First time using Airbnb? Important things you need to know

An amazing AirBNB property I scored in Prague

An amazing Airbnb property I scored in Prague

More and more travelers today are choosing to skip hotels and instead book stays with short-term rentals through online rental services such as Airbnb. I am one of those travelers.

The ability to connect hosts with unique properties with guests looking to book amazing spaces is a simple yet brilliant idea. You might think it sounds strange, but the idea of hosts and guests connecting over the internet is growing at an exponential rate.

Yet, with any new technology comes both pros and cons.

You probably have many questions.

Is Airbnb safe? What is the difference between Airbnb and hotels? Does Airbnb offer coupon codes? What kind of properties can I book? Are there Airbnb alternatives? And what is up with all those fees?

I will try my best to explain the wonderful world that is Airbnb.

What is Airbnb?

Airbnb is a website and online marketplace which simply connects hosts with properties to rent with travelers who are looking for lodging.

You can think of Airbnb as the Uber of lodging. As with Uber, this service is not for everyone. Trust must be present between host and guest.

Airbnb is offered in over 34,000 cities in 191 countries.

How does Airbnb work?

If you are a host with a space to rent out, then you can list it on Airbnb. Almost any type of space can be rented out from houses, apartments, and condos to tree houses, tents, villas, and castles.

Airbnb works by connecting these hosts with guests.

Guests simply pick their dates of travel, search for a certain property type, narrow down their results according to their preferences and price range, and book the property.

It’s really that simple.

Airbnb offers promo codes and referrals for free or discounted stays

When you sign up for Airbnb, you will get your very own referral code. If you use this link to sign up, you will receive a coupon code for $30 off your first booking.

To earn credits for Airbnb stays, share your code with friends, family, your postman, whoever. If they sign up using your affiliate link, you will get $30 credit (for completing a stay) or $100 credit (for hosting a guest). These credits can be applied towards your next Airbnb booking (up to $5,000 USD).

To find your referral invite URL, simply sign into your Airbnb account, hover your mouse over your name in the top right corner, and click on “Travel Credit” or “Invite Friends.” On this page, you will see your affiliate URL. From this page, you can email your link to all of your friends or share your link on Facebook or Twitter.

If you find this information useful and want to use my referral URL, then be sure to sign up for Airbnb using this link. You will get a $30 “coupon code” that can be used towards your first booking on Airbnb.

What kind of properties can I book on Airbnb?

All the amazing properties on Airbnb is what makes it so special.

When you book a hotel, you get a hotel. The same boring hotel.

On Airbnb you can book:

Apartments
Houses
Bed & Breakfast
Boats
Bungalows
Cabins
Campers/RVs
Condominiums
Dorms
Lofts
Other (Castles, Couches, and more)
Tents
Townhouses
Tree Houses
Villas

There is no shortage of exciting properties.

What is the difference between Airbnb and hotels?

Airbnb vs hotels, what is the difference?

Some people find staying at an Airbnb crazy and dangerous. Some people find staying in hotels boring.

In my opinion, the main reason people choose to stay in Airbnb properties instead of hotels is to save money. Hotel rooms are often small and standard. Staying in a rented apartment or house is often cheaper and you get more space for your money.

You might have noticed the photo at the top of this post. This was from one of the Airbnb properties that I stayed at in Prague, Czech Republic. It featured arched brick ceilings, two rooms, a kitchen, a full bathroom, bar, washing machine, and an outdoor yard and patio. No hotel can compare to this, even without mentioning the price ($55/night). Airbnb offers endless amazing properties just as unique as this one.

Many people choose to stay with Airbnb hosts for the for the personal interaction. With hotels, interaction is limited. Many Airbnb hosts are wonderful, going out of their way to make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible. Hosts can also be a great source of information about local restaurants, sights, and customs. You will be surprised how much you learn for your local host.

Hotels are simple. You book it, arrive, and sleep. House cleaning comes by each day and you can call the front desk usually 24 hours a day for anything you might need.

On the other hand, staying at an Airbnb takes a little more dedication and research, but it’s worth the effort. You will have to communicate with the host, notifying each other of expected arrivals. To locate a property, you might have to learn how to search for an address and find a location of the property on a map. Often when you stay with a host, you will see them once at check-in and never again.

