Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, via Flickr

The following is a letter I have composed for my son’s girlfriend, Shannon.


Dear Airbnb,

I just received an email asking me to rate my recent experience–July 13-15, 2018–on a scale from terrible to great. As there is no option that adequately describes my experience, please bear with me while I explain.

The story starts one year ago, when I threw a surprise birthday party for my boyfriend in Brooklyn in a building that, once all the guests had arrived, turned out to be nonexistent. I live in Baltimore and many of the 25 guests came from out of town, so perhaps you can imagine how devastating it was that the event space I had booked for $800 simply was not there, nor was there an answer at the phone number, nor could Airbnb provide any suitable alternative venue. (Further appalling details in attached copy of previous letter.)

The upshot of this disaster was many apologies from your company and a gift certificate for $500. Fortunately, I was not charged for the nonexistent space. I felt some trepidation about using the gift certificate, but as it neared its expiration date, I decided to give it a whirl. My boyfriend and I–he in New York City, I in Baltimore–booked a “meet in the middle” getaway weekend in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This time, I chose a host with 27 5-star reviews. What could go wrong?

It was a Friday. I had received a confirmation email on Wednesday, reassuring me I was all set (this turned out to have been automated). After leaving from work, we arrived in Atlantic City at 10 p.m. Our reservation was a condo in a large complex. Unfortunately, the front desk had no reservation for us, nor any idea who the owner was, nor which unit we were supposed to stay in. First, we called the host. There was no answer. Next, we called Airbnb Customer Service; they asked us to wait in reception to hear from the host. At 2:30 a.m., we still had not heard from her, and we had spoken with three reps who had no solution for us. Recall that we were only here because I had a gift certificate.

At 2:30 a.m., driving out of town, we heard from the single customer service rep who was of any help. Amelia booked us a room in Oceans Casino and Resort in Atlantic City for that night; as for the next night, she said we’d hear from a rep in the morning. We were able to check in at 4 a.m. It was a very nice room, but our time there was short. Four hours later, at 8 a.m., we heard from the host, profusely apologizing that she had failed to make the reservation for us. She was going through a rough time.

Though we’d been told we’d hear from Airbnb about our Saturday night reservation before check-out time, no call came. After allowing us to stay until 11:30 a.m., the hotel kicked us out.

Miraculously, my boyfriend and I were not killing ourselves or each other at this point, though I was sobbing as we walked through the lobby, probably leading everyone to believe we had lost all our money at the casino tables. We went to a sub shop to wait and see if there was a solution for Saturday night. Every Airbnb rep we reached repeated the exact same pre-rehearsed script before putting us on hold: “I’m so sorry for your inconvenience; I assure you I will be the last rep you speak with and we will resolve this issue.” Though all were aware that I was on a gift certificate I’d been given to remedy a past Airbnb disaster, not one could find a vacant Airbnb in the region, and they were not authorized to book a hotel.

As we returned from lunch to pick up our car, we heard from an Airbnb manager named Tom. Word had gotten up to him of our situation. Tom gave us $50 to buy drinks while he found us a hotel room, and at 5 p.m., I received word that we could check in at Harrah’s on the other side of town. We drove over, checked in, and went to bed immediately, completely exhausted. On Sunday, we watched the World Cup Final in the bar since we had already been kicked out of our room, and left.

What a getaway! Thanks to Amelia and Tom we did not end up back home Friday night, but what we experienced in Atlantic City was the opposite of a vacation.

If you will take the time to read about my previous experience, you may begin understand how I feel about your company at this point. Though it might seem generous to give me another gift certificate, I would be afraid to use it.

How hard would it be to put controls in place to prevent these types of disasters to people who are attempting to get a refreshing break from the trials of daily life? I’m not sure how you can make this up to me at this point, since I would never have the confidence in your company to leave my home for a room that you have reserved for me. The birthday party incident seemed to be beyond belief, but after what happened in Atlantic City, it seems clear that there is no one minding the store.

Thank you for reading.


Shannon McKenna


Shannon received an apology email (below) the next day written in such poor English one can at least assume it wasn’t automated. One hopes. Note: More successful Airbnb users recommend you look for the designation “Superhost” on the listing you choose–though a Google ramble shows that even Superhosts can be less than super. Be careful out there, kids.

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik is the author of "The Big Book of the Dead,” “First Comes Love,” and several other books, and the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her...

8 replies on “Another unbelievable Airbnb nightmare”

  1. I am oceanside, currently lounging on the sofa while my husband is making breakfast in the kitchen of our two-bedroom VRBO. Having read the story of your prior mishap -aloud, since it was so worthy of sharing- I am astounded and so sorry that this happened again. This is our fifth or sixth VRBO and we’ve had no real problems. I am unaffiliated with either company, but I used Air BnB only once, ending up freezing nearly to death in a smelly RV in someone’s backyard. I recommend VRBO!

  2. As a manager of properties for owners that list on Airbnb and VRBO I found that neither customer service is good but VRBO, from the manager/owner end, is horrendous. I have only been scammed by “guests”, like poor Shannon and Vince were scammed by renters, with VRBO. Any of the problematic situations are solvable but Airbnb and VRBO don’t want to put solutions into place. I can only speculate as to why.

  3. Come to Texas and stay with us! We can show you how it’s done. Discount for saying “Marion Winik for ever”!

  4. I just spent a few weeks in the UK, staying in six different Air BnB locations from Wales to York and then twice in London. I spent nights in a camper van on the banks of a river, a Tudor farm-house, a flat on Cheyne Walk, and in a summerhouse on a Georgian Square. Every one of them was terrific! I have been super lucky in my stays.

  5. This is why we stay in hotels.

    Yeah, yeah, I know lots of people love AirBnB. God bless. Have at it. I’ll take a hotel any day.

  6. Writing a letter in the voice of your son’s girlfriend (and thus having to refer to your own son as your boyfriend) and then posting it on a local news blog is weird, to put it mildly.

  7. I had a bad experience in Florida with a Super host Airbnb. After we left, she texted me about a missing lid for the water vase, complained that we used too many towels, accused us of staining a cushion for a bench couch, and complained it took longer to clean the room, mind you we checked out early so she could prepare for the next guests. The place was not perfect. The hallway was bare concrete and bathroom shower curtain had extensive mold on the bottom half. I felt really annoyed by her actions. We stayed there 2 weeks so she had occupancy all that time. I think there are pompous hosts that are nit picky and take away from your relaxation. Your story shows how out of touch they are with policing the hosts. Look at the FB page, there are many similar guest stories.

Comments are closed.