Airbnb boosts safety for room-rental service; IRS asks airlines to refund taxes

August 5, 2011

Airbnb tries harder; two airlines promise to pay up

Airbnb plays it safe

Last month, reportedly, a guest from hell took the air out of Airbnb, the online company that matches visitors who need a bed with hosts who have one to spare. The firm has since mobilized to patch up the damage and protect future renters and rentees.

First, the horror story: A San Francisco homeowner rented out her pad to an Airbnb guest, who allegedly proceeded to vandalize and burglarize it, leaving the place in ruins. According to the host’s blog, “They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother’s jewelry I had hidden inside. They took my camera, my iPod, an old laptop, and my external backup drive filled with photos, journals . . . my entire life.”

Brian Chesky, chief executive and co-founder of Airbnb, initially issued just a tepid response to the event. But last week he admitted making mistakes and announced new safeguards and standards. Among them:

Airbnb guarantee

Starting Aug. 15, the company will cover loss or damage to a host’s personal property for up to $50,000. Hosts who reported property damage before Aug. 1 will be grandfathered in.

24-hour customer hotline

Starting Monday, operators and customer support will be available 24/7 by phone and e-mail.

Increased customer support

The company has more than doubled its customer support team.

Dedicated trust and safety department

Airbnb has created an in-house task force to review suspicious activity and build new security features based on customer feedback.

Direct CEO contact

Still worried? Give a shout to brian.chesky@airbnb.com.

The company will also offer online tips for a safe experience for both guests and hosts. Info: www.airbnb.com/safety.

A money-back promise

If you’ve flown during the FAA shutdown, expected to end soon with Thursday’s congressional funding agreement, you could be entitled to a tax refund. But you may have to work for it.

Only passengers who bought tickets on or before July 22 for travel on or after July 23 are eligible. The IRS has asked airlines to refund the money to anyone who asks, but so far only Delta Airlines and U.S. Airways have said that they will give direct refunds upon request. Spokesmen for both companies said they don’t yet know when the refunds will start.

If you can’t get your money back from the airline, you can submit a claim to the IRS, along with proof of taxes paid and your travel dates. No word yet on how long that might take. The IRS says it is developing procedures for dealing with the refunds and “will provide additional guidance at a later date.”

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