When you stay at a hotel, you usually know exactly what to expect each time. When you stay at an Airbnb property, you never really know. It is like a new exciting experience each time.

What I don’t like about Airbnb

There are a few things that I do not like about Airbnb.

The fees

Cleaning fee, service fee, occupancy tax, extra guest fees, currency exchange fee, Value Added Tax (VAT), local taxes.

I understand that not all of properties on Airbnb charge these fees, but it does seem a little ridiculous when they do.

24 hour approval

When you request a booking, excluding Instant Bookings, then you will have to wait up to 24 hours for your request to be accepted or declined.

I understand why this exists, but sometimes it can be very frustrating to wait for a response, especially when your request can be declined.

When I was attempting to book properties in Prague for New Year’s Eve, my request was constantly declined or I would not get any response.

Cancellation Policy

Airbnb hosts are allowed to choose between three cancellation polices: Flexible, Moderate, and Strict.

These policies can be a little confusing.

If you want to read more about the cancellation policy of Airbnb, then scroll down to the Cancellation Policy section.

Hosts that disappear

This can be a pro or con depending on your situation.

Sometimes after I check-in, I am greeted by the host and I never see them again. I know I can message them at any time, but often they never come around again.

On the other hand, sometimes I enjoy the freedom of not having to interact with the host. I feel like the property is my own place and I can come and go as I please.

Is Airbnb safe?

Safety is important to both hosts and guests using Airbnb.

Airbnb takes steps to ensure safety.

Here’s how:

Verified ID

Verified ID is a way for guests and hosts to feel a little more comfortable with their booking by connecting your Airbnb guest profile with other information about yourself.

Verified ID is not required with all bookings. You might be asked to verify your ID if a host requires it.

To verify your ID, visit http://www.airbnb.com/verify.

You may be required to complete some or all of the following steps. Which steps you need to complete vary depending on where you live and what your host requires.

1) Upload a photo of your ID, such as a passport or driver’s license
2) Answer a few questions about yourself
3) Connect your Airbnb account with one of your social media accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google
4) Upload a profile photo
5) Confirm your phone number and email address

Once your ID is verified, your host will know you are a verified guest. Your personal details about your passport or driver’s license are never shared or seen with your host.

Profiles and Reviews

Airbnb uses detailed profiles and user reviews, along with shared social connections as a way for users to build a reputation and trust in the marketplace.

After completing a stay, you can rate your experience with your host and leave a review. These ratings and reviews help keep hosts and their properties at their best which ensures an enjoyable experience.

Guests can leave a review of up to 500 characters about their stay with a particular host. In addition to the written review, guests can leave a star rating for their host. These ratings appear when you search for a host.

The host also has the option of leaving a review about you, the guest. These reviews help hosts better understand the guests that will be staying at their property. Guests and hosts with multiple negative reviews can be blocked from Airbnb.

Messaging

Guest and host messaging is vital to the success of Airbnb.

Once a reservation has been accepted, or instantly booked, hosts and guests can communicate by messaging similar to Email.

I have used Airbnb many times and each time I have had to message my host multiple times.

You might be asking why?

Messaging allows a guest to communicate with their host about when they will arrive or if any other issues occur. A host can message a guest directions, addresses, maps, and more.

On multiple occasions where I stayed with a host, I never even met the host! In Osaka, I was arriving late and the host notified me prior through messaging that a key would be left in a certain mailbox. When I arrived at the apartment in Osaka, I followed the directions that I was given. I retrieved the key and used it to enter the apartment. After completing my stay, I returned the key to the mailbox. I never once saw the host, yet that was perfectly fine with me and worked out thanks to the messaging system.

Customer Support

Airbnb customer support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by visiting http://airbnb.com/contact.

Whether you’re a host or guest, you can get help or questions answered before, during, or after your stay.

How to book an Airbnb reservation

If you have booked a hotel before, then you will know how to use Airbnb.

airbnb_search

To start, enter your destination, your travel dates, and the number of guests (1-16+).

