Airbnb admits misleading Australian customers by charging in US dollars instead of local currency

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An Australian court on Wednesday ordered Airbnb to pay a 15 million Australian dollar (USD 10 million) fine, and the accommodation rental company could pay as much again to compensate customers who had been unaware they were being charged in US rather than Australian dollars. Airbnb admitted making false or misleading representations to Australian users between January 2018 and August 2021 that prices shown on its platform for Australian accommodations were in Australian dollars, which are worth less than the greenback. For about 63,000 customers, the prices were in US dollars.

Federal Court Justice Brendan McElwaine ordered Airbnb to pay an AUD 15 million fine within 30 days for breaching Australian consumer law, plus AUD 4,00,000 in prosecution costs. Airbnb had earlier provided the court with an undertaking that it would pay as much as AUD 15 million in compensation to eligible customers. Airbnb amended its platform on August 31, 2021, so that prices in US dollars were denoted through the use of the abbreviation “USD.” Airbnb’s Australia and New Zealand regional manager Susan Wheeldon said ensuring consumers could book with confidence was the company’s priority.

“While only a very small percentage of Australian guests are believed to have been impacted, we are disappointed that this happened,” Wheeldon said in a statement. “Airbnb would like to apologise to those guests,” she added. Wheeldon said the company was committed to price transparency and Airbnb would continue to find ways to improve systems so guests and hosts could enjoy travel. Airbnb had been prosecuted by the consumer law watchdog Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

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“Consumers were misled about the price of accommodation, reasonably assuming the price referred to Australian dollars given they were on Airbnb’s Australian website, searching for accommodation in Australia and seeing a dollar sign,” the commission’s chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said in a statement. “We took this case to send a strong signal to large digital platforms like Airbnb that they must comply with the Australian Consumer Law and not mislead consumers,” Cass-Gottlieb added. Around 2,000 Australian customers had complained to Airbnb over a period of more than three years. Airbnb had blamed customers for selecting prices in US dollars, including consumers who had not made that choice.

Airbnb Inc. is based in San Francisco, where the company was founded. Its Dublin-based European subsidiary Airbnb Ireland UC was prosecuted by Australian authorities because it operates the Airbnb website and apps for users in Australia.