Warning About Airbnb’s With Good Reviews – But Aren’t What They Seem

Airbnb cleaning fees are legendary – your room cost will be far more than the price quoted. And since those are generally billed ‘per stay’ rather than per night, that makes Airbnb hard to use for shorter stays. Since there’s usually one unique room being rented, Airbnb’s can’t guarantee early check-in or late check-out the way that hotels do without blocking out the day before or after your stay from sale.

Those are a few of the reasons why Airbnb doesn’t work for every situation, but more competition for hotels is good and making rooms available in places where the chains just aren’t is good too.

Unfortunately hosts cancel on guests, and the guest is usually stuck. Airbnb is addressing this problem with greater fees imposed on hosts who do this. Still, there are too many scams and you can’t always believe the reviews either.

A TikToker booked a night at an Airbnb in Bali for her anniversary. She’d found a ‘villa’ with an infinity pool that overlooked a rainforest. It was part of a larger property with amenities (plenty of hotels sell rooms through Airbnb!). There were good reviews.

She showed up and found an abandoned villa, a pool filled with algae, a restaurant that was shut down – the entire property abandoned. Broken windows abounded. So much for the special night $50 splurge (this is Indonesia, after all) that they drove two hours to reach.

@atypical_adventure Thanks @airbnb #airbnbfinds #abandonedplaces #abandonedhotel ♬ original sound – atypical_adventure

Airbnb provided a refund, but that’s all. Those good reviews? They weren’t fake (though those abound). They were just old. The property was abandoned but still being sold, because it’s Airbnb so why not?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. It sucks that happened but you always want recent reviews. It could just as easily been a mom and pop hotel/motel in Bali. There are millions of great hosts out there, those stories just aren’t being talked about.

  2. Like a restaurant the chef leaves eventually and yesterdays reviews are no guarantee today or tomorrow.I like no surprises so I do not use airbnb ever
    At least with hotels I know who to go after if it fails and recover from it.

  3. Regarding last minute host cancellations, it reminds me of Uber in Paris. The drivers are on several different driver platforms concurrently. If on their way to pick you up they get a better ride on another driver platform, they drop you. In one 30-minute period, I was dropped by five different drivers. After repeated experiences on Uber, I left as a customer. Who gives a flying (***) about an Amex statement credit? Say what you want about drivers paying fees for cancellations but it happens. They find it worth it. I sense that Airbnb hosts might be playing the same game.

  4. Tracie, the other thing that we don’t hear about are the rapes, robberies, and assaults. Airbnb pays huge sums every year to hush up these stories. Imagine a woman being raped and then being descended upon by high pressure people to shut her up. Despicable. And then there are the creeps with the cameras. No way.

  5. I have my first and last Airbnb stay. 30 year old decor with a 300 cleaning fee for a house that was not clean. The host: sorry, it’s hard to find good help these days.


    I am done

  6. I had many wonderful experiences with Airbnb pre pandemic. Now looking at the fees especially with the exorbitant cleaning fees, no thanks. I am sticking with hotels or service apartments.

  7. As a host on AirBnB and VRBO, I’m extremely wary of good reviews, particularly on AirBnB, of renters. Most potential guests have no reviews and generally are decent human beings. But all my problems have come from guests with good reviews – which I presume that they have bought through blackmailing hosts, because that’s what they try to do the second they arrive. In one recent example, the guest complained that, if you leave the windows open at night with all the lights on in the middle of a rural area, flies come in to the property and this was the most appalling thing ever. Unless I gave her $200 per night’s stay, she’d write a bad review. I don’t play the blackmail game…

    But Gary’s problems come from trying to use AirBnBs as hotels. They’re not hotels and offer a completely different thing. I’d rather old vacation rental companies still existed but sadly they’ve been put out of business.

  8. This is a problem everywhere not just Airbnb.

    Google reviews. Yelp reviews.

    Be a judicious consumer. Always read recent reviews. Discount all old reviews. But if there are no old reviews, yet the business does not seem to be truly new, then dig deeper and find old reviews, because it means the business owner changed the name to try to escape the stench of old reviews.

