Airbnb: how I got scammed by a bad host

A few weeks ago I decided to travel to my home country. It had been a long time since I was there. Due to the global pandemic, I wanted to be safe and decided to book an apartment via Airbnb rather than staying with my family. I had read about people being scammed via Airbnb, but I had never imagined it would happen to me. Until it did.

I found a lovely 1 bedroom apartment in a central location for a month-long stay. It had all the necessary items for a long-term stay: a functioning kitchen, basics for living, bedsheets, towels, etc. The host also seemed nice, so I went ahead and booked the apartment. The booking was confirmed by the host and my card was charged.

Fast-forward to a day before my flight. I got in touch with the host concerning the check-in instructions. Uh, oh.. turns out they have double-booked the apartment and it is no longer available. At this point, I started getting very anxious as all the necessary travel documentation had been already done to the specific address, and getting a new stay on such short notice would be next to impossible.

But there is a solution, the host reassured me. They have a different apartment they can offer me. A bigger and better one. Having not much choice, I accepted the offer and contacted Airbnb immediately to keep a paper trail (as I had read about similar situations and people getting scammed).

The next morning I arrived at the apartment. The host greeted me outside and let me into the apartment. What we saw was disappointing.

An apartment that does not match the images in the Airbnb listing. Apparently, there had recently been “renovations”. Multiple key items missing (wifi, large tv, hairdryer, kitchen appliances, etc). Barely any furniture (and many pieces broken..). And the smell..! I could go on with various details also being very wrong, but you get the idea.

It was clearly a bait & switch scam. Bait with a nice apartment and then switch in the very last minute to a different place. Seeing that all the government covid19 tracking forms were addressed to the apartment and that we were required to be self-isolated, we didn’t have much of a choice, but suck it up.

Airbnb support was involved from the very beginning, but they were very unresponsive. I had to be very confrontational with the host myself and request all the things mentioned in the Airbnb listing to be provided (which took 5 days). After which I was accused of being “needy”. Certainly not what I would expect, considering the things were listed in the listing. Near the end of my stay, Airbnb apologized for the issues and offered a $25 voucher.

This leads me to the final point: the average quality of Airbnb apartments has gone downhill. As the company has scaled up and attracted more hosts, they’ve not been able to properly vet these people. Which allows bad actors to exploit the system and scam vulnerable guests. Also, support is likely understaffed and unable to dive deep into these issues, which allows these bad actors to persist.

Today, the host has changed his name and profile picture on Airbnb. Is that fishy? Either way, this was the worst experience I’ve had as a guest. I would have expected a similar experience from a person hosting his first apartment, but not from a host with multiple properties and many reviews.

So what are my take-aways from this?

  1. Don’t book with hosts that don’t have the super-host status (even if the host has very good reviews)
  2. Don’t expect Airbnb support to help; they’re there to protect the hosts, not the guests
  3. Be cautious, stay safe

Update (18–08–2021): Airbnb support reached out to me and said that they will review the case once more.

Update (17–09–2021): Airbnb support finally replied. They have a guest refund policy in place for events such as this. However, it only applies if the guest contacts support in 24hrs. Sadly, the last ticket I had with them was not in this time period and hence there was nothing they could do. It didn't matter that my initial contact with Airbnb was 1 hour after check-in and that the initial ticket was closed without much involvement. Overall this leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Frontend Enthusiast