Tips For A Smooth Airbnb Experience

Airbnb has completely changed my approach to accommodation while traveling. I love a five star hotel as much as you guys do, but cannot regularly justify $500+ for a standard room, no matter how nice the property is.

I travel every few weeks so I am regularly looking for affordable, comfortable accommodation.

As I explained in an earlier post, I will often still choose a hotel if it’s a one night stay, or if I’m staying near an airport, as I want the convenience of 24 hour check-in and easy assistance if I need it.

But for a week-long stay in a city, I always check Airbnb first when looking for accommodation. Their whole spiel of allowing you to ‘live like a local’ isn’t always accurate, but in my experience you usually get a much larger room for a cheaper price with more amenities. I’ve had Airbnbs where the flat has been much bigger than the flat I live in in London. In Bratislava I had a huge, modern, two bedroom apartment, for myself, for 40 Euro a night.

I’ve spent well over 100 nights staying in Airbnbs over the past few years, from Brooklyn to Budapest, Tokyo to Tirana, and I’m also a Superhost, having hosted over 50 nights at my house in Melbourne.

Here are some tips for ensuring you Airbnb experience goes just as smoothly as a hotel stay.

Choose the property carefully

Obviously you should be ensuring you know and are comfortable with the location, cost, photos, amenities and bedding arrangements. Don’t assume a property will have something if it is not listed on the profile. If you absolutely need air conditioning, contact the host to ensure that the property has it, and it works properly.

I do not book any properties that do not have any reviews. While you can often score a great deal on a newly listed property because the host may have lowered the price to attract customers, it is a big risk that the host will not have thought of everything they will need in the property to host guests. When I became a host, I did a lot of research and added everything I thought guests would need but it was still a learning curve, and the first few guests did make some suggestions on how the room could be improved.

By guest number five it was perfect.

You may get lucky that a newly listed property will be perfect, or any deficiencies with the property may be as minor as ‘no laundry detergent being included.’ But it could be as serious as no towels being provided, or the promised WiFi or air conditioning not existing. It is a much safer experience to book a property that has dozens of positive reviews, especially where people say ‘I would stay there again.’

Newly opened resorts and large hotels often offer great discounts for booking, while the property is still being finished or in the opening few weeks while it ‘finds its feet,’ but remember those hotels have experienced management that can anticipate guests’ needs and have contingency plans. Your new Airbnb host is unlikely to have experience in hosting guests before, and may have just decided to ‘give it a go’ to make some extra money.

There is no training Airbnb requires hosts to undertake to rent their property.

Try to determine if you are staying in someone else’s home, or if it’s a serviced apartment

I stayed in an Airbnb in Munich last weekend. It was comfortable, in a great location, affordable and the host’s communication was excellent.

But it was literally someone’s house that they vacated the day we arrived. The wardrobe was full of their clothes, and the fridge full of their food. I only needed a bed that weekend (I had been out from 10am until midnight each day), so this didn’t bother me at all. And it does feel very ‘homely.’

But if you were hoping for a space to make your own, this type of property would not be suitable.

On the other hand, there are some Airbnb properties I’ve stayed in which are run more like serviced apartments. No one lives there permanently, as they are 100% Airbnb occupied. These properties will be set up differently — all cupboards will be empty, the fridge is likely to not even contain water, and while there will be plenty of space, the property may be furnished very sparsely, and not feel like a home at all.

The best way to determine which one of these the property is likely to be is to both read the reviews for any clues, or look at the photos. The sparser the furnishings and decorations (i.e. if there’s nothing on the walls), the less likely someone lives there, whereas if its very ‘cluttered,’ the owner may have checked out that morning.

Understand the cancellation policies

Airbnb has three different cancellation policies hosts can choose from — strict, moderate and flexible — that have the following conditions:

  • Flexible: Full refund 1 day prior to arrival, except fees
  • Moderate: Full refund 5 days prior to arrival, except fees
  • Strict: 50% refund up to 1 week prior to arrival, except fees

In my experience, the best rated properties have the strictest cancellation policies, as they have the most demand from guests. If your plans could easily change I would recommend a property with a flexible cancellation policy only.

Also check in the reviews if there are any automated reviews where the host cancelled the booking, and how far in advance they did so. If they are regularly cancelling bookings last minute, then they may do this to you and I would avoid these properties.

Communicate your check in details

This is probably the most important tip I can give.

Most hosts will not provide 24 hour check-in like a large hotel can, unless they leave a key outside the property for you. If your flight lands at 10pm, let them know this when booking. If they can’t allow you to check in after that time they can communicate this as soon as possible, and if you can’t arrange a check in time they can cancel the booking without any penalty to you, and you can find somewhere that can allow you to check-in then.

Where they say check-in is at 2pm, don’t expect they will be available for you to check in 8 hours later.

