ACCC sues Airbnb over allegations of misleading Australian customers

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is suing Airbnb in federal court over allegations that the international company misled Australians about the price of accommodation.

The consumer watchdog claims Airbnb displayed the cost in US dollars but tricked Australian customers into thinking they saw the price in Australian currency.

ACCC sues Airbnb over allegations of misleading Australian customers

According to the ACCC allegations, Airbnb represented the accommodation price for thousands of Australian consumers between January 2018 and August 2021.

The watchdog alleges that Airbnb has misrepresented prices for Australian accommodation with just a dollar sign without specifying the amount associated with the more expensive US currency.

In some cases, the ACCC claims that Airbnb clarified the distinction only after the customer reserved the property.

With an average conversion rate of 0.72 cents to one Australian dollar over three years, Australian users paid a much higher price for accommodation than advertised. The ACCC estimates that users who booked a $500 rental paid $200 more than planned after being charged in US dollars.

The watchdog claims consumers were only notified of the higher price after they were billed rather than during the booking process.

Camera icon The ACCC claims Australians using Airbnb were charged in US dollars despite using the Australian website. Credit: Included

“We allege that Airbnb’s deceptive behavior has resulted in consumers being deprived of the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether or not to book their vacation rental on the Airbnb platform, and at what cost,” said ACCC- chairman Gina Cass-Gottlieb.

“In addition to paying higher-than-expected prices, some consumers charged in US dollars were also pushed further out of their pockets due to currency conversion fees charged by their credit card provider.”

When customers complained to the platform that they had to pay higher prices, the ACCC alleged that Airbnb was acting deceptively by telling customers “wrongly” that they had chosen to display the price in US dollars.

The accommodation platform refused to compensate users of the Australian site who paid their rent in US dollars.

Camera IconChairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, stands by her decision to take Airbnb to federal court. Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

In a response documented in the court documents, one user was told that “there will be no refund‚Ķbecause there is no mistake on our side.”

The ACCC said it seeks compensation for affected consumers, financial penalties, and legal costs.

The watchdog claims ongoing complaints from users about the currency display issue were ignored or dismissed.

“Although thousands of consumers complained to Airbnb about how prices were displayed, Airbnb did not change its booking platform until after the ACCC raised the issue,” said Ms. Cass-Gottlieb.

“By taking this action, we make it very clear that digital platforms such as Airbnb must ensure the accuracy of all statements that may influence consumers’ purchasing decisions.”

The ACCC urges consumers who have experienced issues with the currency displayed on the Airbnb website to get in touch.

The move to take Airbnb to federal court comes seven years after the ACCC received a court-enforced commitment from the company in response to how prices were displayed on the platform.

Airbnb has been contacted for comment.

Lori J. Kile
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