It was an easy detail to miss, especially since the US and Australian dollar signs are the same.
But over 2000 Airbnb customers noticed they had paid a lot more than expected and let the ACCC know.
After the regulator took the accommodation booking behemoth to court, Airbnb agreed late last month to refund $15 million to about 63,000 Australian customers who thought they had paid in Australian dollars rather than US greenbacks.
Airbnb will pay another $15m in penalties for the misleading conduct.
What did Airbnb do wrong?
"Consumers were misled about the price of accommodation, reasonably assuming the price referred to Australian dollars given they were on Airbnb's Australian website, searching for accommodation in Australia and seeing a dollar sign," says ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb.
We took this case to send a strong signal to large digital platforms like Airbnb that they must comply with the Australian Consumer Law and not mislead consumersACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb
"By paying in US dollars, these consumers were charged more than they expected to pay, and were deprived of a chance to make an informed decision about whether to make the booking because of this misleading conduct regarding the price."
Being misled by an overseas digital business is hardly a new experience for many Australians, but it would be nice to think that high-profile companies like Airbnb wouldn't allow things like this to happen.
"We took this case to send a strong signal to large digital platforms like Airbnb that they must comply with the Australian Consumer Law and not mislead consumers," says Cass-Gottlieb.
How do I get an Airbnb refund?
Airbnb has 45 days as of 20 December 2023 to contact affected customers and explain how to get their money back.
The average compensation per customer is expected to be about $230, but the amount will vary depending on the cost of the booking, the exchange rate on the day and any charges paid to Australian financial institutions as a result of paying in US dollars.
It's supposed to work like this:
- Affected customers will be contacted by Airbnb and Deloitte Australia – which is administering Airbnb's compensation claims program – by 5 February 2024.
- Consumers will receive an initial communication from Airbnb via email and text message by that date, inviting them to log on to their Airbnb account.
- Affected customers will then be able to access the Deloitte claims portal via a link in their Airbnb account.
- Compensation will be the difference between the price a customer expected to pay in AUD and the price they actually paid due to the USD/AUD exchange rate, plus any foreign transaction fees.
Hang up on scam calls
In a turn of events that will surprise nobody, scammers are already cold calling people and offering to arrange Airbnb refunds, presumably by having the customer – if they were one – reveal their personal banking details.
Such information should only be provided through the Deloitte claims portal, accessed from an official Airbnb account.
The ACCC's advice regarding the Airbnb refund scam is straightforward.
"If you receive a call from anyone offering to help you with a refund, hang up immediately. Never give personal information to anyone calling you out of the blue and never give access to your computer or bank account and never click on a link in a text message or open an attachment in an email if you were not expecting the text or email."
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.