What happens when a host cancels with airbnb?

Please see updates below.

Booking hotels in big US cities can be expensive, and up until today, I though the short term rental websites like airbnb or HomeAway were a great alternative. I love the idea of these websites, disrupting the hotel space, helping renters earn some extra money, etc.  In fact I even proposed in one of them ! I’ve spend enough time in hotels, and normally given the option I would go for a short term rental. I like feeling of being ‘at home’ when I away, those home comforts and immersion in the neighbourhood really make my trips more enjoyable. That was case at least until today. Before you book I’d advise you to think about what can happen if a cancellation occurs.

Today’s airbnb experience

Back in mid-October I booked 9 nights in an airbnb property in Boston. We are going to see a friend run in the Boston Marathon* & to another friends wedding at the same time. ‘Marathon weekend’ is one of the busiest weekends, and I think this year there will be even more people there to support the event. We thought booking 6 months in advance would have been the safest bet. But that’s sadly not the case. Today we got a message, 2 months in advance, from the host saying, sorry there seems to be a ‘glitch’‡ in the airbnb system. They said that there was already someone in the apartment from February 3rd until May 3rd. They blamed the airbnb system, but whoever is at fault, it seems pretty bad that they can just turn around and cancel at a whim. Nobody tells you about this case when you are booking with airbnb.


Favouring the host, not the renter

What I also find unfair is that airbnb’s cancelation policies doesn’t work in the renter’s favour either. Our apartment had a ‘strict cancelation policy‘ meaning that we would lose 50% of the booking fee if we cancelled anytime between booking and 7 days before the rental period. Less than 7 days we would lose it all.

So this only protects the host, but what about the renter ? Well according to airbnb’s support, they charge a fee to the renter when they cancel, this is passed on to you to help you find an alternative accommodation. In our case, we spent over €1,200 and they offered €37 worth of a voucher for the inconvenience. That’s less than 3% of the price paid. So if a host is set to lose 3% if they cancel and I would lose 50% if I’d cancel.

Now we haven’t lost any money,  in fact airbnb have been helpful with suggestions on where to look. But this is overall a big inconvenience. There does seem to be a few places left for the Marathon weekend in Boston, but they are also a little more expensive, and it takes time to check into them. Plus an airbnb cancellation can happen again, and we would back to square one.

AirBnB places to avoid in Boston

I’m not happy with the so called ‘Fabulous Beacon Hill’ . And what’s worse, I can’t even leave feedback for the transaction, to highlight our disappointment & dissatisfaction, as we never got to stay there. At the booking stage Donna was all pleasant and helpful about our potential late arrival. But today it seems like she has gotten a better offer and someone is in the apartment for 2 months.

Notes 17/2/2014

† Discuss on HN
‡ airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky’s comment – basically it was a bug on their side and not normal practice.
* If you’d like to support my friend who’s running on behalf of Martin Richard who tragically died last year in the Boston Bombings, you can check out her donation page here.
** edit : 22:22 CET : updated to remove exact address & to clarify that we didn’t lose cash & to point out that airbnb are looking for a solution with us.

Update 18/2/2014 – 1

We have been in touch with airbnb, and they say the glitch was on their side. We are working together to see if we can find a similar place for our stay. So Donna was not at fault, rather airbnb say it was them who had an issue.

Update 18/2/2014 – 2

Airbnb offered to cover the full costs of rebooking. After receiving this offer from airbnb and looking at the inventory currently available we were not able to find something that suited us. Without us contacting the hosts, the properties are either not of a similar description or appear to be going to the longest stay bidder, without a willingness to confirm the booking (based on their description). So in the end of this we decided to cancel the booking outright.

We’ve been happy with the support offered by airbnb, but unhappy with the overall experience of booking a rental with them. We had put in a good bit of time planning our stay, and are disappointed it didn’t happen. I still think that in the event of a cancelation the bias on the airbnb favours the host. Although the host does get a black mark on their profile and they can’t re-rent for that period on airbnb, but the penalty for cancelling is still skewed.

7 thoughts on “What happens when a host cancels with airbnb?

