What to do if you get a very bad Airbnb guest review?

It’s now November in London and the long warm summer we had is over. For anyone visiting London this summer was ideal with long hours of daylight and such warm weather. Bookings were generally good and steady all summer but I was unable to increase my prices because of the Airbnb Smart Pricing system keeping my prices down.

What to do if you get a really bad review from a Airbnb Guest?

A guest booked a one night stay with us and wanted to arrive early in the morning. She sent me a message to that effect and selected as her check in time when booking ‘8am – 10am’. She can do this because my calendar settings are set to FLEXIBLE for check-in time. My check-out time is set to 11AM.

Airbnb now allows you to set a Check-in Window

The reason my calendar is set to FLEXIBLE check-in is because many of my guests automatically assume that check-in is only possible later in the afternoon like so many hotels. I always try and get my listings ready as soon as possible. Often a room is set and ready to go no less than 30min after a previous guest has left. My check-out time is by 11AM but many guests leave much earlier, some leave very early in the morning to catch an early flight etc.

The guest who gave me the bad review had seen my calendar setting as FLEXIBLE check-in and assumed that the room would be ready any time she wanted and therefore turned up at 8am. This might be understandable if it wasn’t that I specifically told her when she booked ‘the room might not be ready until 12 but she was welcome to come early and leave her bags’. Had she mentioned at this point that this would not have been acceptable since I had a FLEXIBLE check-in time then I would have asked her to cancel the booking and I would have made sure she got a full refund.

The guest arrived at my house at 8am and was then surprised to hear her room was not ready for her. She mentioned she had been on a long flight and needed to rest. Unfortunately there was nothing I could do for her. The previous guest was in no hurry to leave. She called Airbnb to complain and they cancelled her booking with full refund. I understood some of her complaints about the problem. I do understand that from her point of view it was somewhat misleading to have a FLEXIBLE check-in setting and the room not be ready. However I did make it clear to her at the time of booking that the room might not be ready but got no reply.

When a Airbnb booking is cancelled it’s still possible to leave a review. This is apparently so a Airbnb listing that is deemed unacceptable can get the bad review it deserves. Previously it was not possible to do this so bad listings didn’t get the bad reviews. But in my case this meant that this unhappy guest could now write almost anything she liked about my listing without even having set foot inside. I subsequntly got a 1 out of 5 star review across the board. So for example I got 1 out of 5 starts for cleanliness without the guest even having seen the listing. This strikes me as unfair.

If you get a bad review it’s a good idea to leave a reply on the review. The important point here is how you deal with the complaint. This is not a good time for revenge no matter how tempting it might be. You need to be professionally and explain any misunderstanding or mitigating factor in a way that sounds reasonable. The more reasonable you sound the more crazy the person making the complaint might appear. Someone reading the review might assume they were overreacting.

Can Airbnb protect hosts from one-off bad reviews?

This question was put to Airbnb at one of the host Q&A sessions – Can Airbnb protect hosts from one-off bad reviews?

At the last Host Q&A, in June, 2018, we said, specifically, that we’d look into outlier reviews. To be clear, one-off low reviews can be considered outliers when a host has otherwise great review scores, but a single guest leaves a bad rating that seems out of place. Here’s a solution we’ve come up with: We’re working on building new tools that will automatically detect when outlier reviews like this occur— and give us an opportunity to correct them. So let’s say a guest gives you five stars for cleanliness, accuracy, check in, and so on— for each of the sub categories— but then a two-star rating overall. The new tool will flag this and prompt the guest to correct the overall rating. We’re developing this new tool now, and you can expect to see it soon.

The answer was that one off bad reviews should not effect a hosts profile overall in the search rankings etc. This is good for me as I already have hundreds of reviews and one bad review should not hurt me overall. However a listing with only a handful of reviews could suffer considerably.

Will Brexit effect Airbnb? And Changing a reservation for a guest.

It’s August in London and it finally turned hot after many weeks of rain. I was really busy in June and most of July but it has gotten quieter in August and I have decided to drop my prices slightly to reflect that. Although I did put the price up on one room on a Friday night by 50% (because I didn’t want it filled that night as I had plans the next morning) but it sold suddenly at the last minute to a really nice man from Taiwan.

Brexit and Airbnb

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In June the UK voted to leave the European Union. The immediate effect of Brexit was the £ Sterling dropped a significant amount against mainly the US dollar but also against many other currencies. This means visitors to the UK will find prices cheaper so I think this is good for Airbnb hosts. More people may choose to visit the UK (a place previously seen as expensive) when they realise it will be cheaper than other major destinations.

