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

Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 01:00

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.”

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