If you’ve never used AirBNB and want to give it a try one day, sign up with no obligation using this link and a credit will be waiting when you need it (and I’ll get a credit if you travel with yours too)!
AirBNB changed the travel game. It’s an in-between option people like me who can’t shell out for a hotel, or need more than budget hotels offer, but also don’t dig hostelling anymore.
When I decided to sell everything and become a digital nomad, I hadn’t used AirBNB, the nemesis of hotels everywhere. It was a leap of faith when I booked four months’ accommodations. Hey, other nomad and frequent-traveller friends have used AirBNB at length with confidence, so leap I did.
Since then, I’ve stayed in eight AirBNBs ranging from a single night to up to a month. I’ve also used AirBNB customer service a few times, so now I’ll tell you what I think of AirBNB.
First, What IS AirBNB?
AirBNB gives independent home and property owners the chance to list “shared rooms” (think hostel), a room in their own home, and even whole homes. They’re available for short- and long-term stays. They pay a modest fee to AirBNB. Renters join the site, have a profile, and can see who leases the place. Messaging allows for interacting with leasers or soliciting cheaper stays, and more. For all this, we pay a fee on top of the rental for the privilege.
If you’re looking to stay in some room abandoned by a kid gone to college and hosted by his single mom for a few dollars more than a hostel, you can do that. Won’t look fancy, might be an old bed, but you can glean than from reviews and photos. Then again, if you want to stay in an updated 300-year-old Venetian building with a glamorous bedroom, that’s doable too. There are huge beach houses with pools, old-town studios, boutique hotels, straw huts on beaches, treehouses, and more. You’ll need to read all the reviews, back-and-forth with the owner, and check out listed amenities. If you research the town and neighbourhood, you should have a good idea of just where you’re staying.
Have My Experiences All Been Good?
No, actually, they haven’t. I’ve left three places early. But know what’s been exceptional? AirBNB’s handling of these situations.
Here’s what you gotta know about AirBNB: They’re a broker between you and property owners. They’re not actually in these places. They merely offer a secure way for you to experience independent value lodgings almost anyplace on the planet. Want to stay in authentic Bedouin tribal tents in Jordan? AirBNB can hook you up. They mitigate some risk because you get a reputable broker in the middle. For that, it costs a fee of about 10% of any booking.
But there will be problems. Count on it. The frequency of issues can depend on the country. Here in Portugal, folks understand tourism and rely upon it, so I’ve had nothing but good. In Croatia, where tourism is only now increasing, I had disappointments: A place with foam mattresses in their third or fourth year of use (and no support); a place listing “a real bed” that was more like a camping cot; and one with the beginnings of a cockroach infestation pouring in from a neighbour’s place despite being PRISTINE. Really, it is STILL the cleanest apartment I’ve stayed in.
In those three scenarios, however, I turned to @AirBNBHelp on Twitter and received incredible resolutions from them. They intervened with property managers on my behalf. They got me refunds, found new listings for my next stay, gave credits for future use, and more.
Bad situations happen, but expect AirBNB to care about your satisfaction. In my experience, they’ll do what it takes to get you there; that’s why you pay a fee.
That brings us to: Many places are not just listed on AirBNB. You pay extra in order to book a place on AirBNB that may also be available through Booking.com or HostelWorld. So why pay the premium?
Well, my entire life now is invested in temporary lodgings. For me, paying a premium to have AirBNB intercede on my behalf is a big deal. AirBNB’s site is also designed to let you contact property owners directly, unlike other sites.
For instance, I booked a place in Pula, Croatia, one time through Booking.com, making a note I needed the parking the ad said was available. Upon booking, I was told there was no parking after all – a deal-breaker for me. Getting that refund was a major hassle because Booking.com has no real say over hotel actions. AirBNB, though, retains final say in all disputes and can force the hand of bad landlords and renters.
