Updated December 1, 2022.
Bad Airbnb experiences. What do you do? And how to avoid them.
We’re big fans of Airbnb. During our 6 years of full-time travel we averaged over 300 nights/year in Airbnb apartments. That’s a lot of time spent in Airbnbs. During that time most of our experiences were good, some even excellent. But we also had a couple of really bad Airbnb experiences. I’ll describe them below.
So what do you do? And how do you avoid bad Airbnb stays? We learned a few things through our bad experiences and it’s changed some of our Airbnb practices.
Our first bad experience was in Antalya. We booked a 2 week stay in this place. It looked and sounded promising. 3 bedrooms! 2 baths! We met Dina and first impressions were good. The place was huge and all 3 bedrooms had their own bed and working tables. The kitchen was spacious with lots of counter space. “This is great” we thought.
The negatives started to reveal themselves one by one. In the kitchen, utensils and glasses were dirty. The shelves were dusty and the contents old and disorderly. Pots were dirty, handles were loose. When it got dark, the only lights in the apartment were harsh, white overhead lights. But the worst was when we got ready for bed and pealed back the covering bed sheet. Bedsheets and blankets were pinned together with safety pins. Large safety pins on each corner of every bed. One of them was loose. Imagine sliding into bed and getting stabbed by a huge safety pin. Sheets and pillow cases were brittle, almost cardboard-ish in quality. But the worse was when we discovered that every bed (all sofa beds) had large uncomfortable seams down the middle.
Note: the worst is when hosts go cheap on bedding. Other things can be bad, but nothing is going to ruin a stay more than sleeping uncomfortably.
Turning off the lights we realized that the curtains didn’t block any outside light. Our street was on the main tram line, a brightly lit thoroughfare. It all streamed into the bedrooms.
Between the uncomfortable beds and the bright light streaming in we had 2 weeks of uncomfortable sleep.
The other issue was a front door lock that was difficult to open from the inside. It always required a lot of jiggling with the key and on one occasion I almost called Dina to get us out. Lissette stepped up and after a few minutes managed to open the lock. The door was clearly a fire hazard and from then on we only used the keychain when inside the apartment.
When our 2 weeks ended we debated on how to review Dina. She was a new Airbnb host, none of the faults of the apartment were egregious – they were mostly cleaning and maintenance issues. Overall the apartment could be fantastic. Dina also had a young daughter which I have to admit influenced us. We just felt that maybe she didn’t know any better and we didn’t want to be harsh.
We decided to focus on the positives in the public review. But in the private feedback I went into the detail on all the above, including being pretty direct about the bedding. “You should look at getting duvets, where you can slip the blanket between sheets. Using safety pins is dangerous”. I wrote her 3 long paragraphs on things she can do to improve her apartment.
Hosts always appreciate private feedback. Sometimes they have cleaners and don’t actually have a chance to verify an apartment before guests arrive. If you tell them that cleaning could be improved (for example), they’ll be happy to know about it.
In Dina’s case there didn’t seem to be any appreciation for my private feedback. She’s one of the few hosts that never bothered responding. I noticed however that she received a negative review shortly after we left, the reviewer touching on the same points that I had mentioned to her. So obviously she didn’t take any of our advice.
Related: Why Antalya disappointed us
Our experience would be much worse in Yerevan.
We had booked this apartment for a month.
Due to a few complications with trains and visas, we arrived in Yerevan 4 days into our booking. It was 7 am when we showed up, exhausted after an 11 hour train ride from Tbilisi.
The host was David, a young guy in his 20’s. The title of his Apartment is “NEW MODERN LUXURY Apartment in City Center!”. Totally misleading. The building was a Soviet-era highrise. Gas meters lined the entrance of the building, a leaking pipe wrapped with decomposing insulation (which looked suspiciously like asbestos) took up much of the ground floor. The entire building smelled, a deep noxious smell. Lissette thought it was cat pee. I think it was something more toxic.
The apartment itself was dusty and musty. It smelled of cigarette. Even the shelves in wardrobes were covered in dust, some also had spider webs in the corners. There were no cleaning products of any kind, not even dishwashing soap. The kitchen didn’t have even the most basic of necessities required of an Airbnb. Knives, forks and plates came from a children’s party set – all were miniature in size. There were 2 pots and a frying pan with a broken handle. There were no other utensils except for the miniature ones, no colander for pasta. It was bare bones. Items listed in the description were missing. There was no oven, there was no dryer.
