A glossy Booking.com flat turned out to be a squalid loft

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Last month, we booked a London apartment through Booking.com. The photos showed a spacious, bright, modern flat. When we arrived, we were put in a dirty, cramped and unsafe loft. The person who opened the door promptly left before we could look around. We subsequently found the fire alarms had been ripped from the ceiling, none of the windows could be secured, and were at a height that meant our two-year-old could open them. The front door didn’t lock, the chain had been removed, and the door code we were given to enter the block didn’t work.

We contacted the host, who claimed he didn’t know why the photos showed a different place, and completely ignored our concerns. Booking.com said it couldn’t help with alternative accommodation, or a refund, and could only raise the issues with the host. Eventually, we found a different flat ourselves and I subsequently provided Booking.com with photos of the property, but received no response.

The host then reported us as a “no show” which meant they were able to keep the rent we’d paid and we were barred from leaving a review. Once again, I contacted Booking.com to address this and, once again, didn’t hear from them. It’s ridiculous that they are supposed to be the number one website to book accommodation, but provide zero protection when anything goes wrong.
AD, Peterborough

Booking.com is a handy service when accommodation hosts play by the rules. But if a property owner is pulling a fast one, you can be left out of pocket. Unlike AirBnb, Booking.com does not have a formal booking protection policy. It merely suggests that dissatisfied guests contact its help centre, which can negotiate with owners on their behalf and which, in your case, helpfully told you that it could not help.

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The platform’s terms and conditions stress that a guest’s contract is with the host and that it can’t be held responsible for any shortfalls with listings. It can, and should, be held responsible for dire customer service, however.

Despite having received your detailed complaint, it accepted the host’s claim that you never turned up, and closed your case. Booking.com claims it did offer to help find alternative rooms, but, by then, you’d already found somewhere. It tells me: “We take any complaint seriously and apologise for the property wrongly marking the customer as a ‘no show’, which we are addressing with the accommodation owner. Our health and safety team is also investigating to ensure everything is in order, and we will be providing a full refund to the customer for the inconvenience they faced.”

The email informing you of the refund blamed you for leaving a non-refundable property and thereby complicating its “negotiations” with the owner. The fact of the matter is, if you hadn’t approached the media, your complaint would presumably be festering on a back office hard drive. Whether or not a health and safety team was dispatched to the flat, it now appears to have been withdrawn from the website.

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