Thousands of Aussies have allegedly been tricked into paying more than expected for accommodation booked through short-term-rentals platform Airbnb.
The US-based Airbnb allegedly misled customers into thinking prices for Australian accommodation were in our local currency, when in fact many were charged in US dollars instead.
Airbnb allegedly did this by only using a dollar sign on their website and app, failing to make the currency clear, claims the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which is suing the booking platform.
Because of the conversion, this meant Aussie holidaymakers were charged a higher price than what was advertised on the listing, leaving many angry and out of pocket.
Kelli, from Wynnum West in Brisbane, used the platform three years ago and said she "felt like I was conned" after realising she'd been charged an extra $100 for a two-night stay within Australia.
Kelli is one of thousands who were affected over a three-year period between January 2018 and August 2021, the timeframe in which the ACCC believes the incident continued to occur.
During this time, the average Australian dollar to US dollar exchange rate was about $0.72 USD.
At this rate, an Australian consumer who thought they were paying $500 for their accommodation booking would have paid almost A$700 instead, before any foreign currency conversion fees.
'I was so angry'
Kelli told Yahoo News Australia she had no reason to believe she was looking at US prices because she was in Australia at the time of booking.
"I was logged in to the Australian Airbnb site and the costs were shown in dollars without specifying whether it was AUD or USD," she explained.
"Then after you paid, it showed as being USD which was much higher than expected due to the exchange rate."
Kelli, like many others, complained to Airbnb, but they allegedly put the blame on her.
"They said it was my fault for not changing my settings to pay in AUD," she told Yahoo News Australia.
"I was so angry. They didn't even seem to want to listen to me. I have rarely used them since."
Thousands of Aussies 'falsely' blamed
In fact, the ACCC alleges that thousands of consumers got the same treatment meaning Airbnb had "engaged in further misleading or deceptive conduct".
The watchdog claims those who raised the issue with Airbnb were "falsely" told they'd selected the US currency when this was often not the case, they said.
"Airbnb did not compensate many consumers who complained about this conduct, and so we will be arguing that the court should order Airbnb to compensate people who were misled about the price of their accommodation," ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said in a statement on Wednesday.
"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."
Despite thousands of consumers complaining to Airbnb about the way prices were displayed, the ACCC claims the company didn't amend its booking platform until after they raised the issue.
What to do if you have been affected
The ACCC has urged anyone with information to come forward in order to be compensated.
It is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, orders for the compensation for affected consumers, costs and other orders.
The ACCC has asked consumers who experienced problems with the currency displayed on Airbnb’s booking platform, or explanations given to them by Airbnb about the prices they were charged, to contact their info centre via this contact form.
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