How a bad Airbnb host ruined Paris for us, Airbnb gave us a full refund, and some tips to avoid this from happening to you.
Getting from Porto to Paris is no easy feat. A train down to Lisbon, then overnight to Hendaye and then finally to Paris. For twenty years we have tried to make it to Paris, and finally we had some time before our scheduled trip to London, so we snagged it. It was a short trip, but we only had one thing we really wanted to see, so we figure we would dawdle, catch up on work, and enjoy the sights with no pressure.
When pulling up the hotel information on our “to Paris” leg, I realized I never actually booked the room. In a panic, Joey and I got to work looking up last minute availability on all our usual sites. He found an Airbnb listing with a washing machine, and we were running low on clothes, so it was a quick sell to me. We skipped the nice hotel in replacement of a responsible adult who wanted to save a few bucks, and have clean clothes.
If I could go back in time….
Soon after we booked, we got a confirmation from the Airbnb host. She asked “how many guests”, we replied “three”. She replied “Third person 30 a day, you need to pay me 150” ($200 USD). We said, no thank you, we will cancel. She demands money and says she will get a fine from Airbnb. We ask if we can get Airbnb to waive her fine, will she accept the cancellation, she says “yes”. Airbnb waives her fee. We go to cancel and she says “No worries, you can stay and I won’t charge for the third person”. We say, it’s OK, we’ve made other arrangements, please cancel.
She says “no”.
We cancel the hotel. We ask for check in information and if we could have a few additional towels for our stay (listing reads one towel per stay per person).
She says “Third person 30 a day, you need to pay me 150”.
We say, “I thought you waived the fee”.
She says “Third person 30 a day, you need to pay me 150”.
And that’s basically all she says for 6 hours. Well, that and pushing us to cancel (she would receive full payment if we canceled).
She says Airbnb France told her to call the police on us.
She says Airbnb France will be in touch a dozen times.
We found out there was no “Airbnb France” from the conflict resolution team. It just got weird.
Long and painful story short - she gets very anti-American, very opinionated, very angry and it’s very concerning. We book a hotel again because we are scared to stay there, but figure if we are going to be forced to pay for it, we may as well do laundry after all and use it as an office to work from.
She never meets us to hand over the key. Then she harasses us via Airbnb chat saying she is glad she stranded us, etc. Airbnb eventually boots her from the platform after she leaves us what they deemed a racist review.
This is what we learned. And we know not every situation is the same, but a few take-aways that we hope can be helpful to someone out there!
Tip #1 Don’t just read the listings and look at the photos!
We usually just pick “two” guests when we book an Airbnb because Atlas tends to still sleep with us in a king bed (I know, I know!), and we don’t need an extra set up for him. Even if we book a four bedroom. We had just left Portugal, and when the host let us in and saw Atlas, she was so sweet and accommodating and insisted on setting him up - it didn't dawn on us (even as hosts ourselves!) this was a big deal. Some hosts have other ideas, even if their listing says “sleeps 2-4” they may charge you for “extra” people, meaning anyone more than the point they believe is “standard”. So, play with the drop down to see the real price of your stay before booking.
We mentioned “additional charges” in the video, and for the life of me, I can’t find a single listing where someone has this section. I just looked at 50 places in Paris, for one with this to share as an example. Just keep an eye out for it, you may need to dig deep into the listing to find it.
Tip #2 Understand they are only obligated to whats offered in the listing (even an extra towel may be too big of an ask).
You may think “I will ask when I get there”. We suggest you ask before you book! Not all hosts are created equal. We could never imagine denying a guest an extra towel, but some hosts suck the humanity out of hosting. Think of what you will need, and ask ahead of time. Some suggestions are:
Do you have water/is the tap water safe to drink
Do you stock toilet paper for our whole stay
Do you have toiletries, and what kind
How many towels will be provided
If there is a washer/dryer is detergent provided
How many pillows (yes, this was once a thing that happened)
Do you have any video cameras inside your dwelling
Tip #3 Be careful when booking a new listing or listing with no or few reviews.
This is a tricky one, because even we once had zero reviews and felt like no-one would ever book! In this situation where you want to book something, message the host as much as you can and get a feel for the conversation. See how quickly they reply and if the answers seem thoughtful. It’s confusing why people do this, because they don’t get their payout until 24 hours after the guest checks in - but this is a well known scam: To list a fake place/a place that isn’t yours, just to have gusts show up to an unavailable home.
In our case, the host didn’t have many reviews because she closes down her account and reopens it to avoid bad reviews. Sneaky, sneaky!
Tip #4 Notify Airbnb the Second something feels off.
You may feel fussy, but trust me on this one - you want a record from the start. I am not saying to clog the help line with nonsense, but if you host isn’t giving you check in information after asking a handful of times, it’s time to message Airbnb and say “I have asked my host 10 times for 4 hours to provide me with check in information and they keep demanding more money”. Once you move up with a decision maker with Airbnb, they are going to see your whole history of communication, and it will help your case if things progress into something worse.
Tip #4 Keep all communication with the host on the chat, so Airbnb can see it.
There was a point where our host called us. We didn’t pick up. We knew whatever she said wouldn’t matter in the eyes of Airbnb, so we denied the call and kept it to chat. In many occasions, she tried to cut off chat communications because she must have also known she could promise or offer something and not be obligated to it. Airbnb can not help you if they can’t see the conversation.
Tip #5 If you can’t get out of your booking, ask to meet in a public space to retrieve the keys if self check-in isn’t an option.
If your host is making you uncomfortable, and you are still stuck staying at the Airbnb, request to meet in a public place, We felt she would be aggressive (based off many many comments about Americans, us being idiots, suprematists privileged, etc), and couldn’t believe Airbnb was OK with us having to meet her to obtain the keys. We were between a rock and a hard place, so we requested the restaurant downstairs of her apartment. We certainly didn’t want her going bananas behind closed doors. Lucky for us, she never showed. Maybe the reluctancy to meet us served us not only for protection, but it’s what got us our refund.
Tip #6 Be relentless with Airbnb!
This is tricky. We got a really awful girl when we first called. It was like she couldn’t connect the fact we were people who didn’t feel safe showing up to a very angry Airbnb hosts unit with our child. For six hours, and our entire train ride we were on and off the phone with her, until her shift changed. Then we got someone who transferred us to another department (conflict resolution), then we started to get somewhere. If we weren’t relentless, we would have been standing on the street with a nearly $1,000 charge and nowhere to sleep for a week.
Once I got someone new, I had them on the phone from the train to the apartment (just in case she showed up), the entire hour we waited for her, then about 1.5 hours when we went to eat across the street. His shift then ended, and we got a call the next day with someone new (he left great notes) who then processed our refund and relieved us of Airbnb.
Tip #7 Know your rights as a guest
Full Refund (including Airbnb Fees)
10% credit for next stay
Hotel night paid (I assume this could vary)
Tip #8 You have to report each incident differently, even if you already spoke with customer service
Even if you chat with customer support, you still need to flag you messages (each individually), and also the profile of the host. They seemingly work centralized, but the departments don’t seem to overlap seamlessly.
Needless to say, Paris wasn’t the awesome trip we wanted it to be, but we are committed to going back and trying again. We will make a post with some stuff we loved, but for now - remember these tips and your rights when you book on Airbnb!
PPS Want to check out all our travel videos and posts? Here is a shortcut.
Family Trips to Date: 45
Countries: w/o Atlas: 10 with Atlas: 5
States with Atlas: 16
Carousels Ridden: 10
Roller Coasters Ridden: 2
Rope Course: 1