Live and Learn: My Airbnb Experience  By

Live and Learn: My Airbnb Experience

My Airbnb Experience, Thanksgiving 2017

For the first time ever, my family and I decided to celebrate Thanksgiving in New York. Given that we would be there for just a few days, I gave Airbnb a try. I booked a fine-looking place on Airbnb in March for four adults and a teenager. Although very expensive, the apartment had four separate beds and a large dining table for Thanksgiving dinner—perfect, or so it seemed. Although not a pleasant experience by any means, this trip has confirmed for me that and our community of members is very special in our trust and consideration for each other. Here are some of the lessons I learned, and how to avoid these problems yourself.

Bait and Switch Scam

The actual bedroom

The bedroom as shown in the listing

On the day of our arrival, I received a new access code to pick up a key at a deli close by, (using and a slightly different address from the one I had. The apartment was now on a different floor.  We arrived after midnight from a long trip only to find out that the apartment looked nothing like the one on the listing. Instead of four real beds, there were only two. The next day, I emailed the host asking to be moved to the listing we actually reserved and paid for in full more than six months in advance. To add insult to injury, it was 45F outside, the heaters in the bedrooms were broken, and the WiFi wasn’t working.  After 26 hours of not receiving any responses from the host, I let him know I was filing a complaint with Airbnb. Shortly after the complaint was filed, the host insisted that we were in the same apartment we had reserved, but that some of the furniture had been changed because of a ‘previous guest’. Since not a single thing in the apartment, not even the posters, matched the items in the listing, his claim wasn’t credible and it was clear we had fallen into a Bait and Switch scam.

The dining room when we arrived

The dining room as shown in the listing

What happens at  We ask that each party make entirely sure who they are dealing with. We ask that users not assume anything or rely on reviews or any system except for their own judgement. Since many of our members are affiliated with academic institutions, reference checks are fairly easy. In addition to a reference check, we highly recommend a virtual face-to-face meeting (if possible from each other’s homes) before finalizing any arrangements.  Agreements should be written out as it is necessary to clearly state what each other’s expectations are. This all takes time, but it is well worth the effort.


On the second day, Airbnb came through, cancelled our reservation and refunded the totality of our payment plus gave us an extra 10% to spend on a new place. Unfortunately, we had to spend a night in a hotel, for which they refunded $150 of the cost, and then we moved again to the final destination just one day before Thanksgiving. When I announced to the host we were relocating, he texted me that I was a ‘thief ‘and that he was going to call ‘the police’ and ‘his lawyers’. Several days later Airbnb told us they had refunded us more than they meant to by mistake and that we were liable for 50% of the first two nights we spent and the cleaning fee. After I wrote to their representative what had happened, they left things as they were.

What happens at Since negotiations and payments happen directly between parties, cannot intervene to withhold or refund any payments. People are expected to make fair judgement calls and decide what the decent approach is to resolving unexpected problems—hence the importance of making sure to check references.

Future Fraud Prevention

Being the thoughtful person I am, I asked Airbnb what they would do about preventing this host from using their platform again. I didn’t receive any response about this issue. After taking a look at the inventory of places available today, the listing I originally reserved is still listed.

You would wonder why this host doesn’t have any negative reviews. I was given the opportunity to send in a review, but my review wouldn’t be publicly visible unless the host left feedback for me. I now understood why the host had no negative reviews. He could continue to double book or continue his bait and switch scam without getting any negative reviews posted on his listing.

What happens at If it is clear that someone acted dishonestly, the consequences range from posting a unilateral review (with or without response) to closing the account. We have zero-tolerance for bait and switch.

In Conclusion

I trusted the glowing reviews posted on the Airbnb listing and didn’t look beyond these reviews. At, we ask that you really check who you are dealing with before you make any arrangements. Checking each other’s references and having a video call takes time but peace of mind is golden. The other benefit from this process is that our members establish a human relationship, which goes beyond a commercial transaction.

The arrangements, negotiations and potential disputes are entirely the responsibility of the two parties at On the other end, someone engaging in dishonest activities will be swiftly dealt with.

Lessons Learned

  • Take reviews on Airbnb with a grain of salt
  • Doing your own reference check with is well worth the effort.
  • is a great resource if you happen not to be there to meet your guest when they arrive
  • But, on the downside, no amount of reasonable refund can make up for the high stress of worrying, moving twice and the unpleasant feeling of scammed. Resources: How to Avoid this Yourself

How to check references:

Create a contract:

How to find a match: