancel a guest's booking on Airbnb, Airbnb will block out your calendar for those dates and not allow you to relist your space to rent to another guest - for that time period. If the host HAD double booked on accident through another vacation rental site (Homeaway, VRBO etc), that is the only way they could be canceling to "get a better offer".

I didn't initially understand from your post that you would have actually lost 50% had you cancelled yourself even months in advance. I agree that this does seem imbalanced.

One of Airbnb's founders clarified elsewhere in this thread that there actually was a system glitch.

Agreed, my reply was about people canceling to get a "better offer". :) Other than the glitch he mentioned, I think that part of the system actually does work pretty well. Always room to improve though.

Last time we used Airbnb was for an apartment in Copenhagen. We found out when we arrived that instead of the "Whole apartment" as it was listed, we would be in one room and sharing the rest of the place with the owner and her daughter. Airbnb didn't do anything to help us; we just stuck with it and vowed to be more careful next time.

I can't tell; did this guy lose 50% of his $1200 or not?

If he did and AirBnB is just keeping it, shame on them. That's gross incompetence and people should rightly boycott.

If he didn't, he should fix the article to show that in fact AirBnB isn't grossly incompetent.

Hi, I didn't lose anything. I said if I cancel I'd lose 50%, if they cancel they lose 3%

On the flip side, as an Airbnb host myself, I have had to cancel a guest's reservation before. It was because of reasons beyond my control (ie. being sent a warning fine from my HOA). Losing the 3% isn't the only thing that happens. #1. You also get a "review" on your listing and profile that says "Host canceled booking X days before arrival". #2. Airbnb drops your listing ranking, meaning you won't show up as high in searches.

Frankly, it's a bad experience for the host and guest, which is why I'm not convinced it happens all that often with hosts who have more than zero reviews. If you book a place with zero reviews, I think it's MUCH more likely to happen, as newer hosts are probably less likely to understand how Airbnb works.

Okay I totally get that. The way it was stated didn't read as clearly as the statement you just made. I saw in another comment that you said you're fixing it. Thanks!

I agree that it's not very kind to have the cancellation policy so asymmetric. According to this link (https://www.airbnb.com/help/question/63) AirBnB charges the host 3% to book, probably no matter what.

So it sounds like what they're doing is taking the money that they charged the host and giving it to you. That's nice of them, really. But as you've said it in no way deters a host from accepting a better offer.

I'd be interested to know how you would split the balance instead. Charge hosts a 15% cancellation fee? 50%? I get where you're coming from but I always understood AirBnB to be a part of the "surplus" economy; I can sell a bit of my surplus space for a bit of extra cash. Not a big serious hotel business.

I suppose one option might be to set the cancellation fee equal to what you'll end up having to pay in addition to find accommodations. Of course that'd quickly become a total eff-job trying to figure out what could reasonably be called "equivalent quality" so that people don't get cancelled on and stay at the Ritz.

I understood what you wrote, but it is pretty confusing the way it's written. Maybe you want to add a clarification?

Sure. Will fix it now. Server getting batter at the moment.

Its inconvenient but not THAT bad as you didn't loose the money.

I had a worse experience with Airbnb, they simply cancelled my reservation and closed my account a few days before my travel and refused to give a valid reason.


Looks like one other person was able to leave feedback about a host cancellation shouldn't feedback solve this problem?

This was my experience about a year ago in Ft Lauderdale, FL. In my case, it meant doubling the expense to get a hotel since by the time they cancelled, most hotels were already booked.

I'd say AirBNB is to be avoided for anything remotely critical (conference, wedding, etc.) If it's just a leisure trip with friends, it might be OK.

I understand the sentiment, there should be some way to flag the listing on AirBNB or penalize the renter, but lets be fair to the renter and leave their address out of the post. I'm sure everyone is breaking leases and condo regulations to give out a discount to us.

"I'm sure everyone is breaking leases and condo regulations to give out a discount to us."

I'm not so sure that's a good argument. Are you saying AirBnB is a business that helps people break their leases and condo regulations to make money, and that we should keep this covered up?

Plus in this case, there was no discount: the low-paying customer was ditched as soon as the renter found a higher-paying one. In times of scarcity (big event in city), a leveraging tool such as AirBnB will be used to charge more, not less (AirBnB allows the renter to find more customers than the low-paying ones, right up until the last minute).

If you want to conduct business in an environment where you have no legal recourse, then your reputation is the only thing someone you screw can really attack. Fair is fair.

fair point : exact address redacted now.

In this rant, the author notices AirBnB is not a hotel.

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