Published November 30th, 2017 by Asher Fergusson
As a result of our study: We’ve discovered multiple dangerous loopholes in the Airbnb platform
This past September, my wife and I experienced two consecutive Airbnb nightmares that left us and our 10-month-old son on the street in Europe frightened, vulnerable and with nowhere to go.
When we got home we had to ask: Is Airbnb safe?
In the process of analyzing over 1000 Airbnb horror stories, we’ve uncovered what’s most likely to go wrong.
We also found:
Airbnb has multiple dangerous loopholes and scams that are going unchecked. This affects everyone using Airbnb including guests staying in the USA.
We quickly realized how important it is for us to inform fellow travelers of these possible dangerous scenarios. We’ve also included safety tips on how to avoid Airbnb nightmares. We hope you will take the time to read this article and share with your family and friends before they travel this holiday season.
Click below or scroll to learn more
1021 Airbnb horror stories
As part of our research, we analyzed a total of 1021 Airbnb horror stories from: 3rd-party review sites, major news outlets and via directly submitted stories shared by top travel bloggers.
What’s the worst that could happen while staying at an Airbnb?…
In the US and other major countries, Airbnb doesn’t require any ID other than an email address and phone number, anyone could be your host. They don’t even require real names or profile photos.
This means you could end up staying with a convicted felon, a registered sex offender, a thief, or a conniving scam artist.
Whereas, as a guest, you may be required to have government ID and can be booted from the platform at any time, without warning, and without a valid reason. When this happens, the decision is final and usually can’t even be appealed if it’s an error.
This isn’t surprising:
Considering an Airbnb co-founder said, “This company is first and foremost about the hosts, not the guests.”
Additionally, Airbnb is a mega for-profit business (worth $31 billion) and the fewer restrictions they put on hosts, the more money they make. It’s that simple.
The worst Airbnb guest horror stories
Below are a few examples of the worst Airbnb guest horror stories reported by major news outlets:
In the aftermath of such events:
The truth is:
THIS IS TOTAL, UTTER BS!
This is how a scamming host tricked us, and here I’ve provided a video which proves he’s continuing to do it to others with two new accounts after Airbnb “permanently” deleted the two accounts I reported to them.
In the video, I also took a few minutes and found the same thing going on in London and New York!
It is simply too easy to create a host account even after being “permanently banned” by Airbnb.
An article published on Business Insider talks about the exact same thing happening in 2014 where a “permanently banned” host gets back on almost immediately, yet it’s still going in 2017!?
Airbnb, where’s your QUALITY CONTROL?!
Research Study Results
To ensure that this research was as accurate as it could be, I enlisted the help of Sheana Ahlqvist, PhD who is an expert in user research, survey design, and usability testing. She had us do a “reliability assessment” and guided the whole process of conducting the study. If you’d like to learn more about our research, HERE is a link to our study methods, results and recommendations. You’re free to use this research with a link to this page as the source.
Examples of common Airbnb complaints:
Unsafe and/or Unacceptable Conditions
9 common examples found in our study:
2. Unsafe, broken amenities
3. Hostile or intimidating host
5. Dangerous animals present
6. Hidden cameras in bedroom
8. Illegal drugs are present
9. Very unsafe neighborhood
17 horror stories shared by top travel bloggers:
34 horror stories shared around the web:
Host Cancels Stay
7 common examples found in our study:
2. Host never shows up
3. Airbnb doesn’t help
4. Guests are left on their own
6. Guests lose a lot of money
7. Some hosts cancel for legit reasons such as family emergencies
8 common examples found in our study:
2. Host blackmails guest
3. Listing price arbitrage
5. Host modifies booking
6. Fake scam emails
8. Demands offsite payment
2 horror stories shared by top travel bloggers:
26 horror stories shared around the web:
Not as Described
9 common examples found in our study:
2. Location is wrong
3. Missing amenities
5. Undisclosed roommates
6. Unexpected animals present
8. Smaller space than expected
9. Description wasn’t accurate
4 horror stories shared by top travel bloggers:
29 horror stories shared around the web:
Customer Service Problems
9 common examples found in our study:
2. Unreachable or unresponsive
3. Denies refunds unfairly
5. Policies unfairly favor hosts
6. Deactivates guest account
8. Provides wrong answers
9. Promises but never delivers
Fake Listing and/or Fake Reviews
6 common examples found in our study:
2. Airbnb modifies, censors or deletes a review
3. Host blackmails guest for a good review
5. Illegal listing that causes problems for guest
6. Fake reviews by friends or family of host
Please share with your family and friends before they travel this holiday season.