But that was nothing compared to the bedroom. Blankets smelled. They obviously had not been cleaned. The pillows smelled and when we took off the pillowcases we saw yellowish pillows. The mattress was old…and when we laid on it we realized that the whole bed was broken. The thing jiggled like a waterbed and you could feel all the springs pocking you in the ribs. It was more than the mattress – looking under the 2 mattresses we saw that they were resting on top of a broken board. The bed was unsleepable. And the “sofa bed” listed in the living room (since changed in the description) was no sofa bed. It was a regular couch that reeked of cigarette smoke.
We called David back to the apartment. Showed him the layer of dust, gave him the blankets and asked him to clean them, showed him the bed and told him it was unacceptable. I asked him where we were supposed to dry our clothes. There was no dryer, no clothes rack, nothing…
I also contacted Airbnb (further below in this post I’ll give you their details. They do everything they can to avoid having to deal with you).
Making a long story short, the next day David came with some workmen and had a clothesline installed outside the window. The day after they came back and fixed the bed frame and threw out the broken mattress. We had tried sleeping on the broken bed for 3 nights and were exhausted by this point. Airbnb had communicated with us but except for saying all the right things, didn’t offer any concrete options. We were told if the matter was not resolved they would conduct a mediation between us and the host “to resolve the matter”. They sent me their Guest Refund Policy. 3 days later, with the bed (and a few minor items) taken care of Airbnb offered us a $100 Canadian credit for the inconvenience we had experienced.
We ended up staying in the apartment the whole month. With the fixes, it managed to be an “ok” apartment.
Lissette and I talked about the review we would leave David. We decided to be as factual as we could in our review, listing the Pros and the Cons (snapshot of our review here). But we had learned from our first experience with Dina – we didn’t spare David in our review and told it exactly how it was.
Wondering how to contact Airbnb if you have issues?
If you have issues with an apartment make sure to contact Airbnb within the first 24 hours.
The best toll-free phone number for calling Airbnb Customer Service is 1-855-424-7262 (the average wait time is between 7 and 12 minutes).
Another number that works well in the USA for local callers is 1-415-800-5959
For UK callers, try 02033 181 111
The way Airbnb prefers to be contacted is via their messaging center, here: https://www.airbnb.com/help/contact_us
We’ve found contacting them through Twitter to be a good way: https://twitter.com/Airbnb
Questions raised from these bad Airbnb experiences
We’re really questioning reviews posted on Airbnb. Prior to our stay there were 6 reviews on the Yerevan apartment, all 5 star (ie. perfect) reviews. Really, how could this be possible? Did nobody sleep on that bed? Did nobody notice all the discrepancies listed on the description? Is it that nobody ever wants to say a bad word? Or do hosts have friends who leave reviews?
Have a look at this article questioning if Airbnb edits or deletes bad reviews. Or this Business Insider article questioning whether there’s a flaw in the Airbnb review process.
Our negative review on the Yerevan apartment is still there and we’re keeping an eye on it. But we had our own experience with the above. Back in 2015, the only other truly negative review we’ve ever left was deleted when Airbnb contacted us to tell us there was an inaccuracy in our review. In our review we had mentioned that there was no wifi in the apartment despite the description saying there was. Airbnb argued that when we had booked there was no wifi listed in the amenities and that wifi had been added after we had left. As I told them, that would mean that they had installed wifi in the 1 day between when we left the apartment and the next day when I wrote the review. I didn’t believe any of it. But it didn’t matter – Airbnb deleted my comment and a shitty apartment (which I wrote about here) continued having perfect 5 star reviews (Airbnb deems any comment having an inaccuracy as misleading and will delete the entire comment). It really made me wonder…
I wonder if people reading this have had similar experiences? Or similar doubts about how few negative reviews ever appear on Airbnb?
Things learned from these bad Airbnb experiences
Look for Superhosts with a lot of reviews. Both apartments above were run by young people with about 5 reviews each. That’s a small sample size. We’ve learned to no longer trust based on reviews alone.
Beware of hosts that come off as cheap. I mentioned that we arrived at the Yerevan apartment 4 days late. The original plan had been to arrive on the date of the booking but early in the morning. At that time David had mentioned that early check in would cost $10 extra. Considering we would be in his apartment a month I thought that was extremely cheap. It gave us a negative impression right off the bat. In our case the apartment was already booked – but if you’re looking to book an apartment and have questions about early check in, late check out, pickup, or anything else pay attention to how the host answers.
Photos lie. Look at the amenities in the profile. It’s happened a few times: you look at the photos in the profile and check off your list of “requirements”. Always make sure to compare the photos to what is mentioned in the list of amenities in the profile. We learned this recently in Corfu when we realized that the washing machine pictured in the images wasn’t functioning. Had we looked at the profile we would have realized that “washer” was not included in the amenities.