And when you agree on a time, ensure you keep them updated if there are any delays. If your flight is delayed by an hour, contact them to tell them before you board. If your lunch runs late, tell them. It’s unreasonable to expect them to hang around outside a property for hours, because you weren’t there when you said you would be.

Ask the important questions at check-in

Most hosts who meet you at the property for check-in will be keen to give you a full tour of the property and may ask you about your plans and make some recommendations. This is where the whole ‘live like a local’ thing does actually come into play.

If it’s late, you’re tired, and you don’t need to know how to use the washing machine if you don’t intend on using it, don’t be afraid to politely let the host know this, and say something like ‘we are keen to get to bed — thank you anyway but I’m sure we can work out how to use it ourselves.’

But if there is something you need to ensure works, such as the WiFi, washing machine, air conditioner etc, ask the host before they leave, getting them to show you if necessary. There’s no stupid questions when you’re in someone else’s house!

I had a very frustrating Airbnb experience in Shanghai where the host did not provide WiFi details and we had to hunt around the flat, first to find the router and then to work out if the password was on it.

Good Airbnb hosts will have a house manual on their profile which you can access from the time of booking which will have all the information you require. They’ll often also have a list or map of their favourite places in the area which can be wonderful locals spots that a five star hotel concierge would never suggest.

Leave honest, but respectful feedback

An Airbnb property is usually someone’s home. It is not part of some faceless corporation.

If there is a problem during your stay, contact the host immediately. They should be able to resolve it. If they are unable to, or unwilling to, by all means let future guests know.

I stayed in an Airbnb near Barcelona in the height of summer last year. I knew it did not have any air conditioning but arrived to find not even a desk fan, and sleep was almost impossible in the stifling heat. Opening the windows to the loud streets below made almost no difference. As the host was checking me in and I was starting to sweat within 2 minutes of arriving, I asked her if there were any fans. She replied no but ‘she should really get some because its so hot in here.’ I very nearly went out and bought one myself.

I ended up getting quite sick from the lack of sleep and when I told her this towards the end of the stay she said ‘yes the last guest to stay in that room had the same thing happen.’

To me that is being a lazy host and in my review of the property I respectfully said

it was difficult to sleep at night in the apartment because of the heat in August – a desk, pedestal or ceiling fan would greatly help this

Also remember that someone else’s furnishing styles may not be the same as your’s. I’ve stayed at places that have those hideous ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ signs in them. I could savage their tastes in the review, but it is their home, and they have made it how they like.

Think about how you would feel if someone criticised your home style online.

Bottom line

I love Airbnb.

I stay at least 50 nights a year in them and they usually offer far more space than a hotel room for a much cheaper price. They’ve been far more memorable than basic hotels I’ve stayed in for similar prices.

I could not have managed a 100 day holiday last summer if most of the nights had not been in Airbnbs — I would have burnt through my money far too quickly.

I encourage anyone who hasn’t tried it to give it a go if you never have — just remember these tips first!

Filed Under: Airbnb
  1. As usual, well written and insightful! This is a very helpful guide to staying at Airbnb’s, and it’s fantastic to see your perspective, as someone who is a frequent guest AND an Airbnb Superhost. I’m also an Airbnb Superhost, and I wish all my guests would read your primer. Keep up the great blog posts!

  2. Do you use AirBnB gift cards to pay for your stays, or does a credit card give you any kind of protection? If so, which do you recommend?

  3. You said “do not book any properties that do not have any reviews”. Well, there is always first time for everything so I wonder where do these people (hosts) start?

  4. Dear James, again a great and inspiring post. Regarding stays at Airbnb, fully agree and my own experiences have been phenomenal.
    BTW, I wrote a feedback/question on your post about the auction at T1 in LHR. Take a look on it whenever you can.
    Cheers and keep up with your great posts!

  5. Aye mate. One more suggestion, try to always stay close to train, subway or very near a bus stop. Taxi drivers know hotels by heart, but airbnb places might be harder to find, stay close to transit = save money on taxi. Uber has gps, but I find a great many drivers ignore it and drive it like a taxy, trying to guess their way. If you rent a place close to a train stop or a landmark your driver will always find it easy.
    Also, in big cities, ask the host which train or subway station exit you should take to reach your appartment. In Bangkok I took a wrong exit (host told me to take north west exit, bit it was night time) and it took me almost 45 minutes to find my way and cross the mad roads. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief by knowing beforehand which exit to take.

  6. Make sure there are no cameras spying on you in the bedroom and the shower. Many jurisdictions will allow the landlord to spy on you through internet cam.

