What is Airbnb?
Airbnb is a website which allows you to book short to mid-term accommodation in cities and towns around the world. However instead of staying in hotels or hostels, the accommodation on offer is beds or rooms in people’s homes or even entire private properties. Likewise if you have a room or a whole flat that is not being used, you can become a host and offer it on Airbnb where travellers can book to stay with you.
How does it work?
Searching for Properties
Like a normal accommodation booking site, you can search for properties and have a range of options to filter the results by price, location etc. You simply enter the dates you want to travel and your destination and you get a list of possible results and a map showing you the location of them.
The most important filter is the ‘room type’ which allows you to choose between a private room, shared room or entire home. For the first two options typically you will be staying in a flat/house with the host and whoever else lives there and possibly a few other Airbnb travellers. With the other option you will have the entire property to yourself but in this case you are more likely to be expected to pay a deposit, which will be returned at the end of your stay as long as you don’t trash the place. This should be detailed in the listing, where you can also see reviews from other people who’ve stayed there.
Some properties have a minimum stay but most can be rented for anything from one night to several months. The price you initially see will be a daily rate but if you are booking for longer than a week, you should see a reduction as most hosts offer weekly and monthly reductions.
To book on Airbnb, you need to set up a free account (see next section). The main difference with Airbnb from reserving a hotel or hostel is the actual booking procedure. Once you’ve found somewhere you like, you send a ‘request to book’, where you’re asked to provide a few details about your stay. The host then will typically reply quite quickly, in most cases within 24 hours either accepting or declining your request. Some hosts prefer people with a previous booking history and reviews while others will accept almost anyone. Of course you can also send the host a message prior to the request to book if you have any questions.
Once you send a request to book, you have to enter your payment details which will be charged in full for the period of the booking (unless it’s more than one month) once it is accepted. However this money is held by Airbnb until 24 hours after your check-in date so if the property doesn’t meet your expectations and is different from the listing you should be eligible for a refund.
They have also recently introduced an ‘Instant Book’ feature. If a property has ‘Instant Book’ turned on, you can book without needing to wait for the host to respond, which should speed up the process and is useful for bookings in the very near future.
Once you’ve made a booking, the contact details of your host will be made available and they are obliged to contact you to sort out the check-in time. You can’t just show up at any time like you would to a hotel or hostel, so it’s important to communicate with your host. They should at the very least send you the exact address and arrange with you an arrival time. In some cases you won’t share a common language with your host but the Airbnb messaging system automatically translates which should make life a bit easier. The main thing is to agree on a time and be clear about the address.
On arrival, you should be given a key, brief tour of the flat and the opportunity to ask any questions about the property, local area, things to see etc.
After your Stay
Following your stay both parties have some time in which to review the other. You can provide a rating for numerous things such as cleanliness, value, location etc and can write a summary of your experience, although none of this is compulsory. Likewise they can give a review of you, which unless you tear the place down, should make life easier booking other properties in the future as with a couple of positive reviews, you will seem more trustworthy.
Sign Up & Get Free Travel Credit
To book through Airbnb, you need to set-up an account, which doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t take very long. One of the good things about them is that by recommending friends both they and you get €30 free credit (or the equivalent in your currency).
Once you’ve got the hang of how Airbnb works and if you have a bed or room free in your apartment you can start hosting. It’s a good way to make some extra cash whilst meeting people from around the world.
Advantages of using Airbnb
Airbnb is a nice option for people sick of staying in hotels and hostels all the time. It enables you to experience life in a real home in the country of your visit which can be interesting and often you’ll get the chance to get to know your host and they’ll be able to share their local knowledge on cool places to see and things to do. In some ways an Airbnb stay is somewhere in between the one you get with staying in a hostel/hotel and the one you get when Couchsurfing. If staying on a stranger’s couch doesn’t appeal, but getting a more ‘local experience’ than a hostel/hotel can provide does, then it’s a good option.
Perhaps the people who will benefit most from Airbnb are those looking for short to medium-term options of anything from say 4 days up to a few months. If you’ve more than a few days in your destination, you have a bit more time to take it easy and really get to know a place and the ‘local experience’ that an Airbnb booking provides suddenly becomes an appealing option while the ability to do your own cooking is another big plus on staying in somewhere without self-catering facilities and will save you money on eating out.
Airbnb also works really well for anyone moving to a new city as it enables you to take a room for a few weeks while you look for your own flat. Staying in a hotel for this period of time can get very expensive while spending weeks on end in the same dorm isn’t ideal so Airbnb is a really nice compromise. Likewise it works well for those who are spending just a few weeks or months either studying abroad or on a short work placement. It takes the hassle out of looking for accommodation and you don’t have to sign up for any form of longer term contract which landlords often require.
The booking system and website is quite simple once you are used to it and although hosts are free to set their own prices, typically you can get good value using it. Certainly a bed or room booked on Airbnb is likely to offer better value than one booked in a hotel or hostel and most cities have quite a wide range of options.
Airbnb does have its down-sides though and there are circumstances when there are probably better options. For short-term bookings of just a day or two for example, booking through Airbnb can seem like more hassle than its really worth. If time is of the essence, it’s probably simpler just to do a quick reservation in a hotel or hostel in a central location and get out exploring rather than go through the effort of conversing with a host and trying to find his/her apartment.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of Airbnb is the chances that your booking could be cancelled, potentially at the last minute. This is relatively rare but when you are dealing with individuals rather than a big place with lots of staff, one problem or change of plans for the hosts could lead to your booking being cancelled. Hosts are discouraged from doing this and have to pay a cancellation fee and you can see on their profile pages if they are regularly cancelling bookings. Ordinarily you can simply book into another place if this happens however at busy periods such as New Year or during local festivals, you can be left with precious few options as the better places typically sell out at such times. Therefore at times like that, perhaps Airbnb isn’t such a good idea and if you do go for it, be sure to book with a host that has lots of positive reviews and seems reliable.
Other people have reported Airbnb’s customer service is quite poor in the event of problems with your booking. We’ve never had any issues with a reservation so have had no need to deal with them but there are reviews floating around the internet that suggest its an issue that could be improved on.
One other disadvantage is the need to pay for your booking in full at the time of reservation whereas most hostel booking sites allow you to just pay a small percentage as a deposit and the rest on arrival.
Airbnb will never be the definitive solution to booking accommodation but there and again will anything? The key to finding the best solution for your trip is having a variety options and Airbnb certainly offers an interesting alternative to the hordes of hotel and hostel booking sites out there which essentially all do the same thing. Once you get used to the way the site works, it’s quite simple to use and there are certainly times when booking through Airbnb is the best approach to take.
Note – This is NOT a sponsored post. It is an honest review of the pros and cons of using Airbnb. If you set up an account by clicking on any of the links in this article, you receive €30 free travel credit to spend on your first booking and so do we. It’s a win-win deal and one you can repeat by inviting friends with your own invite link that you’ll get when you sign-up. No BS. Thanks.
This article was published in November 2016.