Why I Will Never Use AirBnB Again

I’m done with AirBnB. I’m through and I quit.

I now realize that AirBnB’s model just isn’t customer-centric. While AirBnB has created a great market for short-term rentals, they aren’t an impartial middleman. Hosts are kings — and if you’re a guest, AirBnB just uses you as a tool for enrichment. It makes sense, without hosts there are no guests. But because of this perspective, I won’t participate in AirBnB’s marketplace anymore.

An Uncomfortable Accommodation

My husband and I recently took a vacation and we booked a condo through AirBnB. I’m pregnant so we made sure to book a non-smoking accommodation. When we arrived at the host’s home, the home REEKED of smoke (for context, I was a smoker for 10+ years so I’d like to think my tolerance is MUCH higher than most people). The host tried to mask the smell by putting scent diffusers and scent spray throughout the home. So I suppose it would be more accurate to say the smell in the condo was a combination of smoke and a strong “refreshing mountain” chemical scent.

When we checked in, we arrived 20 mins later than we said we would, so the host was in a rush to leave. She assured me if we just kept the windows and patio door open, the smell would dissipate. Before we had a chance to really question this, the host took off.

Tired from traveling, we took the host at her word and kept all the windows and door open and hoped the smell would go away. However, hope wasn’t enough and the smoke and chemical smell never left. I started to get dizzy and felt very uncomfortable. I became concerned that this smell might affect me because I was pregnant.

We contacted the host and told her we wanted to leave because of the smell. The host agreed to refund us all of our money. We felt bad for the host because we drank a bottle of her water and ran a load of laundry (we did this as soon as we got there and had told the host we would like to run a load of laundry multiple times before we checked in). While we were frustrated that we had to arrange for and get to another accommodation, we voluntarily left the host $10 to cover the running of the w/d and bottle of water as a token of compensation.

AirBnB as a “Neutral” Third Party in the Marketplace.

We called AirBnB after we checked in to our hotel and said that we worked it out with the host to get a full refund because the host’s house had smokers in it and we expected to stay in a non-smoking room. The person on the call simply said that a case manager would contact us to resolve the issue. Nothing more was discussed over that phone call.

A few days later, I get called by an AirBnB case manager and was told that her and her supervisor had consulted with the host and determined that I needed to compensate the host for all the benefits I received. The amount I owed was equal to the entire cleaning fee that would have been charged if I had stayed at the host’s apartment for the two nights as planned.

AirBnB told me they were the “neutral” third party in the transaction and were better positioned to determine what I owed. Normally I think this would make sense, but when you make such a decision without even consulting one of the parties involved, the idea of “neutral” goes out the window (unlike the smell of smoke and unnatural mountain freshness).

I did offer to pay the host for staying at her place for those 4.5 hrs (in addition to the token $10 to cover the drink and running of the load of laundry), but the host refused to take the money (and this is documented in our text msgs that we sent thru AirBnB). So when I got the call from AirBnB, I was simply expecting AirBnB to issue me a refund since I thought the issue had already been resolved with the host. Instead, I got talked down to and made to feel like I was trying to take advantage of the system.

AirBnB told us we were using a convenient excuse to get out of the booking since it is “difficult to document scent.” But we weren’t trying to do this, and if AirBnB had actually read our text messages sent THROUGH AirBnB’s messaging service, they would see the host acknowledged that other guests had just spent over week in the unit smoking. The host even admitted to finding cigarette butts in and underneath the couch when the guests left. The host further acknowledged to putting an exorbitant amount of air diffusers and refresheners throughout the home to cover up the smoke smell.

AirBnB felt we owed the host money because we had stayed an excessive amount of time in the unit. We had checked in at 3:30 pm but didn’t leave until 8pm. Mind you, during that 4.5hr span, we probably only spent about 2–3 hrs max in the host’s home (we dropped my sister off at the airport, returned a rental car, and we also went out to eat dinner during this time period). AirBnB also claimed we received extensive benefits cause we drank a bottle of the host’s water, used the host’s laundry machine to run a load (which is why we left the host $10), and our worst sin of all, (gulp!) we actually lied down in the host’s bed (really AirBnB??? What do you think one of the first things a person does when they stay in a hotel/AirBnB rental? They lie down on the bed to see if it’s comfortable).

