By Adam Waldman
Living in a rural area (with only a seasonal outdoor amphitheater nearby), more often than not, my concert reviews require an overnight stay. In an effort to keep the expenses to a minimum, I’ve stayed at a few Airbnbs during the course of the past year. Most have been decent, but the last one that I stayed at was terrible. Bad experiences happen, but one terrible experience is not the reason why I refuse to stay at an Airbnb ever again. The fault lies solely with the company itself.
I should have known that my last experience was not going to be good when I couldn’t get the homeowner to give me details about the check-in process. He kept putting it off and having me contact him up until the day of arrival to make arrangements. I gave him the benefit of the doubt because of the positive reviews that he was given, but I shouldn’t have.
After finally receiving instructions a half hour before my arrival, I entered the home to immediate disappointment. The fact that I wasn’t given the key code right away made no sense because it was supposed to be a three-night stay. There is no way that we were going to coordinate all of my comings and goings throughout the duration of the stay, so I was a bit baffled by the process.
When I entered the house, there was a note to remove my shoes and an offering of two pairs of used, ratty looking slippers to choose from. There was no mention about having to remove shoes in the listing. If there was, I would have respected the rules, but looked elsewhere. Needless to say, I never put on the slippers that made rented bowling shoes seem appealing by comparison.
I immediately called Airbnb to voice my displeasure with the listing (which was inaccurately described in more ways than one). The agent on the phone looked over the cancellation policy and assured me that I would get a refund for the last two nights if I cancelled at that moment (which I did). I figured that I would just tolerate the Airbnb for one night since it was already paid for, and I was going to be out for most of the night anyway. I booked an inexpensive hotel for the final two nights of the trip on Hotwire.
When there was no credit the following day, I called Airbnb to find out why. The agent on the phone said that the homeowner didn’t approve it. I told her that the agent the previous day assured me that Airbnb would issue the refund either way. It was an outright lie. As I tried to plead my case, I was “disconnected” from the second agent. I put that in quotes because I believe that I was hung up on deliberately, and no call was ever returned.
I called back again and spoke to a third agent who told me that the second agent was on the case, and would definitely be calling back within the hour. That hour passed, as did another day. No call back. So I decided to reach out to the company through their Twitter page @Airbnb Help. What a misnomer that Twitter handle turned out to be!
It took several messages back and forth to get a response from the agent who was “working” on my case. The response was that the case was closed and no refund would be issued (despite what the first agent promised). At that point, it became clear to me that Airbnb does not care at all about renters, only its property owners. This was proven to be true in a disgraceful way the following day…
I left a review about the homeowner and my experience on the site. It wasn’t inflammatory. No foul language was used. It was merely a true review of the listing, one which the owner didn’t try to defend, just claimed that you can’t make everyone happy. That’s because I didn’t state anything that wasn’t factual. There was simply nothing to dispute.
As the saying goes…“the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” I received no satisfaction at all from Airbnb or their “help” department, but I was able to right one injustice. The type of injustice that showed what Airbnb is really about…
The homeowner’s listing had 13 pages of reviews. When I posted my review, it didn’t show up in the first several pages. I thought that they just deleted the review, but I was mistaken. They just buried it. The first 12 pages of reviews were all in reverse chronological order. Mine somehow ended up on page 13 with other “random” reviews. When I complained to the help department that my review never published, they assured me that it was there. They also claimed that the reviews are all randomized, and that was why it appeared on the last page.
I’m no math savant, but I have to imagine that the odds of 12 pages of reviews appearing in reverse chronological order and the final page being randomized is over a billion to one. Still, the “help” department swore that was how things were done. Somehow, after numerous complaints about the review system, my review miraculously showed up in reverse chronological order with the others.
I understand why homeowners would use Airbnb to rent their properties. They have the upper hand in every way possible when it comes to disputes. But as a traveler, I cannot think of a worse option than using Airbnb going forward. I learned firsthand that the reviews are weighted in the homeowner’s favor, and that I was powerless in a dispute.
My family and I just returned from a lengthy road trip where we stayed in relatively inexpensive hotels. Each offered a free breakfast and treated us with respect in every way. I only chose these hotels after reading legitimate reviews (including negative ones). I was able to make an educated decision based on all of the reviews. We liked some hotels better than others, but every one of them was significantly better than my last Airbnb stay…because they care!
At the last hotel, there was a big, bold sign in the breakfast area that read… “Ask us why 8s aren’t great.” So I did. The woman in charge of the continental breakfast explained that receiving a grade of anything below a 9 on Trip Advisor is considered to be a failing grade. Because the hotels are competing with each other (and companies like Airbnb), they are committed to delivering the best possible experience. All reasonable requests are granted without question, and delivered with a smile. That’s the exact opposite of the frustrating process of dealing with Airbnb when you are a dissatisfied traveler.
Thankfully, the Airbnb lesson was learned for just over $100, and not on an expensive vacation stay. I’ll gladly stay in any 2-star hotel in the future over any Airbnb property because of the way that travelers are treated when there is a problem.