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Airbnb — Unique Home Stays for all Budgets
I use Airbnb a lot in my travels. So far I’ve been very pleased with the quality of the accommodations I’ve had around the world. I’ve stayed in the USA, Colombia, Cyprus and Mexico. And very soon will add Panama and Costa Rica to my list. More importantly, I’ve met some really nice people in the process. So in addition to getting a high quality / low cost place to stay, I’ve made great new friends around the world!
If you have not yet heard of Airbnb, or would like to know more, read on and I’ll explain. (If you know all about it, but don’t have an account yet, click here and get $40 off your first Airbnb booking. Such a sweet deal!)
Advantages of Airbnb
- Ratings by actual guests
The whole system is based on mutual evaluations — what you think of your hosts and what your hosts think of you. And unlike some other online systems, you can’t post an review of a property/host unless you have actually stayed there. What’s more, the evaluations are “blind”. So after the stay, your host can evaluate what kind of a guest you are. Polite or rude? Messy or neat? Quiet or noisy? And they can write up a paragraph or two about you. And vice-versa. You can write up what you think about the host, the property, the accuracy of the listing, complaints, praises, etc. — whatever you like. But, they can’t see what you wrote and you can’t see what they wrote until after you both have submitted your reviews! So no fake “say nice about me and I’ll say nice about you” type reviews.
- Higher quality, lower cost
Of course, you can pay a lot for an Airbnb stay, just like you can pay a lot for a hotel. Airbnb prices fluctuate by area and demand, just like hotels. Expect to pay more in San Francisco or London than in a small country town. But for the most part, in a dollar-for-dollar comparison, I get overall better accommodations with Airbnb than I would for the exact same price at a hotel.
- Airbnb shines in longer term rentals
If I want to rent something for a least a week, and even better for a month or more, then I start my search on Airbnb. Especially because many of the online booking services dealing with more commercial lodging facilities will not even allow you to book for more than 30 days at a time! And if you did, it would be quite expensive. However, with Airbnb, it is very common for hosts to offer large rate discounts when you stay for longer periods. You’ll often see weekly discounts and monthly discounts up to 40%-50% off. Thus you’ll be able to get your per/night cost down even lower.
- You are staying in a personal home setting, not a hotel
With Airbnb you are renting space (usually one of their spare bedrooms) in someones home or apartment. Often the hosts are living there too, so you share in a “roommate” type arrangement. Other hosts live off site. They rent an entirely separate home or apartment to Airbnb guests. They may rent the whole thing as single unit. For example, a 3-bedroom vacation house. Or they may rent each bedroom separately. In that case you may be sharing the place with other Airbnb renters.
- Access to kitchen and other areas of home
If having access to a kitchen to prepare your own food is important to you, then Airbnb is the way to go. Most Airbnb hosts allow you to use their pots/pans, utensils, dishes, etc. And they’ll usually give you a little bit of space in the fridge to store your perishables. Their main request is that you be considerate of their belongings, be tidy, and clean up after yourself promptly. In addition, you may be able to use their laundry room, or to hang out in the living room and watch TV, or to browse through their book collection.
- More personal “service”
Since you’re often staying with your host, they can help you out. If you’re looking for tourist sights to visit, they can advise. When you have questions about public transportation, they can explain. If you don’t speak the local language, they can translate. Of course this can vary widely per rental, especially depending on whether or not the host is on site. But all in all, most hosts are very helpful and love to chat with you. But they’ll take your cue… if you prefer a more quiet stay spending more time in your room, that’s fine too.
Save $40 on your first Airbnb stay
Offer good for only people who do not yet have an Airbnb account.
Yes, to be honest, there are disadvantages to using Airbnb as well. But if you know in advance what the difficulties are, you can avoid most problems. Or at least be better able to weigh the pros and cons to determine whether or not to use Airbnb for a particular lodging period.
- You often don’t know for days whether you are “booked” or not
When you book, there is instant booking and not-instant. If instant, then it goes through automatically if the place is available on the dates you want. But if not-instant, you must wait for your potential host to think about it and replay. And they don’t always respond quickly. So you’re left hanging for a day or two, uncertain how to plan.
- Hosts don’t always keep their listing up-to-date
They may not block out the dates when they’ll be on vacation, or when mother-in-law is coming to stay in the bedroom they usually rent out. So wait for their response and then get something like “Oh, sorry, it’s not available but I forgot to update my listing.” So you’ve got to start all over looking. If you’re looking on Airbnb, look far in advance so you will not be under time pressure on this. Or stick with only instant booking listings.
