Airbnb Will Make Cleaning Fees More Transparent for Travelers

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Cleaning fees and checkout requirements, often hidden until checkout, have been a source of frustration for users. The company said it was changing its policy to include them earlier in a search.

Cleaning and service fees can range from zero to hundreds of dollars depending on a mix of mandatory and optional host-applied fees.
Credit...Thibault Camus/Associated Press

Remy Tumin

Nov. 7, 2022

Alea Simone was checking out of an Airbnb in Shreveport, La., where the property’s host asked her to put used towels and sheets in the laundry. But the laundry room was not on the property. And Ms. Simone was already paying a cleaning fee on top of that.

“Oh my God, trying to get an Airbnb in America — I don’t even think I’m going to do it anymore,” said Ms. Simone, a content creator who makes her living off traveling the world. In the end, Ms. Simone opted not to do the laundry.

Many Airbnb users have found themselves in similar predicaments — high fees and high checkout expectations — and Airbnb has heard their complaints “loud and clear,” its chief executive, Brian Chesky, said on Twitter.

Starting in December, Airbnb will give users the option of viewing the total price of their stays before taxes, including what guests have increasingly described as out-of-control cleaning fees, the company announced on Monday. Some have complained of having a listing’s price balloon during the checkout process because of the fees.

Users will soon be able to toggle a “display total price” feature before searching for a destination. Full prices will appear on the map, filter and listing page. The change was reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Airbnb will prioritize the total price — instead of the nightly price — in its search algorithm. “This means that for similar listings in the same area, those with the highest quality and best total prices will rank higher in search results,” the company said in a statement.

John-Michael Thomas, an Airbnb property manager in Phoenix, welcomed the news, saying the new policy would level the playing field while also benefiting guests.

“Airbnb hosts don’t consider good hosts their rivals, they consider bad hosts their rivals,” he said. As soon as an Airbnb user has a bad experience, Mr. Thomas said, the traveler is likely to stop using the platform and opt for hotels or other lodging. “I think that’s going to get rid of some of the lower hosts.”

Mr. Thomas, who has managed Airbnbs for about seven years and is now opening his first hotel, said he paid about 90 percent of his cleaning fee to cleaners. Cleaners are required to use a higher level of attention to detail in Airbnbs, he said, compared with cleaning hotel rooms, and in a tighter turnaround. “You have between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and everything has to be done and perfect,” he said. “The cleaners are our eyes and ears. They’re my lifeblood.”

Corey Friedman, an Airbnb property manager in Miami, echoed that sentiment.

“Hotels are built very different, they’re built to turn over quickly; they don’t need to go under the bed or a space behind a dresser. Hotels do that because they want a quick cleaning service,” said Mr. Friedman, who worked in luxury hotels until starting a management company. “For me, it takes a full day to really make sure our units are ready for the guests.”

Mr. Friedman said transparency about fees is always best.

“Will it turn people off? Absolutely, but at least now there’s a way they can see these things,” he said. “You never want to start with a bad taste in somebody’s mouth before they get to your property.”

Part of Airbnb’s new policy includes guidance on “reasonable” requests for checkout. Requests that fall under safety, health and energy efficiency — including taking out the trash, turning off the lights and locking the door — are considered reasonable. Stripping the bed, doing the laundry and vacuuming before departure, however, do not. Checkout requests must be presented to guests before booking.

Airbnb started as an affordable alternative to hotels, and at the onset of the pandemic, outperformed hotels in 27 global markets, according to one industry report. But the platform typically buries the fees until the users begin booking. Cleaning and service fees can range from zero to hundreds of dollars depending on a mix of mandatory and optional host-applied fees. Occupancy taxes and, in some countries, a value added tax, can also add up. Since 2019, the fee transparency has been in place for listings in much of Europe, as well as Australia, Canada and South Korea.

Among active Airbnb listings globally, 45 percent do not charge a cleaning fee, the company said. For listings that do charge a cleaning fee, the fee on average is less than 10 percent of the total reservation cost, the company said.

When Amanda Meeks, a travel blogger and content creator, and her husband decided to get married in New Orleans last year with close family and friends, they decided to rent an Airbnb for the entire group. What started as a $3,500 listing for five nights more than doubled to $7,200 once she had reached checkout.

“It ended up being beautiful but quite literally twice as expensive as clicking into it and starting the checkout process,” she said.

Ms. Meeks said rate transparency was needed, and overdue.

“Whether you’re traveling on a low budget or a high budget, the average traveler has a budget in mind, and then you finally narrow it down and it turns out none of them actually work because you get to the checkout process,” she said. “It feels like it should have already happened.”

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