AirBnb; A user journey that left me penniless, hungry and unhappy before I’d even left the house.


Up until recently I’ve been a huge fan of AirBnb and the concept of collaborative consumption in general. Uber? Yep. Boris Bikes? Brilliant. So you might be wondering why I’m writing this uncomplimentary article about one of the front-runners in shared economy- AirBnb. The answer is their user experience.

I recently tried to book an apartment for a 3 night trip to Amsterdam. After a few weeks of enjoyable AirBnb surfing, my wish list was populated with some stunning apartments totalling between £885-£1079 for the 6 of us. At about £150–180 each we were more than happy with the places on offer to us.

But alas, this is where my AirBnb fairytale ended.

Once I’d collected together our group fund I went about booking our first choice- a £885 beauty of a 3 bed. As a second-time AirBnb user with one successful trip under my belt, I gave little thought to pressing the ‘Request to Book’ button your eye is so deliberately drawn to on the right of the page.

‘Tell *the host* about your trip’
‘What brings you here? Who’s joining you? Coordinate your key exchange!’

Straight-forward enough. Next I read the small print at the bottom of the page:

‘Clicking Book now will confirm your reservation and charge your payment method.’

Perfect, that’s what I wanted to do; book the apartment I’d been so tempted by, at the agreed price, on the given date. Duh.

12 or so hours passed. My reservation was declined. The reason? The apartment wasn’t available for that date.

Cue first angry face spasm.

Wait… what? When I searched for apartments, AirBnb was only showing me available options, wasn’t it? The short answer is no.

Although saddened (and a little angered) I understood that hosts probably have their apartments on many sites. I’d been pipped-to-the-post on this occasion. Comforted by the email I’d received from AirBnb;

‘You won’t be charged for this reservation, so you can quickly find a new place.’

I got straight back to my quest, did what was suggested and logged into AirBnb to find a new place.

Declined
Don’t give up — keep contacting other listings.
Contacting several places considerably improves your odds of a booking.”

Because of the handy list I’d filled earlier with the favourites from my search, it didn’t take long. The encouragement from AirBnb, coupled with the need to replace and confirm our holiday home, meant within 10 minutes I’d requested to book another apartment, this time costing £1079 for 6 of us.

‘Request to Book’. Compose message. ‘Book Now’. Bam we’re on our way to Amsterdam.

Or not.

This time, a mere 90 minutes later, my second attempt at booking had been declined.

Shit. Cue second angry face spasm.

I didn’t even get a message from the host on this occasion. As a group of two couples and two female companions, with a gleaming review on my completed and verified profile, I couldn’t see a reason why this host had declined (other than that apartment too was unavailable). *Sigh*. Shouldn’t a company like AirBnb have a better calendar system in place?

While checking my email after being notified of the second booking failure by text, my mood darkened.

I glanced at a second email sent separately from the first. ‘AirBnb Payment Update’. I’d missed this from the first set of emails somehow. Fault on my part there. Assuming this would be a confirmation of my cancelled payment I opened it.

The authorisation of **** that had been placed on your VISA **** for reservation **** at **** has now been voided. While this authorisation void is immediate on our part, it can take up to seven business days for it to show on your statement.

Shit. Surely when it says ‘show up on your statement’ it just means the transaction won’t be visible in my account.

Shit. I better check my account.

Ok so at this point I’ll admit, it was naive of me to not have checked my bank account after the first booking failed. I’m not an experienced online shopper nor am I an expert AirBnb user. Some of you may even call me an idiot in this instance. Hey- we all have our moments.

But in my defence I had been comforted by the smooth running of my first booking and encouraged by the dialogue provided throughout my second AirBnb experience. Not once inside the booking process did AirBnb mention that my money may not be available again for 7 working days if the host declined or didn’t reply.

I checked my account.

Available balance: £0.00

FUCK. Cue infuriated body spasm.

Where’s my money? Holy shit where has my money gone?!

First frantic call to the bank:

“Hey, I tried to book with AirBnb. I made two attempts to make a reservation and they were both declined. I was told I hadn’t been charged but my account is empty?! What’s going on?”

“Hi, yes your account has been authorised for two separate transactions. One for £885 and the other for £1079.”

