I am pretty sure you have already heard about Airbnb. It is a service that allows property owners to rent out their apartments, and travelers to book these apartments. It is like killing two birds with one stone: hosts earn money, and travelers find their home away from home. And, what is more important, in many cases staying in Airbnb apartments is much cheaper than in a hotel!
In the beginning it was only the home owners that used the service, but now there are lots of houses that are managed by real estate agencies, and I saw even smaller hotels and B&B advertised on Airbnb.
I was introduced to Airbnb many years ago by my amazing boss 🙂 He uses apartments for his trainings and so far he stayed in more than 100 flats! During our business trips I stay there with him, and I book apartments when I travel alone or with friends, so I could say that I am an experienced Airbnb user, so prepare for a long post 🙂
Let’s get to the basics!
How to book
First, you have to register on Airbnb.com, and fill in all the necessary information. I strongly advise you to put a picture, write a short summary about yourself, and add your mobile phone number. Adding a phone number is another sign that you are a real person, and it is very handy: when you receive a message on Airbnb, a text will be sent to your phone. If you register via this link, you will be given a discount on your first booking. I will get a small discount as well, and it will help me to fund my travels, so that I can keep sharing them with you 🙂 For you to know: it will not cost anything extra to you!
After registering put in your dates and destination. Please, keep in mind that there are three options: you can book the whole apartment (you will be on your own), a room in the apartment (the host will be living in the other one) or a shared room (you will be staying in the same room with the host). You can adjust the price range and other stuff in More filters; you can zoom in and out the map to select the interested area: for example, if you want to stay close to a specific attraction, find it on the map and zoom out to see only that area.
So, you have found the apartment you like, now it is time to actually book it, but keep in mind that you can’t book the desired flat immediately. You click the big red button Book, put in the information asked, and write a message to the host telling something about yourself and the scope of your travel: this message is very important as it introduces you to the host. After sending your request, you wait for the host to reply: they have 24 hours to come back to you. If they accept your reservation, you will receive a notification, and you can message your host your arrival times or address any questions. If you don’t feel comfortable writing these messages, choose apartments with instant book (option in the filters) or see the ones with a black lightning next to the price.
What to pay attention to
There are some things that you have to pay attention to when booking an apartment:
- Reviews: if there are reviews, read them! People share their experience, and tell what was good and what was bad, so before you book take some time to go through them. Usually I book only those apartments that have reviews, and good reviews. I know that it is a kind of a vicious cycle: for an apartment to get reviews, it should be booked, but no one books it because there are no reviews. Sometimes I book flats without reviews if I really like them and have an intuitive feeling that everything will be ok 🙂
- If it is allowed: Airbnb became so popular that the hotel industry felt threatened and started a campaign against them. According to law (I think it is mostly in the USA), some cities’ authorities do not allow short-term bookings (probably, sometimes no bookings at all) via Airbnb, but people still continue renting out their apartments even if it is illegal hoping they won’t get caught. I don’t know how this works, but there was a story of an elderly couple who were evicted from their Airbnb apartment in New York because a resident threatened to call the police, so make sure that Airbnb is allowed in your destination or ask the host about it.
- House rules: usually it is about keeping silence after 10 PM, not smoking or wearing slippers inside.
- Areas of access: if you do not book the whole apartment, hosts may limit access to some parts of it. I have read in a description that a host did not allow access to her kitchen, so check it in order not to have surprises when you arrive.
- Cancellation terms: if you book accommodation and cancel it, you might and might not get refund depending on host’s cancellation policy, so check it carefully in the apartment description. More information here.
- Security deposit: Some hosts require deposits: some ask for 50 euro, others might ask for more than 1000. If you break anything, the money to repair will be taken from the deposit, so make sure you have enough money on your card.
- Key pick up: if a flat is managed by a real estate agency, they might ask you to take the keys from their office. I doubt that you fancy a search for an office in an unknown city and then a walk to the apartment.
- Check-out and check-in times: some hosts charge money for late check-ins and check-outs, usually they state the hours and prices in the apartment description.
- Amenities, like towels, toiletries, Internet, etc.: hosts list them in the description.
Other important stuff
- Some hosts take this revenue source very seriously and, like hotels, have different prices for high and low seasons. This means that – in some cases only! – they are not ready to take in bookings that are very in advance. I had a situation like this when a host refused to accept our reservation because we tried to book it in winter but wanted to arrive in June. He said we had to wait till spring when he would change prices, which meant that it would become much higher. We continued our search and booked another flat, so I guess it was just an isolated case.
- Some hosts do not reply. Yes, it happens. I don’t know why, but don’t be discouraged, keep searching. I think it is much better not to book, but contact several hosts simultaneously (there is a button Ask host a question): just send them some info about you and your scope of travel, and ask if they would like to host you. If you send booking requests, several hosts might approve them, and cancelling any of them will incur fees.
- Keep in mind that it is not a hotel, so don’t expect breakfast and cleaning every day. But if you have an issue, you can always contact the host.
- Never book or pay outside Airbnb! If you book outside Airbnb and there are any issues, the Airbnb team won’t help you to resolve them. I saw flats where hosts specify in the description that the flat should not be booked before guests ask for availability. In cases like this, guests should contact them via an external email, and that email usually is in one of the flat pictures. Personally, I think it is a scam: they have calendars to update availability so there is no need to write a separate email to them. The same goes for people who ask you to wire them the rental fee: never do it, it is most likely that the flat will be deleted after you pay. And if you pay outside Airbnb, and things go wrong, I assure you, Airbnb will not help you get your money back, as they clearly specify that all communication and payments should be done strictly through their website.
