Anyone who’s travelled more than a little has become familiar with Airbnb. At its best, the company offers travellers and property owners a seamless platform for renting a bed, a room, or an entire apartment. At its worst the company is a blood sucking nightmare that abuses its customers and destroys neighbourhoods. I will elaborate on these points in a later blog post. What everyone can agree on is that it’s notoriously hard to contact Airbnb.
The company that’s impossible to contact
Like any big tech company, Airbnb has tried to automate as much of its front-end business as possible. That means that as a host or guest you only get to interact with the website. The rationale behind this makes sense: human customer service employees need to be paid, where a website FAQ or chatbot just eats up a few Watts of power. That’s fine as long as everything works smoothly. But it’s all too easy to run into problems. A host may become unresponsive. A listing may not meet expectations and you need a refund. A guest may damage your property. And often when a problem arises you need help straight away, from an actual human being.
This is where it gets tricky. On its website Airbnb has no published contact information. If you go to the ‘Help Center’ you end up on the frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. It includes a section called ‘Contact Us’, but that page says: “Get an answer right away.
The quickest way to get an answer to your question is to use our Help Center.” Which is where you just came from. There is also a phone number of the host you booked with, but nothing for the company. If you click “My host wasn’t able to answer my question”, you can get to a chat session with “Airbnb Help”, but that turns out to be just a chatbot regurgitating snippets from the FAQ page.
The chatbot is hard to deal with, and will do its best to give you boilerplate answers that encourage you to work things out with your host rather than involve the company in your problem. Airbnb does everything to escape both effort and responsibility in any case of trouble. If you pester the chatbot enough and feed it with some of the right triggers, it will eventually offer you a list of phone numbers so that you can call the Airbnb customer service. They do have humans working there.
All the Airbnb contact phone numbers
To make it easier to get to talk to a real person working for Airbnb, I’ve published the list of Airbnb customer service phone numbers below. I don’t know for sure if it matters which one you call: I was redirected to their call centre in Ireland regardless of the number I used. To minimise calling costs it makes sense to call a local phone number if you can.
Do note that the call centre checks if your phone number is registered with an Airbnb account. If you’re calling through Skype or another VOIP service, you’re asked to type in your verified phone number (without the + or 00 preceding the country code). Failing to do so means you won’t be connected. I don’t know if there is a way to reach Airbnb by phone without having your personal phone number registered on their site.
While the call center employees are friendly and may be able to look into your specific case, that is no guarantee that they can actually solve your problem. They, too, have to adhere to a ‘script’ that tells them what they can and cannot do. When I recently wanted to cancel my reservation (paid for with travel credits) because the listing turned out to be quite different from the description. The CS rep told me point blank that Airbnb wouldn’t refund my travel credits. Of course they took no responsibility for the fact that their website had sold me false information, on which they had immediately cashed 12% of the rental price.
It is not hard to see why Airbnb has fallen out of grace with governments, with neighborhood collectives, and with more and more digital nomads. I will devote a later blog post to some of the wider effects the platform has caused. Unfortunately, Airbnb has a lot of market power, and it’s hard to find peer-to-peer rentals through other platforms. After all, if you’re renting out your place you want to be where all the customers are. At least you are now able to contact Airbnb by phone.
Alternatives to Airbnb
Would you like to explore alternatives to Airbnb for short-term renting or letting apartments? There is none that comes even close to Airbnb for number of listings. There are some reasonable alternatives to consider though:
Booking.com. Well known for its online hotel booking service. Since about a year or two Booking.com also offers apartment bookings put online by individual owners. The booking process is a bit more secure and less prone to cancellations than Airbnb, and Booking.com does have real customer service. However, the number of apartments on offer is still small.
Wimdu. Once a serious contender with Airbnb, Wimdu operated on the same business model. The site of German origin had some modest success in Europe, but lost out in the competition with Airbnb. It rebranded itself as a ‘premium curated private apartment platform’. Listings tend to be higher-end and more expensive than those on Airbnb.
9Flats.com. Another European competitor of Airbnb. It’s much smaller than its American rival, and the website doesn’t work quite as smoothly. One of the advantages is that the fees are paid by hosts, so the price you see is the price you pay.
VRBO.com. VRBO stands for Vacation Rental By Owner. The site seems a lot more popular in the US than in Europe, and most rentals are quite expensive. I’ve also heard a few stories of fraud and fake listings, so be careful if you use this site.
CouchSurfing. The original social movement to facilitate hosting between travellers and locals interested in cultural interchange. It is this idea that Airbnb pays lip service to, but does nothing to encourage or facilitate. Do note that Couchsurfing is for adventurous spirits, and the types of lodging you find can vary wildly. Also, CS is not a free hostel site, so only use it if you’re really interested in spending time with hosts from a different culture. Unfortunately Couchsurfing has become more and more commercial, and many dedicated hosts have left the community.