Buyer Beware of Airbnb Gift Cards – They Are NOT Customer Friendly

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Airbnb Gift Card Issues, They are NOT Customer Friendly

My buddy ran into some issues with Airbnb gift cards which I covered a few days ago.  His was a somewhat specific case that dealt with their split payments service for group bookings.  I thought that was where Airbnb gift card issues ended until I received a few comments on the article and in our Facebook Group. The comments brought even more Airbnb gift card issues to light.

The Issues Go Deeper

If the shared booking gift card issue wasn’t bad enough they are also unusable for a few different scenarios:

  • You can not use a gift card or account credit on an existing reservation with an outstanding balance.
  • You must have the credit in your account before making the new booking, you can not add the gift card in later on once the process has started.  This is my understanding from a Facebook comment.
  • They do not work for longer bookings, beyond 28 days

This severely limits what is possible with their gift cards.  It doesn’t really make sense…if you have an account balance/gift card you should be able to use it towards your booking.  It should not matter if it is the initial booking or paying off the remaining balance.

TS commented on my article that the split payments were set up with those restrictions on purpose. Airbnb didn’t want people selling their credit.  I am not sure if this is true but it does make sense. They are sticking people with balances that will force them into a new bookings.  Pretty despicable practice if you ask me.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t recommend speculatively buying Airbnb gift cards because of this.  Only purchase them when you have a new booking coming up. Do not purchase for over the rental amount since the balance would be restricted.

For the people that play it right these terms won’t be an issue. This will catch newer users with their pants down.  I think it is a dishonest set up that is an attempt to lock people into a second booking.  Why else would you stop people from using their account credit/gift card to pay for the remainder of their rental?


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58 COMMENTS

  1. Yeah, I found out the hard way after buying $500 in AirBnB GC’s on Amazon (happy dance 20% off) and found out I can’t apply them to two reservations in Alaska starting next week. Joy!
    Sadly, Alaska is about the most points and mile unfriendly place in the US, unless you just stay in ANC.

  2. Is it even legal? It’s like arbitrary restrictions on credit that you already bought with YOUR OWN money. Like how ebags doesn’t allow combining gift cards. I wonder if it is grounds for a lawsuit.

    • I am sure it is legal but probably not moral. It is in the terms but I think they are playing a “gotcha” game.

  3. Also can’t be applied to long-term reservations (of 28 days or more). This doesn’t affect people as much but my husband and I travel a lot (digital nomading! woo hoo!) and like staying in places for a month or two at a time so this was a huge bummer when friends and family gifted us with AIRBNB cred as our wedding gift. womp womp.

  4. Thanks for letting this be known. It’s so far beyond what people have come to expect from reputable gift cards, I don’t know how they are even allowed to call them “gift cards”.

  5. Thanks for the warning – I could totally see where I would have stocked up on gift cards for use next year — now I know better. Thanks!

  6. I have also been burned by the air bnb gift card issue. First time I tried to use one for a 5 week reservation in Martinique (I’m an early retiree so that’s not unusual for me) only to be told it wasn’t eligible. No problem, I thought at that time I’ll use it for my upcoming trip to Spain where I was staying at a few different places for a week each. NOPE, says Airbnb because I had used their new feature where I only had to pay half of the reservation up front. I contacted their “customer service” through email, and waited 4 days for an initial reply. After much back and forth and me explaining I had these gift cards for these trips and they were now unusable, they gave in, and did it. BUT they had to contact the hosts to cancel the reservation and completely redo it. The currency exchange rate had changed slightly and so then I was charged more than the initial reservation. Again I went back to them, and they gave me a credit for that difference.

    In my talking to their reps about these issues I think it’s an IT system deficiency. Hopefully the more they hear from people who are upset, then they will change it.

    • I think that is crazy if it is an IT issue since no one else has anything like it. Glad they finally did it for you.

  7. I ran into the 28 day limit when booking a 6 week stay in Baja. Unfortunately, I had already purchased the cards and was worried I would be stuck with several hundred dollars worth.

    I got really lucky.

    I was able to work with customer service and the Airbnb host to create a work-a-round. The host discounted his daily rate to match the one-month discount and waved one of the cleaning fees. The Airbnb customer support issued an account credit to cover the different in the Airbnb service charge. This allowed me to book two back-to-back 3 week stays using the gift cards for the price of one continuous 6 weeks stay. Airbnb customer service was very sympathetic to my situation and the host was willing to make it work.

    So, major props to Airbnb customer support and shame on Airbnb gift card policies for creating the mess.

    This is obviously not an optimal solution and YMMV, but if you find yourself holding hundreds of Airbnb gift cards it may be worth the time on the phone to see if you can make it work.

    • That is great that you were able to work it out with them. I can’t believe they are not able to fix the issue in the system….very confusing.

