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Airbnb is being dragged to court by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for allegedly misleading users about prices.
The ACCC has accused the short-term-rentals platform of leading consumers to believe prices for Australian accommodation were in Australian dollars, when in fact they were in US dollars.
Because the US dollar is worth more than ours, this would mean users were charged a higher price than what was advertised on the listing.
The ACCC has alleged prices online and on the app were displayed using only a dollar sign, without making it clear it was US dollars.
The ACCC said that, on at least some occasions, Airbnb referred to the price as ‘USD’ in small font on the last page of the booking process, but this happened only after the platform had already displayed the amounts on earlier pages without disclosing the currency.
ACCC said it was only after the consumer had clicked to ‘reserve’ their accommodation that they would see the currency.
The watchdogACCC said it had received thousands of complaints from customers who had been charged more than the displayed price.
On top of that, the ACCC has alleged Airbnb engaged in further misleading or deceptive conduct by telling many of them it had displayed prices in US dollars because the user had selected this currency, when that 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.”
Between January 2018 and August 2021, when the incidents occurred, the average AUD-USD exchange rate was about $0.72.
At that rate, an Australian consumer who thought they were paying $500 for their accommodation booking would have actually paid almost AU$700, 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,” 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.”
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 infocentre via this .