Why peer recommendation works – my Airbnb experience

Beaching it up in Barcelona
Last month I went to Barcelona with my sisters and a few close girlfriends. The trip was pretty special as I’m about to get married – so this was what you might call a “hen” do. We didn’t want to run around wearing matching pink tracksuits and bunny ears (and I left my “L-plate” and plastic white tiara at home), but we did want to have an amazing time without spending a stupid amount of money.

When it came to sorting a place to stay, Airbnb was the obvious choice. I’ve used the peer-to-peer rental site quite a few times in the past, and they’ve always delivered great places at reasonable cost. So I started carefully sifting through the 400+ apartments (that would accommodate our nine-person party) currently listed on the website. As you can imagine, the whole process took some time so I was thrilled when I finally settled for a place which ticked all the right boxes: central, comfortable single beds for all (no doubles or sofabeds), decent dining area, at least two bathrooms, beautiful decor in traditional Catalan Modernist style.

I paid in full (Airbnb requires full payment in advance to reserve any property), emailed the apartment details to my friends, and started looking forward to a wonderful long weekend in Spain. Imagine how I felt when, the day before we were about to leave, I got an email from the apartment owner offering apologies and saying the apartment had been rendered inhabitable by the previous tenants (aka: trashed).

She offered me a full refund but, of course, that’s not much use if nine of you have already booked your flights, are arriving the next day and it’s high season. Luckily the owner had an alternative suggestion – a colleague of hers had another, slightly less central, apartment which we could take if we liked. By that point, there was no other option – so of course I said yes. The second apartment was actually more expensive, the owner said, but she’d be willing to pay the difference as a gesture of goodwill.

I had to call her colleague, the owner of the new apartment, to arrange to pick up the key. After asking her in detail about the new apartment I said I couldn’t understand why somewhere smaller, less central and with only one bathroom was more expensive than our original choice. “Oh no, it’s 100 euros cheaper,” she answered.

The internet is rife with stories of people paying in advance for holiday accommodation, only to arrive to find that a “computer glitch” (or similar) has meant that their original choice (as featured in the amazing photos on the company website) is no longer available, and a second option (far less photogenic – and for these reasons not featured on the website) is the only thing on offer.

I was convinced I was on the receiving end of one of these scams. Not rating my chances much above a snowball in hell, I fired off a politely worded email stating my case and requesting a 100 euro refund. Amazingly, the owner responded, accepting liability and promising that the full amount would be available in cash on our arrival. Her sole reason for this turnaround? “Because we do not want to have bad comments on Airbnb”.

In the end, we had a perfectly decent apartment and 100 euros to spend on consumables for the weekend. The accommodation worked out at around 35 euros a night each – still incredibly cheap for a nice place (one of the marketing premises of Airbnb). Social proof that social proof works!

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