Yo Airbnb, can you
please answer these questions?
Here are 8 questions I have for you, and I’m sure many others would like to know the answers to:
1) Why do you only require email & phone verification to become a host?
In this video I also show examples in London and New York of multiple accounts listing the same property. It took me less than ten minutes to find just these few examples, which leads me to believe that your site is full of such scams.
Even the Russian mafia are using Airbnb for money-laundering schemes! It’s just too easy to become a host…
2) Why don’t you require hosts to have government ID, use real names, pass proper background checks, and have host profile photos match the photo on government ID?
This video from CBC Canada they say, “We asked Airbnb why it’s not mandatory to provide identification?”
This sounds like a clever money grab to me. The easier you make it for hosts to sign up, the more money you make… And the more you expose all of your guests to very real risks. Excellent business practices? We think not.
3) Why doesn’t your platform have photo recognition software built in to detect multiple listings with the exact same photos?
I have read your article, “What we’re doing to prevent fake listing scams”.
In it, you say that you are:
After watching the above video, can you really claim that your “machine learning technology” is actually doing anything productive or protective?
In the same article, you also say:
If I can find multiple examples of fake listings in Paris, London and New York in under 10 minutes, I would be willing to bet that there are literally 10s of thousands of fake listings plaguing your website and scamming your guests. And as soon as you delete the listing they’ll just create a new one using the same pictures!
Furthermore, a scammer doesn’t need you to transact off of the website before your trip to be successful at scamming you: the one that got us in Paris lured us up 6 flights of stairs and then demanded cash upon arrival. He said he had a problem with his bank getting the money from Airbnb and so he cancelled our reservation to demand cash up-front. He waited until we’d moved all of our bags in to tell us this.
Lastly, if a criminal wanted to use your website to lure people to their house (or someone else’s house) they wouldn’t have to put any focus on money – once you were in their space they could pretty much do whatever they wanted with you…
4) Why don’t you do random spot-checks to ensure that listings are actually legit?
If hosts had the chance of being randomly checked on, it’s likely that they would all be “better behaved”. This is especially important for listings that are new and don’t have a perfect 5-star rating.
5) Why don’t you require hosts to list the square footage/meters of their accommodation?
The photos on the website are more often than not very deceiving so why not require hosts to share the actual square footage/meters of the property.
Additionally, you could require all hosts to have a floor plan (like pictured) with measurements of each wall to make it clear how big or small a place really is. I know many good superhosts include it already and it’s so helpful!
6) Why do you treat your customers so poorly?
My above study of over 1000 bad Airbnb experiences reveals overwhelmingly that your customer service simply isn’t good enough. It’s incredibly disorganized and frustrating – my wife and I have literally spent more than 30 hours on the phone and writing emails back and forth.
Below, I theorize 3 reasons that your customer service is so terrible.
7) Why do you put your customers out on the street if your listing is not safe?
Do you know how difficult that was? If you had helped us at that point I probably wouldn’t be writing this article, and I would continue to use Airbnb.
Instead, this nightmare experience means you’ve lost us as customers. How much does that cost in the long-run?
8) Why is your review system so broken?
In my experience, major problems still exist. For example, in September we stayed at a beautiful place in Sardinia, Italy and our host was wonderful. She was so helpful and nice that we left a glowing 5-star review. However, what we should have done was leave a 4-star review because the bed was horrible. We did let her know about the bed privately but not publicly because we had built a personal relationship with her and didn’t want to leave a bad review. That means that the pressure of the personal (good or bad) relationship between guests and hosts affects the legitimacy and accuracy of ratings.
This is still a BIG problem.Back to top
Is Airbnb safe?
To be totally honest:
After doing over 150hrs of research and finding out that anyone can become a host and list a property that may or may not be real, there is no way to be sure an Airbnb listing is safe.
Even after your arrival:
If you deem your accommodation not safe or not up to your expectations, it will be difficult to get any support from customer service and next to impossible to get a refund unless you have photo evidence, and even then it’s not likely that getting a refund will be easy. Many reviewers shared that they’d provided multiple pictures to Airbnb Customer Experience, and their claims were still denied.
