Buckle in, friends. This one is a doozy. Long but important for anyone using the Airbnb platform. I will apologize in advance for how many times I use the word “again” but it really accentuates the situation.
Back in July I received an email from my good friend and travel pal, Sarah, asking me and fellow travel pal, Kristin, if we would be interested in going to Scotland for New Year’s. Never one to turn down a travel opportunity (unless I truly cannot make it happen financially or work wise), I jumped on the email and responded enthusiastically. When I started looking into flight prices, I kept finding that flying to Dublin and booking flights to Edinburgh separately was going to be the cheapest option which got me thinking about a regret I have had for many years. Back when I studied abroad in 2009 in London, a few friends planned a trip to Ireland over a school break. I assumed that the trip would include Dublin (because, duh) and too late did I realize that Dublin wasn’t included on the itinerary. Why, I have no idea since it’s the capital of Ireland but alas, it wasn’t. I never made it to Ireland again during my study abroad and it is something that has always bothered me. So when looking at the flight situation, a lightbulb went off in my head that I could stop over and finally experience Dublin, 9 years later. I let Sarah and Kristin know of my plan and assumed that I would just meet them in Scotland a few days late since they had both already been to Dublin. To my surprise, both of them said they would be happy to join me in Dublin first, especially since they were finding the same price deals. Destinations and dates decided, we all booked our flights and turned our attention to accommodations.
Having used Airbnb on previous trips in the United States, we thought that it might be nice to have a full apartment with laundry facilities on our trip. None of us were planning to check a bag and winter clothes tend to take up a lot of space. It just seemed like a good idea. We searched through Airbnb’s listings and decided on two apartments with great locations in both Dublin and Edinburgh city centers. We booked both within the week and paid for our portions accordingly. This was all completed back in July.
Fast forward to December; it was time for our New Year’s trip. As soon as we landed in Dublin, we headed straight for our AIrbnb located in the heart of Temple Bar. Upon entry, we immediately all took note of how cold it was. At first we didn’t think anything of it; we figured the owner turns off the heat in between guests and since the apartment didn’t appear to get a lot of light, it naturally held in the cold air. We turned the thermostat to high heat and decided to take a nap to catch up on missed red eye sleep. I woke up to one of my friends telling me that not only had the heat not kicked on during our nap but also she had tried to shower and had no hot water. Greaaaaaaat. We contacted our host and to make a long story short, a plumber spent 2 hours that night trying to get the heat to work and came up short. The system was busted. We needed a new place to stay. For context, it’s 9:00pm. (Note: we placed no fault on the host for the faulty heat/hot water issue. Things happen and he was great about trying to get it resolved. He sent a plumber that unfortunately, just couldn’t get it to work. We appreciated all the help the host tried to provide.)
I contacted Airbnb through both their support page and Twitter. I received a message back on twitter that said that a case manager would be contacting us soon. When I asked if they had an ETA on when we could expect the phone call, I was told that they couldn’t do that because calls were made in the order a support ticket was received. I was told it could be a few minutes or it could be a few hours. What? It’s 9:00pm, we have no one where to stay, and you’re telling us we may not receive any kind of help for hours? Not off to a great start, Airbnb. The three of us decided that instead of waiting around for an unknown period of time, that I would run around the corner to the various hotels and see if any of them had a room open. Sarah and Kristin would stay, start packing, and wait for a call from Airbnb.
Two stops later, I had secured us a room at the Temple Bar Hotel for roughly the same cost as our Airbnb stay (a little more expensive, but not by much). When I called Sarah and Kristin to let them know, Sarah explained that she had received a call from Airbnb. They had cancelled the Dublin apartment on our behalf, started a refund for our money, and placed no blame on the host. They did not offer us an help on finding a new place or offer us any kind of help in offsetting the cost of having to put out money for our new place (refunds are not automatic, so at this moment we were out the cost of 2 hotels/Airbnb stays). Thankfully, we were only in Dublin for 2 days so we all had enough to cover. We overlooked the lack of customer service because at this point, we just wanted to be warm. Plus, we figured the worst was over. (Insert ominous music here.)
An hour and a hot shower later, the three of us were getting ready to head out for a drink. As we were walking through Temple Bar, Sarah checked her Airbnb app to make sure the Dublin apartment had been removed. To her horror, not only had our Dublin apartment been removed, but so had our Edinburgh stay. I immediately pulled up my app as well to confirm that it was in fact gone. I also check my email to see if anything had come through there. I noticed I had not one but two refund emails from Airbnb. Oh no. The first was for our Dublin apartment and the second was for our Edinburgh stay. Double oh no. Sarah opened her Airbnb inbox to find a message from the original case manager who helped us with our Dublin cancellation. In this message the case manager, Tammy, let us know that she mistakenly cancelled both of our stays. She said that if we needed help finding another place to stay in Edinburgh to let her know and she would offset the cost if it was more expensive. Otherwise she apologized and told us to have a great night. Wait, what? You accidentally cancelled our apartment for a check in date of 2 days away over New Years in a major city and the only thing you have to say was sorry and good luck? All of three of us agreed to head right back to the hotel to get this figured out in a quiet place. This was not good.
