Holiday accommodation is often cheaper and more homey if you go with a vacation rental like the ones from AirBnB.
And if you go for shared housing, you might get to know some cool locals. The shared kitchen is another plus; it’s typically equipped with pots, pans and spices, all ready to use.
In one AirBnB share house where I stayed, there was even a free-for-all shelf, which contained stuff left behind by previous AirBnB guests. It had everything from pasta, pancake mix, barbecue sauce, tomato paste, bus tickets, tampons (!) and body lotion.
Read on to learn more about AirBnB. (Just want the coupon code? Click here for a $25 credit.)
How to book AirBnB accommodation
Whenever I move to a new city, the first thing I do is hop onto AirBnB to find a temporary place to stay. I also always check AirBnB for shorter trips.
This is a site where people can rent out their spare rooms and basement apartments. Some higher-end accommodations like villa rentals are also available if that’s how you roll. ;)
1. When I open the AirBnB website, all I have to do is enter my destination city, dates and number of guests.
(Many hosts have weekly and monthly rates, which are lower than nightly rates. If I enter check-in and check-out dates that are at least one month apart, the search results would automatically show monthly rates. The same thing goes for weekly stays.)
2. AirBnB then generates a list of available properties and shows where they’re located on a map.
4. I browse through each remaining listing, checking out the photos, the description and the reviews. If I like what I see, I send a message to the host to check for availability and ask for more details, if necessary.
5. If I really like what I see, I book the place without waiting for a reply to my message. This way, the host has to either accept or deny my booking within 24 hours, or it expires. I simply follow the instructions on the screen to complete the booking.6. Once the host accepts my booking, AirBnB charges my credit card and all I have to do is get there.
Money-saving tip: If you’ll be staying for more than one month, book through AirBnB for just the first month and let the host know that you might extend your stay later. This way, you won’t be tying yourself down to a potentially crappy place; you can leave after one month if you hate it there. Also, you’ll be able to deal directly with the host after the first month and not have to pay the AirBnB fee.
Update: Instant Book
You can still book your AirBnB stay using the steps above, but there’s now an additional feature than can make the booking process much quicker and easier.
After you enter your trip details (Step 1) and AirBnB shows you the search results (Step 2), you would see something like this:
Pay attention to the lightning icon beside the price on some listings. This little icon will make your life a lot easier. A listing with the lightning icon means that the host accepts instant bookings. Once you make a booking, it’s instantly confirmed without you having to wait for the host to approve it.
In the search results page above, you can see that there’s one listing that is not available for instant booking. Unless there’s one non-instant listing you really like, you may want to filter your search results to only show listings where the instant booking feature is enabled.
Click the “Filter” button above the top search results. AirBnB will show you these options:
Add a checkmark in the little checkbox that says “Instant Book” and you’ll only see listings that you can book right away.
After you make an instant booking, you can send a message to the host to talk about when and how to check in. Most hosts would also be happy to share some travel tips. Tip: You have to upload a profile photo to be able to access the instant booking feature.
Scams on AirBnB?
If you’ve only ever stayed at hotels, AirBnB can seem scary. But don’t worry; there are safety measures in place to make sure that your stay is safe.
Every AirBnB host has to create a profile and verify their identity. There’s also a rating system that previous guests use to review the hosts, so I know what to expect from each host.
AirBnB also offers a secure payment platform. I pay AirBnB at the time of booking and AirBnB then releases the money 24 hours after I check in. If something seems fishy, I can request a refund and, if approved, AirBnB may release the refund or book another place for me.
When AirBnB hosts don’t reply… My main gripe with AirBnB is how difficult it is to actually get a confirmed booking, especially if I’m traveling to a popular destination. I began sending messages to hosts on AirBnB about six weeks before my departure to Montreal, but only got an accepted booking a few days before I left. It was crazy. I must have contacted 30 hosts before getting a confirmation. At first, I sent one message and waited for a reply before contacting another host. Before long, I learned that just wouldn’t work. I could wait for days to get a reply saying the room wouldn’t be available because the host’s family was visiting or because the room had been rented out. It was frustrating. So I started booking one listing without messaging the host first and sending messages to all other hosts within my price range. This accelerated things because the host whose listing I booked had to respond within 24 hours. If one booking fell through, I went ahead and booked another one immediately. Rinse and repeat until I finally get a confirmed booking. I still find AirBnB quite convoluted, to be honest, but that’s only because these hosts are not professional hoteliers, nor do they intend to be. Both the prices and the “customer service experience” reflect this fact.
Update: You can now easily get around this problem by only choosing instant booking listings. Check out the Instant Book section above if you missed it.
Pricing errors in AirBnB
The availability and prices on a single AirBnB listing could differ when I check it on my laptop and on my phone, so I browse on both gadgets to make sure I get the best price.
I’ve found that laptop prices are generally better, though. Maybe the phone app lacks certain functions like how to calculate prices based on monthly rates instead of the default nightly rates.
Cheating the AirBnB system
I know some of you are thinking about this, so let’s get this out of the way.
At some point, every AirBnB user tries to come up with a scheme to deal directly with the AirBnB host and avoid the AirBnB fee, while still enjoying all the protection the website provides.
If such a loophole exists, it would render AirBnB unprofitable. The company will fail to generate revenue and close down and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
In other words, it won’t happen. There’s no way to undercut AirBnB and secure your booking with the host without incurring the AirBnB fee. If you cancel a booking, AirBnB will still retain its fee, so you wouldn’t get a full refund.
At a time when many online services come for free, it’s a bummer to have to shell out money for anything. But I think AirBnB deserves its fees for creating a system where it’s possible to safely live with strangers.
Technically, if you’re willing to take a chance and trust a stranger, you could always contact the host outside the AirBnB messaging system.
For example, you could search for the host’s profile on Facebook, identifying him using his location and profile picture. But in many cases, you won’t be able to meet the host or visit the property before you pay for your stay, so you could expose yourself to danger this way. And if this is a risk you’re willing to accept, then why not go with Craigslist instead?
Get a $25 AirBnB coupon code for signing up now
In the spirit of total disclosure: AirBnB will also give me a $25 credit when you make your first booking of at least $75 and I’ll love you for it.
Need more vacation rental choices?
I’ve found AirBnB to have the cheapest and the highest number of listings, especially for private room listings (as opposed to entire apartments or houses). I used to have a list of other websites that offer vacation rentals, but I’ve always come back to AirBnB.
If you want to perform a quick search regardless, use Tripping, a search engine that covers multiple vacation rental sites.
Images: 1 & 9. (Free License); 2-6. Nomad Wallet; 7. (gif via fyeahbigbangtheorygifs.tumblr.com); 8. Photo © 2010 J. Ronald Lee (CC BY 2.0 License); 10. (gif via gifrific.com).