What Is a Double Booking and How Can You Prevent It?

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Do you know that sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize you’ve just received a double booking?

If you’ve ever had to face the ordeal of having to apologize to a guest, relocate them to another rental, and pay the penalty fees demanded by the site they booked on, you’ll know exactly what we mean. 

The good news is: there are ways to make sure you never get a double booking again.

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the most common scenarios that result in overbookings and how to avoid them. 

And, we’ll also give you tips on how to automate your Airbnb rental so you can prevent double bookings forever.

What is a double booking on Airbnb?

A double booking is when two guests book the rental for the same time period on two different listing sites. Also called an overbooking, this issue can cost property managers a lot of money, time, and effort to resolve. And, it can affect their business negatively because double bookings cause listings to slip down in search results.

What causes double bookings?

Double bookings can happen because of various reasons. Here are the most common risks of overbooking your short term rental property - and how to avoid them:

The most common causes of double booking in Airbnb

1. Listing the same property on multiple websites

Advertising the same vacation rental on multiple channels – for example, Airbnb, Booking.com, Vrbo, and Tripadvisor - is a good idea because it can get you more exposure and ultimately increase your bookings. 

However, if you list your property on more than one website, you need to make sure your calendars are synced. Otherwise, there will be discrepancies in your availability on different channels. 

When a guest books your rental on Airbnb, your Airbnb calendar will be blocked for those dates. But on Vrbo, your rental will still appear as if it were available. And that’s how you get a double booking. 

There are two ways to make sure your calendars are in sync and your availability gets updated every time a guest makes a reservation. 

You can do it the manual way by exporting your Airbnb iCal calendar and importing it to all your other channel calendars, and vice versa. We wrote a full step-by-step guide on how to export your Airbnb calendar.

Or, you can skip the manual tinkering and automate the whole process with a channel manager like Host Tools

Host Tools offers a simple way to link your Airbnb and Vrbo account via API integration, and you can add all your other channels via iCal. 

This way, you can automatically synchronize your availability across all your calendars. You’ll never have to worry about getting a double booking again!

Simple infographic showing how a channel manager works

2. Having multiple listings for the same property on Airbnb

This is a classic rookie mistake that many first-time Airbnb hosts make. 

Imagine you have a three-bedroom house that you’d like to list on Airbnb. It works perfectly as an entire home for, let’s say, a family of five. 

However, it also works great as a property with three separate rooms that you can list individually - each room can comfortably sleep a couple of guests. So you decide to go ahead and create separate listings for the rooms within your house.

Now, this is where you need to watch out. If you don’t link the calendars of the listings you just created, you’ll be prone to overbookings. 

When a guest books a room inside your house, your house will still appear free and bookable for the same dates. If that family of five stumbles upon your listing and books it, you’ve got a double booking. 

To avoid this, make sure you link the calendars of the listing for the entire home and the listings for rooms inside that home.

Here’s how to do it in Airbnb:

  1. Log in to Airbnb.

  2. Go to ‘Listings’.

  3. Select the listing whose calendar you’d like to link with another listing. 

  4. Click ‘Availability’.

  5. Next to ‘Linked Airbnb calendars’, select ‘Link’.

  6. Click ‘Create linked calendars’. 

  7. Select the listing for the entire home.

  8. Click Next.

  9. Select the listings inside of the home.

  10. Click Save.

3. Hosting long-term guests with flexible plans

This is a less common scenario, but it’s still one that property managers need to be aware of to avoid overbookings.

Sometimes, you’ll have guests staying at your vacation rental for a longer time (especially if you encourage extended stays by offering weekly or monthly discounts - which is a good Airbnb pricing strategy). This can be a great opportunity to cut down on operational costs and maximize your occupancy. 

The problem arises when your long-term renters are undecided on how long they want to stay.

In hopes of keeping your long-term guests, you may not want to unblock dates in your calendar while they’re undecided. But you also don’t want to miss out on bookings in case they decide not to extend their stay.

If you unblock your calendar, you’ll be at high risk of ending up with a double booking.

The only way to avoid this is by asking your long-term guests to confirm their plans as soon as possible, and informing them that you may not be able to guarantee the rental will still be available by the time they have decided.

4. Allowing late check-out or early check-in

As an attentive host, you probably grant early check-in and late check-out requests whenever you can. 

