Airbnb And Causes For Concern

We found our vacation home in the mountains via Or, at least, my husband did. When the first renter pulled out — they had a father die and needed to sell the property ASAP — we were two months out from our trip and had no place to stay for two adults, three kids, and a dog, all of whom prefer lake access close to town. Panic set in.

As my husband frantically searched for something in our price range, I asked, “Why don’t you just check Airbnb?”

“No, I don’t like Airbnb,” he replied. “It’s too sketchy.”

“But I stayed at that Airbnb place in Portland on the girls’ retreat and it was great — the house was gorgeous and they even had throw blankets for the couches, which is important when you’re basically playing sorority for two days. And didn’t your brother use Airbnb for his trip to Colorado?”

He hmphed, which meant that he conceded my point but still considered himself in the right. “Airbnb isn’t the best for vacationers,” he said. “There are issues.” Over the next few days, he spelled some of them out for me.

Airbnb does not offer traveler’s insurance for guests

They have very clear cancellation policies — three levels of them, in fact — that allow you full or partial refunds up to 24 hours in advance (as long as you pick a host with the “flexible” cancellation policy). is run by Expedia, and offers, like the famed travel site, what amounts to travelers’ insurance: basically, for a fee (in our case, a paltry $50), if your kid comes down with explosive pertussis of the flu the morning you’re supposed to check in, you get a full refund of everything, including all the site fees. With three accident-prone small boys, this is a big deal for us. has better protection policies

Vrbo may ask you to pay a security deposit up front, while Airbnb does not. (This is undoubtedly a big factor for renters.) However, Airbnb hosts have up to 14 days from the checkout date to make a claim that you damaged something, which, while they have to provide documentation in the form of pictures, videos, etc., is a large gap in time for you to catch blame for something you didn’t do. Vrbo, on the other hand, “offers security deposit protection: 100% of your security deposit is covered if it’s wrongfully withheld.” offers emergency rebooking assistance

Basically, if you get to the house and it’s full of vermin, or uninhabitable, or not what it was advertised to be, or if your host just flakes out at the last minute, take heart! Friendly people from, probably from a foreign country, will “find another vacation rental should your booking be cancelled by an owner or manager at the last minute.”

Airbnb’s reputation makes some uneasy

There’s a lot of great Airbnb properties out there. I’ve stayed in one (shout out to Portland!). I have friends who have stayed in several. But according to Mozo, people have been bilked out of thousands of dollars through Airbnb — all over accommodations that didn’t exist, to boot.

Then there are the cities that have banned Airbnb: some, like Barcelona, over bureaucratic issues related to the tourism board, says Conde Nast Traveler; others, like Orleans, over safety concerns like “installing fire extinguishers, smoke and carbon monoxide monitors,” all of which, apparently, Airbnb hosts aren’t required to have. Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam have all banned the service.

[It’s clear that not everyone has this many concerns about using Airbnb. Check out our Security Tips For Airbnb Guests if you’re traveling to an Airbnb property.]

There’s even a site called Airbnb Hell, with separate sections for hosts and guests. The tales are on the guest side are hair-raising, and include such gems as “Moral of the story: be very careful when making a safety complaint about a listing. The host can retaliate against you. There is no whistle-blower protection rule,” and “I would also add that getting through to Airbnb on the telephone is farcical and more than time consuming.”

This is not to say that doesn’t have its share of horror stories on the site. But there seem to be far less of them.

Basically, we needed a week-long rental house for several people in a nice area, with assurances and protection. But my husband admitted that if he were alone, or staying somewhere for a day or so, he’d be more likely to use Airbnb. You don’t need as much in those cases, and the consequences for something gone wrong are much less dire.

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on

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