Press search.

airbnb_results

After the search has been completed, a screen will appear with your results for your destination, dates, and guests.

On the top left are your filters (Room Type and Price Range). You can access additional filters by clicking on the More Filters button just below.

On the bottom left are your search results. Underneath each photo of the property is a small description, the room type, additional photos, and a star rating if available.

On the right side of the results is a map with the locations and prices of individual properties. You can zoom in and out on each property. If you click on a specific property, you will be able to view a small description, the room type, additional photos, and a star rating if available.

Filters

airbnb_filters

At the top left of the screen are your main filter options.

Under Date are your selected check-in and check-out dates and your number of guests. If these items are incorrect, you can change them here.

Under Room Type you will have the option of selecting Entire home, Private room, and/or Shared room.

Here is a breakdown of each Room Type:

Entire home/apt: These listings mean you get the whole place to yourself, whether it is an apartment, house, RV, or castle.

Private room: These listings mean you get your own private room, but the room might share some common spaces, most often inside a home.

Shared room: These listings mean you will share your room with other guests or the hosts or that your room will be part of the common space.

At the bottom is a Price Range slider with a price range of $10 to $1000+. This slider is handy for those who want to narrow down properties to their exact price range. I know I can’t afford a $1000 a night place.

More Filters

airbnb_additional_filters

If you click on More Filters, you will be able to review additional filters to help you narrow down your search even more.

airbnb_size

The Size filter allows you to select the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and beds for your booking.

Bedrooms: 1-10

Bathrooms: 0-8+

Beds: 1-16+

airbnb_options

The Options filter allows you to select an Instant Book reservation or Superhost.

Instant Book: This means that the host allows their property to be booked immediately without approval.

Superhost: A superhost is a host who has hosted at least 10 guests a year, who has mainly 5-star reviews, 90%+ response rate to messages, and those who rarely cancel reservations.

airbnb_neighborhoods

If you want to narrow your search down to a specific neighborhood, then you can use the Neighborhood filter to select exactly which neighborhoods you want to be in.

The list of neighborhoods seen above is for San Francisco. The neighborhoods at your destination city will be different.

airbnb_amenities

Under the Amenities filter you will find even more filters if you didn’t already have enough.

You can narrow your property down to those that allow pets, have air conditioning, washing machine, breakfast, wheelchair accessible, and yes, shampoo and hangers.

airbnb_property_type

If you think that Airbnb offers just apartments and houses, then you are misinformed.

On the Property Type filter, you have the option of choosing your exact property type. You will find your usual apartment, house, bed & breakfast, and condominium. The more adventurous will have the option of selecting unique properties such as boats, tree houses, tents, cabins, and more.

airbnb_host_language

Finally, if English isn’t your native language, then you are in luck.

On the Host Language filter you can select the language of a host. Languages include English, Spanish, French, German, Korean, Japanese, and even Sign Language.

Selecting a Space

Once you have selected a property, you will be able to view detailed information about the property including a description of the property, information about the space (number of guests allowed, bathrooms, bed type, bedrooms, beds, property type, room type), amenities, prices, safety features, and availability. Reviews, if available, will be found at the bottom of the page.

request_to_book_airbnb

Now that you are ready to book, you might have noticed extra fees in addition to the listed nightly fee.

If you use Airbnb, you better get used to the fees:

Nightly price: At the top, this is the nightly rate decided by the host

Cleaning fee: Some hosts charge a one-time cleaning fee to help cover the cost of cleaning their space. This fee varies by host and is not charged by all hosts.

Service fee: This fee is for Airbnb. This is how they make their money and keep their site running.

Occupancy taxes: Certain locations charge extra taxes. In this case, San Francisco adds something known as “San Francisco Accommodations Tax.” This tax is unique to San Francisco. Taxes similar to this could be charged by other destinations, but you won’t see this type of charge too often.

Total: This is the total price inclusive of all fees, taxes, and extras. You won’t pay more than this price.

You might also see other charges including extra guest fees, currency exchange fees, Value Added Tax (VAT), and local taxes.

