How to lose $950 very quickly on AirBnB

Published: 2023-03-05

I thought booking on AirBnB was like booking a hotel, or like booking an airplane ticket, or like booking a rental car. I thought that I could book the reservation for someone else. So, I did just that. I reserved a small apartment for a few days for a family member to stay in.

Total price for 5 nights: $1538.39

This kicked off the usual reservation flow. The host reached out with check-in details, house rules, chores to do, and a form to fill out.

I dutifully filled out their form and put in the details of who was staying (the family member I booked for). That's when the host, Claire, explained the issue, and that you cannot actually book from someone else on AirBnB.

"No biggie", I thought. Just a misunderstanding of their policy. Surely this is just a quick "undo" situation. It's been less than an hour since booking the reservation. We'll just roll things back and be on our way. I'll book 'em in a normal hotel.

But "Undo" we did not.

I'm starting to get the "oh, god dammit..." vibes of a problem brewing. But at this point I'm still pretty naively sure this'll just be cleaned up with no issue. It's only been about an hour since I booked this thing. This is just a textbook misunderstanding.

I send the cancelation request for a full refund. But she ignores it and sends me packing to AirBnB support. So, I hit them up and explain the situation. To their credit, everyone is super understanding of the mistake. They say they'll reach out the host.

Next Day.

It has been complete radio silence since the cancellation request. So, I reach out again.

Ah, yep, those initial feeling of a problem brewin' were the correct feelings. We've now entered the tediously-post-screen-shots-of-things-I-know-they-can-see phase.

Again, I'm told to go back to support.

Which, I do. I think I'm up to four phone calls at this point? We're back to radio silence.

Next Day

Claire declines the request.

Back on the horn with the AirBnB peeps. "Policy is policy." "Host's discretion", "we've done everything we can", "the host is a bad person of low moral fibre and overall kinda sucks" (loose paraphrasing).

At the support rep's suggestion, we cancel the reservation and open a Resolution Center case. This is apparently the final tier in the AirBnB support boss hierarchy and the last hope for getting a full refund for this misunderstanding. However, this final attempt ultimately still goes to the host, and the host, as mentioned, kinda sucks, so expectations are low.

So, since the host's refused the full refund, it falls to the default AirBnB policy, which is $426.04 out of the $1538.39 paid (on top of the addition $1300.00 spent booking a hotel (kill me)) . Which makes this one of the most expensive "whoopies" I've ever had. AirBnB has stricter booking polices than an airline. Who knew.

So, uh, yeah. FYI.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be in the shower crying having lengthy imaginary arguments where I come out victorious and get a full refund.

Update: 2023-08-01:

  • I tried issuing a chargeback through Chase. It was unsuccessful.
  • Lots of interesting (and cathartic) discussion about this problem on Hacker News.
  • A HN comment pointed out that the host's pic is just a stock photo. Speculation as to why is left to the reader.