Airbnb has become a popular choice for travelers looking for affordable places to stay, experience places as a local, and to meet others. Similar to VRBO and other similar sites, Airbnb connects those renting our rooms and properties to those looking to rent them. One of the things that makes Airbnb appealing is the app and its features; it is very easy to search and make reservations using the app.
While Airbnb has a lot of positive aspects to it, it also has a lot of negatives. In some cities, Airbnb is banned and I am sure you have heard horror stories about stays, last minute cancellations by the host and even fraud/identifity theft committed via the app. In this post, I will discuss some key factors to consider when using Airbnb for accommodations to hopefully minimize the risk of negative experiences. Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of Airbnb and I’ve had more negative experiences than positive ones. I also sit on strata council and have seen and experienced first-hand how it can be negative for a condo community/property.
Airbnb has its own system to collect and share reviews. Much like Uber, guests and hosts can review their experience. But unlike TripAdvisor, only those who have stayed at the property can review it. I was looking through Airbnb’s FAQ’s and found out that if a host cancels on you, you can only post a review if the cancellation was 1 day prior to your arrival, the day of your arrival, or after you checked in.
Source: https://www.airbnb.ca/help/article/368/can-i-leave-a-review-for-my-host-if-they-canceled-my-reservation accessed on 2018-02-05.
Let’s assume that you booked an Airbnb in Calgary for the annual Calgary Stampede, a very high occupancy time when accommodation is scarce and very expensive. You’ve booked your flights, secured your Airbnb and then one week prior to your arrival, for one reason or another, your host cancels on you. Unfortunately, Airbnb will not let you post a review about this last minute cancellation that possibly ruined your trip. All those positive reviews you read might be misleading due to this criteria for reviewing Airbnb hosts/properties.
In some cities, they are cracking down on Airbnb listings in condos and so that could explain why your reservation was cancelled but it can also lead to other problems. In some cases, the strata corporation can de-activate key fobs to make it impossible for you to checkin and re-enter the building after you have left. It is a common practice for strata councils to look online for Airbnb listings before issuing a fine to the resident and having the listing removed.
Airbnb Customer Service:
Airbnb customer service sucks. Sorry, but there is no sugar coating here. If you don’t believe me, just have a look at these stats from Reddit.
In November 2017, we made a booking on Airbnb and applied a promo code when making a reservation. Airbnb decided not to honor the promo code and cancelled our reservation one week later. Due to this cancellation, we were out of pocket $ because of the currency rate fluctuation. We’ve reached out to Airbnb twice and still have not received a response some 3 months later. This was the second time Airbnb cancelled one of our reservations about a week later when it decided not to honor a promotion.
So, let’s say you want to complain to Airbnb about that host that cancelled 1 week prior to your arrival in Calgary for the stampede…good luck! I’d recommend packing a tent as a backup.
Hotels vs Airbnb:
Hotels, unlike Airbnb will take care of you when there is an issue. In cases where the hotel is oversold or if there’s an issue, they will re-accommodate you at another hotel (unless it’s something crazy like a natural disaster). For example, hotels we reserved were oversold and one had a gas leak and they re-accommodated us at no extra charge at another hotel that was similar and even paid for the taxi to take us there.
In addition, you have to coordinate the checkin time with the host and sometimes it can be difficult to find a time that works optimally for both the guest and the host. I had to leave work early to get the keys to an Airbnb because the host started work at 16:00 and the “checkin” had to occure before 15:00. At most hotels, you can check in 24 hours a day at your convenience which can end up saving you time and offering you some piece of mind.
There are pros and cons to Airbnb and hotels. That being said, if you really have your heart set on doing something during a peak time, make sure to have a backup in case something goes wrong with your reservation. If you’re booking an Airbnb during a peak time like the Calgary Stampede or SXSW in Austin, you may want to book a refundable rate at a hotel for peace of mind, especially if you have flights booked because the airline won’t waive cancellation/change fees because of your issue with Airbnb.
While Airbnb is not our preferred choice when seeking out accomodations, it doesn’t mean that we don’t see its benefits and appreciate how it has made travel more affordable for people while helping local people earn extra income (let’s not talk about how Airbnb is affecting the housing market in Vancouver negatively though…). So many people have positive experiences but the potential for negative experiences is higher too so we are am hoping this post was useful in helping you to assess what some of those risks are and having a back-up plan.
Have you had any negative experiences with AirBnB? How do you feel about their review criteria and restrictions around host cancellations?
7 thoughts on “Airbnb: Pros and Cons”
So I’ve mostly used Homeaway/VRBO – AirBNB and FlipKey a few times, and another vacation rental for Italy that was European (the name escapes me). The only time a rental went sideways was with Flipkey where the owner didn’t contact me re. how to get keys etc. – I couldn’t reach them and neither could Flipkey – I got an instant refund. We were driving to Montreal for a few days, so not a big deal. On the other rentals, I do my due diligence and go through the reviews (most rentals post on all the rental sites, so you can get a rich review history) and only choose rentals with a lot of reviews that are also mostly positive (some things that may be an issue for some don’t bother me). The only time I didn’t do this is when we were going to NYC – it was a fairly last minute trip, we needed specific dates and a place that would accommodate 5. I know the city pretty well, so felt good about choosing the neighbourhood – ended up being a great rental, so we were fortunate.
So – essentially you need to do your research, and get cancellation insurance (we use a CC with it included) to be safe!
Good tips and yes the recurring theme is due your research, have a back-up, and some form of insurance.
My mom and stepdad also use VRBO and only had one bad experience; the place was a disaster from a cleanliness standpoint.
My sister was telling me a place they stayed at in Scotland offered them a free stay to change their negative review about the place. So you have to wonder!
Thanks for sharing your comment and tips!
What a bummer you haven’t had much success with AirBnB. We have overall really loved it and have had more problems with VRBO. In fact, the only time I’ve had a negative experience with AirBnB was the very first time I used it when the host cancelled days before my trip. But AirBnB corporate took care of us and gave us a huge credit to actually get an even nicer place, so it worked out ok (can’t say I’ve had similar positive experiences from VRBO corporate!).
I enjoy being able to feel like a local and have a kitchen when traveling for 4+ days, so I’ve loved the apartment options AirBnB offers. I’ve also really liked that it can showcase unique places like homestays with local families that I might not have heard about before, like our place in a small Mexican village which was amazing.
Sure obviously not every host fairly represents their place and photos can sometimes be misleading, but that’s always the risk you take traveling, whether it is a hotel or homeshare!
We really wanted to love AirBnB and haven’t totally given up on ever booking and I’ve referred a few friends to reputable AirBnB listings…but we still haven’t heard back from them about comping the $$ we’re out of because they cancelled our reservation. For a longer stay, we’d definitely look at AirBnB to get access to a kitchen. Since we tend to spend 2-4 days in most spots, hotels have been more convenient for us. I just wish they listed the % of times or # of times a host cancelled at different time intervals in their profile if users can’t review them. Maybe one day!
You can actually see it in their review history. It will say “The reservation was canceled X days before arrival. This is an automated posting.” You can use the search box for “Cancel” to see if they’ve ever cancelled. I think the days is helpful too because if it was like 300 days prior, I don’t hold that against them like I would 1 day or 2 days before.
Oh good to know for the future! Depending on what type of trip it is and when and where, I think 1 month would be the most I’d be okay with. For some places and events, you pretty much have to book a whole year in advance.