  7. While I have enjoyed AirBnB’s and VRBO’s, it becomes a different story when several open in your condo complex. Imagine a bachelor or bachelorette (stag or hen) party every weekend. Drunks passed out at the pool, parking issues, noise, trash, etc. We finally had to change/enforce condo bylaws to eliminate them. Now we have several complexes that have been built as service apartments. Investors buy them and the entire building is AirBnB. Hopefully, they pay occupancy taxes as well.

    I think I would be too creeped out by staying in a unit where the owner lives and they vacate for my stay. I don’t think I would like that experience. I have enjoyed several vacation homes where the owners mostly rent out (one in El Salvador especially). That one actually had a family who lived on the complex who took care of everything.

    Thanks for the tips on reviews. I would see those and wonder, and I think your reasoning is solid on those.

    I believe AirBnB’s will become much more regulated over the next few years. Our city is creating zones where short term rentals are not allowed. I think city leaders don’t like missing out on hotel occupancy taxes either, so all sorts of changes are coming. At least in tourist cities.

  8. @caveman
    If you don’t have reviews and your property is average priced your listing will go to the bottom of the showing. So if you’re new, slash your price (temporarily) until you get your reviews. Be honest about a start up promotion, so that you can raise it back up soon. Many people check for cheapest first, so if your price is good, you’ll always get an intrepid soul who wants to save some money.
    Make sure in the communication with potential customers to always be polite, good morning goes a long way, so does a happy face : )

  9. Can we get a post on your experiences as an Airbnb host? I have a property but I’m so scared about actually renting it out to folks.

  10. Here’s the simple reason I won’t ever use Airbnb again: they collect all of your money upfront and hosts can cancel on you at any time for any reason.

    It’s impossible to know if your host is following their lease/bylaws or completely ignoring them, like Mark F. said. What do you think is going to happen if you book an apartment a few months out and then a week before your trip the landlord busts your “host” for illegally subletting their place? Or the condo board has an attorney crack down on all the illegal Airbnbs in the building because the neighbors all complain about crappy disrespectful guests? I’ve seen leases in my city where it explicitly bans Airbnb, VRBO and a bunch of other sites by name, and guess what? People still put their apartments up on those sites hoping to make a quick buck.

    Do you trust Airbnb is going to put you up in an equally nice accommodation and salvage your week-long trip? I sure wouldn’t.

  11. Seconding the request for experiences with hosting. Assuming you rent out your own home while traveling, how do you compensate for the weird “staying in someone else’s house” vibe that you mention?

  12. A couple of other things:

    You covered the two cases where the property is dedicated to rental use and the property is vacated for the exclusive use of the visitor. But Air BnB has a third type of property (it was actually the most common type when they started out, and there are still a lot of them) in which you are renting a room within someone else’s residence. If that doesn’t suit you, you should make sure to learn whether you have exclusive use of the property or not.

    Also, Air BnB is only one of the players in the home rental space. We’ve been renting a spare apartment in our house for several years and have never used the Air BnB platform — we use Home Away (which was part of VRBO and is now owned by Expedia). My impression is that Home Away is somewhat “tonier” than Air BnB — there are few, if any, shared accommodations. I think that because Air BnB is the “brand” in this space that people with marginal properties or who are not serious about providing a quality experience for their guests are attracted to them rather than their smaller competitors.

  13. Personally I avoid them like the plauge. I understand your reasons for using them. But I prefer a crappy hotel to a nice Airbnb anytime.

  14. Great post and I LOLed at the ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ reference, all too real. I’d add a few more points:

    -Safety/security: Don’t be shy to ask the host about smoke detectors and emergency egress, and to visually confirm for yourself. If you’re in earthquake country, inspect for possible projectiles. Also do research in advance on the neighborhood’s safety. Make sure a trusted friend/family elsewhere knows where exactly you’re staying. Finally (and I hate that this is even a consideration), women and people of color should be extra vigilant of their surroundings as they come and go from the property. Bottom line, hotels are regulated to have active safety and security measures, whereas at an Airbnb you’re at the mercy of the landlord, the neighbors, and the structure itself.

    -Transport: As mentioned above, stay near mass transit if possible.

    -Don’t forget to book through the Delta Airbnb portal to earn SkyMiles.

  15. I can’t stand the thought of it. Really, someone else’s clothes in the closet, food in the fridge? Just NO. I draw the line at serviced apartments.
    So I’m not tempted. Perhaps the experience of the Brit couple at an Air BnB in France fortunately wasn’t typical but nonetheless horrendous…having a nice time in a lovely home until they discovered the body of a murder victim while strolling through the gardens.

  16. “There is no training Airbnb requires hosts to undertake to rent their property.”

    This is exactly why you should NEVER use AirBNB.

  17. One big thing I would add here is that you should keep all of your communication with the host inside the Airbnb app. Hosts will routinely do shady things like tell you the room is now unavailable but then ask YOU to cancel the booking from your end. Insisting on talking in the app means that in the event of a dispute Airbnb staff can read the entire conversation thread and decide accordingly.

