Online vacation rental platforms have revolutionized the lodging industry and most people are aware of the upsides of renting a couch, room, condo or house from someone with a spare.
There’s nothing to prevent a host from having the same condo on airbnb, VRBO, TripAdvisor, and also available through an agency or directly by word of mouth. Of course that means it’s possible that overlapping dates are booked by different guests on different platforms.
It’s sort of like overbooking on airlines with an important difference. Airlines offer compensation to passengers willing to voluntarily give up their seat and then book them on a different flight.
When a reservation (made months ago) is cancelled by the landlord a couple of weeks or even days before a stay there’s no compensation and no alternate accommodation.
It’s difficult or impossible to find three rooms a few days before a New Year’s trip but that’s what friends of ours faced when airbnb notified them that the owner had cancelled their reservation.
The only explanation they ever got was something about plumbing and they ended up spending about $1,800 extra so they wouldn’t have to sleep in their car or cancel their trip.
It’s purely conjecture but the “plumbing” excuse was suspicious. Even a big plumbing problem shouldn’t take more than a couple of days to fix. It seems possible that the owner overbooked or found someone willing to pay more directly.
A similar thing happened to us last year with a two bedroom house on Cabo Matapalo. The owner had the decency to be honest and just told us straight out that his friends were going to be staying in the house instead of us.
Airbnb vehemently defends their system integrity and consumer protection policies and of course it’s impossible to know if the reasons for cancellations are legitimate or not. No single owner would get away with it if they did it frequently but we still hear about cancellations happening every week at the busiest times. It never seems to happen in off season.
When a stay is cancelled it creates a review Catch 22. First most travelers do not know about the possibility of double booking and just chalk it up to bad luck. Second, no one is allowed to review a property they did not stay at so even if victims are aware they’re silenced. The next sucker never knows that they may be ejected if the owner gets a better offer.
It’s incredible how well the price perception strategy works.
When someone asks me how much I paid for the condo on playa Bejuco I automatically answer “$100 a night” because that’s what it said in inch high letters on the description page. However, I know how to do math, and I know the $581.95 charged to my credit card divided by 3 nights is $194 per night. Somehow I still think of it as $100 a night.
Putting the $125 cleaning fee, $27 host service fee, $18 parking space, $45 convenience charge, and $66.95 tax on a separate page during booking somehow convinces me I paid half as much.
Not only is it annoying and somewhat misleading to hide the real cost but there’s another layer of camouflage. Hiding profits in “fees” artificially improves the perceived value.
The minimum wage for cleaners in Costa Rica is around $2.00 per hour. That means $125 would buy 62 hours of bed making, toilet scrubbing and vacuuming which seems a bit high. It’s not daily housekeeping it’s just one cleaning after the guests leave.
Consumers are accustomed to getting nickled and dimed… dealer handling on a new car, service fees on concert tickets, tax at the taco truck… but at some point the huge difference between the advertised price and what it really costs becomes insulting and vaguely fraudulent.
When shopping around be sure to compare actual prices. Click all the way though the reservation steps, write down the total and divide by the number of nights. Some hotels and lodges in Costa Rica include the 13% tax in their public prices but others do not. They always include housekeeping.
“Please use the provided squeegee to dry the walls and door of the shower after each use. We have hard water.” I don’t spend that much time cleaning my shower at home.
It’s common practice at rentals to charge a hefty cleaning fee and also request the guest do some chores.
Either charge me a $125 cleaning fee (plus $16.25 tax) -OR- ask me to wash the dishes, empty the garbage and recycle and haul the bins to the curb, strip the beds and load the sheets and towels into the washing machine…
There’s no cleaning provided during a stay and in our experience the housekeeping quality at rentals is spotty compared to hotels and lodges. Approximately half of the rentals we’ve stayed in have pubic hairs in the bathroom, a couple have had them in the bed and I won’t even mention what the black light reveals. Sometimes it seems they haven’t been cleaned at all.
We’ve had better luck in Europe and the U.S. than Costa Rica but even there we’ve arrived to trash in the bins, dirty dishes (maybe the previous guests forgot to do their chores) and crumbs in the corner of the kitchen.
The failures are probably due to some combination of cutting corners to save money and a lack of accountability and continuity with contract cleaning services. At a hotel the manager knows exactly who’s responsible. Cleaning daily at hotels and lodges also seems likely to be more effective than weekly at a rental.
We’ve had two different management companies attempt to harvest personal information after booking through airbnb. In direct violation of airbnb policy they set up a form requesting our home address, phone, e-mail and even credit card information.
They then used the airbnb app to inform us we were required to provide this information. We reported these phishing attempts to airbnb and they confirmed it was a violation of the terms of service but six months later the properties were still listed and the phishing forms still active.
These attempts were made by “legitimate” property management companies we assume in an attempt to collect marketing targets. We didn’t fall for it so I’m not sure how much junk mail or spam it might have resulted in.
While these attempts weren’t much more than annoyances it must be tempting for criminals to use “secure” airbnb communication channels to perpetrate identity theft. It’s difficult recognize since the phishing messages are validated by actually being sent from the airbnb mail server.
They use fake photos and listings and/or contact the renters an hour or two before check-in saying “there’s a problem with the rental (maybe the plumbing…) but we have an even nicer substitute” The substitute turns out to be a flop house but what are you going to do? Everything around is booked and your Uber already drove off. We haven’t heard about this happening in Costa Rica, yet.
The notification that the landlord has reviewed you as a guest and it will be published when you review the property is great at inducing mutual admiration when it’s a good experience. However, there’s something oddly ominous and threatening about posting a negative review on the airbnb system – an implied aspect of mutually assured destruction.
I’ve had negative experiences. One was bad enough that I left after a single night even though I’d paid for three. But I’ve never left a negative review. I don’t know if it’s about the way they make it personal or oppositional but it skews the results in favor of favorable reviews.
As mentioned above, the most disappointed guests, ones that have their stay cancelled, are not even permitted to post a review.
Despite the possibly trip trashing downsides noted above we sometimes use vrbo/homeaway or airbnb in Costa Rica. It’s kinda like using google even though they’re taking possession of my soul and selling it to the highest bidder – ¡Pura Vida!