My Poor Checking Account, The Airbnb Story

Being a nomad requires some planning, and I generally have a handle on that. If not well in advance, I usually book transportation and lodging at least a week ahead.

Lately, however, I’ve been rather lax about booking accommodations in advance. A few weeks back, I booked an Airbnb two days prior to arrival; it worked out perfectly. I’ve twice recently decided to rent a car while waiting for a taxi or public transportation.

On Saturday, I realized I hadn’t sorted out where to stay from Sunday on. I perused Airbnb and found a number of promising options, eventually deciding to rent an apartment in West LA. I made my reservation request and went to bed.

Sunday morning, I still had no response, but resolved to wait. “I’m being impatient,” I kept telling myself. By 2pm, I was starting to rethink my patience. I canceled the reservation request, searched a bit more, and found the perfect place in San Pedro. Request submitted, I passed the day by driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, regularly checking my phone for a notification from Airbnb.

By 6:30pm, realizing the San Pedro house wouldn’t work out for that day, I booked a hotel room through Hotwire, settled in, and submitted a new request for the San Pedro house, running Monday to Monday.

On Monday morning, I awoke to a rejection, due to the short notice and a two-person minimum. Not to worry, I went back to Airbnb and searched again, finding two promising options: one instant-book apartment in Long Beach, plus a gorgeous unit in Calabasas with views of the Santa Monica Mountains. I opted for the latter, submitting yet another reservation request. I figured, “Why pass on a view if I don’t have to?” I had to, once again due to short notice.

Resigned to the reality that Airbnb isn’t necessarily well-suited to last-minute reservations, I decided to book the apartment in Long Beach knowing that I’d have immediate confirmation. Not so quickly.

At this point, I’ve submitted four reservation requests, and was meanwhile planning for an upcoming stay in San Francisco that resulted in two reservation requests. That’s six requests, each coming with a credit card authorization for the full rental amount. Having only a debit card, and now a rather unhappy one, I was $27 short of what was needed to complete the Long Beach reservation. In a few days, the authorizations will expire and my funds will return, but in the meantime, the reasonable balance in my account is locked up, unavailable.

Without exaggeration, I transferred the meager remaining balances from two dormant savings accounts, leaving me with $0.25 more than what I needed to make the reservation that would provide me shelter for the next week. I can happily report that after many attempts and a stressful two days, I have somewhere to live for the next week.

For me, this is lesson learned. There was never any risk I wouldn’t have somewhere to stay, but the comfort of knowing where was absent. I may be a nomad, but I almost always have a plan for where to stay along the way.

I’m grateful to have had this experience in my home country, at a rather relaxing time overall, as I’ve gotten it out of the way. Now, when I find myself in a country where I don’t speak the language, I can panic more about that and less about the prospect of homelessness.


Note: For those unfamiliar with Airbnb, it is a service that lets individuals rent lodging directly from the owners/renters/etc. Normal listings require the person who posted the listing to confirm a rental request before the reservation is finalized; 24 hours are allotted to do so. Some listings, however, are marked as “Instant Book,” meaning that the request is confirmed automatically.

7 comments

  1. It occurs to me after the fact that a better solution would be for Airbnb to reuse an authorization towards another reservation request (or at least offer to do so), if the initial request isn’t successful. In my case, rather than six separate authorization requests tying up my balance, I’d be working with two requests.

    The final amount is almost certain to differ, which Airbnb could presumable settle after a successful requests, in the same way that a restaurant settles for a different amount than authorized when a tip is involved.

  2. Word of advice: get a credit card. They are not the tool of the devil. Used properly, you can avoid situations like this.

    Debit cards are fine as far as they go. But when used wisely, a credit card can prevent exactly this kind of problem. Never promise your real money from a bank when you can promise the bank’s money instead.

    1. I have credit cards as well, but the situation wouldn’t be any different. Airbnb would still be placing an authorization on the card, which persists for three days.

      1. Yes, but an auth on your credit card doesn’t (even temporarily) tie up your actual cash in your actual bank account. This is a critically important distinction.

        1. I agree with Otto here. I charge everything on my credit card, knowing that I have the money in the bank to pay the balance at the end of the month. But if I can delay when the money actually gets debited from my checking account, then that’s a good thing. And credit card points are a sweet bonus too 🙂

  3. I didn’t realize that Airbnb placed a credit card authorization when you requested a reservation (I thought it was authorized once the reservation was actually booked). Good to know!

  4. I think there are often limits imposed on how much the auth and settle can differ. So if your second request is 3x as much as your first they probably can’t do that, but if it’s 30% more they probably can. I’m no longer familiar with what the limits are, but it seems like they could at LEAST not issue another auth if the existing auths total is greater than the newly needed auth.

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