Accommodation booking giant allegedly misled Australians about prices

The ACCC has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against Airbnb, Inc. and Airbnb Ireland UC (together, Airbnb) for allegedly misleading consumers into believing prices for Australian accommodation were in Australian dollars, when many prices were in US dollars.

The ACCC alleges that, between at least January 2018 and August 2021, Airbnb made false or misleading representations to thousands of Australian consumers by displaying prices on its website or mobile app for Australian accommodation using only a dollar sign ($), without making it clear that those prices were in US dollars.

While on at least some occasions Airbnb referred to the price as ‘USD’ in small font on the last page of the booking process, this happened only after the platform had already displayed numerous dollar (‘$’) amounts on earlier pages, without nearby reference to US dollars, and after the consumer had clicked to ‘reserve’ their accommodation. 

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When thousands of consumers complained to Airbnb about being charged more than the displayed price, the ACCC alleges that Airbnb engaged in further misleading or deceptive conduct by telling many of them that it had displayed prices in US dollars because the user had selected this currency, when this was often not the case.

“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.”

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Between January 2018 and August 2021, 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 actually paid almost $700 AUD, before any foreign currency conversion fees.

“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,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

“Despite thousands of consumers complaining to Airbnb about the way prices were displayed, Airbnb didn’t amend its booking platform until after the ACCC raised the issue.”

The ACCC expects all businesses to regularly review and appropriately address issues revealed by the consumer complaints they are receiving.

“By taking this action, we are stating very clearly that digital platforms like Airbnb need to ensure the accuracy of all statements that may affect consumers’ purchasing decisions,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

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

The ACCC is asking 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 its Infocentre via this contact form.

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