In my experience and that of many reviewers, even if your claim does get approved it will take weeks of going back and forth with a highly disorganized customer service team and when they do refund it will likely only be a partial refund. The common complaints (and this is what happened to us) are that they withhold the cleaning fee and Airbnb service fee even if you didn’t stay at the place!
To summarize, here are 15 reasons why using Airbnb is NOT safe and is more like playing a game of Russian Roulette with your vacation:
- Reviews are not trustworthy and are usually biased
- Pictures often do not match the reality
- Written descriptions often do not match the reality either
- Anyone can become a host with just an email and phone number
- Your host could be a convicted felon, a registered sex-offender, a thief, or a scammer
- “Permanently banned” hosts can get back onto the platform immediately
- Few (if any) background checks are done on hosts, and only if they’ve provided the correct name and date of birth AND live in the US
- No one checks to see if a property is legal, safe, or meets any quality standards
- If you deem your accommodation unsafe, you are left on the street to fend for yourself
- Customer service is highly incompetent and disorganized
- Fake listings plague the Airbnb website
- Fake Airbnb websites are scamming people
- The mobile app and desktop website are littered with bugs
- There are many reports of widespread racism
- Hidden cameras could be in any room
I am sure there are many more reasons why Airbnb is not safe but this gives you a good idea.
Please share with your family and friends before they travel this holiday season.
Back to top
54 Airbnb safety tips:
How to avoid nightmares in 2017
If you’re still interested in using Airbnb after reading the horror stories then please follow these tips below to minimize nightmare experiences.
These suggestions are based on my experience using Airbnb since 2012 and the collective experience of over 50 travel bloggers with a combined total of over 1200 Airbnb stays all over the world!
Any savvy Airbnb traveler would consider the following:
Use the REVIEWS to your advantage
1) Never book a place with zero reviews. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult for legitimately good new hosts to get started on the platform but it’s the safest way to avoid scams. We’ve learned this the hard way.
2) If a place has less than 5 stars don’t stay there. Airbnb has an unreliable review system that makes it such that most people will only leave less than 5-stars when they have a horrible experience. Therefore a place with a 4.5-star average is likely to have had guests with bad experiences.
3) In busy tourist areas, only go for places with over 50 reviews. If you want to be sure the reviews are legit, from real travelers, then only stay with a lot of reviews. The more the better.
4) In less popular areas, only go for places with over 25 reviews. Since remote areas are likely to have fewer visitors than big cities then a minimum of 25 reviews should be okay. Again, the more the better.
5) Make sure the reviews are from real travelers, not friends or family of the host. If you do decide to take a gamble and stay at place with only a handful of reviews then try to snoop through the reviews and get a feeling for if they are from real travelers or not. Click on the reviewers profile and see that they have stayed at many Airbnbs, not just the one you’re looking at.
6) Carefully read all reviews, especially the 10 most recent reviews. Like any business, things can go downhill over time. Reading the 10 or more most recent reviews will give you a sense of the current state of affairs. If you want to do full due diligence then read every single review posted.
7) Look out for any kind of negative reviews and read them carefully. Since the Airbnb review system makes it difficult to be critical, people often dance around the problem so if there is something negative, it usually was really bad.
8) Read between the lines with anything that isn’t ideal. Look for any source of red flags e.g. “it was a bit small” or “the drapes haven’t been cleaned in years”. Anything like this is a sign of a bigger problem with the place being extremely small or unclean.
9) Repeated references to something tells you a lot about that pro or con. If a certain issue, good or bad, keeps coming up in the reviews then it will be certainly true. And it will likely be a bigger problem or a bigger perk than the individual review described.
10) Don’t trust a place simply because it has a 5-star average. I know this might contradict an earlier tip, but you have to take all of the tips into account. For example, if a place has a 5-star average but when you communicate with the host they’re not responsive then that could point to a big problem later on.
11) If cleanliness (or any detail) is important to you, look for those references in the reviews. The reviews are your only chance of finding a third-party verification of something so read carefully. It’s time-consuming, I know!
Top travel bloggers share their tips on REVIEWS
~ Margherita from The Crowded Planet
~ Scott & Hayley from International Hot Dish
~ Shandos from Travelnuity
~ Katie & Ben from Two Wandering Soles
~ Paula & Gordon from Contented Traveller
~ Suzanne from Phila Travel Girl
Only stay with the best HOSTS
12) Wherever possible, only use superhosts. According to the Airbnb website, superhosts are experienced, respond quickly, have at least 80% 5-star reviews and rarely cancel reservations. They are your best bet for a good experience. Note: there is filter you can turn on so that you only see superhosts.