Although I do get many guests from the European continent I get much fewer French and German guests than I do from Eastern Europe. Why this might be I’m not sure. I may start seeing more guests from Asia and North America because of the more favourable exchange rate and because their economies are better than Europe. 

Can a guest amend a booking if it has already started?

A guest recently stayed with me who had come to London from France for a new life in London and only wanted to stay with me for 3 nights to give her enough time to find a permanent place to stay. I prefer guests who come to London for sightseeing and not those who are coming here to find work etc. One of the reasons for this is because some guests start using my address when filling out forms etc when they first arrive. For example this guest even ordered GiffGaff sim cards to my house before she arrived. The problem with this is now I will be receiving junk mail to my house in her name for the next few years.

The guest asked to end her stay one night early and sent me a booking change request on airbnb. The reason she wanted to end her stay early was because she had found a new permanent place to live and she wanted to get some money back from her stay with me. I was surprised because I had no idea this was possible. I had even been paid out for her stay and had spent the money, so I had no idea how this would even work refund wise (I have since learned airbnb take the money from your neat booking payout).

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I told her I would not agree to the amendment. It was not in my interest to lose a nights payment and because of the short notice I was unlikely to get another booking, which would anyway be more hassle for me to clean everything and check-in a new guest etc. I have a 5 day minimum notice cancelation setting for my listing anyway. I gather she was not impressed by my decision (I don’t think I was unfair under the circumstances and the amount of money was quite small at £20), and she even went to the extreme of cancelling the reservation presumably in an attempt to try and reclaim some money, which achieved nothing of the sort.

Get paid twice for your listing and how to automate your Airbnb business

I recently changed my Airbnb cancellation policy from Flexible: Full refund 1 day prior to arrival, except fees to Moderate: Full refund 5 days prior to arrival, except fees. The reasons for doing this are that I did have a few cancellations over the summer and although I had managed to refill most of the empty spaces in my calendar I started to think there is a real risk of a last minute cancellation causing significant financial loss to me so I decided to change to Moderate. This at least would give me 5 days to refill the space. What I didn’t think of was the possibility of selling the room twice.

Choose your Airbnb listing cancellation policy wisely
Choose your Airbnb listing cancellation policy wisely

Get paid twice for your Airbnb listing

If your cancellation policy is either Moderate or Strict: 50% refund up until 1 week prior to arrival, except fees then there exists the possibility of getting paid twice for the listing. For example if a guest books for a week but two days prior to check-in decides they can’t or don’t want to use their booking then they will not be entitled to a refund. You are then free to re-sell the listing to someone else and thereby get paid twice. This can only happen if the guest officially cancels the booking. To do this they need to officially cancel on the website and not just send you a note. A host can’t cancel a trip for a guest as this will give them a black mark (Airbnb will assume the host cancelled for their own reasons).

Selling a room twice can really boost your income for the month so it’s worth considering changing your cancellation policy.

How to automate your Airbnb listing

If you’re a live-in Airbnb host then sooner or later the issue of what to do if you want to take a holiday yourself arises. Even when I’m not on holiday I don’t like to leave the house for too long a period of time, in case there are issues when I’m not there. I certainly don’t like the idea of leaving the house for a week with guests in situ. Security is one thing that worries me most. Only I know who is a paid guest and who is not. No one else in the house knows each other and a stranger could easily enter the house unchallenged.

If I want to go on holiday the safest thing for me to do is to block off the calendar and have no guests over this period. Of course this means no income for a week which adds up to a lot of money. I could find a friend or family member who would be willing to look after the house but this is unfair on other people as they have their own lives and it’s actually more hassle for them than they realize (being a host is not as much fun as people think).

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There are agencies you can you who offer a professional greeting service such as Hostmaker and airsorted. These agencies help you automate your Airbnb business so you can be lounging on the beach drinking cocktails and just let the money roll in. In reality the amount on money these services charge is likely to wipe out any profit you could potentially make from your business as the margins for this business are wafer thin.

What should I do if I’m not getting bookings on Airbnb?