  8. I’m confused so say I have a $500 gift card and used only $300 of it for one reservation, are you saying that I can’t use the remaining credit for another reservation? Thanks

    • As long as the second reservation is a new reservation that is under 28 days long you should be fine. It becomes an issue when you have only put a down payment on the reservation or if you split the reservation among friends.

  9. One more thng. Have you ever seen how difficult AirBnB makes it for you to see how much GC balance you have left in your account? You actually have to fake a booking to determine the value you have left.

  10. Also, yes, cancel and immediately rebook. I did this with two stays, in order to apply gift cards.

    I suggest you notify the host just before you try this stunt, in case they want to deny or block you from the rebook. ALSO, Airbnb terms state that they will only allow you to do a rebook 5x a year (IIRC)

    • Thank you for sharing this! I just tried to apply my gift cards to my upcoming (already reserved) trip, with no idea that I couldn’t do that. 🙁

      I’d been wondering if cancelling and rebooking would work. I do plan to contact the host first, and make sure he’s OK with it. Thanks!

  11. Airbnb is a deeply dishonest company, and it’s been this way since the day 1. OK, maybe day 2. I got their gift cards just like others with an Amazon deal, and, while I hope I’ll be fine, what they do is simply despicable! One of those companies, you know, I would LOVE never to do business with, but with their market share and great interface… (sigh).

    • I find it insane that this has been going on solely because of how large they are. You can’t claim IT issue when you are huge in the travel world. I have never heard of a more restrictive “gift card” out there.

  12. 100% this just happened to me. I can’t believe they are doing nothing to change their policy. The tough thing is that most people receive gift cards as gifts as we did. It was a wedding gift and the people who gave it to us would be heart broken to know that this is what their gift amounted to. At least for us, the balance remaining in my account is not enough of an incentive for us to go back for more airbnb fun.

  13. I received an AirBNB gift card that I will not use. I have not accepted the gift.
    Is there a way to cancel and get a refund before the 90 days?

    • Patti you can tell to call them and see if they will but I doubt it. Best option is maybe try to have a friend or family member use it and pay you back for it.

  14. I just received this response to trying to pay $127 with $175 worth of gift card credit in my account (that was added to my account to two previous gift cards I was given.

    “We cannot apply two coupons/gift cards to one reservation. We applied one of the gift cards for the balance over $75 (our policy to use gift cards is that the reservation has to be over $75 and the funds are applied to the balance over that amount).”

    1. I can’t use the combined total of the gift cards because they came as two separate gifts
    2. The gift cards are only applied to the reservation above $75 spent

    *It’s ridiculous and I doubt it’s legal

  15. Ugh, I got burned trying to book our rental too. If you use the feature to put a deposit down and pay the rest closer to the trip you can’t use gift cards on the second full balance payment. I thought I was being smart collecting gift cards for the fuel points only to find out I couldn’t use them.

    Customer service was a joke. They directed me towards their gift card terms which, let’s be honest, nobody reads (because other companies don’t typically use arbitrary and made up rules for gift card redemption). Then they gave me a coupon for like 100$ off and made sure to tell me I should be grateful because they don’t normally do that. It would honestly be better if they didn’t have gift cards at all. I would happily never do business with them again but I have like 700$ to burn.

    I feel like it’s a matter of time before their deceptive gift card practices catches some attention.

    • I am surprised a class action hasn’t been started already to be honest. It should be at some point – and I hope they pay a huge settlement even if the lawyers take it all just so their bottom line takes a big hit!

  16. Here is a slightly different spin:

    I am a US military member stationed in the United Kingdom. I was given a airbnb gift card for christmas, but cannot ‘register’ it because I ‘live’ in the UK. My account, which was created while I was in the US, now has a UK cellphone number tied to it. AirBNB has stated in messages to me they will not honor their own gift cards if you ‘live’ outside the US. However this is not stated anywhere on their gift cards nor in the terms and conditions:

    “Right now, gift cards can only be purchased in US Dollars by individuals in the United States and can only be redeemed by users with a payment method that was issued in the United States.”

    So despite my family in the US buying me gift cards with USD, and the fact that all my payment methods were issued in the US, AirBNB will not honor the gift cards because I ‘live’ in the UK. The only thing in my account tying me to the UK is my cell phone. So basically they are making up rules as they go and stealing money from Americans.

    Oh and expect it to take weeks for any correspondence to take place with their customer service. I’m averaging 17 days between messages from them and it is just a run-around anyways.

  17. I’ve had nothing but problems, even when abiding by all their conditions. My last 2 reservations they simply haven’t applied the credit and charged my credit card instead. After jumping through all the hoops to get the cards to show in my account, I still can’t use it.

    • Sorry to hear it Caroline. I can’t understand why they make them so hard to use…no one else has anything like this.

