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When is Ireland not in Ireland? Airbnb gives reader runaround over voucher

A gift to a friend North of the Border exposes serious problems with using Airbnb

Last summer a reader called Rosemary decided to treat a friend to a trip somewhere lovely and bought them a €200 Airbnb voucher so they could decide where that lovely place might be.

She did not realise that by doing this kindness, she would be soon find herself trapped on a frustrating merry-go-round decorated in shades of Brexit, the War of Independence and the subsequent partition of the island of Ireland with a hint of the intransigence of call centre operatives thrown in for good measure.

Her friends live on one side of the Border while she lives on the other – in Sligo, as it happens. Because the card was being bought in one jurisdiction and likely to be used in the same jurisdiction by someone living in the other jurisdiction Rosemary decided to check that it was all okay with Airbnb before she clicked the Okay button.

So she mailed Airbnb and said she wished to “buy a voucher for a friend in Northern Ireland (which is in the UK and not EU). I am in southern Ireland (in EU). Are we considered to be the same region? The card will be used within southern Ireland so I will be purchasing in euro. Is this ok?”


She got a response from the company which said that Airbnb gift cards are “country specific as stated on the purchasing page, we apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused. Please note you must be physically located within the country you wish to purchase for and purchasing with a credit card also issued from that country.”

Now, bear in mind, Rosemary lives in Sligo and was buying a voucher to be used in the Republic of Ireland (in Cork, to be specific), so she thought the mail exchange made it clear that this would be okay and away she went and bought the voucher.

“Unfortunately my friends had to change their plans in August 2023 and were not in a position to use the card until March 2024,” she writes. “Upon entering the code for the gift card the recipient received the following message: “This gift card is only valid in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Croatia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal or Greece. If you live in one of these countries please contact us for help.”

Now, keen-eyed readers will see that Ireland is listed among the approved countries and the person trying to make the booking – Rosemary’s friend – was in fact trying to do that in Ireland (albeit the Northern part of it).

“My friend spent many hours on the phone to Airbnb support. He found they could not/did not want to understand problem. In exasperation he asked me to contact Airbnb. Several hours later and more than 30 emails later I am no further on.

Airbnb has declined to transfer the money back to Rosemary or to her friend. And because it is more than 120 days since Rosemary bought the card, the chargeback route with her credit card is closed to her too

“Airbnb are now saying that the recipient must reside in same country as purchaser. This means that Airbnb have a system whereby if I had visitors from USA, Australia etc who were touring Ireland I could not give them a gift card to use in Ireland. I cannot believe this is a system devised by an international company. In addition, Airbnb does not specify Northern Ireland/Ireland on the above list. As Airbnb has its European HQ in Dublin they must know the difference,” she writes.

As part of one exchange, Rosemary says, Airbnb suggested her friend open a bank account in Ireland to complement the one he has in the North and also get a phone number in Ireland.

“Because of this latest suggestion, I then tried to enter the gift card code and received same error message. I was the person who purchased card and tried to redeem same from the same computer/ISP address as used when purchasing card. Therefore there must be a problem with their system,” she says.

She then goes on to sum up her experience after “many fruitless hours”.

“1. Customer contacts support and explains problem.

“2. The named agent either a) disappears into the ether never to be heard from again, b) suggests solution which does not work and then disappears.

“3. The process has to start again with a helpful staff member who needs to be brought through complaint step by step as Airbnb seems to have no way of tracking a complaint.

“4. New agent disappears and merry-go-round begins again.

“5. A supervisor/manager is not available if customer phones. However I once demanded to speak to a supervisor. When he phoned I went through problem. He said he understood and he promised to sort matter out with recipient. He said he could not deal with purchaser, only recipient. I gave him recipients details again (although they already had these several times). He phoned recipient and told him he could not deal with him, only the purchaser.”

Rosemary says it “appears to be a planned strategy with Airbnb to tell the recipient one thing and customer another. We even went to the extent of both of us being on same call and were told they could not sort out problem then but would revert. They did not.”

So, here we are. Rosemary bought the gift card in 2023. The gift card cannot be used by the person she gave it to or by herself. Airbnb has declined to transfer the money back to Rosemary or to her friend. And because it is more than 120 days since Rosemary bought the card, the chargeback route with her credit card is closed to her too.

“Finally – my advice to anyone contemplating gifting something to a friend – put a load of 50c pieces in money bags and post it through their letterbox. At least they will get the value of same.”

We got on to Airbnb to see what could be done.

A spokeswoman said that there are different terms and conditions for those in the EU and those not in the EU – thanks for that, Boris and Nigel.

She said the differences were “to comply with local laws and EU regulations, which are visible prior to purchasing. This is standard practice for many businesses that offer gift cards and operate in multiple currencies.”

However, she added: “In this particular case, we recognise some of the advice by our Community Support team could have been clearer and they have reached out to the purchaser of the gift card to offer a full refund as a gesture of goodwill on this occasion.”