  18. My question for you James, how much stuffs your customers break or come part due to poor workmanship?

  19. good post to help others decide if Airbnb is right for them.

    I go back/forth with Airbnb and have written about my experiences – as biz traveler manager I wouldn’t let employees stay due to inconsistencies, health/safety/risk issues. As for me personally (solo female traveler) i have had good, bad and ugly experiences (landed in ER with fractured foot due to loose steps on property). The best properties/experiences were with hosts that travel or do this full time as they understand needs and what makes a great experience.

    I learned that many owners are also registered with other sites so look for reviews outside of Airbnb.

    Have a backup plan- I had to send a friend in london for key pickup as eurostar fire canceled trains from paris and i had to fly instead. i missed housekeeper key pickup and would have missed local nail salon key pickup if my friend didn’t go for me. i would not have enjoyed finding last minute hotel. Not all hosts are around to help. A hotel is there 24/7 but hosts or their proxy are not.

    If you have a issue with property contact airbnb immediately to see if they can resolve or move you elsewhere. have photos as evidence as needed.

    Airbnb has definitely allowed more people the access to travel at any budget. i wish they trained hosts and inspected properties (Plus product does this higher priced) as a first start.

  20. If WiFi is even marginally important to you, do 2 things:

    At booking, ask the host to confirm there is an actual wireless router in the unit. Had several experiences in Italy where the host was either trying to use one router for multiple apartments or using one of those cell spot things (the size of a credit card).

    At check in, actually attempt to connect to the wifi before the host leaves. If it doesn’t work, it can be maddening to get the host back to sort out the problem — it’s not a hotel so they probably won’t be available for several hours or the next day.

  21. I’ve had some *great* AirBnB experiences, and never had a terrible one. That said, in almost every case, something happened that I didn’t expect. For instance, an AirBnB host in Stockholm contacted me a few days before arrival to say a pipe broke and the place was out of commission while they replaced the flooded floor. He offered to put my entire family up in a hotel downtown at his expense, which we accepted. The room was fine – not quite as spacious as the apartment would have been, but similar cost and actually a better location for sightseeing. I realize he did this because he didn’t want to jeopardize his “superhost” rating by cancelling, or otherwise risk getting a bad review from me. But whatever his motivation, he did the right thing. The moral of the story is that by choosing a place with lots of positive reviews of the host, it pretty much assures that when things turned pear-shaped, the host will come through.

    On a different occasion, we booked a villa in Tuscany for a week. The profile said it had a/c, but when we arrived in the middle of the hot Italian summer, we found that it didn’t. However, the hosts were incredibly gracious in so many ways – for instance, the airline had lost our bags and they lent us swimming suits so we could use the pool. And EVERYTHING about that house was so delightful – the pool, the view of the medieval village, the Tuscan architecture, etc etc – that I gave them an absolute rave review despite the incorrect detail about a/c. In this case, the house only had 3 reviews before we booked it, but I found a few more on other sites, all of them positive – and sure enough, it was overall a great experience. It could have been worse – but if you travel with the expectation that everything is always going to be perfect, then you are just setting yourself up to be disappointed. Travel is about going with the flow and adjusting on the fly. Take it that way, and you’ll bring home some positive memories from very trip, even ones where many things seem to go wrong.

  22. I was a superhost in SF for 2 years and had wonderful guests. I also wanted to treat the experience as me sharing my place. As such, my cupboards were stocked, laundry soap provided, Hotel-sized soaps and shampoos were provided etc.
    as a host I usually (not always) supplied a starter set of groceries like milk, water, yogurt, fruit because as a guest myself — these things are hugely important when you just get off a flight and the last thing you want is to sort out water. Unfortunately, city laws and HOA restrictions finally brought this to an end.

    As a guest, I am with you. 1-2 nights, always hotels, but anything longer goes to Airbnb and always one with a washer/dryer. Makes travel far easier for longer trips. I’ve been fortunate I guess in all my stays as a guest, not a single issue.

  23. I’ve had excellent experiences every time I’ve used airbnb. One thing to add is that you should always write down the cell number and address of the place. In case anything happens, you might not have phone/data service. Also, it’s handy to have a hard copy of the address of where you are staying for the landing forms, which I always prefer to fill out while still at 35,000 in airplane mode.