* note that amenities in descriptions can be inaccurate. I mentioned that the Yerevan apartment listed a dryer, an oven, and a sofa bed. All were inaccurate.
Read between the lines. I’ve listed a few bad Airbnb experiences above, but the reality is that 90% of our experiences have been either good (80%) or great (10%). I think the most important thing is to look at a lot of reviews (I mention Superhosts above with lots of reviews) and read between the lines of what people are saying. When people leave long, glowing reviews and show real affection for their host you just know that the host is exceptional. When I see reviews like that I jump to book that apartment. They’re few and far between but we’ve met some fantastic Airbnb hosts through our travels who’ve made a destination special. Because, as we’ve learned, your accommodation experience will always affect how you end up feeling about a place.
Leave more honest reviews. This is the thing we really learned from the two experiences above. As I say, we’ve had mostly good to great experiences on Airbnb. Still, there’s usually at least 1 or 2 little things wrong with an apartment that we’ve sometimes glossed over in the review, usually because a) everything else was good or b) we like the host and don’t want to be negative. From now on, we’ll leave PRO and CONS on a review as we did on David’s while keeping the tone neutral. We’ll be 100% brutally honest. Why be honest about reviews? 1) Because it actually helps potential guests who read reviews. 2) it helps hosts – because truly good hosts should be differentiated from mediocre hosts (stars no longer seem to count). But what we really learned from the two experiences above is that some hosts really don’t care about your experience or your feedback. And if they don’t care, we won’t spare their feelings when it comes to reviewing them. 3) Because we’re sick of reading wishy-washy reviews that don’t help anybody. If people left honest reviews we, and others, would never stay in apartments like the above.
Our issues were relatively minor. Have a look here at some real Airbnb horror stories.
Related: Leipzig and the Worst Airbnb host in the World
Related: Our Airbnb tips for newbies
Related: Trieste. And remembering the things we don’t like about Italy
Related: Our Best Ever Hotel Experiences
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I always love these wrap up type of posts. Sounds like some unpleasant experiences. And it is extra tough when you are locked with a reservation for weeks. I also feel like there is an added risk element w AIRBNB. Here are to further good experiences and less bad ones!
I read your comments about the Airbnb in Antalya with a smile. I grew up in Turkey. In Turkey most people pin the bedsheets and blankets together, so they won’t slide. We don’t consider this unsafe and the host didn’t make this to annoy you either. This is the way it is done over there. Similarly in Turkey almost nobody uses blackout curtains. It is just not common to have it. Again Turkey, being a hot country, people mostly use lights which are coldish and bright(4000K or higher). The host lady just offered you an accomodation similar to any other local accomodation. I think it would be better for you to stay in a hotel as it seems to me you took those cultural differences as neglect. I was an Airbnb host myself in Belgium and I know from experience that North Americans want to get an accomodation with EXACTLY the same things asthey are used to get in their own homeland and this makes me almost laugh. People book Airbnb’s to get to learn local way of living. In another continent on the opposite side of the world it is a given that it will be different than in Canada. Still it is only North Americans complaining for not getting the things the way they are used to back home. I am sorry for the direct and harsh words, but myself as a host every time I had similar issues with North Americans(complains for beds being too narrow, matrasses too soft or too hard to their liking, why there are so many stairs in the apartment? Why the ventilation makes noise when it works? Why there are so many road works in the city? As if I am the mayor of the city or something…)
Interesting to hear your comment because if you had read you would have noticed that we are not what you describe as “typical North American” travellers. We’ve travelled the world full-time for 5 years and for most of those years stayed in Airbnb apartments 300+ nights of the year.
As far as specifics you mention the pinning of bedsheets of blankets and bedsheets. Have never heard of that. But we stayed in 2 other Airbnbs in Turkey where that was not the case. As far as what you call a “blackout curtain” that is just not true. People don’t just have the equivalent to a thin cotton sheet over their window when they’re on a main boulevard, certainly none of the neighbors across the street did. And you didn’t address the dirtiness, the sofa beds, the cardboard-ish sheets, or the front door lock that just didn’t work properly. Maybe these are also typical things you find in Turkey?
Rather, your comment just seems to be you venting on “stereo typical North Americans”. My tip to hosts like you is that staying in an Airbnb is not charity – it might not be a hotel but people expect decent quality. We’ve stayed in much poorer countries than Turkey where amenities were basic. But those places were clean and the hosts took pride in the accommodation they were offering. The problem is that in some cases (a minority if you read my full post) hosts expect guests to put up with conditions that they themselves would not put up with. They just rent out a place to make money without any semblance of even trying.
