How To Use Airbnb – The 2019 Guide

by Santorini Dave • Updated: November 18, 2018

9 Tips for Using Airbnb

  • 1. Book early.
  • 2. Pay close attention to location.
  • 3. Read as many reviews as possible and be aware negative reviews are underrepresented.
  • 4. Check for verification. Verified hosts and photos are important.
  • 5. Send a private message to the owner.
  • 6. Read the fine print and cancellation policy.
  • 7. Look for reduced rates for extended stays.
  • 8. Confirm directions with owner. Directions are often unclear and difficult to understand.
  • 9. Check Booking.com for the same property or similar places to stay – Compare prices, cancelation policy, and minimum stay, all of which can be different (and better) on Booking.com.
Our first Airbnb rental in Sayulita, Mexico. All in all a good experience, though the host was 2 hours late meeting us.

Our first Airbnb rental in Sayulita, Mexico. A good experience even though the host was 2 hours late meeting us and the kitchen was completely lacking in utensils. All in all, a good first time experience for Airbnb.

How Airbnb Works

  • A guest starts the booking process by clicking Request to Book. When Instant Booking is authorized for a property the reservation will be confirmed automatically if the guest meets the host’s requirements. When Instant Booking is not authorized the host will need to manually accept the reservation request. Airbnb collects guest payments when the reservation is accepted and releases those funds to the host 24 hours after arrival.

Booking Airbnb – The Basics

  • Step 1. Go to Airbnb.com (there are no third party websites or booking sites) or install the Airbnb app on your phone or iPad.
  • Step 2. Enter your destination, dates, and number of guests (technically kids should be entered as guests but to start it’s best to only count adults or you might eliminate some rentals that would be perfect for a family of 4 but won’t show for a 4-adult search).
  • Step 3. Select whether you want an entire home, private room, or shared room. Then click “Filters” to finely tune your criteria (wifi, kitchen, number of beds, bathrooms, etc.)
  • Step 4. When you find a place you like click “Contact Host” to ask the owner a question, or “Request To Book” to start the booking process. Hosts need to approve you before the booking is finalized.
  • Step 5. If this is your first time using Airbnb you’ll be prompted to create an account before contacting or booking is allowed.

Airbnb Reviews – Why They’re Not Always Accurate

  • Airbnb focuses on real people, real relationships, real experiences. And no anonymity. All good, but it makes it tough for people to leave negative reviews of places they don’t like. Thus most reviews are glowingly positive.
  • The anonymity you can have on Yelp and Tripadvisor reviews definitely has its downsides but does allow and encourage more negative reviews.
  • Airbnb hosts will read past reviews of prospective guests. If they have a history of leaving negative reviews they’re not as likely to get rented to. This skews rentals to people who only (or primarily) leave positive reviews.
  • It’s very easy for an Airbnb host to create fake reviews. They simply create a different account with a different credit card. Rent to the new account at a very cheap rate. Then leave a 5-star review from the fake host account. Or rent to a friend or family member (once again, at a very cheap rate) then get them to leave a great review.
  • Bottom line: There can be some pretty lousy places that get good to great reviews on Airbnb.

Hotel vs Airbnb

  • I prefer hotels to Airbnbs by a good measure. Better service, better locations, more luxurious, special, and unique. I admit, I might be biased. My job is to do hotel reviews and write about the best family hotels and resorts.
  • The biggest problem with using Airbnb is meeting the host to get the keys. With a hotel you walk in the door and someone is waiting for you to get you settled. This can happen at an Airbnb but often doesn’t. I usually assume the check-in process will take 2-hours at an Airbnb (and by check=in I mean finding the place, meeting the owner or manager, and getting settled in the rental unit).
  • Much is made by Airbnb fans about getting the local scoop from real people. This is largely nonsense. A good concierge will know way more about the city than the typical resident. I live in Seattle and feel I know the city pretty well, but compare my local knowledge to the concierge at a decent downtown hotel regarding a good jazz bar, the best place to shop for handbags, or where to find the best whiskey and you’ll quickly see how limited my knowledge is.

Is Airbnb Safe?

  • Is Airbnb largely safe?, sure. Is it as safe as a hotel (where the risk is basically zero)?, no.
  • If you’re a single female traveler I’d recommend having a door stop with you. I’m not trying to sound alarmist but if you did find yourself in a place where you felt unsafe (or at least uncertain) a simple way to block the door might be the difference between a long anxious night and a good night’s sleep.