  24. Airbnb in Eastern Europe has penthouse type places for $1500-2000 a month. Hotel in the same area will cost that much in 5-6 days

    No brainer for me. Anything 3 nights or longer Airbnb is always better for me

  25. I have been “home-free” (homeless without so much poverty) traveling outside the US for two and a half years. We always book hotels for one or two nights and a one bedroom apartment (NON-RESIDENT-creepy to live in someone else’s space-yes, scour the pictures) for a week or longer. Overall, airbnbs have been wonderful, but… Recently when my sister asked which site we used most often, I was surprised when I looked it up to find that we have used MUCH MORE than airbnb. I think they are cheaper for the same quality. We have used HomeAway/VRBO several times but generally they seem more expensive (although a little nicer).

  26. To each his own, I guess, but I’ve never been able to get into the whole Airbnb thing. Mainly because I have zero desire to clean my own toilets while on vacation just to save a few bucks. That and I find the hidden fees almost as egregious as the “resort” and “destination” fees hotels are (rightly) skewered for.

  27. What about cleaning fees and service fees? I was looking at some properties around San Diego area for the weekend and I noticed a $200-$240 cleaning fee + a $130-$145 service fee on top of rental fees.
    Geez, I stay at a 5* hotel is cheaper than that.

  28. @MeanMeosh: “Mainly because I have zero desire to clean my own toilets while on vacation”

    Umm, how dirty do you manage to make your toilet? I’ve stayed in AirBnBs for an entire week without noticing that the toilet got unacceptable dirty. Usually you can arrange to have the place cleaned once a week or so at an additional fee – and you’ll still come out ahead compared to a hotel.

    @Fred – If I recall correctly, when you search AirBnB for a range of dates, the price it gives you is the final price per night (i.e., the total rent + fees + taxes divided by number of nights). I’m pretty sure you can find an AirBnB in SD for less than $330/night all-in.

    One thing to watch out for with AirBnB is the foreign exchange fee. They charge 3% and there’s no way around it short of not using AirBnB. It’s pure profit for them with no benefit to either the renter or the landlord, so it’s just as annoying as credit cards with foreign transaction fees.

  29. I stayed at an Airbnb in Brooklyn. It had bed bugs. I took a picture of the bed bugs — even a video — and Airbnb told me to go to a hotel, per their policy for bed bugs. They then told me to spend the rest of my stay in another hotel, because their policy is you can’t stay in another Airbnb for four nights (maybe three) after being in one with bed bugs. First, it was a nightmare for Airbnb to agree to provide the hotel compensation they had promised on the phone — I literally had to escalate to get it. Second, Airbnb *deleted the honest and fact-based review* I wrote where I mentioned the room had bed bugs. Airbnb basically said that “it wasn’t fair to the host, because they would deal with the bed bugs before they could host again and mentioning them would hurt their business.” Seriously?!

    So, there’s a reason Airbnb reviews are almost all positive — it’s very easy for hosts to get the worst reviews, including ones mentioning bed bugs, removed.

    I used to be a big fan of Airbnb, but now I’m tired of the nonsense. And the customer service when (not if, when) you have a big problem is positively atrocious — bureaucratic nightmare.

  30. Man reading this article makes it clear why I’d never chance an Airbnb. Seems useful in places where there are no hotels though, like Cabo Polonio in Uruguay

  31. AirBnB certainly isn’t perfect, but you stay in places often enough – hotels included – and you find nothing else is either. No surprise there. I, too, prefer to stay in places that are rental only, but one of my favorite places ever was a studio in Paris where the occupant was away. And I have never yet had a bad experience where I was the first person to stay in a property.

    I’ve rented entire properties, as well as rooms in properties. I’ve been an AirBnB host, as well as an independent property manager. I *much* preferred renting out through AirBnB. I used Homeaway once, and was every bit as pleased with them as with AirBnB. But that was the only time any other company had a cheaper option than AirBnB for an area I was searching. Ive never found a cheaper rental on for apartments, though I use it all the time for hotels.

    I’ve booked many places for less than a week at a time. But since the main reason I tend to book apartments is to spend less on food by using the kitchens, I’m now starting to use hotels for stays of just a few nights. But for long stays, there’s no way I’d stay in a hotel.

    I’m just wrapping up a month’s stay in a London studio and have had a lovely, quietly comfortable time. The nightly cost was about the same as my favorite hotel down the street from St. Pancras, but my food budget would’ve been through the roof after eating out every day.

    Since I am a constant traveler, I get to experience all manner of lodging and transportation. I am extremely glad that AirBnB is now an option.

  32. I pretty much agree with all of this. I have only stayed in a handful of places but they’ve been pretty great for the most part. I have a stay coming up this week in Melbourne. There are about a million apartments available that mostly appear to be rented out by property barons or management companies. The place I selected said check in time was noon when I booked it and now it says 2pm in the latest communication I received. Since I expect to arrive in town around 12:30 I sent them a note asking about the discrepancy. They told me that in the meantime they decided to adjust the check in time to make sure they have enough time to clean but that they *should* be able the check me in “early”. We’ll see how it goes, but one of the reasons I chose this property was that I could check in when I arrive in town.