And as far as only North Americans complaining that is also untrue. Germans (or any North Europeans) are pretty fussy and are a lot less unfiltered in giving their true opinion than Norther Americans are.
I will be visiting Cancun in November and I have booked my stay through Airbnb and after reading your article I am not sure if I should continue with Airbnb. Any suggestions will be deeply appreciated
For us it depends on how long we stay somewhere. More than 3 days we stay in an Airbnb because 1) we want a full kitchen, 2) less expensive than a hotel for a longer term stay.
More and more we use booking.com for apartments. It used to be just hotels but you’ll see apartment options now when you search a destination. It’s often a bit more expensive than Airbnb (10-20% more based on our experience) but the good thing about Booking.com is that you can cancel pretty much until the last minute. Also, you don’t pay until you check in (vs Airbnb where you have to pay upfront).
Hope that helps 🙂
Hey Frank! Great article! I was thinking a while ago to write a very similar post and share about our experiences because we had quite a few negative ones too!
All of them taught me that reviews and “super host” titles do not matter at all.
Last week, for example, we had 2 negative stays in Belarus, one after another. After the check in to our second flat I was so upset and annoyed that called Airbnb and demanded to move us to another apartment and refund our money.
When we were choosing the first flat in Minsk, we based our decision on more than 300 amazing reviews with almost 50 guests saying that the place was sparkling clean. In reality, it was so dusty and what you are saying, with dirty utensils, cabinets, pans and pots, someone’s hair in a bathtub, egg shell all over the kitchen and sink, layers of dust everywhere and so many other things.
Our second apartment in Homel was even worse. And it also had reviews of a super host. We don’t trust the reviews anymore and are a bit confused how to choose an apartment.
Hope you are having a nice one in Lviv!
Thanks Anya! Hope all is well 🙂
You really start do wonder “WTF?” when you see a shitty apartment with all these great reviews. I still don’t understand it. Are they “real” reviews? Are most people travelling on Airbnb bums and their standards so low? I agree that it gets in your head and you start wondering what you’ll get…
Hi Frank and Spanky, as always, good information, I have booked like 13 apartments in different cities in Europe and everything has been great except the one in Barcelona that the pictures showed a very nice place and it really was not, I pay a lot of attention to the pictures, trying to see that the rooms and bathrooms are not only one with pictures taken from different angles and décor, tryin to se the AC machines or vents in each room, many of them have only one unit in the living room, in Europe AC is not known as in USA, in Spain I had gone to 4 star hotels, one in Toledo and the other in San Sebastian that have and advertise AC but it was off because the turn it on in August, no matter how much you complain (they don’t know ice either, drinks are served with one or tow cubes you have to ask for additional ice), the ones with the horizontal unit in each room are good because you turn them on/off. I booked one apartment in Venice from a new host, we took the risk and have been there two more times, excellent apartment and host, we were lucky, I booked a different apartment in Barcelona one block from las Ramblas for this September and a house in Dubrovnik I’ll let you know how it was. I took note of the phones for Airbnb (I had the 7262 number from before) if you call make sure you remember the number of the credit card (4 last numbers) you used to make the reservation you are talking about, they ask me for that one time.
Continue doing what you are doing!!!
Thanks so much Carlos. I totally agree about AC – we had the same in Venice once when it was sweltering and there was a dumb-ass rule about when they could switch it on. Unfortunately you see that in Western Europe. Nothing like that in Eastern Europe where you don’t have all those rules.
So you’ll be visiting Barcelona and Dubrovnik this summer? Will you be seeing more of Croatia?
Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂
We are flying from Bacelona to Split (all this Croatia trip is due to your posts, following your path), Hvar one day, Trogir, Zadar, Dubrovnik, Athens, Greek Islands (Santorini-Naxos- Mykonos), Istanbul, Madrid. We are leaving Miami to Barcelona September 12 and returning home to Miami from Madrid October 19, I’ll keep you posted.
Ambitious trip! Very nice.
We’ll be in the Balkans around the same time, planning to go from Corfu through Albania and Montenegro and to be in Dubrovnik sometime mid to late September before going to Split. If ever our paths overlap would be a pleasure to meet you!
Thank you, likewise. We will be in Dubrovnik from Sept 25 to Sept 30 it would be great if we could get together, have some wine/beer and talk.
Hi Frank, I’ve only booked one place that had one review and was skeptical while booking, but kept my hopes up. That was in El Jadida, Morocco and thankfully it was a great apartment. I tend to think the first 5 reviews are friends & family and if it’s over the top fantastic, I take their scoring lightly. What has me decide is reading host profile: A) how much do they write about themselves and B) What do they say.
