Airbnb fined $30m for charging Australians in US dollars

A federal court in Australia has fined Airbnb A$15 million for not clearly indicating that some bookings made in US dollars were not in Australian dollars. The court also ordered Airbnb to pay up to $15 million in compensation to affected customers in refunds and conversion fees, with an average compensation expected to be around $230.

Between January 2018 and August 2021, Airbnb was found to have provided false or misleading information to approximately 70,000 customers who were presented with pricing in US dollars. Although the prices were displayed with a “$” sign, the platform did not explicitly state that they were in US dollars rather than Australian dollars.

Airbnb admitted to breaching Australian consumer law in this regard early in the case, which was brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in the previous year. The court ruling highlighted that the company did not adequately disclose that the pricing was in US dollars, except for a small note at the bottom of the first three webpages and more prominently on the fourth page when users confirmed their bookings.

During the specified period, 2,088 customers complained to Airbnb about being charged in US dollars. Despite being informed that the currency selected was what they had chosen, this was proven to be false. Airbnb attributed the issue to a software bug that failed to default Australian customers to the local currency. The court noted that the Airbnb board was aware of customer complaints about the matter as early as 2018.

While Airbnb had already refunded the full price of accommodation to 8,000 users, amounting to $9.4 million, the court determined that the total value of the difference between Australian and US pricing for the relevant bookings was $16.8 million. Airbnb would have received approximately $9 million in revenue from this.

The court inferred that Airbnb likely benefited from customers assuming the pricing was in Australian dollars, making accommodations seem cheaper compared to rivals when considering the exchange rate. As part of the orders agreed upon by the ACCC and Airbnb, the company will pay a $15 million fine and $400,000 towards the commission’s court costs.

ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb stated that the decision to provide compensation would offer “a meaningful outcome for the affected consumers.” Eligible consumers will be contacted by Airbnb within the next 45 days to file a claim, and the company has also encouraged affected individuals to reach out if they believe they are eligible for compensation and have not been contacted by the specified date. Airbnb’s country manager for Australia and New Zealand, Susan Wheeldon, apologized for the issue and noted that the company promptly addressed it once brought to their attention.

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