    Completely agree that communication is very important in these cases. The place I stayed in Prague I had to let the host know about delays in my arrival and that all worked out fairly well in the end.

  33. @snic – I was being facetious, but your response highlights the larger problem I alluded to in my original post as well – hidden fees that make the nightly rates deceptive. I can tell you, what you see when you search is NOT the all-in price. Take a look at a random search for NYC from July 17th-21st for two adults. The first option that pulls up is “Stylish 1br apt West Village” for $155/night. Then you click, and it magically drops to $135/night – until you add in the $80 “cleaning fee” and $79 “service fee”. That’s $175/night, not $155 or $135. Sure, that’s almost certainly still cheaper than a hotel. But it’s the principle of having to dig for fees that irks me.

    If a hotel advertised a price of $155 on its website but then added in a $20/night “destination” fee, everyone would be (rightly) blasting them for deceptive advertising and sneaking in junk fees. I really don’t understand why Airbnb gets a pass for basically doing the same thing.

  34. @ Mean Meosh – I’ve never cleaned a toilet in an airbnb and don’t book those with cleaning fees I consider to be excessive. $80 is absurd.

    Really good hosts don’t charge excessive cleaning fees because they know it turns guests off.

  35. I like a nice lobby and a copious buffet breakfast – prepared by someone else. And who knows if they’ve got cameras on you or god knows what else. The thought of being in someone else’s house amongst all their things, no , just no.

  36. Anthony: I had good experiences and horrible ones with Airbnb. I was also bitten by bed bugs. It took me 3 days to sort it out with them. They initially tried to kick the can down the road and hoped that I gave up the fight. I sent them photos showing classic signs of bed bug bites but they said they needed proof for bed bugs. I was so busy and finally took half a day off to see a doctor. He wrote a note claiming that the bites most likely came from bed bugs. It wasn’t until then that I was refunded for those days.

    Overall, it was frustrating and a waste of time. As in your case, they didn’t let me write a review.

  37. Haven’t tried Airbnb yet (always done hotels), but with articles like these, that day is coming.

  38. I absolutely hate Airbnb. Tried it once and will never do it again. It’s so not worth it for a couple or one person. A nice Airbnb in a good and central location is the same price as a hotel room. Perhaps for a family of 4 or more because getting 2 hotel rooms will be more expensive. First I learned that the reviews are not honest reviews. The hosts pressure you to write 5 stars even though you’re not really happy with it. I talked to some of my friends about this too. They will say something nasty for a 4 star review. Truly. That is based on my personal own experience as well. The worst is that because your hosts ask for your driver license or some kind of ID, so you really don’t want to say anything back to them. Never again. I’d rather stay in a clean motel rather than at Airbnb. Use Tripadvisor to see travelers’ photos in addition to their reviews.

  39. We’ve been Airbnb SuperHosts for five years straight and have stayed in quite a few Airbnbs, both in the USA and abroad.

    We have not listed or rented on other platforms. Airbnb verifies both hosts and guests so we’re sure they exist and are who they say they are. In the USA, they search a number of publicly available databases including sex offenders to prevent problems. We require government ID verification before we will accept a guest.

    Airbnb collects from the guest upon acceptance of a reservation and holds the money in escrow for 24 hours after checkin, so if a listing is not as advertised, contacting Airbnb promptly can result in re-accommodation and/or refunds.

    James’ comments are right on the money, but there are some added things I’d recommend:

    One of the search filters on the Airbnb site is for SuperHosts. When this is checked, the only listings that are shown are those of SuperHosts, who have at least 80% 5-star ratings for the past three months and haven’t cancelled any reservations for the previous year (although exceptions are made if a space becomes uninhabitable for maintenance issues like a broken pipe — Airbnb requires proof before making these exceptions).

    When we’re traveling, we always start looking for listings with the SuperHost filter checked. That, in itself, removes most listings that have been poorly reviewed or have had cancellations by the hosts.

    We read reviews and study listing photos very carefully. We prefer not to stay in a space that is someone else’s residence and is vacated only for a short-term renter, which often can be seen in the site photos. That does’t mean that we don’t stay in such spaces, though, if the host has allowed sufficient space for our belongings and hasn’t left personal items in the bathroom.

    We always look for and ask about proximity to public transit. In many cases, we can save a lot of money by not renting a car or taking taxis, although ride sharing has mitigated some of that cost. If we need a car, on-site parking is strongly desirable.

    If we’re staying more than a couple of days and the space doesn’t have laundry facilities, we ask about nearby self-serve laundry locations as well as grocery shopping. Some hosts do not allow kitchen access if that’s important to you.

    Ask about pets if you’re traveling with them or are allergic to them — you don’t want a space that doesn’t conform to your needs.

