Unlike many of my avid Airbnb friends, I don’t use it enough to be aware of the nuances. However, only on my second try with it, I have already encountered an experience that is worthy to share with friends and strangers alike. So here it goes.
For this year’s holiday escapes vacation, we had decided to visit the Pacific Northwest (Seattle and Vancouver) region. All we knew about visiting this region in December means fewer tourists, possible chilly weather, assuring lower lodging cost, and extremely tasty oysters.
On Oct 25th, 2015, I made a seven days reservation (Dec 18 to Dec 25) via Airbnb to a host of a downtown Vancouver apartment. After researching and monitoring the listing for couple of days, I chose a promising property due to its convenient location, reasonable price, and above 4 stars ratings based on 20+ reviews. The host was very quick to accept the request (within an hour), and was friendly.
On Nov 9th, I received a reservation change request from this host with the proposition to increase the 7 days rental price by 46%. In the follow-up explanation message, she stated that:
“I’m sorry, my assistant made a mistake with a pricing for holidays dates. I’ve sent you alteration request with special price with the best possible rate for this season. I do apologize for this mistake. Please, confirm the alteration or feel free to cancel it and I’ll make a full refund.”
So, more than two weeks after this Airbnb reservation was reviewed and accepted by this host, and after I have agreed to her strict rental cancellation policy (50% refund up until 1 week prior to arrival, except fees), I was told I have two choices: to either accept this price alteration or to cancel the reservation. On principle or per budget limitation, I could not possibly accept this type of post agreement price-hike no matter how much I want a peace of mind and be done with my vacation planning.
It was obvious, per this host instruction, my only option would be to cancel the reservation. But wait a minute, what about that cancellation policy? If I cancelled it, how could I be sure she will honor me the full refund while the cancellation policy stated otherwise? Especially, considering the situation, could I really trust her? I wasn’t sure.
Adding to the confusion, on that Airbnb’s reservation altering request review page, I see no information explaining the process about this alteration or telling me what rights I entitle to. On that page, it only provided two options (“Accept”or “Decline”), and listed the difference between the original reservation vs the one with the price-hike.
By this point, I have too many questions with no answers. For example: WHY Airbnb allows the host to raise price after it is already agreed upon? What rights do I have to protect the resources that I have poured into this particular reservation (my times and cancellation penalty, etc)? What does the “Decline” option mean (does it mean I cancel the reservation by declining) ? Can the original reservation be honored in anyway? Obviously, I should ask help from Airbnb, and I did.
Ultimately, I declined the price-hike alteration; the host cancelled on me; I then received the full refund + 10% airbnb credit; I booked another downtown apartment using that refund + 10% credit.
From this experience, here were what I learned from using Airbnb:
- When a host proposes change after accepting your reservation request, you have the option to either accept the alteration or decline it. If you choose to decline, then it would be the host but NOT YOU to make the cancellation only if the host decided not to honor the original agreement.
- It turned out that the Airbnb’s reservation agreement does NOT GUARANTEE a host will honor it nor ensure you will have a place to stay whatsoever.
- If you (the guest) proposed change to the reservation and then denied by the host, or you cancelled the reservation out right, you will be held accountable by the reservation cancellation policy you have accepted. In my case, if I cancelled this reservation I could be charged 50% to 100% of the rental cost depending on when the cancellation takes place.
- According to Airbnb, there is penalty towards the host-end cancellation. However, it is unclear how the host would be held accountable (Airbnb avoided clarifying what kind of cancellation penalty my host would get if cancelled on me). By guessing, there is some sort of policy in place, because that helps to explain why this host tried to lead me into doing the cancellation instead of doing it herself – to avoid the penalty. However, this enforcement measure obviously is not strong enough to persuade this host honoring the original agreement.
- If you encountered a host who will not honor the reservation due to no fault of you, you need to know that there is not much administrative help offered by Airbnb to enforce the agreement, or to ensure you will have a place to stay at least. I was advised by Airbnb to talk to other hosts about other places just in case this host eventually cancels on me.
- You will receive full refund if the host cancelled on you. 10% Airbnb credit will be also made available if you decide to book rental again through Airbnb.
- Lastly, Airbnb somehow decided it is okay to take away your right of reviewing a host who cancelled your reservation. Instead, the system will auto post on your behalf. This is what the Airbnb posted on my behalf:
“The host canceled this reservation 38 days before arrival. This is an automated posting.”
- I understand that there are reasonable cases for host or guest to cancel a reservation, and the cancellation penalty are not always needed. I also understand that Airbnb system is trying to provide flexibility to handle all kind of reservation and alteration scenarios. One can certainly make listing mistake, but isn’t the host already given the step to review the reservation request before accepting/denying it? In my opinion, allowing price-hike after two weeks into the agreement is not one of those reasonable use case scenarios.
- I feel this booking experience gave me the impression that, by design or by accident, Airbnb is not treating the host and guest equally. The cancellation by guest term is very obvious to both parties at the time of booking, but cancellation by host term is much less transparent.