Using Airbnb to book accommodations during your travels can not only help save you money, but it can also help you meet people and bring you closer to the local culture. While hotels and even hostels can offer more services than most Airbnb hosts, the chance to stay in someone’s house or apartment can lead to some wonderful conversations and experiences. We have found that it can also help us save a lot of money when compared to booking a hotel room in the same location. Sometimes it can even be cheaper than booking a hostel! While Airbnb is not for every traveler, we’ll provide a review of Airbnb that can help you decide if it is right for you. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of what is Airbnb, our personal experiences of using Airbnb (including how much we’ve paid for various accommodations), and provide a list of what we think are the pros and cons of using Airbnb.
What is Airbnb?
• It is a company that provides an online place for people to both rent out their spare spaces, and book other people’s accommodations online. Basically, it is a website that provides a place to search and book accommodations in personal residences.
• If you happen to have an extra room or empty apartment, it’s also a great place to make some extra cash by allowing people to rent your spare space.
• Airbnb has been around since 2008 and lists accommodations in over 190 countries!
• It’s is free to sign up, search, and create a profile, but you do pay an Airbnb fee for each booking you make on the website. This fee will be 6% to 12% of the subtotal of the reservation.
• Search feature allows you to search for accommodations by location, date, number of guests, price, amenities, neighborhood, and accommodation type.
• Allows you to send messages to hosts and ask questions before booking accommodations.
• Guests can leave online reviews of their stay that are then viewable for other users.
• It provides a secure online platform to pay your hosts.
• Provides 24/7 customer support services.
• If you have not signed up yet, you can get a $20 free Airbnb credit for just signing up.
• To find out more information, visit their website by clicking here.
Our Experiences of Using Airbnb
First, we have found that we can save money in many places by using Airbnb compared to booking a hotel in the same location. In some cases, the prices can even be cheaper than two beds in a hostel! However, this is not always the case and sometimes it is actually cheaper to stay in a hotel or hostel so you really should compare prices before booking. You are likely to save more money using Airbnb in more expensive countries (e.g., United States, Western Europe, Australia, Japan) than in less expensive places (e.g., Central America, Southeast Asia) which already offer inexpensive lodging options. It also depends on the region of a country. For instance, when booking a place in an area in the Alsace region of France, we couldn’t find any places within our price range on Airbnb and found a much better deal elsewhere. To give you an idea of some of the great prices that you can find on Airbnb, we have decided to share the prices we paid on eight of our stays below. The first seven are in Western Europe (in both France and Germany) based on the cost of two people in the Springs of 2012 and 2013. More recently we stayed on night in an expensive area of California in Fall 2013 with 4 people and two nights in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam in Spring 2014.
• Private room in Arles, France – $55 (plus $7 Airbnb fee) = $62/night
• Private room in Grasse, France (including free breakfast!) – $55 (plus $7 fee) = $62/night
• Studio apartment in Nice, France – $76 (plus $8 fee) = $87/night
• Room with private bath in Baden-Baden, Germany – $48 (plus $6 fee) = $55/night
• Room with private bath in Friedrichshafen, Germany – $74 (plus $9 fee) = $83/night
• Studio apartment in Nuremberg, Germany – $67 (plus $8 fee) = $75/night
• Private room in Munich, Germany – $67 (plus $8 fee) = $75/night
• Two-bedroom apartment in Montery, California, USA (for 4 people, plus breakfast) – $164 (plus $23 fee) = $187/night
• One-bedroom apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – $34 (plus $4 fee) = $38/night
Safety, Cleanliness, and Quality of Accommodations
OK, so even if we have been able to get some good deals, is it worth it to stay in strangers’ apartments and spare rooms? Were the accommodations clean? Safe? Similar to the listing descriptions? We can both say emphatically “YES!” to all of these questions based on our experiences so far. We have found in all cases that the accommodations have been very similar to the written descriptions and photos provided on Airbnb. We have never been concerned for our safety and have always found the accommodations to be adequately clean. However, it should be noted that neither Ethan nor I are too picky about the details and we certainly don’t take a white glove to the shelves to check for dirt. But if you are the kind of person that really needs things to be a certain way, Airbnb may not be for you.
Connecting with Locals
The best part of our experiences has been meeting all the local hosts. While some hosts we only meet briefly and exchanged hellos and got the key, we have gotten to have more in-depth conversations with most of our hosts. This is particularly the case when you book a shared or private room as the close proximity and shared spaces generally leads to plenty of chances to get to know your host and learn more about their culture. We have had some really wonderful discussions with hosts in both Germany and France and we still keep in touch with some of our former hosts. People who choose to host tend to really enjoy connecting with travelers and generally will go out of their way to make sure you have a pleasant stay in their homeland. Hosts are also expert sources for transportation advice, restaurant and attraction recommendations, and local hangouts. Many of our hosts provided maps, local attraction brochures, and guides that could be borrowed during our stay. Even if you don’t get a chance to talk much with your host, it can be a great cultural experience to just stay in a real residence in another country. While hotels tend to provide a more predictable but sterilized experience, it can be fun to experience how the locals live.
