OVER THE CELEBRITY

By Nancy Clark

Google Airbnb horror stories, and the hunt delivers. First, there’s the one about the sex orgy discovered by the host when he returned to his home to pick up his golf clubs, or luggage, or skis, or probably all three in different iterations of sex parties everywhere. Then there’s the bit about being legal. Guests have learned the hard way that they’ve booked themselves into a situation that isn’t allowable under HOA rules or city ordinance. But rarely is the complaint about Airbnb service reps.   

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I was an Airbnb Super Host. Or rather, my son was, and I did 95% of the work. Earning the title of super host took work, hard work, and relentless work. We kept several properties full at least half the time and met people from all points on earth.

When the celebrity first booked one of the addresses, no one knew he was Hollywood material. He booked our loft for his intended 5 week stay well in advance. The current loft occupant, a grandmother here to help her daughter make it through the first weeks of new motherhood, called to extend her stay. Turns out her grandchild needed heart surgery at 1 day old. Nana needed to extend her visit, adding another month at least. I emailed the celeb to explain the conflict and to offer to rent my other home to him at a deep discount (50%) if he’d be willing to stay at that address. He declined. Within minutes the celeb’s agent emailed to demand the celeb get the loft as planned.

So this super host hit the cancel reservation button.

The celeb called to say that upon further consideration, he would accept the home in lieu of the loft at the discount. I pointed him back to Airbnb to make a new reservation to keep the arrangement legit.

3.5 weeks later, I met our guest to give him the keys to the castle. I couldn’t help myself. “You look so familiar,” I said. He ran with that opening and explained I might know him from the boy band series that ran in the early 2000’s. I called my sister later that day to laugh at myself. “I can’t remember what I had for breakfast but I can remember a boy band star’s face 15 years later.

Two weeks into his stay over the 4th of July weekend, I got a call from Airbnb. The young lady said to me, “Your guest says he’s hot.” That’s true, I thought to myself. Then she clarified the house was hot. We were in the middle of an unheard of heat wave. I told the rep I would get a portable air conditioner to him by the next day. She was stern, protective of the guest. I reminded the Airbnb rep that the house was never advertised as having AC. The rep got downright crispy.

I called and emailed my guest a dozen times. No response. The next morning, as promised, I drove the AC unit to the house. Knock, knock. No answer. I used the lockbox to enter. My celebrity had sailed in the dark of the night…and I don’t mean the cruise line.

I didn’t spot the missing mattress pad and fitted sheet. It was my cleaning lady who reported to me the items missing, I thought I must have misunderstood. Who would run off with bed linens? A celebrity? None of it made sense.

Two weeks later a second Airbnb customer service rep emailed me. It seems that my celebrity guest had reported that I was guilty of bait and switch, putting him in a house he didn’t reserve. He was demanding return of the rent he’d paid. “Seriously,” I said to the rep, “YOU have the reservation detail in your system. You can see that’s not true. Did you check that before calling me?”

The rep got snotty. It was time to give up super host status. I broke up with Airbnb online.

It wasn’t the condition of my listings. It wasn’t the guests. It was the Airbnb customer care reps that put the screws to the deal. The reps were very aware of my guest’s celeb status, and not so much concerned with a non-celeb host. It’s not the kind of horror story you read about online. Airbnb had gotten huge in its six years of operations. With more than one million listings in 190 countries, rumor had it that the company was valued at $20 billion in 2015.

I’m taking smug satisfaction in making Airbnb work harder for its status because my properties aren’t listed.

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