Airbnb is an online marketplace that acts as a broker to help guests book different types of lodging. The site offers entire apartments, private rooms, shared rooms, and even boutique hotel listings. They have now even started offering Airbnb experiences, “one-of-a-kind activities designed and hosted by locals.”
Before going on the Airbnb site, it’s helpful to have a general idea of what you want before logging in. Airbnb will first ask you the dates of travel and how many guests before connecting you to the available listings. At the top of the next page, you can set even more filters for anything you do not want to compromise on. This can save be a big time-saver!
Here are the top 12 things to keep in mind before booking your first Airbnb.
The photos are the first thing you see when checking out different listings on Airbnb, and if the host provides quality photos of the space, many of your questions should be answered from the get-go. From the photos you can see the floor plan, the number of rooms and types of beds, amenities, the level of cleanliness, outdoor spaces, and sometimes even photos of the neighborhood.
In many cities, Airbnb provides a service to match hosts with professional photographers in order to ensure quality photos to show off their spaces. The time and effort hosts put into demonstrating their space for you can often be a sign of their level of care and attention to detail for your stay.
Reviews are the most important feature available on the Airbnb site. It is important to read ALL the reviews to get a well-balanced understanding of other guests’ experiences with both the host as well as the space.
The reviews are given using a five-star rating system. When you click on the reviews, you can see the breakdown of ratings on various categories, a highlighted section on what the host is particularly good at, as well as other comments left by guests.
3. The Location
When deciding on the location of the Airbnb, there are a few things to consider. Which neighborhood best suits your needs? Is it close to the attractions you want to visit? Is there public transportation easily available? How easy is grocery store or restaurant access?
If you find an amazing, inexpensive place to stay but it is an hour to get to the city center it might not be as cheap when you calculate in transportation costs.
The amenities of an Airbnb can really make or break the space and are an important factor in making a final decision on where to stay.
Are you planning for a long term stay and need access to a washer or dryer?
Are you living in the 21st century and need high-speed internet access? (Bonus points for all us digital nomads if a speed test score is included!)
Are you planning on mostly eating out or is kitchen access mandatory? If you plan to cook, what is included in the kitchen? You don’t want to buy all the ingredients for a nice roast only to discover there is nothing to cook it in!
Another important amenity depends on the climate where you will be staying – will you need an air conditioner or central heating to help you sleep?
5. The Host
No matter which type of listing you are booking on Airbnb, it is important to read about the host – especially if you may be sharing the space with them or others! The host’s profile includes a blurb about the host’s background as well as their response rate and time.
The hosts also include what languages they speak — this is key information that will help the communication process. Before you decide on a place, make sure you are comfortable communicating in one of the host’s listed languages! While basic English is common in many places, it is never a guarantee.
There are two types of hosts on the platform, verified and super hosts. Both hosts and guests need to complete a verification process to ensure that their “online identity is consistent with their offline identification.” In the host’s profile, you are able to view which types of documents they provided for verification.
Then, there are super hosts. When a host reaches super status, a little badge will appear on their listing to help users identify them. Airbnb identifies four categories in making a super host, which they review every three months. The categories include: The hosts overall rating must be a 4.8 or higher; 10+ stays hosted in a year; A cancellation rate of less than 1%; And a 90% response rate.
6. Sleeping Arrangements
You will want to carefully read over the sleeping arrangement advertised in the listing. An apartment that says it sleeps five may be including couches, daybeds, or air mattresses in their count. If that works for you, great! But if you want to ensure everybody in your group will have an actual bed with a mattress, don’t glimpse over this category!
7. House Rules
Each listing comes with its own set of house rules specified by the host. Read the house rules carefully to ensure that what you want from the house will fit into the house rules. Things to consider include: Are there designated quiet hours? Is smoking allowed? Is it suitable for children? Are pets allowed? What is the fee for a lost key? Are unregistered guests allowed over?
8. Check-in and Checkout Policy
The check-in and checkout times should be clearly listed. For check-ins, there is a time range offered and sometimes hosts state they are willing to work with guests’ needs. If you find a place you love but the check-in or checkout time doesn’t work with your schedule, reach out to the host before immediately writing off the listing. Sometimes the hosts are able to at least hold your luggage for you which greatly eases navigating places.
9. Cancellation Policy
Airbnb offers a full refund, including cleaning fees, on bookings that are canceled within 48 hours of being made. After those initial 48 hours, hosts are able to select which type of cancellation policy they want for their listing.
Flexible: For a full refund, the guest must cancel at least a full 24 hours before the check-in time.
Moderate: For a full refund, the guest must cancel at least 5 full days before the check-in time.
Strict: For a full refund, the guest must cancel within 48 hours of booking and at least 14 full days prior to check-in time.
It is important to keep in mind these cancellation times are based on the listing’s local time.
Airbnb issues refunds immediately upon cancellation and their site states that the refunds usually arrive within 3-5 days. Again, double-check this information if you are not confident about your booking. A few countries will take up to 2 months for the refunds to arrive.
10. The Cost
Like many booking sites, the first number you see is not the total price you will pay on Airbnb. Immediately under the price per night, you will also see a cleaning fee as well as a service fee.
To help keep their platform running, Airbnb charges a service fee once a booking is confirmed. The service fee varies based on a variety of factors but is typically kept under 13% of the subtotal.
The cleaning fees can vary widely as hosts are able to set their own rates. Make sure to compare cleaning fees with others in the area to make sure you are paying a fair rate.
You will also want to keep your eyes out for extra guest fees. These fees will again vary by listing. Often, a base rate is set for two guests and then an additional fee is tacked on for any additional people. If you are traveling in a large group this is something you will want to be careful of!
Lastly, there could also be a conversion fee of around 3% that appears if you are paying in a currency different than the country you are visiting.
While there are many extra fees to look out for, Airbnb will display these prices before any reservations are made.
Airbnb offers two types of booking arrangements, instant or by request.
Bookings by request are the standard process on Airbnb. When you have found where you want to stay, you send a request to the host to make a reservation. The host will then have 24 hours to reply and either confirm or cancel your booking. Until the host accepts the reservation request, changes can still be made to the reservation by withdrawing the request and sending a new one.
Instant bookings are also selectively available on Airbnb. When using Instant Book, the guests make their reservations and can then discuss check-in plans with the host at their convenience.
12. Unique/Quirky Listings
Last but not least, Airbnb’s specialty! Airbnb offers more than your standard hotel or hostel might. There are treehouses available in Brazil, igloos in Finland, and even yurts in Mongolia displayed on the site. While these may not be the cheapest options around, sometimes it is about the special experience you get!
Sifting through the pages of listings on Airbnb can be overwhelming. Keeping these 12 tips in mind will make your search easier and help you to get the most out of your Airbnb experience. Enjoy your stay!
Guest post by Elizabeth Baugh