13) Only stay with hosts who have verified government ID. I suggest only staying with hosts who have provided government ID because it gives an added layer of proof that you’re dealing with a real person.
14) Look for hosts who have been guests and read their reviews. If you click on a host’s profile you can see their “reviews from guests” but if you keep scrolling you can see their “reviews from hosts” too. This allows you to get a sense of the host’s true nature from both perspectives. If they don’t have any “reviews from hosts” then that could be red flag.
15) Don’t stay with a host who has more than one or two properties. When a host has a lot of listings then you know this is their main business and it takes the personal home feeling out of your stay. We unfortunately had a disastrous stay with a superhost in Paris who had 62 listings. There has even been research showing that service quality declines when a host manages too many listings.
16) Carefully read replies that hosts give to negative reviews. You can learn a lot about a host by seeing how they deal with negative feedback. If they are accusatory and not proving they tried to fix the problem in a logical way, then stay away from those hosts.
17) See how the host communicates (e.g look for responsiveness, friendliness and clarity). The speed at which you get a response from a host is very important to prove that when you’re staying at their place they will hopefully maintain the same responsiveness.
18) Always ask your host to explain anything that you’re unsure of. Inevitably there will be something that isn’t clear from the description. For example, my wife is allergic to cats so she always checks to see if there has previously been a cat at the property. Another example might be asking what specific utensils does the kitchen have.
19) If you’re a single woman, it may be best to go with a female host. This is particularly true if you are renting a private room within a house hosted by a single male. There have been a number of reports where male hosts ask the female guest to share their bed!
20) If a host demands cash on arrival, simply say, “no!” and leave no matter what. As soon as you transact off the platform, Airbnb can’t protect you if anything goes wrong. Typically these people are scammers and the place is likely to have a lot of unforeseen problems too.
21) Make sure you have the host’s phone number before arrival. This is important to have in case of emergencies or simply for directions to give the taxi driver, who may not speak English if you’re abroad.
22) Be clear about who is going to stay at (or visit) the property and get the hosts approval. It is the courteous thing to do and will minimize the chances of upsetting the host. Additionally, if you have documented proof that you got permission to have your friends visit then the host can’t write you a bad review or claim to Airbnb that you broke the rules.
23) Airbnb has had countless bad cases of discrimination. Therefore, if you have any reason to believe that you could be discriminated against such as if you’re LGBTQ, then make sure your host is okay with your stay (it is horrible I that even have to write this 🙁 ).
Top travel bloggers share their tips on HOSTS
~ Abby from The Winged Fork
~ Nina from Things Nomads Do
~ Daniil from Russian Blogger
~ Carolina from CRH Collective
~ Stefan & Sebastien from Nomadic Boys
~ Daniel from Nobody Stopped Me
Don’t get deceived by the PHOTOS
24) Study all the photos carefully. Try to orient yourself in each room and piece together the photos so that you can get a feeling of the place in every respect. A picture is worth a 1000 words and can give a lot of clues to the quality of the property.
25) Be skeptical of gorgeous, professional wide-angle photos. It’s amazing how clever photography can warp your expectations of the property. Sure, there are times that the wide-angle photos are fine but more often than not they make the place look much bigger and better than reality.
26) Low-quality photos taken by the host are more trustworthy than professional shots. Even though the low quality photos may not do the place justice, they are much more likely to tell the real story than professional magazine-style shots.
27) If the cover photo does not include the property in the picture, watch out. In my experience, this usually means the place is trying to hide something and so they’re covering this up by giving you a nice photo of the local beach etc. If they are showing you the view then the property should be part of the photo.
28) Don’t book if any photos of key rooms are missing. If you don’t see a kitchen, bathroom or even a bedroom that you should be seeing then that’s an immediate red flag that those rooms a dingy and not worth showing.
Top travel bloggers share their tips on PHOTOS
~ Melvin from Travel Dudes
~ Sheralyn from Paradise Found in Maui
~ Anna from Anna Sherchand
~ Jessica Independent Travel Cats
Read DESCRIPTIONS and amenities thoroughly
29) Carefully read the descriptions. The descriptions on Airbnb are the place where a host can share key benefits and features of their accommodation. You can often learn a lot, but of course the host can easily write anything they want. You can cross-reference the description to the reviews and see if you find any discrepancies.
