Calgarian warns of uphill battle to recoup $3,300 in Airbnb cancellation fees

Calgarian Steve Smith says the past two weeks have been filled with sleepless nights and dead-end conversations with bots on Airbnb’s portal as his family tried to convince the online rental platform to refund cancellation fees $3,300 on a summer rental in Toronto.

Smith says his son, who is attending university in Ontario, was looking for a place to stay for four months when he found a listing of interest on Airbnb earlier this month.

A few days later — after her son told the host “thanks, but no thanks” — the family noticed a $3,322.71 charge on Smith’s credit card. This is roughly equivalent to a month’s stay in the furnished studio suite.

“We felt violated, taken advantage of, cheated, defrauded — all those bad things,” Smith said.

Smith says his son believed he was negotiating a contract and then terminated it without confirming anything.

But he says the host and Airbnb disagreed.

Steve Smith’s son let the host know he was no longer interested in that Toronto summer rental, but he still had to pay a $3,322 fee for not clicking ” cancel” in time. (Airbnb)

Then, the same day CBC News contacted the host and Airbnb, the family learned they would get their money back.

In an email, Airbnb told CBC News the host had accepted the refund.

“We are happy, relieved that the matter has been properly resolved,” Smith said.

“(But) I am concerned for others who have gone through similar experiences as our son and do not have the means, other resources or support to seek an appropriate resolution.”

First user

Smith says his son was having trouble finding a place to rent in Toronto this summer, so he decided to search the listings on Airbnb.

When his son created his account, he needed a credit card. His student card limit was too small, so he used his father’s card.

Smith says his son then inquired on Jan. 5 about a studio in Toronto’s entertainment district by clicking the “book now” button on the listing. The rent was over $3,000 a month.

Almost exactly 12 hours later, on the morning of January 6, the host’s representative accepted the request.

The two sides then went back and forth to negotiate potential dates and talk about the price, according to messages provided by Smith.

Smith’s son finally asked Yvan, the representative, to match the price of a cheaper apartment, but Yvan refused. So Smith’s son immediately replied, “OK, I’ll have to look elsewhere, thanks for the consideration.”

Smith says his son thought that was the end of it.

A screenshot of a website.  It says within 48 hours there is a full refund.  After this period, up to and including the first day of the trip, a partial refund is offered.
A copy of the host’s cancellation policy. Experts say it’s important to know the fine print before proceeding. (Airbnb)

Written cancellation

The next morning, Smith’s son realized the reservation had been processed when he discovered that his father’s credit card had been charged for $3,322.71.

His son then messaged Yvan, writing, “Hey I told you I don’t want the place anymore…cancel immediately for a full refund or I’ll let you know.”

Yvan responded by saying he couldn’t cancel the request on his end without incurring a penalty from Airbnb. Plus, he said, the money was still at Airbnb.

According to Airbnb Cancellation Policieshosts may face a penalty if they cancel a confirmed trip, depending on the reason.

Smith’s son then pressed “cancel reservation” on his end, but by then it was too late.

According to the host’s cancellation policy posted on its listing, Smith’s son could have received a full refund if he canceled the reservation within 48 hours of the host’s acceptance. After that, the cancellation charge for this particular long-term booking was 30 nights.

But Smith maintains that his son clearly told Yvan he was leaving, within 48 hours, and that his written cancellation should have sufficed.

“We didn’t know the risk we were taking in negotiating in good faith,” Smith said.

A man with blond hair and a blue shirt sits at a desk and wears a headset.
Travel writer and researcher Asher Fergusson says the claims process at Airbnb is confusing and disorganized, with many bots and response patterns. (Google Meet)

“Confusing” complaint process

Smith says her family has repeatedly tried to explain their situation to Airbnb through the app and on Twitter without much success.

Airbnb told the Smiths it could not refund without the host’s approval, which the host would not initially give, according to the company.

Smith says Airbnb’s latest message read: “We have carefully reviewed your case and your details and have determined that we will not be able to refund you the refund you are requesting… our review is now complete and we will not be able to offer further support on this matter at this time.”

“They washed their hands of it,” Smith said.

American travel blogger and researcher Asher Fergusson claims that in this case the host should have canceled the booking request, or told the guest to do so, once it was clear that Smith’s son did not want to. not continue.

Or, he said, Airbnb should have remedied the situation sooner. But, he says, from his experience and feedback, he knows it’s not an easy system to navigate.

“Their customer service is the most disorganized and confusing customer service I have ever dealt with,” Fergusson said.

He says Airbnb uses a lot of chatbots and response templates, as well as outsourced reps who don’t always understand how the platform works.

And he says the company doesn’t seem to log previous conversations, forcing consumers to repeatedly explain their issue each time they contact a new member of staff.

“It seems from my experience and that of countless other people I’ve researched. It’s on purpose, to try and wear you down so you’ll give up and just forget about the loss you’ve suffered. .”

Resolution but no peace

Airbnb offered the following statement:

“Hosts on Airbnb set their own cancellation policies, and we encourage guests to carefully review the applicable policy before booking. In this case, our Community Support team helped the guest cancel their stay for a full refund, which was issued on January 16. This global team works hard to provide exceptional support to our community and is available 24/7 to help you, including in-app, through our Help Center. help and by phone.

CBC News has also reached out to the sequel host and heard from one of the co-hosts.

Airbnb co-host Lexy Manvala says she’s been in business for nine years and has never had this issue before. She says the host didn’t have to refund Smith’s son, but agreed because he’s a first-time user.

“We did our best and did the guest a favor, but again he has to be careful because not everyone will react the same way,” Manvala said.

Fergusson says it’s important for Airbnb users to know each host’s cancellation policy because it can vary and change over time.

“So you really have to be prepared that it’s not what it was the last time you made a reservation, because being at $3,000 nobody wants that,” Fergusson said.

Smith says his family is happy their ordeal is finally over and hopes their story can help others.

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