If you ever read my blog, you might know that my boyfriend and I are BIG travellers. In fact, for the past year, we’ve been travelling full-time, from London to Ukraine, Italy and Sweden, as well as a lot of places in between. So, as relatively low-budget travellers, we’re a big fan of cheaper and more convenient alternatives to hotels. We often make use of hostels and campsites… However, as we love to have access to cooking facilities, laundry and the other comforts of home while we’re in different cities, we’ve been pretty heavy AirBnb users for the last few years. We actually have a couple of accounts between us, so our bookings have been made under a few usernames, but if we’d booked them all under one name, we’d probably be one of the company’s biggest customers. As well as short-term lets for holidays in places such as Zaragoza, Kiev and Berlin, we’ve also stayed in Airbnb properties long-term in Lviv (2 months) and Sweden (almost 6 months!).
I have to say, we’ve had some good Airbnb experiences, when we’ve been lucky enough to have organised and conscientious ‘landlords’ such as the great guy who rented out our place in Alvik, Stockholm. So we’d be glad to thank those people who have used the site properly, to rent out their homes to us in a generous and sharing spirit. However, unfortunately we’ve also had a few really bad experiences with landlords who use the site to their full advantage and screw you over in the process, with zero repercussion from the site.
For a start, there are a lot of known issues with the platform, which you may or may not choose to accept. The fact that once you request to book a property, you are forced to wait 24 hours, in which your money is ‘locked’ by the site, and you can’t book anything else (unless you want to risk losing the locked money), although the landlord isn’t actually required to agree to rent the place to you or even to bother replying. So you can waste days requesting different places only to be turned down for no reason, or simply ignored. In the mean time, the money for every property you attempt to book is reserved on your card for up to a week, meaning that if you’re not rolling in money, then you can end up maxing out your card just trying to find a place to stay. Anyway, that’s the risk of using such a platform, and you might just think ‘oh well’, as the benefits outweigh the problems. And so we thought until our latest experience.
We reserved a cool flat in Copenhagen for a week’s stay, well in advance to avoid the problems of inflated costs and uncertainty over reservations. Everything seemed great, we arranged things with the guy, confirmed the booking, our money was locked by the site… Ok, everything normal. Until we arrived here and checked our reservation details on the site only to see the dreaded words ‘cancelled by host’.
So… we’d just arrived in Malmo and were preparing to set off for Copenhagen, only to realise we’d suddenly become effectively ‘homeless’ in one of the world’s most expensive cities. In fact, the guy had cancelled a few days before and we just hadn’t checked up on it, because we’d been without wifi. However, you don’t really expect your advanced booking to be cancelled for no reason. So, we read back over the messages to find out why this had happened. Essentially, it turned out the guy had sent a previous message saying that if we didn’t respond to him, he would cancel the booking. For no reason, except that he didn’t think we were ‘genuine’ because we don’t constantly check back on our bookings to see if there’s a message. In any case, if we hadn’t been genuine and hadn’t showed up, he’d have been able to take our money anyway, so it makes no sense at all to randomly cancel at the last minute.
So, we’ve just decided to stay an extra day in a hostel in Malmo, where at least I can work, and we’ve re-booked a new place via the much more reliable booking.com. Not such a big deal, except of course we lost money from having to re-book at last minute. But what annoys me in particular is the fact that Airbnb (like life in general) is always on the side of the landlord, not the tenant. If you’re a renter in a city like London you’ll know perfectly well what it’s like to endure a shoddy shared property for an extortionate rent and have no recourse in case of problems except crying in your tiny, leaking room praying they don’t increase your rent yet again so that you end up somewhere even worse. The same spirit lives in the Airbnb world, where those renting out their properties rake in the cash for minimal effort (often not paying their taxes, as I well know from translating for the tax office…), and then if they decide to cancel without any reason, or to provide you with problems such as no wifi in the property, then there’s not much you can do other than try to find something else at the last minute. As you might suspect, there are no consequences for the renter, your money is still blocked by the site for the full time that the reservation stood for, and you then have to apply for a refund for their inability to provide the contracted service, and wait another week to receive it, even though they should never have taken the money in the first place, as they haven’t provided you with so much as a brass bean.
So, so long Airbnb, it’s been nice, but I think in future I’m going to stick with services that at least provide what you pay for and don’t leave you stranded and allow paranoid renters free reign to behave as they want without any controls.
Has anyone else got any particularly good or bad Airbnb experiences to share? Do you rate this site for travellers? Let me know below!