30) Make sure all facilities that you need are listed. For example, if you want a kitchen, washer/dryer and Internet then you’ll obviously want to see those facilities shown in the amenities section. If there is any confusion, message the host to clarify.
31) Double-check that the location is where you want to stay. With any kind of real estate, location is a very important factor for deciding where to stay. Sometimes it can be unclear where the property is in relation to the attractions you want. To get a sense of the neighborhood you can use Google Maps Street View for a virtual walk around.
32) Look for the size of the space in square feet (if it’s not listed, request it). Since the wide-angle photos can be very deceiving it’s important know the true size of your place. Square footage is helpful in knowing how big a place is compared to your own home. A floor plan with measurements of each wall is particularly helpful in understanding the layout and size of the accommodation. In fact, I think Airbnb should require this!
Top travel bloggers share their tips on DESCRIPTIONS
~ Tamara from We 3 Travel
~ Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel
~ Meg & Nik from With a Suitcase
~ Evelina from Eva Milano
~ Alex from Wanderlust Marriage
~ Svet from Svetoslav Dimitrov
Learn how to use the WEBSITE properly
33) Keep your profile up to date with your current phone number and email address. It’s very important to keep your info current and also to be sure that you can access both that phone number and email while abroad in a foreign country. If Airbnb customer support needs to verify your account then they’ll need you to know these details. If you signed up with Facebook a long time ago and have since updated your email address then Airbnb won’t have synced and you could be in trouble.
34) Use the filters such as price, location, and facilities as a starting point. The Airbnb website has a lot of helpful filters that can allow you save time getting exactly what you want to see. Also use the map on the right hand side of the website to pinpoint the location you want so that you only see listings in the neighborhood you require.
35) After filtering the search results, favor the listings near the top of the results. Airbnb’s algorithm ranks properties based on their quality and popularity. These accommodations are much more likely to be winners than the ones at the bottom of the page with few reviews and limited numbers of previous tenants.
36) Wherever possible, avoid using their Mobile App because it’s full of bugs. I
hope pray they’re working to fix these bugs but as of September 2017, there are countless error messages that happen on the app. I even had a top customer service rep tell me to only make changes to my profile on the desktop because it might not work properly on the app! This is quite alarming considering that when you’re traveling you likely won’t have access to a desktop computer. Even their website says to request a refund after cancellations you have to do it “from a computer” not their app.
Top travel bloggers share their tips using the WEBSITE
~ Craig & Linda from Indie Travel Podcast
~ Alex from Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler
~ Diah from Mi Nombre Rany
Have set criteria before making a BOOKING
37) To get reduced rates try booking monthly or weekly. Many listings will offer discounts on their nightly rates if you stay a minimum of 1 week and often a bigger discount if you stay 1 month. This can be a helpful saving if you’re planning to be in one location for an extended period.
38) Book at least 6 weeks in advance. This is really important to be able to find suitable accommodation that meets the strict guidelines explained on this article. For example, superhost listings with the most 5-star reviews, lowest prices and best locations will get booked first. Then as your travel dates get closer and closer the quality of listings will drop significantly and you’ll be left with sketchy or scamming hosts.
39) Do not book last-minute unless the place has a ton of 5-star reviews and passes all other tests listed above. As mentioned, it is rare to find a great place last minute (unless there was a cancellation) because all the best properties get booked out weeks in advance. If you need accommodation last minute I recommend you find a suitable hotel and avoid Airbnb.
40) Do not do instant bookings, communicate the with host before making a booking. Instant bookings open up higher chances of being disappointed because you didn’t confirm an important detail with the host. It sounds good in principle but in my experience, it’s not worth the risk.
41) Trust your instincts and don’t book if it doesn’t feel right. You can glean a lot from the all the info you’re given e.g. the photos, descriptions, reviews, host profile, and interaction with the host. If you even remotely sense a red flag at any point in the process then simply move on and find a place that doesn’t raise any red flags at all.
42) Before booking, cross-reference the Airbnb pricing, location, and facilities with a comparable hotel. Because accommodation is usually the most expensive part of planning a trip it is important to shop around. Often Airbnb has the best prices but it’s not always the case.
43) Book an entire place to ensure privacy and comfort. If you don’t want to stay with a stranger or if you simply want the full luxury of having a place all to yourself, this is the way to go. Keep in mind that bookings that must be shared with other guests or with the host(s) open up a whole world of unhappy possibilities – you may bet paired with insufferable roommates and your trip will be ruined.
