Airbnb sued by ACCC for allegedly misleading customers about accommodation prices

Accommodation company Airbnb has been sued by competition regulators for forcing the vacation rental company to compensate thousands of customers for allegedly misleading them about prices.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has accused Airbnb of misleading people into thinking Australian house prices were in Australian dollars when in many cases they were in US dollars.

She sued the company in Federal Court to force it to pay reimbursements and damages.

ACCC President Gina Cass-Gottlieb told the ABC that 2,000 customers had complained to Airbnb, and many more were likely to have been affected, with the watchdog noting a peak of complaints in 2021 and many complaints on social networks.

The ACCC said that between at least January 2018 and August last year, Airbnb misled people by displaying prices on its website and mobile app using a dollar sign, but without specifying that the price was in US dollars.

“In addition to paying higher than expected prices, some consumers who were billed in US dollars also found themselves more disadvantaged due to currency conversion fees charged by their credit card provider.”

When thousands of people complained, Ms Cass-Gottlieb said Airbnb allegedly told many customers that prices were displayed in US currency because they chose that option.

Airbnb’s country manager for Australia and New Zealand, Susan Wheeldon, told the ABC in a statement that she would fully compensate all affected guests and investigate how the issues arose.

“When this issue was brought to our attention by the ACCC, we worked to update our platform so that the affected currencies were clearly displayed from the first page for all Australian customers booking holidays on our platform.

“We are also conducting a full review of how this issue arose and how customer complaints were initially handled.”

Airbnb has pledged to fully compensate guests who were overcharged.(Reuters: Dado Ruvic/Illustration)

“Totally Criminal”

Penny Wearne, a social worker and mother of two, told the ABC she had to fight Airbnb for about two months to get a refund when she was overcharged nearly $300 in 2018 for accommodation in the Dandenong Ranges of Victoria where she was attending a friend’s wedding.

Ms. Wearne said the price when booking was $799, but she discovered the actual cost was almost $1,100 because she was charged in US currency.

Eventually, Airbnb agreed to refund her the $300, but only after she had paid the full amount.

He then offered her a $150 voucher, which she declined, and was then refunded the $300.

“I paid the final amount, and then they came back to me and said, ‘We’ll give you a $150 Airbnb voucher,'” she said.

“And that was after they agreed they would pay it back, and so I really lost it.”

Ms Wearne supports the legal action.

“They might as well get into your bank account and take your money.

“And, you know, it was very clearly advertised at that price of A$799, so I didn’t expect to be charged more than that.”

The ACCC has called on customers affected by issues with Airbnb’s currency display to contact it.

He said he was seeking “statements, injunctions, monetary penalties, affected consumer compensation orders, costs and other orders.”

“Although thousands of consumers complained to Airbnb about the way prices were displayed, Airbnb only changed its booking platform after the ACCC raised the issue.”

Ms Cass-Gottlieb said Airbnb changed the way currencies were displayed in November last year after the ACCC intervened.

About Michael B. Billingsley

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