  9. In cities with a lot of timeshares, Las Vegas, Barcelona, Palm Springs Etc. You can tell where you will be staying pretty easily.

    This past weekend in Las Vegas, the Hotel that was running rooms for the timeshare, wanted $700 a night + $45 a night “resort fee” 4x $745 + 67.05 in taxes per day = 812.05 x 4 nights = 3248.20

    AirBnB I found a larger unit in the same property with a better view for $139 a night taxes and cleaning included.139x 4 = $556.

    Only pain was the Valet Only parking… where over 4 days I burned through $50 in “gratuities”

    Overall lots more to spend on dining and drinking.

  10. Gary Leff. Our reliable source for all the news about airbnb, unions, the miami airport, spirit airlines, wall-mounted toiletries, and even the slightest display of human feet.

  11. I just got my parents a nice little Airbnb close to my house in Seattle….. they loved the stay. For the same price. You could get an airport travel lodge prostitution “motel” farther away from the city. And this was all in for the Airbnb. Was like 550$ Airbnb in the city. $600 at the prostitute motel and 900$ at the Hyatt in downtown for the same amount of days. For that amount of savings aren’t you willing to risk it a bit. Be flexible with your plans. Saving that amount of money allows me to travel longer.

  12. @Dustin Evans — yes at those prices I would do just what you did. But you got lucky. If hotels are expensive, that means there is high demand in the area and not enough supply to meet it. Airbnb is not exactly a hidden player in the lodging space, and other people are also looking at and booking cheap Airbnbs.

    What more commonly happens is you are faced with a $900 Hyatt and $900 Airbnb. If literally everything goes well, the hosts are polite and rational, then on a one-time basis, you come out ahead with the bigger space, kitchen appliances, and homey feeling of the Airbnb. The chances of everything going ok are higher than many of us Airbnb haters (I consider myself one) would like to admit. But, chances are higher still that the Hyatt room will deliver on its promises and have better recourse in case of a problem. Plus you get 10-15% of the rate back in Hyatt points.

  13. I have never and will never stayed at an Airbnb. My wife has a few times and after sending me pics of where she stayed and my seeing the absolute lack of security, I have convinced her to never do this again. I consider staying in a stranger’s home creepy. the few times my wife used this service, we found that it actually cost us considerably more than getting a room in a moderately priced hotel

    We tried VRBO a few times and found that – at best – it’s a crap-shoot. What’s the use of renting a vacation home for $250/night if the cleaning (and other) fees run $400 – $600 per night?

  14. We have a vibrant short term vacation rental business in Virginia (10 homes). We advertise across many platforms, and always try to direct prospective guests to our own website to save them the exorbitant service fees charged on the big sites. A tip is to look for those clues that hosts might sneak in to get around the draconian rules…some might put up their web address in a picture on a desk, or refer to the name of the property which you can then google search. We have had many savvy guests come to us that way….nowadays we cant run the business without advertising on the big websites as they are everyones first go-to. Agreed that you should ALWAYS have very updated reviews. On AirBNB only verified renters can post a review after their payment, so not lots of room for scams there.

  15. Corp schleps should stick to the hyatt regencys with 1970s decor, and cookie cutter courtyards and hilton garden inns. Leave the airbnbs for the pros.

  16. Yall could just use a VPN and book Airbnb as if you were in the UK.

    Our laws dictate that the FULL cost is the “headline price” ergo your $300 cleaning charge would appear in the daily rate immediately making it appear massively over priced and to be avoided. That said ive never seen those charges anywhere in the UK or EU. They might have requests to leave it in a decent state when you leave or risk say a £100 cleaning charge but unless you’ve left it like a bomb went off then it’s rare for that to actually be enforced.

    Even if you don’t have a multi currency card then said charges disappearing more than covers all those charges.

    …. Just checked with “she who must he obeyed” and she’s confirmed that no such charges existed on her last two NYC bookings. Very small data set i concede but opens the possibility they don’t exist for us even in the US and hosts are just doing it to y’all cos they can?