- Hosts may ask you to pay for damaged things. This is quite natural, I admit it, but is there a way to prove that that thing had not been broken already before guests moved in? What if guests never used that item and, consequently, didn’t notify the host that it had been broken? I honestly have no answers to these questions. But my boss gave me a piece of advice: if you suspect there will be problems or the flat doesn’t correspond to the description, take pictures of everything, but make sure that the date is clearly seen. It might later help to support your claims or prove that the host is wrong. We had a situation like this. We had a meeting with several people in Moscow and stayed in an amazing flat, and a day after we checked out we received a message from the host who claimed that we broke a panel on the balcony. Apparently, someone leaned on it while smoking and broke it. We had no proof that we didn’t do it, so we solved the issue amicably and paid for the reparation.
- Sometimes pictures are misleading. This one is not a big deal really. The pictures aren’t photoshopped, and are shot in the actual apartments. What I mean is that depending on the angle of the shooting and the lens they were taken with, flats might seem to be brighter or more spacious, so don’t be disappointed 🙂
- Apartments are not always clean and tidy. Yep, not all hosts take the cleaning thing seriously. I guess you would just have to deal with it. Sometimes guests clean apartments themselves (I have read about it in some reviews), but you can always complain about it to the host and Airbnb.
- Hosts might refuse you request because your dates don’t suit them. This happened to my sister: we sent a request for a room in Barcelona, but the hosts first wanted us to find 2 other friends to stay in the second room in the same flat, because they rent them together (while there was nothing mentioned about the second room in the description), or to change the dates. When we said that we could not accept any of their conditions, they told us that it was not a good deal for them because there were three days between the departure of the previous guests and the arrival of my sister and her friend, while the minimum stay, according to their rules, was 5 days. Just like I said: the revenue source is taken very seriously.
Some horror stories 🙂
With a huge baggage of Airbnbs booked, I had not only pleasant experiences. Bad things happen, so I decided to show you how wrong it may go.
Airbnb isn’t always reliable: me and my friend planned a trip to Amsterdam for the first week of June, and, knowing that apartments go out quite quickly for popular destinations, especially for the summer period, we booked our accommodation in winter. It was a room in a lovely flat in the almost city center. Everything was fine till May, when our host cancelled our reservation. Well, you see, he found a flatmate, and his previous commitments on Airbnb obviously didn’t matter. I checked his profile page, and I saw that he cancelled many other reservations. I don’t know if Airbnb punishes hosts for doing this, but we were offered 16 or 18 euro (don’t remember the exact amount, but I am sure it depends somehow on the cost of the booked flat) as a compensation. But it didn’t help at all: all flats that were still available on Airbnb were much more expensive than we had already paid. So, we were left without accommodation a month before our trip. Of course, it is not critical when travellers have money, and can afford any accommodation, but we travel on budget. In the end, we had to pay twice the amount, and the apartment was amazing! I still think that I had to push this issue with Airbnb: probably, we could get a higher compensation, but I didn’t.
Entire apartment is not always entire. We booked a big house for one of our trainings in London. We had 4 people staying with us, so this house was perfect. And just several days before our arrival we found out that the host and his family would be staying there as well and they even limited access to the kitchen. We tried to solve the issue; we were even ready to pay them to book another Airbnb during our stay. But they said we had to pay for their food as well, as they could not take all their food with them (I still do not know why they could not do it). Basically, we had to pay for two Airbnbs and give them money for groceries! Of course, we had to cancel. It was our understanding that the host just had to pay a fine, and that’s it.
But our problems did not end here. Do you think it is easy to find a 4 bedroom apartment in London when one has less than 3 days? It is not so easy to do even when one books half a year in advance. We needed a big living room in addition to bedrooms to hold meetings, so we ended up booking two apartments: one for meetings and one for living. And there was nothing Airbnb could do, but they compensated us more than they were supposed to.
Reconfirming arrival: I booked an apartment for my stay in St Petersburg, and everything seemed to be fine, even if it was a rental agency. The replies were prompt; I notified them of my arrival a day before and got their approval. When I arrived to the flat, there was no one to meet me and let me in. I called the phone number left with the booking, but no one replied. I tried several times when I finally got a message that they would call me back. When I finally talked to them, it turned out that I had to call another number to tell that I arrived. In general, I had to wait outside about an hour before I was let in. The thing is that I was never told I had to call, I thought that telling about it on Airbnb is enough (it was enough for my previous trips), so I suggest you should notify the host when you get out the airport as well.
Double bookings. Not all people are lucky: this did not happen to me or to someone I know, I just read about it in reviews. Obviously, it were rental agencies, and they had double bookings. According to these guests, they had been offered other flats: some claimed the new apartments were better, other said that they were much worse. I never book flats with reviews like these ones: even if it was an isolated incident in this rental agency, it does not mean your case will not be the second one.
Well, I would not say that this amount of horror stories is huge considering in how many apartments we stayed. Yes, shit happens, and we just have to deal with it. Situations like these did not scare me away from using Airbnb, in fact I met really nice hosts during my stays. A lady in Rome shared her breakfast with us; a guy in Florence (where we came absolutely unprepared) gave us a full guide to the city; a lady in St Petersburg came to subway station to meet us at midnight because of our late flight and baked pies that she shared with us; a girl in Athens left us lots of food as a greeting present so we did not have to go to the supermarket immediately after arrival. World is full of nice people, just remember it and start or keep Airbnbing!
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