The online accommodation platform has been accused of tricking Australians to pay in US dollars
Online accommodation provider Airbnb has been fined by an Australian court AU$15 million (US$10 million) and ordered to pay another AU$15 million in compensation for not making it clear that some bookings were not in Australian dollars, which led to thousands of customers paying higher prices for years.
In a federal court ruling on Wednesday, Justice Shaun McElwaine stated that Airbnb had not clearly disclosed that the pricing was in US dollars, except at the bottom of the first three webpages of the booking, and then more prominently on the fourth page when a user confirmed the booking.
According to McElwaine, Airbnb likely benefited from customers assuming the price was in Australian dollars because it would have made accommodation appear cheaper than that of rivals, given the exchange rate.
At the time, the Australian dollar was worth about 72 US cents, meaning customers who thought they were paying AU$500 for a booking would have paid almost AU$700, before any currency conversion fees.
The ruling comes after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took the company to the Federal Court in June last year. As a result, Airbnb was found to have made false or misleading claims to around 70,000 customers between January 2018 and August 2021.
Airbnb admitted that it had breached Australian consumer law through this practice early on in the case. However, the company later blamed a software bug that had failed to default customers in Australia to the local currency. According to the court, the Airbnb board was aware of customers complaining about the issue as far back as 2018.
Affected customers are now expected to receive around $156 each, depending on their booking cost, the exchange rate, and any additional charges.
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