Pricewatch: Readers’ queries

This week’s issues relate to an Airbnb refund, and non-acceptance of debit cards at toll plazas

An ad for AirBnB in a New York Subway station. Photograph: Andrew Renneisen/New York Times

An ad for AirBnB in a New York Subway station. Photograph: Andrew Renneisen/New York Times


Refund rigmarole over Airbnb cancellation

In the middle of July, John Rogers booked a room in a B&B in Mullingar through Airbnb for the following Saturday so he could attend a friend’s wedding. The total cost after fees was €57. “The following day, the host of the B&B contacted me through Airbnb and said that, due to a death in the family, the B&B was closed, and so they couldn’t take my booking. I replied that I totally understood. I went back on Airbnb and found another B&B in the area, booked a room and received a confirmation from the host.”

A couple of days later, he checked his online banking and noticed a transaction of €57 leaving his account. “Immediately I thought, that’s the Airbnb trip that got cancelled. Why did it go out of my account? I rang Bank of Ireland and asked them about the transaction, and they confirmed that it was to Airbnb.”

So he went back to the email he had received from Airbnb about the cancellation. “Here is where I have to put my hand up and say that I didn’t read it properly when I first received it. It seems that as soon as you request a booking, they immediately take the money from your card. I expected they would wait until the host confirmed the booking before taking the money. But they take it straight away, hold on to it and then pass it on to the host if all is hunky-dory. In a case like mine, when the host cannot put me up, what Airbnb want you to do is either book a different B&B, which will be paid for out of the money you have already given them, or go on their website and request a refund,” he writes.

So he logged on to Airbnb to find the cancelled reservation. “But here is where I hit a snag. For some reason the Request Refund option that is talked about in Airbnb’s FAQs was not available to me on the cancelled reservation. I decided I’d call someone at Airbnb and find out what to do next. But guess what? Airbnb don’t have a customer care phone number for Ireland. As far as I can tell, they don’t even have an email address.”

He says that, instead, the company has “a highly complicated system of forms and menus and hoops you have to jump through on their website in order to send them a complaint or even a request for help. It’s all very time-consuming, and, worse still, there is no option to ask for help for my particular problem. After a lot of hunting through the website, I finally found a list of phone numbers for different countries but none for Ireland. I think this is maddening when you consider that Airbnb have an office in Dublin.”

He says this “might seem like a small thing to be getting so exercised over, but I am a self-employed theatre artist living on less than minimum wage. And it’s not just the money that matters; it’s the time wasted that hurts too.”

We got in touch with the company. A remarkably upfront spokesman said his original payment had been automatically cancelled within days of the booking being made, but was not processed as efficiently by his bank, so there was a delay in it hitting his account. He accepted the company had not “reached out” to our reader to explain what was going on, and said it had now contacted him and given him a coupon worth €250 to make up for it.


Setting the record straight about tolls and debit cards

Last week we carried an item on toll roads and a reader’s difficulty in paying a toll using his Visa debit card. We were assured by the National Roads Authority that this was not the case, and such cards are accepted, although the process was more convoluted than paying by cash or credit card.

That is not correct, it seems. “I used the N4 motorway toll last night at about 5.45pm going to Dublin, and was told in no uncertain terms that they do not accept debit cards,” writes Edward Quinn. “When I mentioned the Irish Times article and the spokesman for the NRA confirming that debit cards should be accepted, the lady pointed to the sign saying ‘No debit cards accepted’.”

He paid with cash and was given the number of customer service, but the toll attendant “was quite firm and polite in saying there was nothing she could do. I didn’t argue any further as I didn’t want to hold up the other cars, but the NRA spokesperson is incorrect: this particular company will not accept debit cards under any circumstances.”

So we got back on to the NRA, and it turns out that the association’s spokesman – who, to be fair, had put in a lot of legwork on our behalf – had been misinformed by the toll-booth operator in question. Debit cards are not accepted on this motorway – which seems rather stupid.


Vive la France: debit card driver’s paradise

David O’Hanlon was also prompted to get in touch about tolls. “I have just returned from driving through to the south of France via many toll motorways,” he writes. “Everywhere credit and debit cards are accepted by the pay machines. You insert your card and it returns within five seconds, having withdrawn whatever amount is involved.”

He says this system has operated for six or seven years.

“Why can’t the same tried and trusted technology be used in this country? They don’t need operators to take your money: the same machine accepts any combination of coins and notes and gives the correct change.”

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