by Santorini Dave • Updated: November 29, 2018
How To Use 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.
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.
How To Book Airbnb
- 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.
- 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.).