My Airbnb booking nightmare
AirBNB is a pile of shit. There, I’ve said it. As a comedian, I travel around the country and usually come off stage too late to travel back to my home in London. I’ve dossed in cars, on couches, in hostels, even pub armchairs. Last week I had my girlfriend in tow so these weren’t an option (she’s already lowered herself to go out with me, I can’t force her to become a tramp too). I was performing in Cardiff but all the hotels were £300 – who prices these things? I stayed in a really nice Ramada in Leeds a fortnight earlier for £29. As picturesque and fragrant a city as Cardiff is, I don’t see how a hotel room there is TEN times the price of Leeds, much as I don’t understand how a four hour flight can be half the price of the train to the airport.
Anyway, as stellar as my comedy career is, I can’t pay £300 for a hotel. In fact I can pay exactly £65 and no more, because that’s the promoter’s accommodation budget. So I had to find an alternative to my usual 5 minute routine of “go on booking.com and book the cheapest non-shit hotel”. AirBNB sprang to mind. Like Uber, it’s part of the new gig economy where regular people can sell unused capacity. People with a spare room let people stay in it for money. “WHAT A GREAT IDEA!” I thought. “It’s using technology to efficiently allocate spare capacity! People can liberate the value of their home! It’s undermining the corporate monopolies of the hotel chains! The increase in room supply will depress prices making accommodation affordable for everyone! Finally technology is ushering in an era of user friendly individual egalitarian neocapitalism!”
As you might have guessed, the experience fell short of this Utopian dream.
First impressions on AirBNB were great – the background image is a VIDEO! The people in the video are an ad-man’s idea of what YOUNG and COOL look like! Text in capitals says “LIVE THERE”! Goodbye soulless identikit Travellodge rooms with the tiny kettle and the tiny biscuits and the tiny pots of UHT milk – I’m going to have a HOST who shows me how to make sushi and where to buy artisanal cheese wrapped in rustic paper and sets off Chinese lanterns with me!
The interface is easy to use. I punched in my dates and location and up popped a list of potential hosts, each with the price and a pic. Great! I scan the list. An alarming number of ads use the word “funky”. Do I want to stay in a funky house? I suppose I don’t have any choice. I click on one, with a guy called Mike, priced £50 for the night. It adds on a £6 service charge and a £10 cleaning fee! “What does Mike think I’m going to be doing in one night that’s going to require £10 worth of cleaning?” I wonder. I feel like I’m paying in advance to take a dump on the floor.
I click the ‘Request to book’ button. “Say hello to your host and tell them why you’re coming” the site suggests. Fine. “Hello Mike, I’m performing in Cardiff this weekend and need somewhere to crash with my girlfriend after the show. Your place looks nice”. I click to authorise payment. Easy. Job done!
Then I get a notification from the site. Mike declined. Well fuck you, Mike.
What went wrong there? Maybe I should have described Mike’s place as a “pad” and as “funky” instead of nice. I go through the process again, and get declined again. And again. And again!
Slightly concerned that I’ll be convincing my girlfriend to sleep in a tent in Bute Park, I google “why was my airbnb request declined” and discover that Airbnb is more like a dating site than a hotel booking site – as I don’t have the validation of dozens of five star reviews, I’m expected to spend time filling in a profile and messaging prospective hosts to “build rapport”. FFS, I just want somewhere to sleep, I’m not trying to get adopted by a new family. I thought technology was supposed to make this stuff easier? But no, I’ve got to sweet talk these people into letting me give them £74 plus £15 cleaning fee plus £11 service charge to sleep on an Ikea futon in their laundry room.
With a weary heart I fill in my profile, trying my hardest to sound sane and sensible, yet also fun and personable. “I’m a comedian travelling all over the country and will mainly be using airbnb for somewhere to stay while I’m gigging. I’m a non smoker, well house trained and a good laugh.” I jump through the various hoops to validate that I am a real, trustworthy member of society, not a Hell’s Angel looking for somewhere quiet to smoke meth. I verify myself using Facebook and LinkedIn (which I never use – I swear LinkedIn only improves your career by being so boring that you do some work instead). I validate my phone number and upload my driver’s licence.
The anonymity and simple cash based transaction of a £300 hotel is starting to look good right now. It’s worth it to not have to parade myself with the forced grin of a beauty pageant contestant.
Now for the personal message to the host. It’s been a while since I went through the awkward travails of internet dating but I muster all the fake enthusiasm I can and get to work, putting in enough exclamation marks to make me seem like an upbeat person, but not so many that I seem like a boggle eyed maniac. I read it back to myself and gag on the saccharine overfriendliness. But fuck it, this is what these funky cunts want. In the true spirit of personal messages delivered over the internet, I cut and paste my message to about five different hosts.
They all want me! This is great. I go with the closest option. The rest can go fuck themselves. Ha! The ignored has become the ignorer!
And it was fine! It’s a bit more hassle than a hotel – my host doesn’t have a 24 hour reception, so we had to arrange a time to meet. But she was very nice. The room wasn’t as good as a hotel – it literally was a futon in a laundry room – but until someone explains the laws of supply and demand to Cardiff’s hotel industry, it’s certainly preferable to spending £300. The only downside was when my girlfriend and I had our regular Saturday night post-drinks argument walking back to the house, we had to rush at the end to fit it in before we arrived to avoid our host hearing.
Airbnb did give us somewhere to stay when hotels were overpriced. Although it’s hardly cheap itself – once the cleaning and service fees were added on, it cost us more than double what a hotel normally does. And the accommodation was literally a futon in a poky room. But what really got on my tits was the internet dating aspect of it. Give me a Travelodge any day, not this Tinder for dossing.
It could’ve been worse though – read 7 Airbnb horror stories – from trashed apartments to rapes – here.
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