August has possibly been my worst month for new bookings. My calendar for the month of August was actually quite full but September onwards is looking pretty empty. I find that guests tend to book about 4-6 weeks in advance so to have so many blank spaces at this stage is not good. Some guests do book much further in advance of course but the main bulk tend to come in only about a month ahead. I do get a lot of last minute bookings due to my location in central London but I would prefer to have bookings all my bookings in advance given the choice even if it meant losing a few quid.

Why have my bookings dropped off?

Well A quick search of my local area in Newham, East London, has revealed that there are many new listings in my area. Most of which are priced lower than me. I recall only about a year ago there were less than 5 similar listings in my area which consisted mostly of old ladies and couples with a spare room. Now there are multiple listings of small rooms in former HMO’s all over the area. Clearly those former slumlord landlords who formerly let single rooms to asylum seekers and desperate immigrants have now switched to becoming Airbnb hosts.

Why is there more competition in my area?

One of the reasons why I think these slumlords have switched from the desperate poor to Airbnb holidaymakers is the recent tightening up of Newham council’s HMO license and additional licensing scheme. HMO licenses’ are mandatory across the UK for properties which fit House of Multiple Occupation criteria. But the additional licensing is a newer scheme and has made it less desirable and more expensive for landlords in the area.

So what can I do about my empty calendar for September?

Well this first thing I did was drop my prices. I now have the lowest prices since I started hosting. I was expecting that as my hosting experience grew and my good reviews piled up I could start charging more and more for each listing. Sadly not! I also removed my deposit requirements for each listing. A risky move to be sure but it seemed worth a try even if it just got the ball rolling. For a few more days it was deathly quiet but then the bookings started to flood back in. It’s hard to be sure if this was just a quiet patch that we just came out of or if my pricing strategy did the trick but I’m sure happy to be getting bookings again.

Should I change my cancellation policy?

I’ve had a fair few cancellations recently. Almost always I have been able to get another booking at the last minute but I am starting to think it’s not a good idea to be so flexible with the cancellation policy. I currently have my cancellation policy set to Flexible which means a full refund if cancelled 24 hours prior to check-in. I am going to change this to Moderate – Full refund 5 days prior to arrival, except fees. I think this shouldn’t turn off too many people who are serious about their bookings.

You can change your cancellation policy under your listing Terms
You can change your cancellation policy under your listing Terms

When a Airbnb guest cancels a booking

Last week a guest cancelled while actually on the way to my listing. I was expecting him to arrive around 1pm and got a message at 12:30 to say “it is too much trouble to come to your listing so i’m going to stay in a hotel right here.” A bad excuse for sure. My mind immediately turned wether or not he is going to get a full refund or will i still get paid by airbnb?

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What is your cancellation policy?

When a guest cancels a booking it depends on your cancellation policy if they are entitled to a refund or not (Airbnb’s booking fee is now refundable up to 2 times a year). There are three settings :

  • Flexible: Full refund one day prior to arrival
  • Moderate: Full refund five days prior to arrival
  • Strict: 50% refund until one week prior to arrival

My setting is Flexible. I can afford to be flexible because I get a lot of last minute bookings. I have even had cases where a guests cancels and I have resold the room at a higher rate. It it important to note that the one day prior to arrival cuts off at your ‘Check-in After’ hour. So if your earliest check in is at 12 like mine then the guest will have to cancel prior to 12pm the previous day (a full 24 hours before the earliest check in) to get a full refund.

In your listing terms you can alter your cancellation policy
In your listing terms you can alter your cancellation policy

Try to avoid cancelling bookings at all costs

There is no impact for a guest to cancel prior to arrival except the potential loss of the cost of the booking. However if a host cancels it can have a serious detrimental impact on the future ranking of their listing. Airbnb clearly is not kind to hosts who cancel on guests no matter what their excuse so unless you want to be sent to Airbnb Siberia never cancel on a guest.

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When a guest fails to show up

I had a guest yesterday who failed to arrive. I had been trying to contact her to determine what time she would arrive on the day but I got no reply. I fell asleep and the next morning sent a chaser message and got a reply saying she is not coming and she sent me a SMS (which i did not receive). I should still be paid for this as no cancellation message was sent.

I cancelled on trip myself once when at the last minute the car hire company refused my booking, and a guest at one of my listing was being difficult. So we cancelled our trip (it was in actual fact my honeymoon). I got a refund for 2/3 of my trip i.e. not the first night but the 2nd and 3rd, less the Airbnb booking fee. I felt a bit guilty since I expected that the host would not be able to fill the listing at the last minute as it’s in a remote location.