  17. Have had 12 Airbnb stays and they were all good on the most part:
    3 in Rome Italy
    1 in Florence
    1 in Venice
    1 in Bangkok
    1 in Barcelona
    1 in Donostia-San Sebastian
    1 in Madrid
    1 in Seville
    2 in Lisbon
    We have saved a bundle as we travel as a family of 4, and always need 2 hotel rooms – not to mention convenience, space, and fabulous prime locations. Hotel rooms in most of these cities are on the small size, and if the location is nice a bundle of $$$

    Having said this, please be aware that Airbnb is neither a high-tech company nor a hospitality one – case in points: our first prepaid rental in Lisbon ($1,500) was a fake listing – a shocking discovery when we arrived at the address at 4PM! SO, this tells us that Airbnb does not vet their properties as they should or doesn’t have a system to do so despite of the fact that they claim to be a high-tech firm. The second point is that after the initial call to Airbnb that we were stranded without accommodations, we were promised a response and a resolution in an hour. NEVER happened! We waited on the street (Paul’s Pastry Shop in downtown Lisbon) until 9PM to absolutely no response from Airbnb. Started to get dark and our kids were getting tired so I got on my IHG app and booked 2 rooms at the holiday Inn Lisbon on points (20K IHG points per room per night). Not bad for mid-July high season. Two days later, saw an apartment opens up on Airbnb with 10-15 minutes walk to downtown, and I booked it. Staff at Airbnb did not offer any assistance or alternative accommodations – absolutely none! Just lip service! Refund for the original amount showed up 7 days later in my checking account (we have no credit cards).

    We lucked out! Imagine if I didn’t have any hotel points and the only money was the spend on the original prepaid booking! So vet your rented property and make sure there are reviews to consider – do your homework to get a successful Airbnb!

  18. In May had a great 4 night stay at an airbnb in Verona Italy just east of the train station. Cheap 4 bedroom 2 bathroom. It was clean had cold AC cleaning fee was reasonable and disclosed upfront

  19. Just returned from 4 country stay in Europe. All airbnbs were successful in Athens, Poros, Firenze, Nice and Madrid. Just my thing but I prefer Airbnb to hotels.

  20. jojo – I am happy for you. For the other thousands who have had a bad experience, I say “buyer beware” there are scam artists out there who prey on others.

  21. Beware fake positive reviews as well as old positive reviews that are years old on AirBnB — especially in far-flung places. Have had epic disasters in Indonesia, West Africa, and other countries — and always demanded (and received) a refund. ALWAYS book as AirBnB for business so you can call the San Francisco direct-dial number and claim your business trip is being ruined, etc. to get the speedy refund.

    The most hilarious / awful one was an AirBnB in a country in West Africa for which the address didn’t even exist; if you can’t find it via Google then don’t book it! Ended up in a hotel run by an experienced hotelier who had been in the business for decades. He dismissed it with the flip of a hand and said it was obviously fake. Friendly reminder that experts exist in the travel business and that’s why people pay them for their expertise.

  22. Penny wise, pound foolish. Hotels are dirt cheap in Bali – why risk airbnb?

    Really the only place AirBnb makes sense are locations where hotels are super expensive, you need multiple rooms and you can offset the outrageous cleaning and admin fees by booking a few nights (also good if you have pets). But hotels are still a much better bet if you have decent chain options and only need one room.

  23. Spent the last 3 months traveling around Europe and the US. Most nights in hotels, but every so often we’d check into an apartment, to do laundry and have a bit more space. A few observations –

    – Booking.com is a good source for short term apartment rentals- the same properties are often listed there, with significantly lower cleaning fees.

    – Some of the nicest places we stayed were rental apartments, or tiny boutique hotels. I am so over the cookie cutter large chain hotels now, where you have no idea where you are when you wake up in the morning- every room looks the same…

    Out of ~10 apartment rentals over the last 3 months, none of them felt unsafe (or more unsafe than the nearby hotel) and none of them were duds, eg they all existed. Pictures, on the whole were accurate, and we tried to stick to the ones with lots of reviews.

    Overall, I find them a good alternative when travelling in a family…

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