    Also check about other allergens — we are very allergic to feathers and can’t sleep on beds with down pillows or duvets.

    Some cities and states have strictly regulated short-term rentals (30 days or less). Examples: New York State, Santa Monica (Calif.), and Pasadena (Calif.) prohibit vacation rentals with absentee owners, and some (such as Paris, France) have limited the total number of days annually that can be short-term rented. These and other cities require licensing and the collection of hotel taxes, and while Airbnb has agreements for collecting these taxes for some municipalities, hosts in others are responsible for collecting and remitting them. Hosts who are required to collect taxes from their guests should always disclose that in their listings.

    There will, unfortunately, be some irresponsible hosts and, for that matter, irresponsible guests — that’s human nature. But we’ve had many fewer issues with Airbnb stays than we’ve had with budget and mid-price hotels and motels.

    Oh, yes, and for points hounds like me, AFAIK credit cards code Airbnb as travel expenditures.

  40. In the immortal words of Steve Jobs:

    One more thing.

    Regarding licensing: in cities where a short-term rental license is required, the host should post the permit number or have a photo of it in the listing. We recently booked a listing in Rome, Italy, for next month, and the host not only posted a photo of the permit, he also clearly stated the amount of tax he was required to collect from us on arrival.

    Many of the other listings we looked at in Rome had neither the permit nor the tax information, and we had no way of knowing whether or not those listings were legal. We don’t want to be out in the street because the host got busted.

  41. A good post that missed the single most important thing that keep me away from Airbnb- that there is no accountability on the owner for keeping reservations. I’ve had too many friends arrive at a city without a room because the host decide to cancel because they can.

  42. A good post , thank you .
    We used AirBnB in Paris and owner moved out but moved his stuff under the beds, so we had closet space.
    He met us and told us to use his coffee and spices in the kitchen , was considerably cheaper than a hotel.

    HOWEVER, in Hong Kong , a small 3 star hotel room can be much cheaper than Air BnB because of over capacity in hotel rooms, especially if you book about 6 to 8 weeks in advance .

  43. I have used AirBnb quite a bit and, depending on what you’re looking for, it can definitely provide a much better experience than a standard hotel room. More space, staying in a residential neighborhood amongst locals, and opportunities for self catering all rank high on my list. That being said, I’ve often been disappointed with my Airbnb stays and have found the review system to be more or less useless. Glowing reviews tend to be the norm, and I rarely see listings that average under 4.0 to 4.5 stars, and regularly see listings averaging a solid 5 stars. While some of these highly accolodaed listings that I’ve stayed in have truly been great accommodations, I’ve stayed in many others that certainly didn’t deserve the extolment they received. This includes places that weren’t cleaned properly, had insect problems, and just generally weren’t particularly nice places to stay. Yet there was never any indication of this anywhere in the reviews. It seems like most people (myself included) seem to be afraid of leaving truly honest feedback, making choosing an Airbnb property to stay in somewhat of a mixed bag. I’m wondering if other people have experienced that same lack of utility from Airbnb reviews?

  44. @ Norman – the host is required to notify you if they cancel your reservation. I have never arrived to find a reservation cancelled without being notified prior. Airbnb will usually also assist you with finding other accommodation (in advance).

  45. Nope. WILL Never use AIRBNB again. Stay back to Marriot, Hyatt, Hilton. At least I know what I am paying for.

  46. @James

    You know one of those days when the town is so fully packed that it is not possible to find alternative accommodation on short notice? Unless owners are charged the same cancellation fee payable to guests or are required to find alternatives for guests (same when hotels have to walk guests) there is no real accountability here. And it will continue to make headache for trip planning notice or not.

  47. I’ve never used Airbnb or VRBO when traveling for work or traveling alone generally, but where they make enormous sense for us is for family travel — either with our nuclear family of four or for extended family trips. It’s so much nicer to have common space, your own hot tub, your own kitchen, etc., and even the nicest places are cheaper than getting the comparable (non-junior) suite or even multiple standard hotel rooms. Staying with kids in the same hotel room and having “lights out at kids’ bedtime” is not an enjoyable thing for me.

    We had wonderful experiences across the board using Airbnb in London, Paris, Montreaux, and in the Swiss Alps a couple summers ago with our family of four — stayed in very nice, very well located, and very spacious places everywhere.

  48. @MeanMeosh: “If a hotel advertised a price of $155 on its website but then added in a $20/night “destination” fee, everyone would be (rightly) blasting them for deceptive advertising and sneaking in junk fees.”

    Ha, hotels do this all the time – especially resort hotels, which add a “resort fee” that isn’t always included in the rate shown on the hotel’s or booking website’s room search page. But of course I don’t like that either, and I agree that pricing should always be transparent.

