My First (and possibly last) Experience with Airbnb
Let me start off by saying that I’m all for the sharing economy. I use Uber whenever I travel and support Airbnb in their efforts to make travel accommodations more affordable.
I imagine most Airbnb experiences go well because they’re still a growing business. However, my experiences highlights some of the gaps in the business model that makes me hesitant to book with them again.
We plan on one international vacation per year with our 4 kids. The reason is that we want to be able to travel the world before we retire and also to expose our children to other cultures. For this year, we planned a trip to London. This was our first international trip, so we felt London was as close to America as you can get (language, food, culture).
While searching for hotel accommodations, I ran into a constant problem. Every hotel required us to book 2 rooms. Our other option were hotel suites which ended up being quite expensive, so I decided to try Airbnb.
I’ve heard so many good things about Airbnb from friends and online, that I thought I would take the plunge. My plan was to find a place with at least 2 bedrooms, near a subway station, in the center of town, and with at least 4.5 star ratings.
After a lot of searching, we found the perfect spot. It was 50 meters from a subway station, in the center of town, and had near perfect rating. The communication with the host was fast and easy. I booked it before it was gone. This was January 2018….5 months before the trip
The Issues with Our Airbnb
The morning of our flight, we get an email from the host confirming our reservation, but it was at a different address. I went back to the Airbnb app to make sure I wasn’t crazy, but in fact, the host changed the address.
I quickly inquired about why the apartment was changed. The host informed me that they had sewer issues at the original location. I asked for pictures of the new apartment. They didn’t look nearly as nice as the original, and much smaller. I asked the host if they could do anything for us and they offered a 15% discount.
Next, one of my concerns was that we would be arriving in London well before check-in, so we wanted to drop off our luggage. The host mentioned on numerous occasions that we can drop the luggage off at noon. My biggest concern was that we would arrive at the Airbnb, with 4 tired kids, luggage, and no place to go. In fact, that’s what happened. Upon arrival at Heathrow and en route to the Airbnb, I called and texted the host about our arrival. No answer. We arrive at the Airbnb. I rang the bell with no answer. Thankfully, our driver talked to the local pub and asked if we could stay there and grab a bite to eat while we waited. The pub agreed to let us in with all our luggage so we did that until we hear back from the host.
Once in the apartment, I attempted to turn on the A/C. Come to find out that the apartment isn’t equipped with air-conditioning. There was no fan or anything, so we resorted to opening windows. This apartment was directly above the pub. That said, they had live bands playing, and big crowds in the evening. It was difficult to go to sleep with all the noise.
Once we arrived, we also wanted to give the kids a quick shower after a long trip from the states. We turn on the water, but can’t seem to get the hot water working. I reach out to the host and she had me searching for the electric panel breaker for the water heater and another switch located near the hot water heater. This entire process took over an hour to figure out.
Next, our kitchen sink drain was extremely slow. I look under the sink and notice a garbage disposal, but I can’t find the switch. I reached out to the host and they had no idea how to turn it on, so we managed with a slow drain for the week we were there.
Lastly, when I returned home, I inquired about the 15% discount that the host promised to refund us due to the change in accommodations. When I received the discount, it was only 11% of our total amount. When I inquired with the host, she kept insisting that I reach out to Airbnb, even though I walked her through the math of how she refunded me 11%. After speaking to Airbnb, they told me that she refunded me 15% of what she was paid (after fees/expenses), not what I paid to her.
Upside to Airbnb
- This is probably the biggest reason why people use Airbnb. Often times, you can get a much bigger room/house, with all the amenities, including a kitchen, for far less than a hotel or suite.
- Living Locally:
- You certainly feel like you’re a local when you are living in someone’s home. Often times, you can rent a home outside the city, shop at the local markets, and really live like a local.
- Great Hosts
- Some hosts are really great. They are a great resource for local customs and culture. They can give you tons of tips. I’ve heard of some hosts providing a small welcome package (i.e. gift basket, bottle of wine, fresh-baked cookies, etc)
Downsides to Airbnb
- Hotel Services Are Missing
- Forget about room service, maid service, or a concierge when staying at an Airbnb. You’re pretty much on your own.
- Description May Be Inaccurate
- Airbnb can’t always guarantee the accuracy of the description of the property, but hopefully other guests have provided reviews on the accuracy of the property.
- Limited Options If Things Go Wrong
- This is my biggest gripe. Airbnb has a ton of policies on if the host cancels the reservation, if you’re unable to contact the host, and payment policies. Here was our recourse on the apartment change the day of our flight to London:
If your host is asking you to stay in a different listing than you originally booked and you’re okay with a switch, either you or your host can change your reservation. Make sure to check the details of the new listing before accepting a change.
If you’re not okay with a switch or your host is asking you to switch without officially changing the reservation on Airbnb, ask the host to cancel your reservation so you can get a full refund or find another home that better accommodates your stay.
- If a hotel room is unavailable, a hotel can typically find you another room. My options with our circumstance was to find another place ourselves. This was nearly impossible to do on the day of the flight.
- Security in our place was very tight. We had a main entrance that was secured, and the door to our apartment. We also had a video monitor for the front door. Some places don’t guarantee this type of security.
- Bad Hosts
- Hopefully, this would be reflected in the reviews, but there are some hosts who are absent, don’t communicate well, and are not helpful. Our host was not bad, but they weren’t great.
Needless to say, I left a negative review.
The bottom line is that I’m not sure I’ll use Airbnb again. The risk of a host cancelling a reservation is my biggest fear. However, I can’t turn away from the cost savings, especially with a large family.
Any thoughts on Airbnb? Would love to hear about them in the comments!