Travel anywhere anytime you like. Sounds too expensive? Think again.
As a frequent traveler, you must have heard of Airbnb. Even if you never felt interested in learning about it, you still find their brand name wherever you go. What is this company, and how did they get so big?
- What is Airbnb?
- Why Should You Use Airbnb?
- The Not-So-Great Part Of Airbnb
- How To Get The Best Of Airbnb
- Closing Thoughts
What is Airbnb?
You can bet most hotels would love to have the visibility that Airbnb does. But this company has a different selling point: local rentals.
It may sound surprising at first, but this large travel company has no properties to offer you. Instead, they promote their platform to connect local owners with travelers. Hosts will profit from extra space, and guests will often save a fortune in lodging and amenities.
You may wonder why has anyone thought of it before. And if Airbnb has succeeded, what does that entail for hotel companies?
Well, let’s say Airbnb is not perfect either (we’ll get into that later). And there’s no difference when it comes to vacations. If you find all hotels booked already, don’t expect to find a place in Airbnb.
Some people love the idea, while others consider it risky to live in a stranger’s house. In that sense, it relates to brands like Uber. If you don’t mind riding someone else’s car, renting a room or property shouldn’t be different.
If you’re traveling right now, someone not too far away could be renting the perfect place for you, but knowing the pitfalls and different rental scams is always beneficial.
Why Should You Use Airbnb?
There’s no doubt low prices attract people. Not only can you stay in nice places for cheaper. More expensive properties suddenly become affordable too.
But when it comes to profitability, low prices aren’t the best differentiation. Here are other reasons people would still choose Airbnb, even if it cost three times more:
#1 Local experience
Do you know those people who stay in the hotel all day? We can do that now without moving from our home and for far less money. Although you’re “traveling,” the experience feels very different.
With Airbnb, you can live like a native citizen, enjoying the culture much more.
Chances are the best hotels are located in the most expensive areas of your city. But even if you want to live near the city center, you can rent a property instead, which will likely be closer to transportation, groceries, and cultural buildings.
When comparing hotels to residential properties, you definitely have much more to choose from in the latter.
#2 All in one service
Even when you’re renting a room, most hosts offer bathrooms, kitchen, and other basic amenities. How much does your hotel charge for those perks?
We’re not just talking of traveling frugally. If you want to stay in luxurious properties these vacations, Airbnb could be the most affordable way to do it.
#3 Insider knowledge
What can be more immersive than meeting with natives? You can learn more in a simple conversation with your host than hours of guided tours.
The so-called “super hosts” are often the most hospitable. They’ll tell you everything about the neighborhood, what places to visit, and what to avoid.
When Airbnb isn’t enough
Feeling excited? Airbnb may not be as unique as you think. You could be struggling to find a place when there are platforms with better listings. Take a look at VRBO, FlipKey, Homestay, or Booking.com.
First things first, why would you bother looking outside Airbnb?
- Popularity: Do you have an idea of how many people use the platform? It certainly gives its reputation and attracts new users. Scammers also take advantage of high volumes of travelers looking for the best deal. But that also means the best places are often already taken. There are so many other hosts outside of Airbnb!
- Specialization: Although Airbnb offers a wide selection, more choices make it harder to find what you want, ironically (knowing so many listings are fake or duplicated). Are you looking for a local apartment or a vacation home? If you already know, finding a specialized platform could be a better choice.
- Even lower prices: Popularity could mean something is good, but it also makes it more competitive. Because prices are so low, more people are taking offers, which reduces supply and raises prices. The Airbnb we know may no longer exist. But there still may be competitors offering such listings.
It’s not surprising to see many travelers prefer other choices. There are so many things that can go wrong in Airbnb that you can never be sure of what you’re going to find.
Whether you talk to a super host or someone with 100s of five-star reviews, the risks are still real. Horror stories include hidden cameras, unsafe amenities, bug infestations, undisclosed roommates, or a bad neighborhood.
The Not-So-Great Part Of Airbnb
Airbnb may be professional and have the best intentions. But understand that anyone with a phone number and email can become a host. That leaves you with a widely different service, depending on the host you choose.
Although the platform works and clearly makes cofounders money, scammers want to share the profits too. We wished that listings with no reviews belonged to new, reliable hosts, but it’s more likely to be a fake offer.
And even if you make your best choice, you may still be at risk the moment you stay in the property.
- Privacy: Common sense tells you people should respect you and your belongings (otherwise, you can’t build trust long term with rentals). But you never know who you will end up meeting.
Since the owner lives there, they can technically enter your room whenever they want. If the host tries to take advantage of you, there’s little Airbnb can do to stop it.
- Volume: One reason finding good hosts is hard is because they may be rarely available. Due to the popularity, and because everyone wants the five-start super host, you’ll need to find alternatives.
You can still find decent deals, but if you looked on other platforms and hotels, you could have thought of better offers.
- Minimum stay periods: You may find the perfect listing and still need to pay more than the asking price. You may find they charge the price per night you want, but you need to stay at least X days. It’s like buying a subscription for less if you sign up for a three-year plan.
You can still stay one day if you want to. But then, the price per night may rise over 35% or whatever the host chooses.
- Review dependency: Although it may sound logical, you can barely use the platform without having good reviews, whether you rent or stay. Hosts worry about their rating, and they won’t accept perfectionist travelers or people with no previous feedback. If a traveler doesn’t go with the most reviewed host, he can either expect the worst service or look for a hotel instead.
