Room rental service Airbnb has steadily gained in popularity, but still hasn't worked out all the kinks in its service. The company bills its service as a cheaper alternative to expensive city hotel rooms, but there are issues that go along with those reduced prices.
IBTimes takes a look at five of the biggest reasons to be weary of using Airbnb instead of staying in a hotel.
1) Potential to be Shafted
Among the biggest issues surrounding the company's service is the potential for the customer to be shafted. Both the lessor and renter can cancel a reservation, often very easily, which could put the other person in a serious bind. Imagine you come into New York City during the summer months, a very popular destination for tourists, and book a room through this service only to have the lessor cancel the reservation on you.
You've already booked your flight and are set to leave the next day, what do you do? Hotels would likely be completely booked and if you are lucky enough to find one, the short notice room will likely be at a high premium price.
Be aware that your "room reservation" with this service isn't nearly as reliable as one with a legitimate hotel. It's possible it could work out perfectly, as it has for some of the company's satisfied customers, but there are clear risks here.There's also legal issues for certain cities, specifically New York, in which laws try to limit and/or completely prohibit short term leases like the ones that populate Airbnb.
2) Unresponsive Nature of the Company
The first issue directly ties into the second major reason to be weary of this service. Customers in the past have loudly complained about the company's unresponsive and untimely response to their customer queries. Users have complained on Internet forums that Airbnb isn't the best when it comes to customer service; often times taking a few days to effectively deal with issues.
The company doesn't refund buyers right away, so if something goes wrong, don't expect to get your money back for at least a day or two. This could be quite the issue if you are on a shoestring budget and can't to pay for that room and a hotel room, even if you'll
Airbnb still doesn't have a 24-hour customer service hotline, so if you are checking in on a late Friday night and there are issues, you might be out of luck until at least Monday.
3) Lots of Potential Awkwardness
For some people it might not be an issue, but the potential awkwardness in using this service is pretty high. Users might be able to get a general feel for what type of situation they will be walking into, but it's impossible to know just what type of people they will be leasing from.
Often you may be occupying an extra room or spare bed of a couple and/or family that is still living in that space. It's not a hotel where you'd at least have some base level of privacy. When you rent through people you don't know, there's no telling what type of weird things the original owners might do in their day-to-day living. If you aren't comfortable in handling potentially awkward situations, it's likely best to go the safe route and book a hotel room.
4) Safety Concerns
Going along with some of the issues raised in reason number three, there's no telling what type of safety concerns could arise while staying at the place. Both the lessor and renter could experience some issues, especially if the person hasn't been previously rated through the service.
What's stopping a person from renting the room and then coming and robbing your apartment of its most valuable goods? Sure you can file a police report, but if the person used a fake name or fake credit card number, it might be difficult to recoup the lost goods. In a recent New York Times piece, one lessor had a bottle of whiskey taken and drank by the renter withour her consent.
Further, if you are the person renting the place, there's no telling what sort of dangerous dealings the original owner of the place might be into. The owner could be a drug dealer or into even shadier dealings, which is obviously something most innocent travelers don't want to have to deal with.
5) What You See Isn't Always What You Get
Perhaps the biggest issue with this service is that the company does nothing to vouch for the apartment's veracity. Anyone can put an apartment or room up for rent on the service and upload any pictures that he or she wants.
The company relies on its users to provide reviews of the place so that guests can be warned if the seller isn't actually offering what he or she is advertising. But often times this is could be too little, too late, especially if the place had yet to be reviewed. If you are planning a big trip, you don't want to have your room sullied by being swindled into an apartment that isn't what it was billed to be.
One user, smf, wrote on Fodors.com of a similar issue:
"The picture displayed a clean, well-kept location," she said of the apartment she and her husband booked in Chicago. "On the way down JoAnne called us to say we were staying at a different location on Sedgewick. We went to the location she directed us to find a terribly maintained condo with a bathroom with mold and ceiling tiles falling in, bugs on the floor and disgusting kitchen."
Some hotels have been known in the past for false advertising, but there is so much more regulation with hotels, especially with major chains. If you want some real stability in actually getting exactly what you are paying for, Airbnb is not the right option for you.