Like you guys and tell host in private comments about things they can improve on… If I really liked the place and then. My hang-up is I’d rather not be bothered writing a review if I think it may be just me or the season. Like, when I stayed in Prague – it was a basement with an outside kitchen, patio and garden. Well, in summer it would have been great, but I was there in November and they turned off the outside water/electricity the day after I arrived for the winter. I talked to the previous tenant, she moved to another room and she liked the basement better than her upstairs room… This blew me away because I referred to it as “the cave” and thought many times of checking out. She was from Georgia, so maybe my Americaness was in my way of appreciation, so I sucked it up and I survived. Anyhow, everytime I thought about writing a review, it turned nasty instead of helpful so I took a pass. I like the idea of Pro’s and Cons
Interesting what you say about the host profile Paula. I look at that too to see if they travel themselves – if they do then the chances are better that they know what other travellers are looking for.
We usually review but there were a few occasions where we either didn’t click with the host or the place but where there wasn’t really a basis for a negative review. In that case there just wasn’t a purpose to leaving a review…
Yes, Pros and Cons. Leaves emotion out of it and is factual and helpful to the reader.
Where are you now Paula? How the travels going well 🙂
I’m currently in Montenegro with my 8 year old grandson. It’s more of a swimming holiday than country adventure, but I’m one happy grandma ? Next up – after his mom picks him up – Bulgaria.
Very nice Paula! Sounds like a good time.
If you have any tips on Montenegro please tell me – we are planning to be there in September. Have only been to Kotor.
Bulgaria! Following our steps huh? 🙂 Hope you enjoy.
Lyon, France. We booked an Airbnb for 5 nights. When we arrived we discovered the “air-conditioning” was a portable unit sitting on top of a stack of suitcases (decor?) with the hose draping outside an open window. We called the owner and said this is not air-conditioning. Most people with portable units have the hose draping out the window, but the rest of the window is closed in. This window had to remain open any time the a/c unit was running. We told him we could not stay, he said cancel the reservation with Airbnb and he’d refund our money. We checked in to a hotel, called Airbnb and we were told we would be refunded without issue because the apartment was inaccurately represented. I was very impressed. We were refunded fully. It’s the only time we’ve had an issue, but we’ve booked Airbnb less than a dozen times. In Lyon we checked in to a hotel only to discover the entire a/c system was broken. Bloody Hell. Lyon was not speaking to us so we got on a train the next morning and left for Montepelier, which turned out to be fabulous.
In April we rented an Airbnb in Porto. It was fine, as pictured, not quite as clean as I’d prefer but it was all good. What stunned me what that the owner actually emailed asking for a 5-star review. We thought that was pretty bold and could be intimidating to some. We gave him the 5 stars because the apartment was good and the description/location was spot on. Privately, I told him about the few minor cleaning issues, did not hear back, but he did give us a good review, albeit very brief.
When we do book we spend hours (and hours) looking at every apartment and picking apart the reviews and pictures, looking it up on maps, etc., until we’re sick of it. 🙂 But I do believe it’s helped us stay clear of less than great apartments.
Thanks Patti, good to hear that Airbnb didn’t give you issues. That gives me more confidence should we ever have our own…
The funny thing about both the places I wrote about was that the hosts in each case made a big deal about having left us a review and asking us to leave one as well. It shocked me, especially the guy in Yerevan. Did he actually expect a good review?? If I was him I would have hoped his apartment would have slipped from my memory. Yeah, someone writing asking for a 5 star is pretty bold. I don’t know how much I would have like that…
great post Frank. We are headed to Spain and Portugal later this year and in Lisbon we’ve decided to return to Air Bnb after I’d sworn off them. I think there’s a lot of fear out there. Guests review places but the owners review the guests and in this internet age, people will respond with vitriol to criticism. even and especially when it’s completely justified. I think you go and look at trip advisor and you get a similar thing for hotel reviews. some places see a negative review and jump all over the reviewer. Everything you read needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and i would not be at all surprised if negative reviews are removed by Air BnB. and with photos – I have definitely seen that photos are COMPLETELY misleading so often. Size is the biggest lie with photos. people use special wide angle almost fish eye lenses which make places look so much bigger than they actually are.
It’s easy to become sceptical. I wrote a post on Opentable a few years back, they manipulated reviews so that only positive reviews showed up. I’m not 100% sure Airbnb is doing that…but I don’t trust anyone these days. As far as Trip Advisor – I wonder how many reviews are from friends or competitors, all with their own agendas?
Thanks for taking the time to comment Andy.