    @Fifi: “First I learned that the reviews are not honest reviews. The hosts pressure you to write 5 stars even though you’re not really happy with it. I talked to some of my friends about this too. They will say something nasty for a 4 star review. Truly. That is based on my personal own experience as well. The worst is that because your hosts ask for your driver license or some kind of ID, so you really don’t want to say anything back to them. Never again.”

    I’ve never once been pressured by an AirBnB host to write any kind of review. They’ve never even mentioned reviews to me. And I’ve also never been asked for my ID by a host. So I think you’ve let one bad experience turn you off from AirBnB completely. Fair enough, but I think that experience was unusual.

    @David: “Glowing reviews tend to be the norm”
    I’ve left mostly 5 star reviews because I’ve really enjoyed the places I’ve stayed. Once I left 4 stars because the place was slightly more warn-around-the-edges than it should have been. But generally, if the listing makes it very clear what to expect (and what NOT to expect), and then delivers exactly as described, that qualifies as 5 star for me. If the pictures show that it’s kind of run down or messy I probably won’t book it – but I can imagine that someone on a tighter budget might book it, and especially if the host is really friendly and helpful, the guest might be inclined to be very positive. This is the problem with reviews in general: not everyone has the same standards or criteria for what makes a product good or bad.

    Most hotel reviews on TripAdvisor are actually also quite positive – the exception is usually a badly managed hotel in a location with a tight market, so people are forced to stay there despite the negative reviews. So they come in expecting it to be terrible, it then IS terrible, and they leave another negative review. I suspect that AirBnBs that are truly terrible get a bad review or two and then the owner takes down the listing because no one wants to stay there anymore. So the system sort of “self-corrects”, and the bias towards glowing reviews just reflects that, rather than some nefarious plot by AirBnB to eliminate bad reviews (or something).

    @TravelerForFood: “I was also bitten by bed bugs.”
    That can (and does) happen in hotel rooms, too.

  49. I’m not crazy about Airbnb but I tend to use them mainly because they meet the needs of my family of 4. I’ve had some good experiences but also some not so good ones.

    -Once had a check in in Houston botched when the previous guest failed to leave on time. I was left to my own devices with a cranky toddler while I waited hours for the room to be cleaned and made available. That sucked.

    -Gone through the experience of having a host in Poland ask me to cancel my booking to spare her the repercussions. LOL yeah right.

    -There is also the obvious inconsistency of the offerings. You do your best to make sure the suite offers what you need, but pictures and descriptions can be deceptive.

    -There is also the creep-out factor of cameras. I don’t care if someone wants to watch me take a dump on their iPad (have at ‘er, I’ll even save you the turds), but I am very concerned about someone watching my family. This is maybe the single biggest turnoff about Airbnb for me. I do my best to scour a place when we get in, but I’m not a tech expert and I’m never 100% sure there’s nothing nefarious going on.

  50. @ Alejandro – I’ve responded in the Heathrow Auction article. Apologies – I get hundreds of comments a week and don’t always go back to old articles to see if there are any new ones! Cheers.

  51. I never thought to check my AirBnB for hidden cameras, but I really should start doing that because I am so beautiful that whoever films me brushing my teeth would probably make a fortune selling the video on the internet. At least I should get a cut.

    There were a few sensationalist news stories a while back about people finding spy cameras in the AirBnBs. Worrisome, but I doubt it’s a widespread problem. I’m much more worried about things like bedbugs, hazardous conditions, noise, etc.

  52. Can you write an article about your wish list for missing AirBnB features/things that it could improve, and put making balconies a searchable/sortable amenity at the top of that list? Shocked they still haven’t added this by now, for me its an essential amenity, especially if I’m traveling somewhere with nice weather.

  53. As others said, great article! So good it let me to cancel an AirBNB reservation I had in Oslo, Norway this summer. The part about the host canceling on you – reinforced by @HC’s comment – gave me pause.

    I’ve never used AirBNB. I’ve had family, friends and coworkers speak highly of it. When I saw I could get Delta SkyMiles for a booking, I thought I would take a look. I found a nice-Looking place at rate cheaper than the hotel I had reserved in Oslo. Once I looked up where exactly it was on Google StreetView, I was a little hesitant. Since we will be getting to town late from Bergen that night, I was also not looking forward to having to find a key pickup at a 7-Eleven. But the threat of cancellation was the last straw.

    I’ve never been to Oslo so I have no idea of the lay of the land. I also know that summers are peak tourist season with low availability and high prices. I was concerned about a last minute cancellation leaving with no options or VERY pricey ones. Last night after reading this post I rebooked into a hotel. It will cost a bit more but I’m comfortable that we can walk in and go to a check-in desk and be in our room.

    I do want to try Airbnb but I will wait and give it another shot in the US and see how I like it.

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