This brings me to something else other sites don’t do. AirBNB properties are rated, but so are property owners and renters alike. This means you, dear renter, need to behave. If you’re loud, ignorant, unpleasant, unthoughtful, demanding, or excessively messy, that will haunt you with a bad review at the end of your stay. Good luck renting another place with that reputation. This transparency might intimidate some people, but I’d argue maybe those are the renters making this necessary.
With landlords, you can see how many properties they run. If they’re spread thin, you might suffer. If they consistently get troubling reviews on other properties, it’s an alarm bell. If cleanliness is an issue on several of their properties and hygiene’s important to you, make note.
AirBNB renters are like every stand-up comedian’s dream crowd – easy to please. Whereas people rate hotels with a heavy hand, the AirBNB audience seems to grade on a curve. My suspicion is the you-rate-me/I-rate-you system means an AirBNB renter is more inclined to give 4 stars, but it’d get 3 elsewhere, because they don’t harsh ratings in return.
Frankly, at times it’s easy to feel you’ve made a new friend with the owner of an AirBNB, and who wants to say anything bad about a friend, right? That’s both good and bad for the would-be renter scanning ads. But wanting to hug the property owner when you leave sure isn’t bad from this renter’s point-of-view.
It means many places have 4 and 5 stars that maybe shouldn’t rate quite so high. For that reason, I’d never rent an AirBNB with less than 4 stars.
Reviews Matter Even More
It’s this grading-on-a-curve thing that makes reading reviews critical.
Look for comments about cleanliness, how easy the place is to find, noise level, heat/air-conditioning. What’s said about the bed, dust, pets, smoking, and other relevant points? Are there eateries nearby? Is it quick to get into the mix of everything? Is it an expensive neighbourhood? Was the host invasive or helpful? How’s the WiFi?
YOU know what you need, so look for information that tells you what to expect on those fronts.
Looks Can Be Deceiving
Some places have professional-quality imagery. There are actual AirBNB photographers who know how to photograph a place so it not only seems bigger, but appears more clean. Yay for photo-editing with brightness and contrast, and using wide-angle lenses.
I’ve had two “huge” rooms now that actually wound up being only slightly larger than average thanks to the wide-angle trick. I didn’t care much in either instance, but I did notice. Where it does matter, though, is in bed size, because the wide-angle can make beds seem larger too. The place I’m in now seemed to have a queen-size bed in the photo, but in reality it’s a small double; I’m 5’7 and my feet dangle off the edge of the mattress. But it’s the best mattress I’ve had since I started travelling, so I’m cool with it. If I was 5’10, I might not be. Bed size matters to you? Ask about it.
Communication is Critical
This brings me to messages. I would never book an apartment without contacting the owner directly before doing so. I want to see what their tone is. Are they helpful and kind? Are they forthcoming with advice and tips? A bad host could make a stay unpleasant. Make sure you send a note saying who you are and include a few questions to see how they answer. Did they skip any? I avoid the poor communicators. As a result, I may have had issues with some stays, but every host has been a fantastic person. That’s made issue resolution easier to achieve.
Assumptions are for Fools
I learned this one the hard way. One place’s house rules said smoking only on the balconies. Upon arriving as a guest of the homeowners, I found the no-smoking rule only applied to my bedroom. The owners smoked in the living room. Well, I’m allergic to smoke and, even with the living room door closed, I’d smell it if I went to the washroom or kitchen. Ugh.
Similarly, don’t assume the WiFi is good. Or that smoking rules apply to the whole house. Or that the place is quiet if in a neighbourhood “close to everything”, and so on. Ask questions. You have that privilege when you’re on AirBNB, so it’s really your fault if you’re assuming things to be true without asking.
Answers are Relative
And here’s our catch-22. You have to ask questions to get answers, but answers are relative and may not be of any use if the homeowner sees things differently than you.
Case in point: Another hard lesson learned was that “good internet” depends who’s doing the talking. As a digital nomad, I live and die by the internet connection, and in Croatia I had ridiculous luck. It’s important to know countries like Croatia have economies in flux with many citizens suffering hard times. What we deem as “basic” amenities, they’re often quite happy to have.