Because of it, many feel incentivized to manipulate reviews to get their foot in the door. That’s a new level of listing faking.
- Host cancellations: Can you imagine yourself in the situation? You pay for the property, get the plane ticket, prepare the luggage, and you’re ready to depart tomorrow at night.
Surprise! The host canceled your stay because it’s no longer available. Please, find yourself another place!
Now you need to stress about finding a property again with a tight deadline plus discussing a chargeback with Airbnb, which may take days of support tickets.
The host can decline as late as 24h before your arrival. It may also get canceled for unexpected reasons, such as you not finding the property (wrong or fake location). Or you get there but can’t find the host, or the owner is someone else. Suddenly, you’re left in the street.
How To Get The Best Of Airbnb
We cannot deny the many risks you will encounter when dealing with hosts. But preventive clients will always find a way to prevent scams.
Do yourself a favor and learn these before someone ruins your vacation:
#1 Read reviews
Only go with hosts with more than 25 reviews and an average rating of over 4.8 stars. Anything below 4.5 should be taken with caution.
That’s the overall rating. What matters the most is checking the ten most recent reviews. If you find different customers contradicting themselves, you should either contact the host for an explanation or look somewhere else.
Twenty-five should be enough when traveling to less known locations. For major cities and vacation destinations, it’s safe to filter anything below 50.
As for the message itself, prioritize bad reviews. More people referencing the same feature is telling you a lot about its pros or cons.
#2 Choose the best hosts
Super hosts used to have over 80% of five-star reviews, rarely cancel reservations, and have verified their account. Look for the ones who have confirmed their government ID with Airbnb.
If you add all these filters, you will likely find hosts who respond to messages quickly and offer the best service.
Prioritize to work with local owners rather than realtors or brokers. If a host owns dozens of properties, not only it’s harder to maintain service quality, but some listings could be fake or outdated.
Finally, there’s no better host than those who’ve been guests themselves. It’s a good sign that the owner has stayed in other places, given and received reviews for that.
Make sure you have their emergency phone number before you arrive.
#3 Say No to cash
Why do you think Airbnb created their own payment gateway? So that they get paid for their service, and bring you protection.
You could still ignore it and take some other payment method, but then it wouldn’t be called Airbnb. Instead, you’re paying a stranger to stay in his property and don’t know what to expect. Sometimes it works, but most of the time, it doesn’t.
Understanding it will save you so much trouble. Whatever you buy, someone will always have an excuse to use an alternative payment method.
- They can’t complete the order otherwise.
- You get a discount (limited offers available!)
- They offer some extra perks.
Long story short? You contacted the wrong host. Even though you may trust their reviews and warm personality, they’re still strangers. Imagine yourself about to start vacations, feeling stressed because you don’t know what to expect, with no backup plan.
Say no to cash.
#4 Make sure all you need appears listed
How hard is it so set those filters from the beginning or contact the host? By the way, a landlord who doesn’t respond to you quickly should be discarded no matter the history.
You want to think that if they don’t mention it, it’s because it’s obvious to assume it’s included. Think again. You probably can’t even find those features in the photos.
If you travel often, you know how easy it is to overlook facilities. You will likely find something you didn’t expect, so better to ask as many questions as possible.
#5 Be skeptical about photos
Aside from the most hospitable, most people become hosts because they want money for their property, not because they necessarily care about giving you the best experience. Like any business, they have incentives to make you book their property, whether you like it or not!
Which means their listings often show what they want you to see. That’s where instant bookings become a big disappointment. As you get used to Airbnb, you’ll find out that what they don’t say tells more about the property than what they show you.
- Are most photos about the building surroundings and not the apartment? It may not be that great.
- Have they uploaded photos to show everything mentioned on the listing? If not, it may lead to a rip-off.
- Have they taken room photos from a single angle?
- Does the same listing appear with different price points?
- Why do you think they chose professional photography?
You can always ask for more photos. The most welcoming hosts may even make you a video tour of the house. Ask about the dimensions.
If you’re also looking for rentals on Craigslist, check this guide.
#6 Shouldn’t you book the entire place?
Do you think more comfort is worth paying a bit more? If you’re going to travel, having this freedom would make it more enjoyable.
If you don’t want to risk your privacy, don’t get a room. You can now truly live as if you were at home.
Before you think of bringing more people in, ask for the host’s approval. Some may have terms on how many people should stay in the property.
#7 Book months in advance
Two major benefits: you have more choices and don’t feel as stressed.
As you get closer to your vacation date, you start to lose the best Airbnb options. Super hosts get booked first, so what’s left is what nobody wants. Booking a few days from traveling may also mean higher prices.
Once you can book the best listings, contact a few hosts and reserve it. You no longer need to worry about it, and you can cancel until 24h before the agreed day.
However, that doesn’t remove uncertainty. For whatever reason, you might need to cancel your stay later (the host didn’t reply, the property wasn’t the one they described), which is why we recommend emergency bookings. If something goes wrong, you can go with the second option scheduled for the same day. If everything turns out right, cancel the other.
Whether you’re going for a one-day trip or a monthly vacation, you should check Airbnb before thinking of hotels. If you’re okay with the inherent risks, this platform may get you the best property for ideal prices. Get what you pay for, and perhaps meet nice people.
The irony is, when something is good enough, people are going to go there, which may limit the quality (supply and demand!). The solution? Give yourself weeks before the vacation to get the best listings before anyone else (check other sites too), validate your host, and enjoy the stay!