  18. We had a NIGHTMARE with this exact issue in Hawaii a few months back. Suddenly Airbnb were telling us we couldn’t use our Airbnb gift cards as payment for our airbnb reservation. We were already there at the location – spent HOURS on the phone (we missed a day of our vacation just to this).

    Work around resulted in splitting the reservation in half. Then when the half-way-point arries, we return to our place to at night discover everything gone! Airbnb told our hosts someone new was arriving, clear the place out. No food for dinner, no clothes no way to shower – everything gone!

    Now we are on the phone AGAIN with Airbnb for hours – host returns with all our stuff thrown into plastic tradh bags (and we were with another couple, and all our stuff all mixed together.) Food was thrown away – and more time of this once-in-a-lifetime vacation burned with Airbnb over their own issues.

    Worst part, Airbnb treated us like all lf this was our issue!!! After hours of emails and calls they agreed to reimburse the food with receipts and that was it.

    The hosts were great and Airbnb was so terrible that it turned us from active fans to boycotting the service. We haven’t stayed at an Airbnb since – and we even have Airbnb gift cards to use.

    Complete nightmare and treated like $h%¥ by Airbnb customer service.

  19. Airbnb is shit of a company. Just assholes in that company. Will never use airbnb if I can help it.

    They make it hard for you to book and use gift cards. Forget getting free stuff like points from them.

  20. I’m experiencing the same issues with a gift card. I made a reservation and paid for 1/2 on my Visa. We are splitting the cost of the rental with another couple. I asked that they just purchase a gift card (as I couldn’t add their Visa # on the Airbnb site) for $600 to be used towards the balance due. I applied the gift card to my account and then found out that Airbnb said it can’t be used. I have repeatedly asked for a copy of my reservation stating that I can not use a gift card to pay the balance due. I’ve also pointed out at no point when I entered the gift card to my account did a “red flag” pop up and tell me that I can’t use the gift card for the balance due on my account. They should not allow a person to add a gift card to their account if it can’t be used. I feel this is illegal and there will certainly be a class action suit at some point. I’ve spent hours on the phone and on e-mail with them. I want them to issue me a check for the $600 gift card and cancel if it they won’t let it be used for a payment. Airbnb is a Scam Artist!!!

    • Might be worth reaching out to the host and seeing if you can cancel it and then rebook with the gift card and pay the balance with the credit card.

  21. I was able to cancel and rebook; just did it a couple of days ago. I did contact the host and make sure that he knew what I was doing first. Airbnb did keep a service fee; around $40 I think. I don’t have the time or energy to fight them right now. 🙁

    There was a gap of a couple hours between my cancellation and it showing as available again so I could rebook. Good luck!

  22. as of 3.22.19 ARIBNB IS NOT ACCEPTING GIFT CARDS FOR ANY RESERVATION DUE TO A “GLITCH” IN THEIR SYSTEM.
    I bought $2600 in Gift Cards from Amazon and Stables for airbnb (
    I made a reservation thru AIRBNB for 2/2020

    Next day they refunded my gift cards and credit card for $399.33
    And charged my credit card $3,089.43!!!

    I chatted with Airbnb and they say
    ” .. this is indeed an error in our platform and that they’ve been working on it for a while. It will take some more time for them to fix it….
    ..No, you won’t be able to use the gift cards until further notice. Basically, until we fix this error associated with gift cards.

    So I have $2690 in gift cards that I just bought and loaded into AIRBNB that AIRBNB knew would not work at the time I bought them.
    And instead of a $399 credit card charge I have a $3,089.43 credit card charge.

    If I cancel my booking I still have $2690 in AIRBNB that I cannot use

    they say they cannot manually use my gift cards

    this is not right

    sadly I also bought more gift cards for our next vacation

    • Steve that is terrible. How long ago were the charges? Can you file a charge back on your credit card for them?

  23. 2 days ago They say I can cancel but we stayed this past Feb. and we want to go back. (Fills up quick in FL)
    The problem is i’m still stuck with the gift cards.
    I contacted clark howard site and the person I talked to said he might be interested in having me on the air
    but it is still a long shot.
    This is got to be illegal but not sure how to go forward at this point

    • I would try to file a charge back with your credit card saying that the company refuses to accept the gift cards purchased due to an error and charged you the full amount. If you can get the gift card charges wiped out you could keep the booking on your credit card and not be out any money at least (besides any savings you got for purchasing the gift cards).

  24. We just used a gift card for a short trip, but only after canceling our first attempt that essentially coerced us into making a partial payment. Happy it worked in the end – just learned that you need to make sure you select “pay in full” in the final payment step. No doubt a way for Airbnb to squeeze a little more out of their customers, but frustrating for those of us who have been loyal customers and are simply taking advantage of what should be a valid currency exchange.

    • It doesn’t make any sense why they would set it up this way except to try to force a second booking from customers which is a shady practice.

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