Q: I had a reservation through Airbnb for a three-day stay at a property in Washington, D.C., this past June. Before the stay, I contracted the COVID-19 virus and was unable to travel. In addition, two of my travel companions were in their early 80s and also unable to travel because they were in a high-risk group.
I contacted Airbnb and explained the circumstances. Fortunately, this fell under their extenuating circumstances policy. Airbnb allowed me to cancel the reservation and issued a $1,687 credit to be used during a future stay. It also told me that they would be temporarily locking my account reservation ability due to my positive COVID test.
In early August, I decided I wanted to go visit my sons in Arizona and tried to book a stay using my travel credit. I discovered my account was still locked, and I’m unable to make any reservations.
I tried calling Airbnb, but you can’t get through unless you have a current reservation. The automated system directs you to its online chat customer service agents for assistance.
It’s been three weeks since I contacted Airbnb. I have six open case requests with the online customer service department and one open case with their Twitter help support. All of the customer service reps tell me the same thing: “Please be patient, your call has been escalated for special handling.” My case has apparently been escalated to Airbnb’s Trust and Safety department.
The issue, however, is no one ever gets back to me. I’ve made zero progress. I just want Airbnb to open my account up so I can use my credit. The company is effectively holding my money hostage. Please help if you can.
— Paul Drews, Stillwater, Minnesota
A: It’s understandable that Airbnb would lock your account after you told it you had COVID-19. But the company should have helped you unlock your account instead of making you open seven new customer support cases.
Airbnb says it will “restrict” your account if you have COVID-19 “to help reduce the spread of infection.” Again, that makes sense. What makes less sense is how you get off the blacklist. Your Airbnb account stays restricted until Airbnb receives “valid confirmation that you’re able to travel again” — in other words, a clean bill of health.
That doesn’t make sense. Most people recover from COVID-19 in two weeks or less, so locking — I mean, restricting — your account for no more than 14 days seems reasonable. If someone like you calls months after cancellation and tries to book a rental, common sense should prevail. Unfortunately, it did not in your case.
Writing to Airbnb was a good idea. Writing to it repeatedly, maybe not. I’d recommend forwarding your correspondence to an executive at Airbnb. I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of key Airbnb managers on my consumer advocacy site at www.elliott.org/company-contacts/airbnb-customer-service-contacts.
I contacted Airbnb on your behalf. It unlocked your account.
Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Contact him at elliott.org/help or email@example.com.