Australia’s consumer watchdog is taking Airbnb to the federal court for allegedly misleading consumers over whether prices were in Australian dollars or US dollars.
The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) has kicked off legal proceedings in the Federal Court against Airbnb, alleging the platform made false representations to thousands of Aussies by showing prices for Australian accommodation using only a dollar sign without specifying they would be charged in US dollars.
According to the ACCC, while in some cases 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 without nearby reference to US dollars, and only after the consumer had clicked to ‘reserve’ their accommodation.
When thousands of consumers complained to Airbnb about being charged more than the displayed price, the ACCC alleges 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.
“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,” ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.
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, before 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.
“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.”
Airbnb’s country manager for Australia, Susan Wheeldon, said only a “fraction of a percentage” of customers were believed to be impacted.
“We were nonetheless extremely disappointed to have found that this occurred and we will compensate affected guests,” Wheeldon said.
“Upon this issue being brought to our attention by the ACCC, we worked to update our platform so that the relevant currencies are clearly displayed from the first page for all Australian guests booking stays on our platform.”
According to Wheeldon, Airbnb is conducting a review of the issue and the way guest complaints were handled.