Skift Take

Varying state laws on price transparency may become confusing for consumers and a more complex issue for short-term rental providers.

People who visit Airbnb’s website and app in the U.S. first view the nightly rate and they can toggle to view the total price with all fees before taxes.

However, starting July 1, Airbnb said consumers in California will see the total price before taxes right away as the company gets into compliance with a new California law, SB 478, designed to expose hidden “junk fees.”

Those junk fees would include host cleaning fees and Airbnb’s service fee, for example.

In travel, consumers have been particularly incensed about “gotcha” cleaning fees in short-term rentals and resort fees in hotels that often aren’t adequately disclosed.

The law applies to companies that have offices and operations in California and covers consumers located in California. A guest in Connecticut booking an Airbnb in Los Angeles will not automatically see the total price unless they choose to view it.

Airbnb introduced the total price toggle button in December 2022, and rolled it out across the U.S. in May 2023. The European Union has mandated total price display for several years, and Airbnb has complied with that law.

The total price display not only enables prospective guests to more easily determine whether a listing fits their budget, but also helps hosts set prices by viewing the cost of competing properties.

The current default on Airbnb in the U.S. shows the nightly rate in a bold font and the total price before taxes in a light gray font, as seen in the image below.

Source: Airbnb

The default view in California starting July 1, according to Airbnb, will be total price before taxes, as it appears in the image below.

Source: Airbnb

Airbnb shows the total price before taxes at first glance in search results, but likewise on the map, filter, listing page and wish lists.

A spokesperson for said it will comply with the California law that mandates pricing displays inclusive of fees, but didn’t provide more detail.

A spokesperson for Expedia Group didn’t address the California law, but said since 2020 its brands “have made efforts to provide a clearer understanding of the cost of their booking up front, a core part of a positive traveler experience.”

In California, currently displays the total price before taxes, and Vrbo shows the nightly rate in bold and the total price before taxes in a light gray font. Vrbo would likely have to show the total price, including fees but excluding taxes, more explicitly to comply with the California law.

The new law would also impact property managers if they have offices and operations in the state.

All three of the major short-term rental platforms are looking for uniform federal standards about price transparency so they are not dealing with laws varying state by state.

None of the platforms are ready to display the total price including taxes because the taxes often vary by municipality, county or state. 

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Tags: airbnb, alternative accommodations,, california, cleaning fees, dwell, expedia, junk fees, online travel newsletter, resort fees, short-term rentals, vacation rentals, very online, vrbo

Photo credit: An Airbnb listing in Pasadena, California in 2021. Airbnb

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