44) Make a short list of places you want to stay and then select the best one based on all of your criteria and all of the tips we shared. I know this is a long list of tips so the process will likely take hours, but it’s the best way to minimize disappointments when you get there.
Top travel bloggers share their tips on BOOKINGS
~ Laurence from Finding the Universe
~ Tiff from Vagabond Way
~ Michela from Rocky Travel
~ Rachel from Hippie in Heels
~ Aaron from Yogi Aaron
~ Crystal from Gnomad Family
Expect terrible CUSTOMER SERVICE
45) If something goes wrong, expect to be on the street, homeless and left to fend for yourself in finding new last-minute accommodation. This happened to my wife, 10-month-old son and I in Paris. It was horrible. The only thing they did for us was suggest other Airbnbs we should stay at which included a place hosted by the same scammer we were leaving!!
46) Contact Airbnb support number asap if absolutely anything goes wrong. Their US number is +1 855 424 7262. It doesn’t matter how big or small the problem is, contact them as soon as possible. If you don’t call them within 24 hours of arriving at the property you won’t get a refund, plain and simple.
47) Document anything that goes wrong with photo evidence for help with getting a refund. Airbnb’s guest refund policy states 3 reasons you can cancel your listing to get a refund. These include: not being able to access the property, the property is misrepresented, it is unclean, unsafe or has an animal. They require photo evidence to be able to issue a refund. Expect a long, drawn-out process with a lot of time communicating and you will likely only get a partial refund – like we did!
48) Only communicate the problems you’re experience with the host via the Airbnb message system. You should also be in touch with the host if a problem is something that they can fix. By using their message system you’ll have a record of all communication with the host so that the Airbnb customer service team can review it if there is a dispute.
49) Expect to deal with a disorganized team that will take hours of your time. If you are applying for a refund, it will likely take weeks and weeks to get one and when it does come it will likely only be a partial refund!
Top travel bloggers share their tips on CUSTOMER SERVICE
~ Kelly from Lost and Bound For
~ Chantell from Adoration 4 Adventure
~ Rachel from Grateful Gypsies
~ Dany from Travelling Dany
50) You almost always get what you pay for, especially in expensive cities like Paris. It’s important to shop around and find what the going rates are for your accommodation needs. Pay particular attention to the prices of places with a lot of 5-star reviews and that are managed by superhosts.
51) If a listing looks too good to be true then it most likely is. This is especially true for any place that has less than a 5-star average with only a few reviews. The legitimate best places will most likely be priced accordingly and have a ton of 5-star reviews.
52) If you want to travel with a pet, Airbnb is typically a better option than hotels. In the “house rules” filter you can select “pets allowed” which will filter all the properties that allow pets. Note that hosts generally think of a dog when they say pets are allowed. As always, communicate with you host beforehand to see what they’re okay with.
53) If Internet speed is important, ask the host for proof in advance. You ask for the “upload and download” speeds via a screenshot they provide after using http://www.speedtest.net/. If the speed isn’t satisfactory then you can see if they would boost their plan while you stay. This especially makes sense if you’re renting for a month or more and want to get some work done.
Top travel bloggers share their MISCELLANEOUS tips
~ John from Roaming Around the World
~ Cath & Ian from Possess the World
~ JB & Renée from Will Fly For Food
~ Roma from Roaming Required
~ Nora from The Professional Hobo
~ Jo from Wander With Jo
A bonus tip
54) If any of this scares you or is overwhelming, simply don’t use Airbnb in the first place. Instead, stay at the nicest hotel you can afford that has good reviews on your favorite review site to be sure of an awesome vacation!Back to top
One last rant: why I think
Airbnb’s customer service is so bad
Here’s the thing:
After spending over 160 hours writing this article, I’ve come to the following conclusions:
1) Since the beginning, the founder of Airbnb didn’t think customer service was important.
This is an excerpt from The Upstarts by Brad Stone:
…Chesky had subscribed to the purist’s view of online marketplaces: Users were supposed to police one another by rating their experiences. Untrustworthy actors would be drummed off the platform by bad reviews, rejected by the web’s natural immune system. It was a libertarian view of the internet and had the whiff of Silicon Valley snake oil. The prospect of a negative review is of little use after a serious breach of etiquette —or a criminal act. But because of their shared faith in the power of self-policing marketplaces, Chesky and his colleagues hadn’t made serious investments in customer service or customer safety. The fact that Blecharczyk, as well as the company’s controller, Stanley Kong, had been put in charge of customer service at a company now with over 130 employees while the other founders looked for an executive to run the department was telling. “We viewed ourselves as a product and technology company, and customer support didn’t feel like product and tech,” Chesky says. (Source)
2) Quality customer service is expensive and requires a lot of training and employee freedom.
