Q: I booked an apartment in Paris on Airbnb recently. At the last moment, the host gave me a different address and said, “It’s the same street.” But it wasn’t the same apartment.
I decided I didn’t have much choice, even though it was suspicious. When I arrived after a transatlantic trip, I knew I couldn’t get into the apartment until 2 p.m. But I had heavy luggage, so I went to see whether I could drop it off if the current tenants were still there.
The owner was at work and couldn’t be contacted. I had instructions to pick up the key at a nearby building, which I did. The key did not fit the apartment door, or any doors around.
Tired and at a loss, with no backup plan provided by the host, I sent her a cancellation and got a hotel nearby. I offered to pay the first night’s rent, but neither the host nor Airbnb would refund the remainder.
Now Airbnb is ignoring me, as is the host. I can’t even leave a warning review because the reservation has been removed. I am out $500 plus the considerably more I had to pay for a hotel. What can I do?
— Karen Wall, Edmonton, Canada
A: Your Airbnb host shouldn’t have switched your apartment. But you also kind of changed the rules of the game by showing up early for your rental.
For those of you who haven’t made that transatlantic flight, here’s what you can expect: After half a day on a plane, your flight arrives in the early morning. It’s still the middle of the night back home. You’re thoroughly exhausted and you just want to sleep.
Karen, I don’t blame you for wanting to leave your luggage in your rental. I would, too.
When I reviewed your case, it looked as though your Airbnb host had failed to give you the accommodations you’d reserved, so I wanted to find out what happened.
There are no provisions I can find for a host swapping out one Airbnb rental for another. But the issue is addressed in Airbnb’s guest refund policy. It stipulates that Airbnb will either provide you with a refund or use reasonable efforts to “find and book you at another comparable accommodation for any unused nights left in your reservation.” In order to receive that, you must make a claim within 24 hours of your check-in. It appears that instead, you took matters into your own hands, booked a hotel, and got on with your vacation — again, a very understandable thing to do.
But by failing to contact Airbnb, you forfeited your right to compensation under the terms of your booking (you had selected a unit with a “strict” cancellation policy).
Airbnb technically did the right thing by denying your refund, but it didn’t feel right. You could have contacted someone higher up at Airbnb to press your case. I list the names, numbers, and emails of Airbnb’s customer-service executives on my consumer-advocacy site: http://www.elliott.org/company-contacts/airbnb/. But knowing what I know now, it probably wouldn’t have done much good.
By the time I’d investigated the terms, the ball was already rolling on a favorable resolution for you. My advocacy team had some misgivings about your case, because we knew we influenced this ending. Airbnb apologized to you, refunded the rest of your reservation, and offered you a $150 coupon for a future Airbnb stay. That’s a more than generous resolution.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.