It’s notoriously difficult to receive your money back from an Airbnb gone wrong – even when something as nasty as bedbugs are involved. After negotiating for days, we ended up with a full refund, paid expenses, and a credit for our next stay. Here’s how.
By Jose deCos
From Airbnb to Uber, it’s no doubt that the “sharing economy” has revolutionized travel around the world. With Airbnb, we’ve stayed in incredible places and met fascinating hosts over the years – many experiences that would not have been possible just a decade ago.
But the sharing concept only goes so far. Even if your family is unwittingly sharing its rental home with an army of voracious bedbugs during a pandemic, Airbnb will not easily be sharing compensation for your expenses, let alone ruining your vacation.
When things go wrong in a hotel, it’s easy to complain to the front desk at Hilton or even Motel 6. But what happens when a really nice host finds out they have bedbugs in their unit? That host may hardly be able to return your money, let alone pay the extermination costs and the expense of disinfecting all your things and finding you another place to stay.
So when things go really wrong at an Airbnb, it is reasonable to assume the corporation should step in and help out a loyal customer and his bite-ravaged young girls – yet Airbnb’s policy is to immediately place blame and responsibility on the host and offer little-to-no assistance.
Is it possible to overcome this big business blockade and be properly compensated for a train-wreck rental? The short answer is, “Yes.” The long answer? Well, read on for our tips on how to get a refund from Airbnb.
A Pandemic Escape Gone Wrong
Our recent stay at an off-season ski resort in West Virginia was met with unexpected company: bedbugs! We have traveled enough to have met these pests once before at a hostel in Spain, but it was our first time encountering them at an Airbnb where we would be responsible not only for de-lousing ourselves before departing, but also getting compensation for our literal “pain and suffering” – and expenses.
We ended up having to stay four days in the Airbnb rooming with the bedbugs. We had to learn quickly how to kill the buggers, create ourselves a “safe island” for sleeping, and gather the necessary evidence to document our negative experience. (Read this article for our tips on how to survive a bedbug infestation and keep traveling.)
And even though we knew that cleaning up and getting a new place to stay was not going to be easy. we knew that getting a refund from Airbnb was going to be even more difficult.
We leveraged our years of experience as not only Airbnb guests but Airbnb hosts in order to successfully receive compensation from the company. Not only were we able to receive a refund for our bedbug-infested rental, but we were also able to receive a credit for future Airbnb bookings, and reimbursement for a hotel nearby and our laundry expenses.
That said, it is not easy. Getting an Airbnb refund requires planning, patience, persistence, and a kind demeanor. We recommend a two-pronged approach: First with the host and then with the corporate office. Read the details of our experience and our tips below.
How to Get a Refund from Airbnb
1. Contact the Host
- Deal First with the Host. Our host was extremely nice and apologetic about the infestation. Having the host on your side is an immeasurable advantage! Your host might deny there were bugs or any negative issue you were experiencing, which can really draw out the process of getting a refund and moving on with your trip – and your life.
- Get a Bug and Photos. Airbnb states that you need to keep a bedbug from your rental in a jar or bag to prove the infestation. That way, in the case that your host denies the buggers, you will have more than photographic proof. Dealing with crying daughters at 4:00 am when I was half asleep, I did not think to do this. Luckily our host was honest and respectful of the situation. But it is good practice is to keep a bug 😉 You’ll also need photos of the bugs in situ and of any bites on your family members.
- Be Kind. Don’t yell or be upset – despite the fact this would be your natural inclination given you’ve not had any sleep and you’re faced with a bedbug-bitten youngster or two.
- Be empathic. Imagine you were a host and had an unhappy guest. If this host has any recent good reviews, it is very likely that they didn’t know about the problem. If you do things right, you as the guest will get a refund or more – but the host is stuck with lost revenue and a large bill to fix the problem.
- Aim for a Full Refund. In our case with the bedbug infestation, the fact that the host said she wanted to give us a full refund helped us receive the additional refund for the nights we spent there. We would like to think this was a credit to us being nice and understanding with the host, as well as our communication that this was a legitimate concern and we needed to move out ASAP.
2. Contact Airbnb Customer Service
- Be Firm – but Not Livid or Personal. The job of the first Airbnb people you reach on the phone is to get rid of you and give you nothing. If you’re angry, they will be more likely to try to get you off the phone as soon as possible.
- Provide Evidence. We immediately sent the rep photos of the bedbugs and our kids’ huge bites. We also mentioned that our host was aware of and acknowledged the problem because the company will immediately try to blame the host.
- Be Organized. The first customer service representative you talk to will start a file about your issue and stay with you until their shift ends. After that, you are assigned a new rep. Plan to resend your photo evidence to the new rep and explain the situation again – again! These reps have so many files on customer problems that they won’t prioritize you unless you remind them of the situation and keep pushing.
- Start with Customer Service. The customer service reps have full discretion to elevate the situation to a manager when necessary so asking immediately to speak to a supervisor won’t get you there. The reps are recorded during calls so they wouldn’t be doing their job if they immediately pass you to a supervisor. So, explain the situation (repeatedly), tell them how mad you are, ask for a full refund – and even the moon and the stars! They will then say that none of this is possible. Here’s when you ask to speak to a supervisor.
- Talk to a Supervisor. If you win over an associate with your tale of woe, they will flag your file for a supervisor to respond. This could take a while – 15 hours in our case. Once you get a supervisor, they will have no idea what’s going on but will act as they do and again, try to say they can’t help. Here again, start from scratch: Explain the whole situation, send photos, and as for compensation.