  1. She claims that their was a system glitch, you claim that she got a better offer. If there was a glitch then AirBNB should be responsible for finding an equal or better place at no cost to you, and they should cover the difference if it costs more because of their error. If however, she is lying as you claim she should be liable for the difference in the amount that you pay for a new place that is equal to hers. I would think it would be relatively easy to determine who is lieing with the help of AirBNB. As them to check to see when you booked and when this other person booked and presumably there will be a paper trail of you talking with Donna confirming the reservation before this other person did. If the records show that you signed up and confirmed at an earlier date than this other person then no matter what glitch could have occured she would have had to honor your signup even if the later one was a higher price. If she did not and lied about it once again she should be liable. You don’t mention whether you took these steps with AirBNB but that’s what I would recommend.

  2. Hi,

    I had a similar problem. Expensive flights and then last minute cancellation. Except I can’t even get any help from Airbnb.

    Will never use them again!!!

  3. I had a bad experience with one of the host of AirBnB this week. It is my first time to use this site as we were migrating to US. The host had a 100% customer satisfaction review and I’m happy when she accepts us to her accommodation. I explained to her that we are 5 including the our 3 children. She allowed us and I paid all the bills right away. After few days she informed me that she can’t host us and I qoute her email :” I am sorry, I cannot accept you after all. Somehow I did not understand you have 3 children. I am sure they are well behaved, but I just do not have room for all 5 of you, however much I would like to. Lynn”. I answered her its ok, there’s nothing I can do. So waiting for days for a refund but never materialized. I ask Lynn (host) to make an alteration/cancel my reservation so I can have my refund but she answered AirBnN has the money they know it, they can read our emails. So days gone by but still my reservation is active. I searched thru their site on how to cancel via host. I even forwarded the link to her (host) but she refuses to do so. Note: If I cancel my reservation I lost 50% of my payment. I keep on emailing her to cancel my reservation but she refused.

    here are some exchanges in our email:
    Me: Hi Maam Lyn until now Im awaiting for my refund. Kindly please if you can do cancel it so I can book to another place. here’s the link

    “How do I cancel a reservation as a host?”

    In the event that you must cancel, we kindly urge you to do so right away. Please contact your guest to explain, then officially cancel the reservation as soon as possible on Airbnb at Your Listings > Your Reservations > Alter or Cancel. This is an essential first step, as it provides your guest with the necessary travel credits to book replacement accommodations”.

    Host answers: You asked for money more than you paid Airbnb. What does that mean. What you paid is what you get back.

    Me: “You asked for money more than you paid Airbnb. What does that mean. What you paid is what you get back”

    Hi maam I did’nt ask more, all I wanted is a refund because as you said you cannot accept us. But still you did not alter/cancel my reservation. You are the one’s who will cancel it so I can have my refund. How at my end asking for more money where I am the one that havent receive my refund? Thats why I ask politely to make cancellation in your setting. I am not the one who cancel the reservation but you.

    Anyway I escalated these problem to AirBnB but their action is too slow. Good thing that I used my Paypal account and reported it to them. Within few hours she (host) cancels my reservation. Still awaiting for refund from AirBnB they say it will take 3 to 5 days. I waiting fingers cross.


  4. As a host it is also disappointing when guests decide at a week out that they no longer want the booking. Even though we might get 50% we also loose 50%- airbnb. It is hard to rent your place on such a short cancellation time. Some people book 6 months in advance and can cancel a week out and most people book their time away way before the week they are going. When you are relying on the income and you do the right thing this can make it hard.

    I do however think there should be a 24hr waiver that you can cancel and full refund as we can all make mistakes.

    If the host does not want you to stay for whatever reason, they should be made to find you accommodation and refund 100% as well as paying the airbnb charge or be removed from the airbnb site.

  5. It looks like I’m going to have a similar problem to some reported here.

    I have an accepted reservation with a host for this coming weekend. She seems new to Airbnb, has no references or reviews (which should have been a warning – now I know.) My host has indicated that she wants to cancel my reservation. She asked me to do the cancellation from my end but I didn’t agree because there are negative consequences for the person that cancels. So now I have this reservation that I expect to be canceled but has not yet. I don’t know if she will ultimately cancel it and I cannot go ahead and book something else in the meanwhile. This worries me. Hopefully she will cancel it soon and I can find something else.

    I understand her reluctance to officially cancel because there are significant penalties (although, not on par with canceling as a guest.) Perhaps there could also be the option of a “mutual” cancelation where both parties split the Airbnb fee and neither gets any “black marks.” At this point, I don’t want to punish her, I want to get on with my planning and I can’t do that.

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