Request to Book vs Instant Book

airbnb_book

For this particular property, you must Request to Book. This means that you will have to wait up to 24 hours for the host to accept or decline your reservation. You will not be charged in full until your reservation is accepted.

For other properties, you might see Instant Book. This means that after you confirm your booking, your reservation will be immediately confirmed and accepted by the host. You will be charged in full immediately.

More about both of these below.

Payment and Send Request

airbnb_payment

This is the final page before you send your request to the host.

At the top of the page, you can enter or confirm your payment details. If your credit card or debit card is already on file, then there will be nothing for you to enter here.

Under payment is a text box where you must introduce yourself to your host by sending a message. You can write whatever you want. In this box, I usually notify the host of when I will be arriving at their property.

At the bottom are the house rules. You might want to reread these rules to make sure you understand what you are getting yourself into.

On the right is a recap of the total fees. This is also where you can enter an Airbnb coupon code if you have one.

If everything looks good, press Send Request.

If you requested your property, your host has 24 hours to accept or decline the reservation. When they choose to accept, your payment will be charged in full. If your request is declined, you will not be charged.

If you are booking a property that stated Instant Book, your payment will be charged immediately after you press Send Request.

What is the cancellation policy for Airbnb?

The Airbnb cancellation policy is not as straightforward as the cancellation policies of hotels you have stayed at in the past.

To be honest, it’s a little confusing.

Airbnb hosts are allowed to choose between three cancellation polices: Flexible, Moderate, and Strict.

No matter the policy, if you cancel a booking prior to arrival, the cleaning fee will be refunded but the Airbnb service fee will not be. This service fee is non-refundable, so be aware of this before canceling a reservation. Taxes will be retained and remitted.

Airbnb Flexible Cancellation

If you decide to cancel your reservation under the flexible cancellation policy, then you will receive a full refund (minus fees) if the reservation is canceled within 24 hours of the check-in time (3:00 PM it not specified).

If you cancel within less than 24 hours of your check-in time, then the first night is non-refundable.

If you arrive at the property and decide you want to leave early, then you will receive a full refunded of the remaining nights starting 24 hours after cancellation (when you leave).

Airbnb Moderate Cancellation

If you decide to cancel your reservation under the moderate cancellation policy, then you will receive a full refund (minus fees) if the reservation is canceled within 5 full days of the check-in time (3:00 PM it not specified).

If you cancel within less than 5 days of your check-in time, then the first night is non-refundable but the remaining nights will be 50% refunded.

If you arrive at the property and decide you want to leave early, then you will receive a refund of 50% for the remaining nights starting 24 hours after cancellation (when you leave).

Airbnb Strict Cancellation

If you decide to cancel your reservation under the strict cancellation policy, then you can receive a 50% refund (minus fees) if the reservation is canceled within 7 full days of the check-in time (3:00 PM it not specified).

If you cancel within less than 7 days of your check-in time, you will not be refunded for nights not spent.

If you arrive at the property and decide you want to leave early, you will not be refunded for nights not spent.

Are there alternatives to Airbnb?

Here are a few AirBNB alternatives:

VRBO
FlipKey
HomeAway
Roomorama
Onefinestay

If you don’t feel comfortable staying with a stranger, then you might want to stick to a traditional hotel which can be booked at:

Expedia
Priceline
Hotels.com
Orbitz
Booking.com
Hotwire

Conclusion

Airbnb is great and I will continue using it.

If you are unsure whether you want to try Airbnb for your first time, then I hope this post has convinced you to give it a try.

Though Airbnb does require a little more work and research, the effort, in the end, is well worth it. I just can’t see myself staying at many hotels in the future when I can spend less money and have a better experience using Airbnb.

For $30 off your first AirBNB stay, simply sign up here.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Dave
    November 23, 2017 at 11:44 pm

    Thank you kindly for this detailed, helpful post Anthony! It felt initially intimidating to jump into the AirBNB world as a newbie, so this information is exactly what I was looking for (and more). Much appreciated, it really helped. 🙂

    • Reply
      Anthony
      November 27, 2017 at 5:24 pm

      Dave,
      No problem! Glad you finally tried AirBnb. It can be a little scary at first, but soon you realize how great the experience can be.

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