Airbnb sued for potential overcharge

Broken Hill local Andrew Harris said he had no clue that he might have been overcharged for accommodation through Airbnb.

The revelation comes after the service provider was sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for allegedly misleading consumers.

ACCC alleges that, between January 2018 and August 2021, Airbnb made false or misleading representations to thousands of Australian consumers.

The lawsuit was based on the display of prices on its website or mobile app for Australian accommodation using only a dollar sign ($), without making it clear if it was in US dollars.

Mr Harris, a frequent user of the service, explained that he will now be more vigilant when booking online.

“I have no knowledge of being overcharged in the past but will be checking very carefully in the future,” he said.

“I believe there should be transparency in all forms of business to ensure that all parties have full financial consent in the transaction.

“This won’t stop me from using Airbnb in the future but will make me more vigilant towards errors that can occur like this.”

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When thousands of consumers complained to Airbnb about being overcharged, the ACCC alleges Airbnb told customers it had displayed prices in USD because the user had selected the currency.

“We allege that Airbnb’s misleading conduct meant that consumers were deprived of the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether, and at what price, to book their holiday accommodation on the Airbnb platform,” ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.

“In addition to paying higher prices than expected, some consumers who were charged in US dollars also found themselves further out of pocket through currency conversion fees charged by their credit card provider.”

Between January 2018 and August 2021, the average Australian dollar to US dollar exchange rate was about $0.72USD.

At that rate, an Australian consumer who thought they were paying $500 for their accommodation booking would have paid almost $700AUD before any foreign currency conversion fees.

Airbnb’s country manager for Australia and New Zealand, Susan Wheeldon, said ensuring guests can book with confidence is a top priority and will work to rectify the issue.

“While a fraction of a percentage of guests are believed to have been impacted, we were nonetheless extremely disappointed to have found that this occurred and we will compensate affected guests,” she said.

“Upon this issue being brought to our attention by the ACCC, we worked to update our platform so that the relevant currencies are clearly displayed from the first page for all Australian guests booking stays on our platform.

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“We’re also conducting a comprehensive review of how this issue occurred and the way in which guest complaints were initially handled.”

The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, orders for the compensation for affected consumers, costs, and other orders.

 

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