February 7th, 2018

What to Do When Your Airbnb Doesn't Deliver

What to Do When Your Airbnb Doesn't Deliver

You’ve checked into you Airbnb and things aren’t as you expected—it’s a nightmare unfolding before your eyes. What can you do when there’s something wrong with your Airbnb? Follow these precise steps to resolve the issues, stay safe, and ensure your holiday proceeds as planned.


Airbnb has soared in popularity over the past decade and most travelers need no introduction to the accomodation platform that revolutionized the way a lot of people travel. It certainly did that for me. I’ve been on the road since 2008, and over the past few years I have relied on Airbnb to find cute or boutique properties that offer a more local experience than a more sanitized hotel experience—many Airbnb listings are located within a city’s local neighborhoods. I rented an adorable, Pinterest-perfect apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia one year and a gorgeous flat in Paris for a whirlwind week in the City of Love just this past summer. I loved both experiences and happily parked my backpack at these local spots while I explored. But not all of my experiences were so ideal, and it’s always been at the back of my mind: What should you do when you’re having a bad Airbnb experience?

Airbnb claims that 90% of rentals are positive experiences for both hosts and guests. For the other 10 percent, there are a few common issues, such as the rental:

  • is not as clean as expected.
  • is missing promised amenities (beds, linens, kitchen supplies, etc).
  • has an unacceptable element (smell, pet dander, location, noise).
  • has a host that is overly-involved or exhibiting unacceptable behavior.

If you’re facing one of these issues, there are six key steps to resolving a bad Airbnb experience.

1. Understand your timeline and rights.

Once you arrive and check in, understand that you have 24 hours to file a formal complaint through Airbnb, complete with any proof that you have verifying your claim (photos or audio/video recordings). If you’re outside of that window, the company only addresses the most egregious issues and minor Airbnb disputes become fairly unfixable. All of the potential travel issues mentioned above do qualify for a refund if you follow the right steps—since the company offers 24/7 customer service, file the complaint as soon as you know there is no other resolution possible.

2. Assess the situation.

Not all Airbnbs operate the same way, and you should first assess the nature of your Airbnb and the type of issue before deciding on a course of action. Some Airbnbs are run by property management companies, others are actually small hotels/guesthouses (increasingly the case in developing countries), and some are homes/apartments owned by a local who use the space as a primary or secondary residence. Some hosts may be very responsive to feedback, but this is particularly true for Airbnbs run like a business. If you’re facing an issue that compromises your safety or health, leave immediately—this includes if you’re in open conflict with the host.

3. Communicate directly with your host.

Airbnb refund policies favor the host in many ways, and the company requires guests to first address issues directly with their host before the company will step into the situation. The exact wording notes that to qualify for a refund, guests must “have used reasonable efforts to remedy the circumstances of the Travel Issue”. If your safety is not compromised, but instead the rental situation is not meeting your expectations, talk about the situation during the key exchange phase, before your host leaves the property. If that’s not possible, message your host through the Airbnb app—this acts as a record of your dispute should you need to escalate the situation. For professionally run properties, the host may immediately act to fix the situation. In my own experiences, my hosts have always been quick and keen to address minor issues, like the time the inflatable mattress had a hole, or when I was miffed that the kitchen was devoid of all cooking and eating utensils. But if you’re talking major issues, then it’s important that you send a message that clearly communicates your expectations and how the property is not meeting them.

4. Document the issue.

It’s imperative that you have documentation of the key issues, meaning you should take photos or video of every aspect that does not meet those things promised in the listing. You should re-read the listing and be sure you are correct—they did actually promise two king size beds, not a dingy room with one single bed, right? If that’s the case, be sure to take the photos that prove your point since the onus is on you to show that the listing was not accurately represented.

5. File a formal complaint.

If the host is unwilling or unable to resolve your issues, then you have a few options. If the listing is unsafe or truly unacceptable, you may need to book your own accommodation elsewhere while you resolve the refund. File your formal complaint within 24 hours, and provide all of your documentation of the issue. Be sure that you specifically write the complaint to address how your situation meets Airbnb’s refund policy terms. Even if you’re outside of the 24 hour window, you can still submit a claim and the company will arbitrate between you and the host. If all of has not resolved the financial side of the situation, you can directly request a refund amount from your host.

6. Find a way to enjoy your vacation.

The process of filing for a refund from a bad Airbnb experience isn’t exactly seamless, but it can work. When my host never showed up at my listing for a small property in Vietnam, I was miffed and frustrated. I messaged the host for an hour before eventually gathering my bags and checking into a nearby hotel. Once the host responded, we hashed out the details and she refunded my money within 24 hours. And because I had checked into a nearby hotel, my vacation unfolded as planned—I stuffed my essentials into my day pack, huffed it to my boat tour, and enjoyed the beautiful islands nearby.

Most hosts want you to have a positive stay—I’ve used Airbnb in half a dozen countries and I’ve never had those horror story experiences that some people fear. It’s possible, but truly unlikely. And if it happens, you now know the process for resolving even the trickiest of situations. Your turn, tell us your best or worst Airbnb experience, as well as how you resolved the issue!

Related Links:

5 Things To Know Before Booking A Peer-to-Peer Rental

Immersion Travel: Is It Right for You?

Tips for International Travel

by Shannon ODonnell

Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She is an acclaimed travel speaker and works with universities and businesses all over the U.S. to talk about supporting developing countries.

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