In 2016, Airbnb was #1 on Glassdoor but now in 2017 they’ve already slipped to #35. The employee reviews mention things like “growing pains,” “little transparency,” and “little room to advance.” In my experience, the customer service team is simply not organized enough or empowered enough to give good service. I also bet there is a high turnover of employees in customer service because it’s a very stressful job dealing with so many ruined vacations.
Here is a quote from an Airbnb “Customer Experience Specialist” located in Portland:
“If you are joining Airbnb, get any job except in Customer Experience. This job is truly draining — prepare to get screamed at by rich entitled people from all over the world. There is no room to move up in the company if you work in Portland. However, if you are in San Francisco, or in any other department, the opportunities are much better. Management does not understand the difficulties that customer experience faces.“
3) They are trying to ramp up profitability before an IPO.
To date, over $4.3 billion has been invested in Airbnb. This money has come from investors in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street and in order to keep the investors happy Airbnb needs to maximize profitability before their rumored IPO (Initial Public Offering). Everyone knows that for a successful IPO, “investors want to see a clear path to near-term profitability”. Skift recently wrote an eye-opening and in-depth article, “Airbnb’s road to an IPO”.
Here is a quote from another Airbnb “Customer Experience Specialist”:
“I started working here because I really believed in what Airbnb stands for and the service it is providing to the world, but it turns out that “belonging” is just their overt mission. In actually, Airbnb is like every other mega cooperation – focused on making more and more money for billionaires…”
Below I go into more detail on the first point:
Here is a recent interview from October 23rd, 2017 with Brian Chesky (Airbnb founder) with Fortune.
“You’ve also had your share of controversy and you’ve run into all sorts of challenges whether it’s safety incidents, legal pushback or discrimination. What of those has been hardest for you?”
“Well I think that the first one one was by far the hardest. The first big, big crisis or challenge we had.
We didn’t have robust 24/7 customer support, we didn’t have a trust and safety team, we didn’t remove very many users and then a woman’s apartment got trashed and it was a huge wake up call.
When Chesky says “immune system” I believe he means that when Airbnb users go out and stay at bad listings they will then write bad reviews that will inform future travelers.
Are you kidding me, Mr. Chesky?!!
You’re expecting us travelers to spend thousands of dollars on a trip and then have our vacation ruined so that we can be part of your “immune system” in order for you to make more money at our expense?
This logic is ridiculous. I can see how an “immune system” works on websites like Facebook or YouTube where inappropriate content gets flagged by users. But the stakes are low there since we’re separated from “bad people” by our computer screens.
With Airbnb it’s completely different. Accommodation is the most important base need for successful travel and usually costs $1000s. An “immune system” in this case is just not good enough.
How do we know we’re not going to be staying with a convicted felon or sex-offender when you allow anyone to become a host? How do we know the place we’re renting is even legal? And after years of Chesky’s “immune system” being up and running, we’re still seeing hundreds of problems with false, deleted, censored, and untrustworthy reviews plus dangerous stays and hosts, so the immune system is obviously not working.
It is apparent that Chesky has had this idealistic view from day one. He didn’t think customer support was that important because the users would self govern. This is total BS considering the fact that it wasn’t until August 2017 that they allowed reviews to be shared even if someone cancelled their stay or left early.
Does Airbnb censor negative reviews?
Chesky wants an “immune system” created by user reviews, yet Airbnb has been known to censor negative reviews!
A number of travel bloggers reported directly to me that they have had times when their bad reviews were deleted by Airbnb. This is also commonly reported in online in forums and on the review sites we used in our study.
For example, here is what travel blogger, Jeremy from Travel Freak said:
“I wrote a review about my bad experience…which was promptly deleted from the Airbnb website just days later, and the entire trip had been removed from my history altogether. It was like my whole trip had just been deleted from their system. Like it never happened.”
Here is another example posted online by c k.
