James Walker: How to avoid holidays from hell

Some tourists have been driven to despair by Airbnb fraudsters
Some tourists have been driven to despair by Airbnb fraudsters
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Holiday letting is the subject of some of the most alarming complaints I receive. One person told me how she found herself on vacation staying with a great-grandmother who wouldn’t leave the flat (and 12 cats) while another found that her host treated cleaning more as a vague concept than a necessity.

One woman told me about her overtly racist host, another about the deeply dangerous neighbourhood she found herself in. And huge numbers of people have found themselves staying in apartments – and increasingly in towns and countries – where lettings are banned.

So what are your rights when using Airbnb and other lettings companies if things go wrong?

◆ Take out insurance and tell your insurer where you’ll be staying. Most insurance companies will cover holiday lettings, but they have to be legit. Check your insurer’s advice and rules before booking.

◆ Research, research, research. Look at the location on a map (do a street view too if you can). Check online for notes about the neighbourhood. Look into verified reviews from people who’ve stayed before.

◆ Watch for the backlash. Tourists aren’t too popular in places like Venice and Barcelona these days. Holiday lettings have massively pushed up property prices, so support the locals and book hotels in these places where you can. Check online to find out what countries are banning holiday lettings or restricting them – don’t assume the booking company will tell you. Steer clear of hosts who suggest you pretend to be a relative or tell you to hide from security staff or concierges.

◆ Bag drops. Everyone gets caught out by this one. Unlike a hotel, your letting won’t usually allow you to leave your bag when you check out, which usually results in you being forced to drag it around with you on your last day. Book your flights or plan ahead to allow for this, perhaps by using public luggage lockers.

◆ Be prepared for a worst-case scenario. From armed police crashing your stay to double-bookings, you might find yourself without accommodation. Take a credit card, just in case you need to check in somewhere new at short notice. Get receipts and make a complaint when you’re home.

◆ Beware of scams. There are a lot of fraudsters out there. The holiday lettings scam works when the host offers you a better rate if you book direct (go off the booking site, in other words). You’ll be asked to make a payment by money transfer or another non-secure method. Then you arrive on holiday to find that you’ve been conned. Always book through the official website and always pay using their specified methods of payment.