When going on vacation, how likely are you to stay at a hotel?
Probably pretty likely.
Hotels have taken care of weary travelers since ancient Rome. Offering travelers a place to sleep and usually a meal, hotels fulfilled a vital niche for those on the move.
However, now hotels aren’t the only places to stay while on the road. Vacation rentals were popular long before the internet, but really have exploded since the mid 2000’s. The most popular vacation rental website, Airbnb.com, started in 2008, and offered travelers accommodations in people’s homes, initially offering airbeds to those needing a place to sleep. Now with over $2 billion in revenue, this vacation rental service has won over millions of people.
When my family and I first tried Airbnb, we were a little hesitant. Not only were we unfamiliar with the site and how the rentals work, we weren’t sure what to expect or if we could trust that we’d have safe, clean, and adequate accommodations. Eventually, with Airbnb’s increasing popularity coupled with a family member’s experience, we finally decided to give Airbnb a try.
Because hotel rooms in Europe are infamous for being small, we first used Airbnb in London. I try to opt for comfort when traveling and with two teens in the family, and I knew we’d be pushing the limits of a standard hotel room. Therefore, we looked into Airbnb for 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom accommodations.
When using the website, I found Airbnb’s site easy to use; it was easy enough to set up an account, ask the host questions, and make the reservation. There is a help center that answers dozens of potential questions and is very helpful guiding you through the reservation process. Note that most lodging reservations must be paid in full up front; some can be made in payments (usually half is a deposit and the second half is due shortly before your check-in date).
When you pay for your accommodations, the money is held by Airbnb until after you check in. After, the money gets transferred to the host’s account.
Airbnb is effectually the middle man, overseeing the entire reservation process and charging a small fee for their services.
My experience with our London Airbnb was less than ideal, but that was only due to the host, not the flat we rented. After we checked out of the apartment (and I had given him a very positive review), the host claimed we discolored his towels with small bleached spots. Since we didn’t wash his towels nor did we have any acne products with benzoyl peroxide (which can cause bleaching), I explained that the spots in the towels weren’t from us. We actually saw the spots on our towels before using them, but realize now we should have said something. Long story short, the host asked for £40 to replace the towels. Since I was still on vacation in Europe and this was my first Airbnb experience, I offered him £15, just to have this matter settled, even after strongly opposing his claim that we bleached his towels. At this point, I didn’t know much about the Airbnb resolution center and didn’t want this to ruin my mood while still vacationing.
I sent the £15, resolving the matter. About two days later, Airbnb’s resolution center started to get involved in our dispute. After Airbnb looked into the matter, they sided with me, claiming that i didn’t have to pay the host anything. Needless to say I was a little miffed since i had already paid him some money.
The lesson learned here is to ALWAYS let the Airbnb resolution center handle everything first. Don’t try to handle disputes on your own if you believe you’re innocent of the claim. Give the resolution center time to take in all the information, read your emails on their site, and come to a conclusion before giving anyone money. Fortunately, the rest of our Airbnb experiences in Europe were great, without any conflicts, and with fabulous hosts.
As I have continued to use Airbnb over the past few years, I’ve learned a bit about how best to use it and get good results:
Tips for Using Airbnb
- Realize that all hosts are different. Some hosts are owners, renting out their vacation home. Others are rental companies or employees that simply handle the business end. Each host will be different, will respond in varying amounts of time, and display varying degrees of friendliness and helpfulness. If you’re just looking to gauge a host’s helpfulness, send them an email through the site, asking about the vacation rental or dates available. You should be able to get a good feel by the speed, length, and content of their reply. Don’t stay with hosts who don’t answer their emails.
- If in doubt, stay with a Superhost. Superhosts are designated with the special badge on their profile, and have been reviewed positively by many guests. Airbnb re-evaluates these super hosts four times a year to ensure that they continue to provide excellent hospitality.
- Make sure the host and property you’re interested in BOTH have good reviews. If a property has no reviews yet, I’m always a little leery to book. Email the host and ask if the property is new or why there are no reviews. Sometimes, it’s just a new host and/or new property. If so, they should communicate eagerly and happily with you to ensure you’re their first guest. Make sure the host has good reviews as well. Simply click on their photo to find out more about them. You don’t want to stay with someone who doesn’t listen to suggestions, fix problems, or assist guests.
- Always communicate with hosts through the Airbnb website. This is absolutely critical if you have a dispute with your host. In order for Airbnb to mediate and resolve the matter, all communication must be through the website and not private email accounts.
- Always take photos of the rental property before you check out. This ascertains the condition in which you left the home. If any dispute arises after you leave, you have proof of how you left the home. All it takes is a couple of minutes to take a few photos with your smart phone and it can save you time and money if there’s a claim against you. Also, if you encounter problems during check-in, let the host know and take photos if necessary.
- After your stay is over and the checkout process is complete, THEN review your host. I made this mistake in London – I gave the host a positive review and shortly thereafter, he sent me the email claiming we bleached his towels. Had I reviewed him only a few hours later, I could have warned other Airbnb guests about my experience with him. However, you cannot edit a review once it’s been made. So wait until your reservation is complete, you’ve checked out, and allow the cleaning crew some time in the rental before you write your review. Airbnb will email you about reviewing your host. After you do this, you can read the host’s review of you.
- Be knowledgable on the cancellation policy of your rental. All rentals have different cancellation policies. They range from flexible, moderate, and strict. You can read more about Airbnb’s cancellation policies here. Flexible gives you your money back if you cancel 24 hours before check-in. Stricter policies only allow a 50% refund if you cancel usually a week before check-in. Only in rare instances will Airbnb allow a full refund upon cancellation (only for extenuating circumstances). It’s best to understand your cancellation policy before booking so you don’t lose money.
- If you have a problem with your rental, always contact the host first, then Airbnb if your problem isn’t resolved. The fastest way to get the help you need will always be from the host. So contact him/her first. If he or she can’t be reached or if they don’t help out, contact help on Airbnb. Be sure to take photos and/or document your issue for future conversations.
- Review your host honestly and realize that hosts review you as a guest. This gives any future hosts information about you and allows them to see any comments or feedback given by people you’ve rented from in the past.
I know a lot of people are hesitant to try Airbnb (I was one of those people!) People are:
- more comfortable with using hotels
- unsure of what they are going to get with the home/condo rental, and unsure if their rental will be exactly as pictured online
- unfamiliar with Airbnb and/or unsure of how the process works
- don’t know what to do or how to handle any problems or discrepancy with the rental
- overall trust established hotel corporations more than people
These are all valid arguments. Also, booking a vacation rental doesn’t make sense if you only need a place to stay for one or two nights. However, if you are staying somewhere for more than 3-4 days, staying at an Airbnb definitely makes more sense. Not only will you have more space, more bedrooms and bathrooms, and often a little extra hospitality (from the host), but you’ll also likely be paying the same rate per night as a hotel. Yes, you do have a little extra work as garbage and clean up becomes your responsibility. However, you get to experience the area as a local, shop and cook meals at the property (and save more money!), and you can even stay in interesting, unusual lodgings like tree houses, yurts, cabins, castles, and houseboats.
Just remember to do your research. We’ve all stayed in terrible hotels. The same can be said for vacation rentals. Ask questions, look at reviews, and trust yourself. If you have a bad stay at an Airbnb, remember that Airbnb is there to help. Document your problems and contact the resolution center if necessary. Fortunately, I’ve only had that one issue in all of my many reservations on Airbnb. And as long as I need larger accommodations, it will be my “hotel” of choice!
Have you had any experiences (good or bad) with Airbnb? Let me know in the comments!