- Know the Law. Our supervisor said he would do me “the favor” of providing a full refund for the nights we didn’t stay there. But if you are in any accommodation and you encounter bedbugs, a full refund is actually required by law for any future unused nights or an equal value room must be provided to you. Bedbug infestations are covered by specific laws but so are many other problems you might have at an Airbnb (for example, a rental having a different number of rooms/bathrooms in its listing vs. reality). At this point, it is good to point out that by following the law, Airbnb is doing nothing to help a loyal customer; the law exists as the lowest threshold of customer protection.
- Ask for Full Hotel & Laundry Compensation. If you encounter bedbugs and go to Airbnb for recourse, the company has a policy that you must stay at a hotel for three days and professionally launder your belongings before you can stay at another Airbnb. While this is a great policy to keep guests from toting their new tiny friends to their next host, Airbnb will begin their negotiations by offering NO financial assistance to help with this mandated travel break and laundry project. After we insisted, they began negotiations by offering $15 per night towards the hotel of our choice for those three days – and no funds to cover laundry expenses. We felt this was unacceptable and kept pushing.
- Watch Their Language. One of the most upsetting things Airbnb does is purposely use inaccurate words to describe the compensation they are offering. They initially said they would “cover” the mandatory three-night hotel stay. “Great!” I thought… Then, while still fighting for the refund, the third rep I talked to said: “And yes, we assist with the hotel.” I jumped on that immediately. “What do you mean ‘assist,’ the last rep said ‘cover?’” The rep replied, “Yes we ‘cover’ it…” I asked her to clarify “cover” and she said Airbnb covers “a portion” of it depending on how much the new hotel costs. As a native English speaker, I know that this is not the definition of “cover”… I even Googled “cover” to confirm my understanding of the term and sent the definition to the supervisor. Thereafter, I mentioned this inaccurate language to every Airbnb supervisor who used it so that they knew we would not fall for it.
- Get it in Writing. Ask Airbnb representatives to type up any offers of remediation and to send them to you via the customer service chat/message section of the Airbnb app. For example, at one point, I had a nice rep on the phone who promised to fix everything because she was so repulsed by the photos and our situation. Then she was reassigned and the next rep starts over with the “sorry but we can’t help” stance. If you have a note in chat in your Airbnb app from the prior rep, they can’t backtrack as easily about what was already promised.
- Don’t Stop ‘til You’ve Got a Deal! For three days, I just kept pushing. Every time I spoke with customer service, I kept my cool, emphasized the insufficiency of their responses, reminded them how I was actually losing money from their service, and housing my rash-covered family in a bedbug-infested house while they pushed us around. In the end, we offered to meet in the middle, staying at a cheaper hotel but insisting they pay the full bill for those three nights plus laundry. They finally agreed!
- Monitor the Refund Closely. Once Airbnb agrees to provide a refund, it will arrive in your account in many small chunks for each portion of the total bill, with separate charges for the room, hotel, and laundry. Keep track of these refunds to make sure they all actually get credited back to your credit card or bank account. I had no problem with this – all the funds were delivered – but the fact that the supervisor told me to keep an eye on this process implied that sometimes monies can get lost along the way.
Finally – A Full Refund – and More!
After three days of waiting, negotiating, and rooming with bedbugs, we received a full refund for the entire rental, $450 in Airbnb credit towards a future rental, $157 to cover three days in a hotel, and reimbursement for our laundry fees (after receipts were submitted). We were finally able to sleep soundly in the new lodging and eventually moved on to a clean and comfortable Airbnb in Ohio. And though we felt victorious, financially, they could not really compensate us for the interruption in our travels, the rashes we suffered, or the ensuing days of doing laundry and weeks of rotating our belongings into the freezer to be sure they were 100% de-loused.
I’ll be honest: I felt awkward “playing my tiny violin” to get Airbnb to pay attention to our problem and pay to fix it. But at the same time, I’m a great customer – and they know that. A massive enterprise like Airbnb that collects plenty of fees should be willing to step up and help a loyal customer in a rare situation, so playing the sympathy card to make them give back isn’t wrong in my book.
I wish the best of luck to anyone trying to get compensation for a negative Airbnb experience – it ain’t for the faint of heart. But even if it isn’t something as extreme as bedbugs, you should still fight for any way in which you were wronged.
I remember years ago, we had a host in Germany tell us we had to pay extra because we hadn’t put our infant on the booking. In reality, we had noted our infant, but it didn’t show up on his form because Airbnb does not allow hosts to charge extra for infants. (Why would we stay with someone trying to charge extra for a nine-month-old baby sleeping in bed with her mother?) Regardless of who was at fault, in that situation, Airbnb had our back; they gave us a free upgrade.
For the sharing economy to work, we need to be assured of some semblance of protection from the overarching organization. Our experience shows that in the rare case that things go really bad, Airbnb will be there for you, albeit not with your first, second or third call – and you might have to live with bedbugs for an extra 72 hours while you wait for them to do the right thing.
Jose deCos – May 2020
Since leaving his job running a tech firm, Jose has traveled the world for six years, multiplied his family to four – and ain’t missing life inside an office. After writing the guide to Midlife Retirement, Jose is prepping for family life at sea as he manages partnerships for ROAM.
© ROAM Family Travel 2020 – All rights reserved
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