How to Deal With a Disappointing Airbnb

Document any issues, and try politely communicating with the host before you escalate to Airbnb customer service.
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Written by Sam Kemmis
Senior Writer
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Edited by Meg Lee
Assigning Editor
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Airbnb complaints seem to be on the rise. From griping about cleaning fees to complaining about the impact on neighborhoods and real estate markets, it seems like everyone has an opinion of the vacation rental platform. 

Yet this sentiment runs counter to actual behavior — vacation rentals like Airbnb are more popular than ever. Total U.S. demand was up 19.8% in December 2022 compared with the previous year, and up 31.7% compared with 2019, according to AirDNA, a vacation rental analytics platform. So while some Americans may be getting fed up with vacation rentals, more people are staying at them than ever. 

Many frequent travelers have Airbnb “horror stories” — tales of dirty bathrooms, inaccurate photos and unprintable bizarreness. Yet, while it’s easy to complain about these disappointing vacation rentals, it’s harder to know what to do if you don't like your Airbnb. Should you talk to the host? Contact customer service? Request a refund? 

Well, it depends. 

Communicate with the host first

For most problems, such as a leaky faucet or dirty sheets, simply communicating these issues to the host is the best first step.

“Communication is key!” said Jenny Radick, an Airbnb Superhost in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania and a vacation rental consultant, via email. “For many hosts, it is just one person running one Airbnb unit. They more than likely put a lot of thought and care into the home, so if there are any small problems, good hosts are quick and eager to remedy them.”

Most hosts want to provide a high-quality experience for guests, since their rental’s success depends on positive guest reviews. So it’s always a good idea to give the host the benefit of the doubt, using constructive and kind communication that assumes good intent. 

Ideally, hosts will jump to fix any small — or smelly — issues at check-in. 

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Document everything

Even when dealing with an attentive host who is eager to solve any problems that come up, it’s a good idea to document these issues early and thoroughly. A picture of bedbugs or other insects, with a time stamp, will help prove that it wasn’t clean upon arrival or at some other point during your stay.

This is especially important for any issues that may pose health or safety concerns, such as faulty locks or malfunctioning fire alarms. Documenting the problem clearly, and sending it to the host via the Airbnb app, will leave a record in case customer service gets involved. 

Of course, some things aren’t so easy to capture with a camera. Funky odors, for example, don’t show up on even the most advanced phone cameras. So writing out these concerns to the host (in the app, when possible) is the best way to log them. 

I was once asked to document a live bat that got into my Airbnb cabin. Turns out that’s really hard to do.

Escalate to Airbnb customer service if needed

If you’ve given the host the benefit of the doubt, expressed your concerns clearly and the issue hasn’t been resolved, it’s time to take it upstairs. You can look in the Help Center for any resources that cover your issue or reach out to customer service directly through the app, the website or the phone.

“Airbnb offers an insurance policy for both hosts and guests as well as a resolution center for mediating issues,” Radick said. “Guests and hosts can request money for any reason they choose, with the receiving party given the option to accept or decline that request.”

In the case of my cabin bat, the host offered me a 50% refund on the affected night. I considered this fair, and the refund was managed through the app. 

Airbnb has a complex refund policy for bad experiences, so it’s hard to know for certain if you will be due one. 

These two policies cover many issues that may come up: 

  • Accommodations are not reasonably clean and sanitary, including bedding and towels. Guests can expect the property to be free of general health hazards, such as mold, pests, or mice or other vermin.

  • Special amenity or feature described in the listing is not present or does not function.

Again, having evidence and providing appropriate documentation is critical for receiving an Airbnb complaint refund.

Keep it simple

It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration of a vacation rental that’s not as advertised or doesn’t live up to your expectations. But resolving the problem doesn’t have to be an ordeal. 

  1. Contact the host with your concerns. 

  2. Document everything, with pictures when possible or in writing. 

  3. Contact Airbnb support if the host hasn’t resolved the issue satisfactorily. 

Keep in mind that Airbnb hosts, unlike hotel companies, are (often) real individuals with real lives. While they may not provide the immediate service of a hotel front desk, cutting them some slack and assuming the best — while documenting everything — will help you manage your disappointment if you don't like the place.

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