This is a nice gesture that can make your guests’ lives easier and, in turn, earn you good reviews. However, you need to think twice before you say yes to an early check-in or a late check-out. 

Make sure there’s no overlap between stays, especially when the guest wants to arrive a day early or stay an extra night. If you don’t double-check your rental’s availability for those dates, you could end up with a double booking. 

And, you also need to make sure that your cleaners have time to get the rental ready before the next guest arrives. We wrote a blog post on automating your Airbnb cleaning that has some great tips on how to avoid scheduling conflicts with cleaners.

What happens when your listing gets double booked?

Now that you know what causes double bookings, let’s talk about how to deal with that issue.  

When you get a double booking, you need to cancel the reservation. This can have serious ramifications, depending on where the reservation was made. Some online travel agencies (OTAs) make you pay penalty fees, some set you back in rankings, and some do both. 

The point of these penalties is to discourage hosts from canceling guest reservations and ruining the guest’s experience with the OTA. Unfortunately, when you get a double booking because of a mistake or oversight on your part, you must bear the consequences.

Since the degree of punishment you get for canceling a booking varies from site to site, we’ll go through the scenarios with the three most popular OTAs. Here are the host cancellation policies of Airbnb, Booking.com, and Vrbo:

Airbnb host cancellation policy and penalties

Airbnb has one of the strictest policies when it comes to host cancellations. This is what a double booking on Airbnb will cost you:

  • Cancellation fee: Airbnb will deduct a fee from your first payout after you cancel a guest booking. If you cancel more than 7 days before check-in, they will deduct $50. If you cancel less than 7 days before check-in, they will deduct $100.

  • Blocked calendar: You won’t be able to accept another Airbnb booking for the dates of the canceled reservation. 
  • Automated review: An automated review will appear on your listing’s profile saying that you canceled the reservation. You can’t delete it, but you can respond to it and try to explain yourself if you want to. 
  • Guest review: Airbnb guests can also choose to leave a review. If the incident ruined their vacation plans or caused a great deal of inconvenience, there’s a good chance they’ll leave a negative review - which can affect your conversions in the future.
  • Superhost status: If you cancel a reservation, you may lose your Superhost status, since being a Superhost is subject to a 1% cancellation rate. 
  • Account suspension: If your canceling a booking is just a one-off, you don’t have to worry about your account getting suspended. However, if you cancel 3 reservations within a year, Airbnb may deactivate your listing.

Booking.com host cancellation policy and penalties

Booking.com has a slightly more lenient host cancellation policy than Airbnb. They won’t charge you a cancellation fee. However, they will make you try to find alternative accommodation for your guest, which can be challenging. 

Here’s what you’re risking by getting a double booking on Booking.com:

  • Alternative accommodation: Booking.com requires you to find nearby accommodation for your guests that’s of similar or better quality. If the guest has already arrived, you need to do this within 30 minutes. If the guest is arriving in 24 hours or more, you need to do this as soon as possible. If you need help, you can contact Booking.com.

  • Additional costs: You must provide the guest with private transport to the accommodation and reimburse any other related costs, such as the price difference between your vacation rental and the one you’re relocating your guest to, phone calls, etc.

  • Ranking: When you cancel a reservation on Booking.com as a host, it will negatively affect your rankings. 

Vrbo host cancellation policy and penalties

Vrbo doesn’t charge cancellation fees either. But what you do have to worry about is the effect that a cancellation you initiated will have on your rankings.

When you get a double booking on Vrbo, this is what happens:

  • Full refund: You must refund the traveler all payments and fees, including the initial service fee, to their credit card. 

  • Ranking: Your ranking in Vrbo’s search results will be negatively affected, which can have an impact on your future revenue. 

How to prevent double bookings on Airbnb

Above, we covered the most common double booking scenarios, and went over some ways on how to potentially avoid them.

The best way to prevent double bookings in the first place is to use a channel manager.  

Channel managers can give you the peace of mind and security of knowing that your availability and calendars are always up-to-date across all your channels, without you having to keep an eye on them.

You don’t have to be a tech-savvy person to be able to benefit from automating your short-term rental business.

The best thing about software solutions is that they’re much less likely to make mistakes than humans - after all, they don’t have bad days and are never stressed or overworked. 

If you want to avoid double bookings once and for all, we recommend taking a hands-off approach and letting a channel manager take care of your distribution. 

If you want to see a channel manager in action, sign up for a free trial of Host Tools now!

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