There’s no question: Airbnb is one of the hottest (and hotly debated) services to enter the travel industry in recent years. Currently, the lodging marketplace, which was founded in 2008, boasts more than a million listings in 190+ countries, which includes short and long term rentals in everything from boats to condos to castles to family homes. And despite criticism, the only thing that’s clear is that Airbnb is going strong. Last week, they signed on as the alternative accommodations sponsor for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, with the goal of easing the hotel room shortage in that city.
For the uninitiated, Airbnb provides a way for travelers to book accommodations listed by local hosts. Reservations can be made through a computer or mobile device, and communication and payment is handled through Airbnb’s system. Travelers who love it say it’s a great opportunity to book a unique space with a local host. For local hosts, there’s the added benefit of supplemental income, which they gain by perhaps renting out an empty bedroom in their apartment long term, or by renting their entire house for a weekend when they’re away. All of this has created a dedicated community of “Airbnb users” who build trust through a secure review system.
Feeling curious? If you’ve been thinking about diving into the Airbnb community but haven’t been sure how to go about it, here are six things to know as you get started.
1. Choose your location…or not.
Maybe you already know where you’re traveling, but if you don’t, Airbnb can help you decide. Click on their site, and you’ll see city and country recommendations, neighborhood maps, and links to unique lodging types. This may inspire you to visit a place you’d never considered. For example, in New York City there are thousands of listings, but you can read about different neighborhoods and attractions in order to decide where you want to be.
2. Use the filters.
Do you want a private room, a shared room, or an entire house? Click on your preference. Need somewhere pet-free, because you’re allergic to cats? Click “no pets.” Other filters include amenities such as washer/dryer, gym, or off-street parking. You can also sort by neighborhood. Take the time to read through the options and check off your preferences so you only see the listings that fit your needs.
3. Note the cancellation policy.
Airbnb allows hosts to choose their cancellation policy, and there are three options: flexible, moderate, or strict. If you think you might need to make a last-minute itinerary change, look for listings with flexible policies. Keep in mind that if you cancel your reservation, you will not be refunded the Airbnb service fee, which is 6-12 % of the subtotal. However, you will always be refunded the cleaning fee if you don’t check in.
4. Read the reviews.
Reviews are the foundation of the Airbnb community. Hosts leave reviews for their guests. Guests leave reviews for their hosts. When considering a listing, take the time to read through past reviews, and also learn a little bit about the local host by clicking on their profile. Make sure you feel intuitively comfortable. You can always contact the host to ask questions if you want to learn more, using the “Contact Host” tab.
5. Don’t get your heart set on one room.
One thing about Airbnb is that hosts aren’t required to keep their calendars up to date. Which means you might fall in love with a villa in Italy, but when you request a reservation, the host may say it’s not available, or they may not respond at all. Your best bet is to identify a few listings that would be ideal for your needs, add them to your “Wish List,” and then try them one at a time (or you can message all of the hosts simultaneously, if you prefer). This is also a good way to get a sense for how responsive the host is, which will help you decide if the listing and host are a good match.
6. Be nice.
When you send a reservation request, tell the host a little about yourself and why you want to stay in the space, using the message box. This builds trust and sparks a friendly interaction from the start. And if the reservation works out and you find yourself staying in an Airbnb accommodation, be respectful. Treat things gently. Leave the space tidy. Always honor the host’s house rules. This will ensure a positive review from your host after your stay.