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.