“My Airbnb superhost stay turned into a super disaster” | consumer affairs
Airbnb superhosts “provide a shining example” and “extraordinary experiences for their guests”, according to the vacation accommodation company. For regular Airbnb travellers, they offer a quality label. But when Mike Nicholson, a retired harbor master on the Tyne in Newcastle, booked a family reunion in Spain, his superhost turned into a super disaster.
Not only did Nicholson find himself with no villa to go to when the family arrived in Málaga, he says on his return that Airbnb refused to pay the charges he incurred after the cancellation and suggested he go through the Irish courts if he wanted to take legal action. claim – only for the Irish courts to say it was beyond their jurisdiction.
But Nicholson’s story also tells how a lone consumer fought back and turned the tide on the internet giant.
In May, Airbnb reviews for the Calahonda villa on the Costa del Sol were glowing when Nicholson booked for four days from September 6-10. It wasn’t cheap – a total of £1,536 – but the owner was a superhost and the scores given by other customers were near perfect.
Still, as the days ticked away before the holidays, Nicholson began to worry. He emailed the owner about the keys and other check-in issues, but even after several attempts he got no response. The day before the family left, he desperately tried to contact the host, but there was still no response.
On the morning of September 6, as the family was heading to the airport for the flight to Spain, and still without word from their superhost, Nicholson called Airbnb. He was also unable to reach the host, so he ended the reservation. But that left Nicholson and his seven family members stranded at Malaga airport with nowhere to go.
He took another look at the superhost’s list. Turns out, since booking in May, the reviews had turned sour, with one dreadful story after the next. In total, Nicholson counted six instances where the host had canceled in the previous six months, leaving vacationers in the lurch. Airbnb states that a superhost must maintain a 90% response rate and only cancel a maximum of 1 in 100 reservations. Its terms also state that a host, whether “super” or not, will not cannot cancel more than three times without being threatened with cancellation.
Airbnb later told Guardian Money that the superhost has since been removed from the platform.
The family decided to settle in a café in Benalmádena and start looking for new accommodation. An Airbnb assistant did his best to help, but nothing matched the demands of his adult family of five and three partners.
Eventually, after much searching – not helped by the fact that her phone was now broken – they found an apartment on Booking.com. “I had to shell out £555 a night – £2,220 in total – on the spot for a short-term apartment. I was lucky to be able to do that. Other families might not have been in the same situation,” he says.
The rest of the vacation at Calahonda was smooth and fun. Upon returning to Durham, he found that Airbnb had promptly refunded his full booking cost – £1,536, including his own £205 service charge. But when asked to cover the extra £684 he had paid for last-minute alternative accommodation, he refused.
When Nicholson complained, Airbnb offered him a £150 voucher. “It was to be refunded within a month and used against a booking of equal or greater value. As if I was going to book another family vacation for all of us in October. It was ridiculous. I refused.”
Instead, he decided to take Airbnb to small claims court. But it emerged that Airbnb’s legal domicile was overseas. “When I started threatening them with legal action they said their registered address was in Dublin. But when I contacted the Irish courts they said that was not their jurisdiction.
It’s a common complaint against internet-based businesses, which have .co.uk addresses, but leave buyers trying to navigate the complexities of overseas legal action when trying to assert their rights.
But Nicholson was determined not to give up. Unable to use UK or Irish court procedures, he instead found an alternative route – EU management European e-Justice Portalwhich “is available to litigants as an alternative to the procedures existing under the laws of the Member States”.
He also turned the tables against Airbnb. Nicholson looked at what Airbnb would have charged if he was the one who canceled at the last minute. Airbnb’s cancellation policies vary, but in Nicholson’s case he would have been charged £1,087.
So he started legal action through the portal, which allows EU citizens to file a complaint form with their local court, paying €80 (£68), and contacted Airbnb to say he would claim the £1,087.
Airbnb responded quickly. He increased his offer to £300 in vouchers and £384 in cash. Nicholson said no. Then he upped the offer to £680, half cash, half vouchers. Nicholson said no. Then it went to £800 cash. “It went on almost day after day. Every time I said no I wanted the amount I would have been charged for the cancellation. Then last week they agreed to pay the full amount, including the £1,097 fee.
But what about the superhost? Why was he dropping vacationers one after another? Nicholson did some amateur research and discovered that the villa he had rented was not only on the Airbnb site, but on several other sites. It assumes that the owner has consistently missed bookings or accepted higher offers from other sites and dropped other bookings. Either way, it raises questions about how the person was ever an Airbnb Superhost or why Airbnb doesn’t seem to enforce its own cancellation and delisting policies.
In a statement, Airbnb said, “We were disappointed to learn of this experience at the time, and immediately refunded the guest and offered assistance in finding a new place to stay. The host was removed from the platform and we have continued to work with the guest to work things out, including reimbursement for additional expenses.While last minute cancellations are rare and we have a number of penalties to deter hosts from this – including fees and blocking the list from being available to book on the dates of the canceled stay – we recently announced new commitments to strengthen the support we provide guests in the unlikely event of a problem like this one.
But what about the Irish courts? Should consumers use them, or the EU portal, which will soon disappear when the UK leaves the EU?
Airbnb said if Nicholson was asked to sue in Irish courts, there was a misunderstanding. It stated: “As a consumer, you may bring any legal action in the competent court of your place of residence or the competent court of Airbnb’s place of business in Ireland.”