AirBnB even falsely accused us of showering in the bathroom, which we did not do. Although they didn’t accuse me of doing this, I will admit I almost certainly used the bathroom to pee. I can’t remember for sure because I don’t always keep track of where/when I do this (although it is more probable than not because I am pregnant and I just got in from a long car ride).

AirBnB Does Not Even Listen to Its Guests.

What infuriates me is that AirBnB didn’t even listen to my side of the story before making its “neutral” decision and could care less about what we were going through. My husband and I had just finished a 5 hr drive and arrived at a city we’ve never been before. I was tired, uncomfortable cause I was pregnant, and very eager to get some rest.

However, when I walked in the first thing I noticed was the smoke and pungent mountain fresh scent (the t-shirt I wore while in the place still smells like I had partied all night in a night club and sprayed excessive amounts of mountain scented perfume on me; again, I am NOT a overly sensitive person, I used to smoke, drink and party all the time up until a few years ago). The host noticed my concerns and assured me that the smell was temporary and would go away if we just kept the windows and door open. Before I had a chance to say anything or question the host about this, the host said she had to run to another appointment and took off.

So here I am, tired and exhausted, with every window in the condo open (semi-annoyed at the bugs coming in cause there were no screens) hoping that the smoke and aromatic mountain smell would go away as the host had promised me. After spending an hour or so in the place and trying to air it out, I started to feel light headed. My husband saw how I felt and started to get anxious cause I was pregnant. He felt it wasn’t worth it to stay in a place that was so uncomfortable while we were on vacation. He wanted to leave immediately and started earnestly searching for a nearby hotel that had availability for the night, while I sorted out the situation with the host.

Now honestly, how much benefit did I really receive, and who took advantage of who? If anything, it seems like I was the victim of a bait and switch. Do you think I wanted to have to go through the stress of being worried about what the smoke/chemical smell might be doing to me while I’m pregnant? Did I want to spend my evening searching for a hotel, at 7pm at night, in a city I’ve never been to before, to see if they had availability for that night? Did I want to get in a cab and move all our luggage to a new place and stay? I’m not in my 20s anymore and I’m over the backpacking travel stage where it was a fun adventure to find a place to stay before it got too dark.

It’s Not About the Money; It’s How You Treated Me.

AirBnB, don’t you think it would have been relevant to hear the background before passing judgment on me so hastily? As I mentioned, I truly felt conflicted cause I realized I did use some of the host’s amenities. At the same time, I was put through a terrible experience. It admittedly wasn’t a good situation for the host or me. But AirBnB’s refusal to even listen to my side before making its “neutral” decision revealed how much AirBnB valued me as a customer.

I felt horrible having the case manager making me feel like I was some greedy thief trying to take advantage of the system. She made it seem like I did this intentionally and that I was just an overly sensitive crank. The case manager insinuated that if I had a problem, I should have left the instant I got there.

Well to the case manager who wouldn’t listen, here is what I wanted to tell you. Set aside the fact that I was tired from a long car ride, pregnant and uncomfortable, and eagerly looking forward to getting some rest when I arrived. Why was it so unreasonable for me to have relied on the host’s assurances that the smoke smell would go away? I honestly thought it would over time but it clearly didn’t. It’s her place and who am I to second guess the host on this matter?

What exactly would have been acceptable to AirBnB’s standards? Should I have patiently waited in the doorway of the entrance for the noxious smoke smell to dissipate before I started making use of the host’s accommodation? Is it so unreasonable for me to have lied down in her bed while I waited for the smell to go away?

Mind you that money is NOT the issue here, we would have spent around $370 for two nights through AirBnB, we instead ended up staying at the Westin, which cost us a little more than $390 for the two nights (and I had just come from the Fairmont where I am embarrassed to say we spent an obscene amount of money for the room — hey, it was my baby sister’s wedding day, so we had to splurge).

We are willing to pay this price because quality is our primary concern, not the money. In fact, if your case manager had been reasonable, I imagine I would have offered to pay 50% of the cleaning fee even though we were there for only 2–3 hours (keep in mind we didn’t even really touch or use anything in the house). But when you make us feel like free loaders, and cheap and petty, you are damn right you are going to get a visceral response back from me.

