The following post might look like a rant but this is a summary of the true events and how our group felt that we were taken for a ride by Airbnb. We had nowhere to complain or raise a grievance to help make things better. What was supposed to be a good break for us started as a nightmare. The year-end plans went for a toss thanks to the awesome Airbnb support staff and policies. For the first time, I felt the pain of not having enough time to read the fine print under the asterisks.
On Dec 21,2022, the federal weather agency issued a winter storm warning Canadians of the large amounts of snow followed by strong potentially damaging winds that could cause power outages across Ontario and Quebec. (Link source: CBC ) Flights and train routes were affected. One via rail had derailed en route to Ottawa and some passengers were even trapped inside the Via rail that followed the derailed one. Via rail sent us a notification 24 hours before travel that our onward journey is cancelled. Considering the severity of the storm, we decided to cancel our trip and contacted Airbnb to cancel our trip and what followed was a horrible experience with our friendly neighbourhood representative.
Inconsistent policies: I had spoken to four or five different customer service representatives and found that Airbnb’s policies are inconsistent. I received different answers to the same question from different customer service representatives. One mentioned that I was eligible for a 100% refund, another 0%, one didn’t know about the policies and wanted to contact the host for a refund. Rare weather events according to their policy are considered an event that entitles you to a 100% refund. But thanks to their awful customer service I didn’t even get 50% back.
Slow response times: I understand that it might have been horrible for them due to peak requests for cancellations. But the ones who I worked with worked at a snail’s pace. They figured out at around midnight after 4-5 hours that they need to contact the hosts who were asleep by then. In fact, it was the host who contacted me to tell me that he has offered a 50% refund as this is a last-minute cancellation. The customer service agent who I spoke to was not even aware of this and took hours to confirm this on their end.
Lack of helpfulness: Each customer service representative had their own answers and had their own interpretation of the policies. They were restless and were reading lines from a script rather than understand the situation. One customer representative cancelled my booking without my approval. My booking was for $1,200 and as per their calculation 50% is some $400-odd. They mentioned that Airbnb would only return any % of their fees if the host issues 100%. What is the customer service here. Basically, Airbnb pocketed $200+ without offering any service. To top it all, they charged the host and the host could relist the property again. There were no apologies or any regret shown from the agent. Nor did they even try to make an effort to help the customer in distress. If this winter storm that derailed a train is not considered a extreme event I do not understand what would qualify under Airbnb policies.
After all this mayhem our group still had a good vacation in Ottawa and the places around the capital. Thanks to my travel card which has an annual fee of over $100, we were able to recoup more than 90% of what we lost with Airbnb. Until then, I had my reservations about paying annually for a card but the $120 I paid for the card is totally worth it. My recommendation for everyone would be to get at least one card with features like travel insurance built in that will come in handy in uncertain times.
Airbnb can improve its customer service in many ways, some of them are
- Be Accountable and Transparent: Airbnb customer service agents mentioned that they will only refund their service fees and other charges if the host issues a 100% refund. Even though the host returned 50% of the booking fee, Airbnb retained their charges, which amounted to more than $300. Should they not be transparent about these charges, be empathetic towards the customers, and match at least what the host refunded?
- Clearer Communication: Communicate more clearly with your customers, especially when it comes to cancellation policies and fees. Every customer service agent had a different answer to the same question.
- More personalized support: Airbnb should offer more personalized support to customers, taking into account their current situation, especially in places that are prone to weather disruptions. They should also bring priority and severity levels to their tickets and maintain a log of the conversation which the customers should be given access to.
- Better training for customer service representatives: It felt like the representatives were reading from a script. Airbnb should commit and invest in better training for its customer service representatives to ensure that they are knowledgeable, accountable, empathetic, and have a clear path to escalation. Provide local support for the region wherever possible or at least give them access to know what is happening in that part of the world.
In a nutshell. Airbnb has lost a customer in me and I would encourage people to book with a card that has travel insurance bundled in.
“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”
— Henry Ford, Founder of Ford Motors