Using Airbnb

  • 1. Start your search and book early. – Unlike hotels that have multiple rooms of the same type, most Airbnb rentals have just 1 or 2 rentals and once these are booked they’re not coming back online.
  • 2. Be flexible. – Airbnb works best when you’re not on a set schedule, don’t need to be in a specific area, and don’t have specific demands on the rental.
  • 3. Read as many reviews as possible and be aware that negative reviews are discouraged (perhaps unintentionally) by the nature of the Airbnb marketplace.
  • 4. Pay attention to location – Use Google Maps and Street View to get a feel for where the rental is located and what’s nearby.
  • 5. Send a message to the owner – Even if you don’t have any specific questions, make something up, and send an enquiry with a few basic queries (what’s the neighborhood like? is there a grocery store nearby?) – the response will tell you a lot about his or her style, assumptions, and whether they’re a good fit for you. But don’t be too demanding. If you seem high-maintenance the host might just ignore your email.
  • 6. Read the fine print and cancellation policy. Really! – Unlike hotels, Airbnb hosts can have rules and stipulations far outside of your expectations. Don’t just look at the pictures and click “Book Now”.
  • 7. Expect the unexpected (for better and worse). If you like predictability, then Airbnb is not for you.
  • 8. Confirm directions to the property. It’s amazing how often the directions will be lousy, hard to follow, or just make no sense. Get the owner to directly confirm that the directions are accurate and ask if they have any tips for getting there (e.g. airport transportation, taking the bus or train, cost of a taxi, etc.).

See Also

Hotel and Travel Guides

Paris, Santorini, Mykonos, Rome, Florence, Barcelona, London, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Dubai, Singapore, Bali, Bangkok, Koh Samui, Phuket, Hong Kong, Kyoto, Tokyo, NYC, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Cancun, Tulum

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6 Questions and Comments

  1. Host Guarantee and Guest Refund Policy

    I am quite dissatisfied with Airbnb!
    An Airbnb guest did the following:
    1) Destroyed three mattress covers and sheets.
    2) Ruined my plants.
    3) Late checkout.
    4) Used all the sheets available (more than 10) while he was just one person and didn’t wash anything.
    5) Left the place dirty.

    I have opened a dispute on Airbnb after 13 days, cause I first wanted to discuss with the guest,. Airbnb claimed that it was not done within 14 days.

    Airbnb wrote:
    ¨For cases to be eligible under our Host Guarantee hosts must notify us of the incident within 14 days of checkout or within 24 hours of your next guest’s check-in.¨

    But when I proved that it was done within 14 days, they told me that it had to be done within 24hrs (which is absurd, meaningless, and truly just an excuse to not do anything).

    Airbnb wrote:
    ¨As explained in my previous messages, for cases to be eligible under our Host Guarantee hosts must also notify us within 24 hours of your next guest’s check-in.¨

    Airbnb, I will leave you soon for a more honest platform. Airbnb gets the 20% of the revenues of all reservations. That’s a lot of money and they don’t even bother to protect longtime hosts (I am a host for years!).

    Don’t call it ¨Host Warranty¨, call it ¨Host Scam¨.

    Luca P. Gentile

    1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      I can’t speak to specific disagreements – Airbnb obviously has a difficult task in navigating and negotiating between guests and hosts and I do think they’re a company with good intentions. But it is a relationship fraught with tensions and competing interests which, for me, explains why there are so many disappointed parties. Good luck with your dispute. And never underestimate the power of perseverance – keep emailing and publicizing until you get the resolution you think you deserve.

  2. Negotiate On Airbnb

    Is it possible for guests to negotiate rates with hosts on Airbnb?

    1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      Yes, definitely. Just click contact host and make a suggestion. They can create a special rate and send it to you for confirmation. Hosts are most open to reduced rates for last minute bookings and extended stays.

  3. Airbnb, Booking.com, or Agoda for Bali

    We have a 2 week trip to Bali next summer (late July, early August). We would like to spend 3 to 4 nights in Jimbaran, Seminyak, Ubud, and somewhere in eastern Bali (yet to be determined). Is it better to use Booking.com (for hotel or villa) or Airbnb (house rental) for Bali?

    Thanks,
    Trev

    1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      Airbnb does not have an overwhelming selection for Bali. And Airbnb works better for stays of a week or more. So, with that in mind I would go for booking a hotel or villa. Also, if location (especially on the beach) is important to you then hotels have most of the top spots in Bali. It’s hard to find an Airbnb rental with a beach-front location. That said – if you have the time, it never hurts to look.

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