“But.. I’ve not booked an apartment?”

“The money has not left your account. However we can’t stop or remove the pending transaction until AirBnb voids the authorisation. Until then your money is frozen. I’d ring them and ask them to cancel it. Once cancelled the money should immediately be available in your account.”

Phew. Quick ring AirBnb. *Searches AirBnb for number*. Where’s the sodding number. Fine. I’ll tweet them.

Cue verbal AirBnb cursing.

@airbnb can I have a number for your customer service dpt please? UK.
@airbnb 2 hosts declined because they’re booked, despite showing up as available, meaning I now have no money left AND no booking
@blishop Here’s the UK phone number +44 203 318 1111 If you show us the reservation code we’ll have someone contacting you immediately

Ok. First hopeful call with AirBnb:

“Hi I’ve just had two bookings declined. My account is now empty. **insert long complaint similar to this blog post here**. My bank has told me that all you need to do your end is cancel the authorisation, and my account will be back to normal.”

“Hey, sorry to hear about that. When your reservations were declined we automatically voided the authorisations, this however sometimes takes 7 working days to show up in your account.”

“You understand that this means I not only no longer have the funds to make a booking for my holiday, but also means I don’t have enough money to do my food shop. Or enough to get the bus to work. You’ve debited the best part of 2k and I don’t even have an apartment!”

“I understand that. Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do. The issue now lies with your bank. Here at Airbnb we recommend that you contact the host first before requesting to book.”

“Contact the host first? What do you mean?”

“At the bottom of the page there is a button that says ‘Contact Host’. We reccommend you do this first to check availability etc before you request to book.”

“@*!@££***@ arrrgh *scrolls manically*. That tiny button at the very bottom of the page after all the reviews?! But what about the huge call to action on the right. I thought that was what I was doing in my message when I requested to book!”

Again here’s another instance you may well call me an idiot. You’re using a home sharing site, you should always speak to the host before parting with your money. Duh.

But am I such a fool? Maybe. But when booking, I was at a point where I held AirBnb as a company I trusted and admired. Their interface was considered and beautiful. The apartments on offer, alluring and plentiful. I trusted that once I clicked that ‘Request to book’ button, the message I attached to my request would be considered by the host, and if the host wasn’t happy or my requests couldn’t be filled, my booking would be automatically cancelled and my account wouldn’t be charged. I actually believed that was the only way to do it. So shoot me.

Back to the AirBnb call:

“Yes we understand that the button could probably be better placed and that it could definitely be clearer. It’s obvious for us here, but we can see how that might not be obvious for our users. Sorry about that. If you ring your bank they will be able to tell you how long it will be before the money returns to your account.”

“But that means I can’t book another apartment because I’m bankrupt, and I won’t get a refund until 12 days before I travel.”

“We’re sorry there’s nothing we can do. Please contact your bank.”

Cue anguished sob spasm.

I have contacted my bank and AirBnb back-and-forth at the time of writing, several times, over 16 hours. They continue to blame each other. This is the current solution put forward by AirBnb:

“We can fax or email your bank and request that they release the funds. If you would like us to fax or email your bank, please reply to this email with your bank’s fax number (including the country code) and/or email address.”

I phoned my bank, and they said, categorically, my card and transaction details could not be sent by email or fax to them by AirBnb, due to these methods being insecure. The problem apparently lies with AirBnb’s merchant bank. Wonderful. What a mess.

Not only am I now penniless, but I can’t go and buy dinner for this week. Nor can I book another apartment.

Via badly designed user experience I have screwed up. Royally. Sorry friends.

I compare the experience to how we treat the users at my company. It would be the equivalent of us advertising a course as having spaces, asking the user to pay X amount, then informing the user that the course is actually sold out, encouraging them to book and pay for another, only to find out that was one was sold out too. Oh and forgetting to mention their money won’t be back with them for 7 working days, until after they’d booked.

Unsurprisingly I’m not the only one with this complaint. A quick Twitter search and all this came up.

So please AirBnb, let me love you as I once did. Clean up your UX. Make it slick like your UI. And sort out my holiday.

End rant.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Louise Bishop’s story.