Hi Brendan. I’m a host and a traveller who has used Airbnb, and my experiences have been, for the most part, very good. But like you, I’ve heard friends say they’ve had bad experiences.
As a host, I can’t fault the system. Airbnb takes the money as soon as people book, whether it’s six days or six months in advance - that alone must give them a huge profit from the interest. The host is not paid until 24 hours after a guest books in, but depending on your bank or credit union, you receive the payment within a couple of days - I’ve had no problems. As a traveller, you have to pay way in advance if you book way in advance, but it means the accommodation is booked and secure.
Airbnb send reminders to the host and the traveller about the bookings, and send reminders to the host as well as the guest to do a review .
Negatives - they charge approx. 3% service fee to the host, and a whopping 12% service fee to the guest. When this is added on to your reasonable charges, it sometimes doesn’t look that reasonable.
Secondly, they send irritating emails if you have gaps in your bookings about reducing your price, and sent me a notice recently saying comparable places near us were rented way below what we were asking, but don’t give us those addresses so that we could check they were comparable (some places say they can accommodate six people, but it is on trundles, or sofa beds in small houses, so is this comparable?).
Just some thoughts.