Airbnb has gotten a ton of media exposure recently. On our recent trip to South America we used the site for our first time to book apartments in Santiago and one in Buenos Aires. I’m going to focus on our bad experience with Airbnb in Santiago to highlight some of the unique problems that can result from booking a private apartment. To be honest, the problems can happen with any private accommodation such as VRBO but Airbnb is getting so much hype I’m going to only write about it.
Contact with Host was Terrible
We booked an apartment in Santiago about 4 months before our trip. Our initial contact for the booking was very fast and easy, but then when we needed to reconfirm before our trip it was very difficult to get in touch with the owners. Two weeks before our stay, I sent the apartment owners a regular email and a message through the Airbnb system but I didn’t get any response about where and when to get the keys. Their initial instructions when we originally booked it only said they were flexible.
I tried it again one week before our stay. No response. Three days before our stay, I sent a message to Airbnb customer service and I got an automated message that read, “Thank you for contacting Airbnb. Rest assured your case is in good hands and has been forwarded to the Trip Experience team.” In fact, it actually takes a minimum of 24 hours to get a personal reply. I got a reply the next day from the Airbnb system saying hopefully the owner will respond to us and that these inconveniences are the excitement of foreign travel. Are you kidding? I can think of many things more exciting about travel than not knowing how to get into the apartment you’ve rented online in a foreign country!
When we did get a reply from the owners late the day before our stay was to begin, it was in Spanish. I know, I know, just use Google translate. But, Google translate is not perfect and the instructions were not specific. Fortunately, the owners were near a computer so we were able to message back and forth to work out the details and we learned the building concierge would have the key for us any time after 2:00 p.m.
Airbnb Map was Incorrect for Apartment Location
When we tried to find the actual apartment building, we discovered the map we printed from the Airbnb website was incorrect. It was only off by a few blocks but the apartment was located on a very small street that wasn’t a through street so the first four people we asked directions from didn’t know how to get there. Finally, after 45 minutes of walking around asking people, someone was familiar with the street and pointed us in the right direction. I’m very good with directions but this was challenging and not part of the “excitement of foreign travel.”
A Dirty Apartment with Mold on the Ceiling
We finally found the building and the concierge had the key. He gave the key to us and we took the elevator to the 11th floor. The door had two locks and we couldn’t figure out how to use the keys in the locks. I know we sound like imbeciles but the locks were complicated! We must have looked like Laurel & Hardy on the security camera because the concierge came up to help us. He also had a hard time figuring out the locks but he got it and told us to just lock one of the locks, not both when we come and go to avoid problems.
The unit was adequate but not as nice as the photos on the website. The bed comforter was dirty (and had hairs on it–I hate that!) and there were dust bunnies in the corners of the room. But worse was a patch of black mold on the ceiling. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was solid black furry mold. There was also mold on the bathroom shower grout, which I can somewhat overlook but not on the ceiling over the bed! I sent a picture to the owners but didn’t get a response back. We seriously thought about leaving but we had pre-paid seven nights. In hindsight it was stupid not to leave but at the time, we decided to clean the apartment ourselves and stick it out.
During the week, a few other negative things came up…
–Bob pushed the wrong buttons on the TV remote and we lost the connection and couldn’t figure out how to fix it. That was not a big deal because TV isn’t that important to us.
–The neighbor across the hall had a big party until 4 a.m. one night. It was a night without sleep even with our earplugs.
–A neighbor down the hall had a dog that would bark for about 15 minutes any time someone walked past it’s apartment.
–THE WORST problem was about two nights before we left, I got bronchitis. I didn’t go to the doctor so I can’t say for certain it was bronchitis but the symptoms were the same. I think I got sick from the black mold but it could have been from anything. I’ve only had a respiratory problem once before in my life. Unfortunately in this case, the symptoms lingered throughout the rest of our 3-weeks on the trip.
I Wrote a Negative Review on Airbnb
I wrote a negative review on the Airbnb website, which takes up to 10 days to post. I didn’t slam the owners because I think overly negative reviews can come off sounding like very picky people wrote it. I never heard from the owners. I checked back on the site and the guest after our visit didn’t mention anything negative but the guest after that mentioned the lack of cleanliness and mold. The owners responded to his complaints by apologizing and writing the problems had been corrected. The owners’ excuse was they don’t live in Santiago and it’s difficult to monitor the apartment. Yep, that’s a problem and that’s why staying at Airbnb is very different than staying at a B&B or hotel–there is nobody onsite who can handle problems.
Our Next Airbnb Stay…Was Perfect!
Based on our experience in Santiago, we were nervous about our stay a few weeks later in Buenos Aires. Fortunately, that experience was perfect and the apartment exceeded our expectations. It was a night and day difference from Santiago!
Airbnb, VRBO, etc.
We have stayed at several VRBO properties, including two stays in Europe. Out of approximately 8 VRBO stays only one was not great, and it was really bad (extremely dirty, no contact with owner, etc.). The bottom line is it’s a bit of a gamble going direct with a private owner rather than through an agency. My warning would be to really scrutinize the reviews. People tend be nice and water down a bad review, like I did, so you have to read between the lines. Any slightly negative comment about a property being “not super clean,” “a little noisy,” “a fan would be nice,” and “needs to be updated” may be reasons not to book the apartment.