Why AirBnB is Broken

Over the past 4 months I’ve been travelling through Europe and I’ve been doing it on a pretty strict budget. So far the main cost has been transport due to the quick nature of the travel I’ve been undertaking, but accommodation costs have come in a close second. For both Susan and I, I’ve been trying to keep accommodation costs for Western Europe at around $60 per night and slightly lower in some of the cheaper countries such as Spain, Hungary and Greece.

So far $60 has been achievable in almost all places I’ve been including Paris. In Luxembourg City, I ended up paying about $37 per person for a dorm room, but that was cheap compared to anything else available. The reason I’ve been able to keep costs down on accommodation is primarily due to AirBnB.

The first apartment I chose was in Paris and I got it for $52 per night. Small studio, washing machine, tiny kitchen, sofa bed, wifi. I thought it was a fantastic deal and meeting the owner was pretty simple even after a long flight from Indonesia.

AirBnB Paris

AirBnB Paris

The next place was a funky studio in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Fast wifi, washing machine, small kitchen, loft style bed and decent bathroom. The cost of that was just under $60 per night and again it was a great deal!

AirBnB Berlin

AirBnB Berlin

The best deal we got was in Budapest where we got a great studio for about $35 per night with all the amenities of the other places we’d stayed in. We were over the moon and by this stage could not say a bad word about AirBnB.

AirBnB Budapest

AirBnB Budapest

But as we moved further east, we started having more problems finding people who were willing to accept our bookings. “What do mean by accepting the bookings”, I hear you ask. Well, when you book on AirBnB, the owner of the apartment has to approve the booking before it is confirmed (unless it’s an Instant Book place which close to 0% are). This is usually not a problem, but as we moved into Greece, Turkey and Georgia, we found that the majority of places we booked were declined. That is, we reserved the room and some hours later (sometimes the next day) the host decided to tell us it was unavailable.

The AirBnB system has a calendar for each property listed. Apartment owners are supposed to manage this calendar carefully so that their rooms only appear on days that they are available. And herein lies the problem with AirBnB — owners are seemingly not managing their calendars properly OR screening their potential customers after they book. I actually think in my case the apartments were already full, but the owners just hadn’t bothered to update their calendars. I noticed a couple of bookings I made didn’t get a response at all until I enquired further with a direct email asking what was going on, despite the owner having logged into AirBnB to see my booking. They simply did not respond despite knowing I needed a room and there was no consequence for them doing that. For me the consequence in both instances was that it was too late by that stage to stuff around with AirBnB and I just had to go and get a hotel room from Booking.com

This is a big deal. When you are travelling like I do, you book your accommodation one maybe two days in advance meaning that when you make a booking, you need to be able to know that you have a room when you arrive in your next city. When I use Booking.com or Hostelworld.com, there are no ifs or buts. You plug your credit card details in and get instant confirmation. With AirBnB, you plug you credit card details in, they pre-authorise a few hundred bucks and then you wait for the owner to decide whether they want you or not — and they have 24 hours to decide.

Why? Why do owners have the ability to accept and reject clients? If I were a hotel and I rejected clients after they had booked, I’d receive all sorts of complaints but with AirBnB there is no recourse. There is no feedback mechanism such as Tripadvisor to air your grievances on. Owners can just fob you off and complicate your travel plans without a worry in the world. And that is bad for the customer and consequently bad for AirBnB.

AirBnB counters this by recommending that you contact multiple owners prior to booking and asking them if their place is available. I’ve done that and it feels like your begging for a place to stay.

I’m actually going to wind back my use of AirBnB for the rest of my trip as I just can’t be bothered with the hassle of the rejections. And when you’re staying in cheaper cities, the advantage of AirBnB sometimes dissipates anyway.

In my view, this is one area in which AirBnB is far inferior compared to sites like Booking.com. If they can fix this problem up, I’ll be back to booking with them again and raving about how great an alternative it is to booking a hotel room. What do you think about AirBnB? Great experiences? Any poor ones? I’d love to hear about them!

8 thoughts on “Why AirBnB is Broken

  1. I just wrote a long blog post about AirBnB. It’s definitely not as straightforward as the guide on their website wants you to believe. The problem and the benefit with AirBnB is the hosts aren’t professional hoteliers. That’s why I can get great prices, but the “customer service” is far from the standard I’d expect from hotels. I’ve learned that it’s better to go with AirBnB for long stays (1 month or more) and start booking early. It took me a few weeks to get a confirmed booking in Montreal, but it was worth the trouble because I stayed for 1.5 months and it was $500/month.
    Deia @ Nomad Wallet recently posted..This Traveler Turned His Passion for Frequent Flyer Miles Into a Business

    1. Deia – Yeah it’s tough because when AirBnB works out, it really is fantastic and so much better than a hotel. My last AirBnB in Istanbul was cheap and good with a great host. SO yeah, it is a bit broken due to there being too many hosts who either don’t respond or are just hopeless at customer service as you say. It will be interesting to see if AirBnB does further screening down the line so you can be confident of getting a decent room for a decent price with good customer service.

    2. Should Airbnb restrict their supply to only hosts who commit to being responsive and support “Instant Book” or has their success been a function of building a massive marketplace of options (even though many are practically unavailable).

      1. Maybe… That instant book feature does work well and is reassuring when you use it. And why shouldn’t you automatically be approved to stay at a place if a person is saying it is available on particular days?

        The other option I was thinking of is to somehow rate owners based on their responsiveness. Many seem to use a bait and switch strategy whereby they will offer their place up and then email you back after requesting it to say that it’s full… but they do have a bunch of other apartments available. Perhaps they do that to avoid airbnb fees…. I’m not really sure.

  2. Guys, You’re looking at this from a single perspective. Google airbnb reviews and you’ll read many stories of hosts having serious problems with guests. The screening is a must and that’s what’s broken with airbnb; THEY should take care of this and provide some sort of seal of approval for guests, so the host wouldn’t have to be so cautious. It would make it a lot easier to get quick confirmations!

    1. I don’t think it is fair to say; “airbnb is broken”, because a few host did not keep up with the calendar. Within the posting there is a way to view the host’s response time and last time they updated the calendar.

      Tools are only as good as those that use them. When you get people who use the validation function within a profile page, select host that have a response time, and with updated calendars, the system works. I implore you to reconsider your title.

      1. @Justin – I think getting a response of confirmation from the host within a few hours of a booking is absolutely critical. I get one when I book through booking.com. I get one through any other accommodation booking system. But I don’t get one through AirBnB unless it’s enabled by the host which it rarely is. That means if a host doesn’t respond or rejects your request and you’re booking at short notice, it becomes impossible to use.

        Perhaps it’s best to use AirBnB when you have plenty of time on your hands and not when you need a room within the next day or two.

        1. RE: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2170650

          @Adam, I could not agree more. This is why, I pride myself on having a reply in under an hour with 100% response rate. These are the key metrics that people should look for selecting an accommodation.

          It isn’t that I have a lot of time on my hands, working a full-time gig and the proud father of a little 4 year old. I just leverage the airbnb app and know the importance of strong communication.

          Sincerely,

          Justin

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