AirBnB only Values Hosts and Not Guests.

I get it. Of course AirBnB wants to keep its hosts happy. But why should I be forced to compensate the host for the full cleaning fee when I didn’t get to use the home fully? AirBnB’s customer service rep thought it was unfair for me to have wasted the host’s time for putting me up for those 4.5 hrs. How come AirBnB doesn’t care that I was forced to waste a half a day of my vacation dealing with this problem? Why does AirBnB not give any value to my time?

This whole mess could’ve been avoided if the host hadn’t lied about the accommodation. If the host were upfront and honest, and told us there were smokers in her place previously, we would have cancelled the reservation. And all those amazing “benefits” we reaped from our 2–3 hr physical stay in the apartment (e.g., drinking of a bottle of water, using the washing machine and lying on the bed) would have been avoided. We only came to be at the host’s home in the first instance because we were misled on what we were getting.

If the listing actually lived up to what was represented, I would have gladly paid for the benefits. But I was sold defective goods and AirBnB made me feel like a thief for sampling them. Think of it this way, if you purchase a pair of shoes at Zappos, you get to try it on and if the shoes are defective, you RETURN that pair of shoes for free even if you had worn them (because you wouldn’t have known that the shoes are defective until you had tried them on!!!) Zappos doesn’t make you feel awful when they send you defective shoes, they apologize, listen and move on (and to AirBnB, I do understand your model is different; you don’t sell the goods, you just are the market facilitator. But I hope you get the point I’m trying to make).

The Customer Service Rep’s Response that Sent Me Over the Edge

I was so unhappy with the attitude of the case manager that I asked to speak to her supervisor. She said she’d try to connect us with someone, but again, she was unfriendly, impatient and unsympathetic in her attitude.

Following the call, I received an outrageous follow-up email from the case manager. It said that if I wanted to talk to the service rep’s supervisor that I was more than welcome to, but that the supervisor had already made his decision and that a call wouldn’t change his mind.

As you can imagine, with an email like that, it would be a waste of time calling, so I never did (instead, I went into full meltdown mode and this ridiculous email is what spurred me to write this post, ha!).

The fixed mindset of AirBnB’s customer service department just astonishes me (i.e., don’t bother us with your story cause we’re too busy to hear it. Besides, we already made up our mind before speaking to you, but don’t worry, we know what’s fair for you because we are a neutral party). It’s clear the rep was trained to deliver a message; not to listen to or solve a customer’s problems.

Although this experience was unfortunate, I normally would have gotten over this. At the time, I was upset but I am sensible enough to recognize that this host is not representative of the platform as a whole. But after talking to AirBnB’s customer service department, this company will be forever on my sh*t list.

AirBnB’s Values Are Revealed

I now see that it is part of the company’s culture that: hosts > guests. Being a guest, it would be stupid to participate in a marketplace like this because you will always get the short end when things go wrong.

And to think my work has been encouraging me to try AirBnB bookings as an alternative to staying in a hotel on my business trips. I’m so throughly convinced that this is a terrible idea, that I’ve already requested a meeting with the head of the department that oversees travel to see how we can eliminate AirBnB as an alternative to staying at corporate hotels. It would pain me if AirBnB actually became an option for our company given its operational model and dispute resolution process. If I was on a business trip, dealing with their customer service department is the LAST thing I would ever want to have to deal with. Maybe we would save a few bucks in the short-term, but we’d end up paying for it in the long run due to all the hassles.

A market is only as reliable as its market maker. When the market marker is complicit with its seller’s misrepresenting the products they are selling on its marketplace (and yes, I feel it is a material misrepresentation to say a home filled with smoke is a “non-smoking” accommodation), you’d have to be a true sucker to willingly participate as a buyer in that market. I’m shocked at how AirBnB treated me through this experience and how AirBnB felt its host bore no responsibility in this failed transaction even though the host misrepresented the accommodation. AirBnB cannot be a “neutral” when it only listens to its hosts and refuses to listen to the concerns raised by guests. I’m convinced that AirBnB, at its core, values its hosts over its guests, and because of this, I’ve lost faith in their marketplace and you won’t ever find me participating in it again.