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Saturday, February 28, 2015

airbnbeware: Reservations Required

Image result for Airbnb logo

I come neither to praise nor to bury web-based accommodation service airbnb; this critique is intended to highlight the risks associated with dealing with companies such as this that place (arguably undue) faith in humanity. The other truism is that aspects of this service support the theory that something that seems too good to be true probably is not.

The simple concept of the site is that someone who wishes to rent out space (ranging from a frat house quality sofa in a basement to a mansion) to travelers applies to post their accommodation or accommodations with the aforementioned company. Once the process of gaining membership in the herd of cash cows that provide airbnb revenue is completed, a listing for the offered space at a price of the choosing of the "host" is uploaded for the wary and unwary alike to view.

In turn, airbnb charges the property owner a five-percent fee to graze in the online pasture of that business. The (belatedly discovered) insult that is added to that injury is that the "guest" must pay airbnb an additional fee of roughly 10-percent when paying the full (and non-refundable) cost of booking a stay on the aforementioned beer soaked pile of lumps, the dream home, or something in between those extremes when making that reservation. This is despite airbnb not transferring payment to the host until the day after the check out of the guest. (In other words, neither the person providing the space nor the one using it has use of the money for it in the period between making the reservation and taking the trip.)

The further pound of flesh that the stranger in the strange land must provide comes in the form of a cleaning deposit that is an amount of the choosing of the host.

The other purpose regarding this post is to convey thoughts regarding a real-life version of the sitcom staple of a comically mishap-prone vacation; the annual "trip from Hell' episodes in the '90s series "Designing Women" are a prime example of this theme. It is amusing that the experience described below occurs relatively close to the Atlanta setting of "Women" in a community in which Civil War General George Sherman still is strongly and actively reviled roughly 150 years after his death. "Let it go" indeed.

The initial enthusiasm of your unwary reviewer for booking accommodations through airbnb waned on learning of the terms described above. Believing that the only cost would be the one advertised in the listing, that (like virtually every hotel in the United States) no more than a deposit equal to the cost of a one-night stay would be required, and that we would not be out roughly $800 in the event of one of the many "what ifs" in life turned out to be wishful thinking.

Problems began on said host not responding to inquiries (or even providing the address of the accommodation) roughly six weeks before our scheduled arrival at the condo that he apparently purchased to rent out through the service was the first sign of trouble; this lack of communication continuing until three days before our departure date unduly added to the stress of travelling that the record amounts of snow in the northeast had intensified. When reached, the host asserted that he did not receive communications that we sent via the same means that we booked the stay and that reached him before the aforementioned "radio silence."

Our high-end one bedroom "chic" temporary home turned out to be a mid-level efficiency with an upstairs neighbor who apparently was the aforementioned officer continuing his march across Georgia. We also learned at 12:30 a.m. both that there was a very popular bar that played very loud house music and that bars in this city remained open until 3:00 a.m. Not disclosing this known "nuisance" arguably was a no no by our host.

Further, and despite paying a cleaning fee that would have covered the cost of two "Silkwood showers" of the space, the cleanliness of our quarters left a great deal to be desired. The smiley face that a prior guest drew in steam on the bathroom mirror that still appeared when the bathroom steamed up during our visit and the dirty floor are two of many examples of the lack of housekeeping ahead of our arrival.

We had hoped to get an enhanced sense of privacy and a little more space than a hotel provided (and derived some benefits from our accommodations) but would have been better off opting for a comparably priced B & B that offered guests a large seating area and a tasty full breakfast.

On a happier note, we greatly enjoyed the activities and the restaurants that the city offered. A TV-related highlight was joking about the canine guide on a ghost tour turning invisible ala the titular pup in the '70s cartoon "Goober and the Ghostchasers." Fans of that awesome series know that that would have been ridicidicilous.

The bottom line is that our stay was neither the best of times nor the worst of times but should have been the better of times. It is hoped that sharing why helps others better understand this and prompts them to cautiously proceed with eyes wide open when dealing with airbnb.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding airbandb or the thinly disguised city that we visited is welcome to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.