We have also enjoyed all the times that hosts have gone out of their way to help us. For instance, we were in Germany over a holiday and all the local restaurants were closed so our hosts kindly provided cereal and coffee for us for breakfast. Hosts have drawn us maps, called restaurants to help us make dinner reservations, allowed us to use their washer to do laundry, and sat and explained local customs to us over a cup of tea. It’s been fun to meet hosts’ families, children, and pets and be invited to share in some of their daily rituals. While, of course, you can’t go in expecting such things from your host, it is always a pleasant surprise when your host goes out of their way to make you feel welcome. In our experience, this has happened a number of times. In return, you should try to go out of your way to be a good guest and share something about your own culture, as many hosts are eager to practice their English or learn about your hometown.
Problems We Have Encountered
Generally, our experiences with Airbnb accommodations have been great and we have encountered few problems. Here are a few of the minor issues that we have encountered across our stays with Airbnb:
• During one stay, we had expected to be able to have WiFi based on the listing, but the connection was too weak for us to use. However, it turned out to only be a minor inconvenience as the host kindly gave us directions to a nearby fast food place that provided free WiFi so we could check our e-mail.
• In another situation, we had booked a room and our hosts contacted us prior to our stay saying they wanted to rent out a second room to other guests. Since this would be a slight alteration to the accommodation description, the host contacted us to ask if this was OK since it meant we would need to share a bathroom with them. We greatly appreciated being asked and said we had no problem with this change in arrangements.
• During one trip, we arrived at the apartment building, but then could not get inside without the keycode which we had not been given. We called the host but no one picked up the phone, so we had to wait for 20 minutes outside before we were able to get inside when another tenant opened the door. Our host was waiting inside the apartment, but she didn’t have her cell phone on her so hadn’t got our calls.
• One host cancelled a reservation for a place in Germany about 45 days prior to our trip. While this is always a possibility this has only happened to us once. However, Airbnb quickly let us know by e-mail, refunded our money, and we were able to book another accommodation the following day.
Pros to Using Airbnb to Book Accommodations
• Can save you money! This is especially important for those of us who must travel on a small budget.
• You get to meet locals and experience what it is like to live like the locals, especially if you stay in a shared or private room.
• Offers the opportunity to stay in unique places such as yurts, treehouses, RVs, boats, castles, cabins, or even your own private island!
• You can read about other Airbnb travelers experiences with each place in the Reviews section prior to making a booking.
• No money directly exchanges hands during your stay as everything can, and should, be done through the secure online system.
• You can choose accommodations with the type of cancellation policy that best suit your travel needs.
• Access to 24/7 support from Airbnb regarding bookings.
• If there are extenuating circumstances (e.g., serious injury, death in family, political unrest in country) that require you to cancel a reservation, regardless of the host’s cancellation policy type, you can appeal to Airbnb to evaluate the circumstances and they may still refund some or all of your money.
• After you make a reservation, you have free access to Airbnb’s concierge service (this appears to no longer exist when checked in 2016). This service is available 24/7 before and during your Airbnb stay and can provide help with making travel arrangements, finding local restaurants, and locating nearby banking and medical services.
Cons to Booking Accommodations through Airbnb
• Things may be much less flexible than a hotel where you may be able to check in at any time after a certain hour. For many Airbnb accommodations, you have to work with the host’s schedule and this may mean that you have to meet them in a certain place at a certain time to pick up a key or be let into an apartment. You should carefully read the Description and the House Rules section, if provided, for each listing and make sure that you are OK with all the listed conditions.
• Airbnb accommodations, by and large, are going to offer few services, if any, compared to a hotel. If you want to ensure that you have access to a continental breakfast, guaranteed parking, a private phone, toiletries, a maid service, or someone you can call 24/7 with questions you should probably book a hotel room. If certain amenities are very important to you, it is good to not only ensure these are listed in the Amenities section of the listing but also to confirm these amenities with the host before booking.
• Things often may not go as smoothly compared to a stay at a hotel. Hosts are humans with jobs, families, and lots of other responsibilities and they are living in real places. So the host could be late in meeting you, the host’s infant may have colic and be up screaming all night, your host’s English may not be quite as good as you expected, the television may be on the fritz, or a local festival may make it extremely difficult to find convenient parking. Going into the situation knowing these types of things are possibilities can make it much easier to handle any small snafus that may occur during your stay.
• You should pay attention to the various cancellation policy options as well as required cleaning fees and security deposits that some hosts require. We generally try to avoid places that have strict cancellation polices or require high cleaning fees or deposits.
• While such instances are quite uncommon according to Airbnb, there could be times when a place is markedly different than advertised. If the situation cannot be resolved with the host, you should leave and immediately contact Airbnb to resolve the situation. Communicating with the host prior to booking and only booking accommodations that have been well-reviewed can help prevent such situations.
• While rare, there is always the small risk that you will run into a disingenuous or inappropriate host. During any stay, be smart, follow normal safety precautions (e.g., keeping valuables hidden, locking your door if possible, protecting personal identification information), and listen to your gut. If a host or accommodation makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, leave and report the instance to Airbnb.
So there you have it, our review and personal experiences of using Airbnb. While as we said, it may not be the best option for all people and all destinations, we think it can be a great way to save money and connect with locals. From our own personal experiences, we definitely feel that the pros outweigh all the small inconveniences we have experienced staying in Airbnb accommodations thus far. You can get $20 off your first Airbnb booking or $80 off your first hosting experience by clicking here.
Have questions about Airbnb? Have you personally used Airbnb? We’d love for you to share your experiences—good or bad—and any tips you have for those thinking about using Airbnb on their next trip.