“We wrote a bad review of the place citing roaches, overall dated and dirty, no smoke alarm etc. I put some positive things in the review too. I was called a couple days after writing the review saying I had violated Airbnb policies… and my review was rejected… Airbnb made it impossible for me to put an honest review online.”
The obvious reason for this censorship is to keep the ratings high so that people will still stay at bad or average listings so that Airbnb will keep getting it’s fees and maximizing profitability.
More opinions on Airbnb’s customer service from travel bloggers
“Our bad experiences have always been because of AirBNB’s absolutely terrible customer service. Our AirBNB experience can be summed up as: It’s great when everything goes well, if things go wrong, AirBNB will never help you out and you are on your own. This can be varying levels of scary depending on which country you are in and what your situation at the moment looks like.”
~ Ashray & Zara from Backpack Me
“It took 3 days to get anyone at AirBnB to help me recover my hacked account. I called. I emailed. I tweeted. I tweeted several more times. I could NOT be more disappointed by their customer service while my credit cards were at risk. Completely unacceptable!”
~ Lia from Practical Wanderlust
“I think Airbnb has suffered the typical tech conundrum: growing faster than it’s ready for. It needs to have dedicated community managers for every major market to help out with on-the-ground issues, and it needs to up its customer service game—or at least, bring back the level from (circa) 2014 when it was at the top of its game.”
~ Kristin from Camels and Chocolate
“Customer service was nonexistent on this trip. No response until we returned stateside, and then just an apology that the listing was not as described. Customer service with Airbnb will either make or break their business when issues such as this arise. Renters should always be able to find support and an easy and quick method of contact to resolve issues.”
~ Amy from The Gypsy Mamas
I’ve had some great experiences using the platform starting with a magical trip to Bodrum, Turkey in 2012 (pictured). The only thing that went wrong on that trip is the host wanted $250 compensation for damages that we didn’t cause…
The real problem is:
When a platform grows so big and the company doesn’t do enough to protect its users then the dishonest and scamming people of the world flock to partake in the action.
- Clean up their website to prevent the “bad players”
- Fix the review system
- Offer real solutions to guests who have a cancelled stay
- Actually help guests find new accommodation when their original booking goes wrong
- Fix the countless bugs in the mobile app and main website
- Offer amazing customer service
I’m never using Airbnb again. It’s simply not worth the risk anymore.
By the way:
I’ve still not received my full refund from the moldy place in Paris that we were only in for 20 mins. Last I heard on Nov. 13th from an extremely rude customer service lady named Melissa was that Mark was going to call me back in 1 hr…
After 30 hrs of emails and phone calls with this horrible company, I’ve finally given up trying. I suspect this is exactly what they want…
Below is the official response Airbnb gave to an article published in the http://www.independent.co.uk/ after seeing my article and research:
Airbnb said it takes safety seriously and accused Mr Fergusson of making false claims because his blog is is partly funded by TripAdvisor.
“It’s no surprise that someone who makes money from our competitors is smearing our community and making false claims about us, our hosts and our guests.
“There have been more than 260 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date and negative incidents are extremely rare but when they do arise, we work hard to make things right.
“Plain and simple, the stats they cite aren’t statistically significant, nor are they accurate, and the claims are misrepresented and flat-out false.
“Building a safe and trusted community is our number one priority and the most important thing we do.”
Here is my response to Airbnb:
“I have no interest in promoting TripAdvisor over Airbnb and have zero affiliation with them apart from a handful of affiliate links which I have now removed. I made a total of $37 from TripAdvisor in the past 2 years which is completely negligible. (Video Proof)
“I conducted my research and wrote my article because I truly want to see Airbnb succeed, but our findings indicate they are not doing a good enough job keeping up with their massive growth. I uncovered multiple dangerous loopholes and scams that are going unchecked and I want to bring awareness to these issues.
“Furthermore, it is highly evident how poor Airbnb’s customer service is since they’re not acknowledging or apologizing for what happened to my family and I in Paris this past September. This is sad considering we’ve been loyal customers since 2012.
“Additionally, Airbnb failed to address the fact that the scammer who got us is still on their website scamming other people even after they shut down his two previous accounts. We still haven’t received full refunds from our trip after spending 30 hours (spread over months) on the phone and writing emails with their disorganized and rude customer support team.
“Lastly, in my video, I provide video proof of scams and loopholes that are widespread and they’re not addressing any of these serious safety issues either.”
If anyone has further questions for me, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s your experience with Airbnb? Write your comments below.
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