- Individual listings are often lacking in details or not clear
Since you’re dealing with thousands upon thousands of individual hosts, they can all have slightly different ideas about what’s appropriate in their home. There isn’t the same standardization and universal sense of what to expect as exists when booking a hotel room. So you may read the entire listing and still not know if you’re sharing with the host or other renters. They may post only a couple photos, and those showing just the nice view from the balcony. But you have no idea what the inside looks like. Or they may post 30 photos, all showing various different bedrooms. And you can’t tell which one of the rooms the listing is really for. It may not be clear if you are getting a private bathroom or sharing one down the hall. They may have different ideas on what “non-smoking” means. For some it’s not permitted anywhere anytime. For others they say it’s non-smoking but only mean the bedroom. In the living room folks can puff away!
- Airbnb search software is not as helpful as it could be
If you’re used to using a really professional booking service with lots of options to help narrow you’re choices (like Booking.com) then you’re likely to be a bit frustrated with Airbnb. Sure you can search on some common parameters and get a list of potential rooms/homes. But then you can’t sort the list at all – not by price, distance from center of town, review rating, etc. They’re in random order and you just have to scroll through them all and live with it.
- Payment in advance
You must have a credit card on file and will pay in advance at the time when the booking is accepted. However the host can choose their cancellation policy from 3 standard ones set up by Airbnb. So if you decide later to cancel you may get all of your money back, or just half of it, or not any of it at all. To avoid unhappy surprises, you must understand the cancellation policies and make sure what you are agreeing to before booking!
Regardless of these disadvantages, I can offer you my tips & pointers for using the Airbnb platform to find good deals.
Pointers for finding good Airbnb rentals
- I mentioned this earlier and will say again, start far ahead in your searching if you know your travel dates.
- Also mentioned earlier, make note of the cancellation policy. I’ve gotten to the point that I simply won’t book it unless it’s “flexible”. ie, if you give 24 hour notice of cancellation you get your money back.
- Read the reviews that the other guests have left. Pay special attention to what they complained about and how the host responded.
- Check if the host has pets. If you’re allergic to cats or are afraid of large dogs, you have to know in advance if you’ll be sharing space with non-human critters.
- Note the itemized cleaning fee and service fee. This often makes the price higher than what you thought when you were just looking at the search results page. Plus Airbnb has a separate policy on refunding to you their service fee. Read it!
- Take advantage of the map on the search results page. You can move it around and zoom in/out. The search results automatically adjust to only those in the map area. Plus the map has little markers with the prices of each place. Click on the price flag and you get a little pop-up showing the listing. I find it much easier to put in my basic search criteria, get a preliminary list, and then use the map to zoom and move around to where I want to stay.
- From your search results page always right click on the property and select “open link in a new tab”. That way you don’t have to keep flipping back and forth in a single window. For example, if I initially have 10-12 properties to in my search results, I’ll first open each up in a new tab. Next I review each one and close the tabs of the ones I’m sure I don’t want. I’m usually left with at least 2 or 3 properties that I really like. I can then re-examine those, send questions if needed, and make my final choice.
- Know your “must have absolutely” and “must not have” criteria. These are the deal-breaker things you won’t ever bend on. Like maybe they allow smoking and you’re a total non-smoker, can’t even be near it. Or they’ve got cats and you’re allergic. Or you absolutely have to have a private bathroom without exception. Whatever those criteria are, look at those items first in the detailed listing. The idea is to eliminate as many properties as fast as you can in order to get down to your short-list. Then you have far fewer to go back to and examine in depth.
- Read the entire detailed listing very thoroughly. If they’ve written a lot, it’s shown abbreviated with a small link labeled “+ More”. Be sure to click on this to expand the section and read it all!
- If the listing is in any way unclear to you, communicate with the host. Get all your questions answered before you do an instant-book or even send a booking request.
Save $40 on your first Airbnb stay
Offer good for only people who do not yet have an Airbnb account.
In my overall experience, renting using Airbnb takes more “due diligence” and effort to end up with a property that I’m really happy with and at a really good price.
Mainly this is due to all the extra effort in reading all the details of the listings and carefully weeding out the ones you don’t want. For example, you can’t filter out listings based on cancellation policy. So even if you know you only will rent one with a flexible policy, all the others will be in your search results. You have to open each one to check. In contrast, Booking.com let’s you search for only properties that offer free cancellation.
For this reason, I tend to save Airbnb for my longer stays. If I’m going to be in one city for a few weeks to a few months, then I start with Airbnb. The advantages and lower prices make it worth the extra effort. Plus when I stay somewhere longer, I’m going to shop for groceries and do a lot of my own cooking.
If I’m planning to stay somewhere for only a few days, I don’t usually bother with Airbnb. I’ll go to Booking.com or elsewhere and get something acceptable much faster and easier. For such short stays I don’t usually buy groceries and cook anyway.
Another option is hostels. I don’t like the dorm/bunkbed rooms much and try to avoid them if at all possible. But often the hostels will have private rooms as well. The good news is that hostels usually have shared kitchens available. So then I get my private room, fast easy booking, and a kitchen!
Earn $20 using Booking.com
Offer good for only people who do not yet have a Booking.com account.