One AirBNB had a lovely landlord who knew I’d be working from home, but she was a book reader and TV-watcher. She had little use for internet, so she thought her 10 gigabytes a month was sufficient for me. Being a small town of 500, most of her guests stay a night, maybe two, so my month-long stay was a first for her. And also a first was the fact I can inhale 2.5 gigs a day in downloads for my work, so 10 gigs is laughable for a month. It became a major pain in the ass for my stay, but she killed herself to try and make things work for me.
That example’s more a statement of how frustrating the internet can be in Croatia rather than a reflection on the AirBNB host. How is a Croatian landlord to know what a Canadian is accustomed to? She knows NOW, but like I say, these things are relative.
Answers being relative also applies to questions like “is there lots of hot water” or “is the bed firm”? I’ve been told a bed was firm only to arrive and find out my host weighs 110 pounds, so most beds are firm for her. The place I’m in now, I was warned that “the hot water is very hot” but I’ve run baths hotter in Canada than the “hot water” here. See? Relative.
Know Your Terms
Terms are often in the landlord’s favour. They have “strict” cancellation policies on AirBNB. Wanna stay a month? The whole thing has to be paid when you book, and it ain’t refundable.
(That said, I’ve had instances already where AirBNB has interceded and gotten me funds back.)
But you can’t count on that, because it’s right there in the writing – it’s non-refundable. There are “flexible,” “moderate,” and “strict/long-term” policies. Long-term are the same as strict – once booked, you’re locked in. If moderate, you have 5 days before the reservation to modify or cancel it. If flexible, anything 24 hours after your cancellation would be refunded. So, you check in, dislike it on the first night, modify your rental by 6am? Well, you’re still paying that next night, but the day after and beyond will be fully refunded to you.
I’ve found a majority of places choose “moderate” and “strict,” so it’s important to really know where they stand before you book. I’ve had friends book strict/long-term policies and balk that they lost their funds for cancelling, but terms are terms. Also, you can’t really book for a night to see if you like a place because the good ones are in high demand and the following nights are likely already booked. You take a leap of faith, but more times than not, I’ve been happy with the leap.
Payments: What to Know
AirBNB shows rentals in your currency, but they convert from the host’s currency and there’s a surcharge for it, which I think is 3%. They have fees included that go straight to AirBNB, but there can be other fees, like an extra-person fee each, or security deposits, even cleaning fees. These are listed under “additional prices,” but fortunately AirBNB shows you the total all-in cost if you plug in your dates and the number of guests.
I’m iffy on places requiring a security deposit, because AirBNB now famously has a $1,000,000 insurance for hosts. I’m not sure how easy that is for them to apply for and such. So who knows? Maybe there’s good reason for still asking for security deposit. I do know, though, that not one place I’ve stayed in has had a security deposit yet, so it’s not that common. If it’s an issue for you, find another place. Most also include cleaning in the base rate, thankfully.
You pay in full when you book anything up to a month, but it’s part of how AirBNB capitalizes. They make interest on your money in the in-between time from booking to stay. Deal with it.
AirBNB has gone above and beyond to make me happy in some challenging situations. I’ve gotten refunds and credits that really surprised me. But AirBNB has deep pockets, and it’s why they’re able to offer these “please love me tomorrow” incentives by way of refunds and credits; they do not own or maintain properties, they have no obligations of a regular hotel. As a result, AirBNB can remedy most situations with cash.
If you take issue to their fees, you have other sites you can book SOME of these properties through. but if things go south, good luck to you when it comes to seeking monies refunded for disappointments.
Yeah, not every place is perfect, but I’ve stayed in some amazing spaces in amazing towns, and I’d do it again tomorrow – that’s why I’m literally booking more AirBNBs tomorrow. I confidently recommend you to give it a try, Maybe it’s the in-between lodgings you’re looking for – more personal than a hotel, more upscale than a hostel. That’s AirBNB, man.
Forgive me for repeating myself, but… If you’ve never used AirBNB and want to give it a try one day, sign up with no obligation using this link and a credit will be waiting when you need it (and I’ll get a credit if you travel with yours, too)!