What risk? Risk of being abandoned in an unfamiliar environment while AirBnB does nothing. With a hotel, you have the security of the hotel staff, the familiarity of a reception and a desk and an organized structure with a face you can actually talk to. With AirBnB, you get nothing of this local expertise and security. They are only a distant phone line, if you can even find a phone line.
(AirBnB is a vacation rental website, but we don’t recommend our audience use it especially when travelling with family and especially when travelling overseas when you may not be able to converse with the locals. It has a woeful support structure and you really don’t know what you are getting).
With AirBnB acting only as a middleman for the transaction, you are left to your own devices in case something goes wrong. As it did horribly for me while AirBnB staff sent me on a merry goose chase and threatened me with losing all my money if I cancelled.
I land in Padova, Italy after a 4 hour ride from Rome. I am on a European trip with my family, and Padova is a pit stop for Venice. My kids are really tired, and they just want to rest. Except, I don’t know how to get to my accommodation booked on AirBnB.
24 hours earlier, I had made an instant booking for this accommodation on AirBnB. You know, the one where I don’t have to wait for a confirmation from the host. As soon as the booking is made, you can pack your bags and go as AirBnB sends you the address (which later turned out to be incorrect).
Keep in mind that I don’t speak Italian. I am in a foreign land and at the mercy of Italian taxi drivers. I have 8 pieces of luggage, 2 little kids, an irate wife and 1 elderly mother. My internet connection on the iPhone is not very reliable. In any case, my iPhone battery is dying. Ok, none of this is AirBnB’s problem, but I am just setting the scene.
So I have landed at this foreign station and I am deciding whether to just hire a taxi and go to this address. Something though is wrong. I have had no contact back from the host, even though I had sent her a few messages letting her know that we would be arriving soon and if she could let us know the estimated taxi fares. Even though this was an instant booking, some sort of feedback would have confirmed that I am on the right track. Even directly ringing her was going straight into her message bank.
So I think about ringing AirBnB’s supposedly instant help from their iPhone app thinking about what to do? (BTW AirBnB – why does your system go through the same menu twice? Very frustrating when you’re in a panic). Should I just go to the address? AirBnB’s answer? We have sent you an email with further details on what to do. There is another number for the host – why don’t you try and call that as well?
Oh great. First, you want me to open up all my bags, look for my laptop and the right connector, find a power plug, go to Outlook and do a send receive while the rest of my mail downloads (no — I don’t use my iPhone for my mail) in the middle of a train station in Padova, Italy and then follow the instructions in the email. At the same time you want me to contact my host on another number. If you had this extra magical number with you all along AirBnB, why didn’t you share it with me at the start of the booking?
Further, I am in a frustrating, panicky mode. I don’t want to try new things. I just want to go to my lodgings and a resolution. Why don’t you put me on hold, while you try and ring this new magical number for my host and see if it goes through for you? Hmm.. no, let’s just follow your method and the instructions in the email. Or not.
Three phone calls to AirBnB support later, it turns out that they have made contact with the host, but the host hasn’t contacted me still. A tragic situation for the host resulted in her switching off all her communication. Hence the no reply situation to my booking. To honor the booking, she would try and be at the apartment after 6:30 that night.
And as far as AirBnB goes.. the problem has been resolved. All I have to do now, is to wait at the train station with 2 little kids, 1 old woman and 8 bags for 5 hours, after which the host may or may not turn up at the address. Magic!
Needless to say, I lost my cool at this. I told AirBnB that I will cancel the booking as I can’t wait that long. Ah! Cancel? No you can’t cancel.. “you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave“. “May I remind you sir, that the host has a strict cancellation policy and you will lose all your money? Why don’t you just wait for another 5 hours on the railway station platform and then go to this address and if then she doesn’t turn up we will send you another email?“. I hung up the phone.
I called the nearest hotel, made a booking, called a cab and left the station. When I reached the hotel, I had another message from AirBnB “Sir, we hear that you are trying to cancel this booking. Can I please remind you that we will not give you your money back?” (I have it on voicemail).
Meanwhile, a friendly reception staff at the Sheraton Padova hotel was handing me my room key. The difference could not be more stark.
Later that evening, I got a message from the host apologizing for the situation and told me that she will ask AirBnB to not charge me for the stay.
I got a message from AirBnB saying “Even though the host had a strict cancellation policy they have returned your money. However, we are scrooges and even though this was no one’s fault, we are going to keep our massively inflated booking fees – from you AND the host”, or something to that effect.
Ok, so no more AirBnB for me. The security of a hotel is too comforting to resist. The uncertainty of AirBnB booking and its woeful support structure is not for families or people who don’t like change. We have made 4 bookings so far with AirBnB, 2 have been good, 1 has been near disaster, and this one, well, as I write from the security of my hotel room, is a verifiable disaster.
One final note. It was a good thing that I didn’t just take a taxi and go to the apartment that AirBnB had given me after the instant booking. Not just because it was terribly timing for the host, or that she was in mourning, but because AirBnB had sent me the wrong address! The host confirmed the address was wrong. Way to go AirBnB! Way to go!