Sarah called the customer service line that had previously been used to call us regarding our Dublin stay. We were told that Tammy would be giving us a call within 20 minutes to sort out her mistake. 20 minutes went by. Then 30 minutes. Finally, at 40 minutes, we called the customer service line again. We were told that Tammy would call us within 30 minutes. As you can imagine, we said this was unacceptable. We were then told that the only person who could help us was Tammy and that we would have to wait. Again, unacceptable. We are three girls overseas with no place to stay because someone else made a mistake and didn’t appear to have any concern about fixing it.
Sarah demanded to speak with a supervisor. Again, we were told this was not possible. She insisted that someone needed to help us right at that moment. After being put on hold for almost 10 minutes, the original woman who answered said that she could reassign our case to a new case manager. While this back and forth was occurring on the phone, I was looking through the Airbnb app to see if anything was still available. At this point, I had lost all faith and knew that no matter what happened, we needed a place to stay. I found something that could accommodate us but it was more expensive. I held onto it just in case but noticed that 5 other people were looking at the same place for the same dates. I knew 2 of those people were in the room with me, but I had no idea who those other 3 people were. We were taken off of hold and connected with a new case manager. She informed us that the best she could do was reach out to our original host in Edinburgh and ask if we can rebook her place. Other than that, she explained that she would need Tammy and her supervisor’s approval to give any other kind of assistance. Sarah again asked to speak with a supervisor. Again, we were put on hold.
While we were on hold, the three of us decided to go ahead and book the available Airbnb apartment I had found on my phone. We all agreed that we had no faith that we were going to get our original booking back. I should note that the host never responded so had we waited; we would have had no place to go. We figured it was better to have a place to stay and figure it out on the back end. Plus, since we booked the second place through Airbnb, it would be easy for them to find all of our information.
We were taken off hold and told again that there was nothing more they could do for us right now without Tammy and her supervisor. We were also told that supervisors only call out in the order that supervisor call requests are received. They occur within 24-48 hours after an incident. We asked about the discount that was promised to us in Tammy’s initial note should a new place be more expensive. Again, we were told nothing could be done without Tammy and her supervisor. It was like a broken record at this point and I couldn’t stand to hear the same excuse one more time; none of us could. Resigned to the fact that we weren’t going to receive any help from Airbnb, Sarah simply asked that a supervisor call her in the 24-48 hour time frame to discuss what had happened and how horrible our customer service experience had been. At least we had a place to stay?
24 hours passed, then 48. We received no call from a supervisor. We reached out and asked when we could expect a call. No response. We all agreed that when I got home, I would file a credit card dispute on the charge until they gave us the difference they had promised. We went about our trip and had a wonderful time despite the Airbnb mess.
Upon my return home, I reached out one more time to Airbnb in good faith, giving them one more chance to make things right on their own accord. As you can probably guess at this point, I received no response. The next day, I filed a credit card dispute on the charge with my bank. I told them that I would pay up to the original booking amount and not a single cent more. While it wasn’t a large amount of money, it was now the principle of the matter. It took me almost 2 hours to file the dispute and gather all the information and evidence to back up my claim.
Once the dispute was filed, I again reached out to Airbnb to let them know that their charge was now in a fraud dispute claim with my bank. And wouldn’t you know I got an almost immediate response from Airbnb. Shocker! Of course, they couldn’t care less about helping 3 girls they left stranded in a foreign country but as soon as their reputation gets dinged for potential fraud, they are on top of the case! Within 2 hours, I was on the phone with a supervisor named Chloe.
Now, I will give credit where credit is due here. Chloe was great. She gave us a bit more than the difference of the two apartments (although it was only $12 which got split three ways, I appreciated the gesture) and gave each of us $200 Airbnb vouchers to use anytime, anywhere within the year. She was kind, a great listener and was honest in saying that even she was frustrated reading the details of my case. If you’re reading this, Chloe, you are A1, and I appreciate you.
That being said, it should not have taken me filing a dispute with my credit card company to receive help for a mistake that was made by Airbnb. There are so many what ifs in this situation that could have had disastrous consequences. What if there wasn’t another place to stay in Edinburgh since it was New Year’s? What if the three of us weren’t financially sound and able to put out nearly $1500 out of our own pockets while we waited for our refunds? What if we weren’t avid travelers who knew how to navigate tough situations and be flexible? What if even one of us had medical issues or special needs that required a certain type of accommodation? The three of us are lucky and blessed in our lives but there are many people out there using Airbnb’s platform who are not so.
While I have every intention of using that $200 credit, I will never use Airbnb again after that. Nothing, truly nothing, is worth the risk of experiencing what happened on this trip again. Safety when traveling is my top priority, as it should be to anyone, and clearly safety is not a top priority for Airbnb’s users. I share this story not to scare you or tell you not to use Airbnb but to simply make you aware of what kind of service you can receive if something goes wrong. Always do you research and due diligence when planning your travels. I know all 3 of us will be a lot more cautious when making our plans going forward.
Ps. Our Edinburgh apartment didn’t have hot water either…