Airbnb is amazing when it works as intended. Airbnb is horrible when it doesn’t.
How do you separate good rental properties from bad rental properties?
I’ve stayed in about 100 Airbnbs over the last decade. Today, I’m highlighting some of the best tips for booking the best and cheapest Airbnb rental units like a professional.
Let’s get an obvious tip out of the way: booking early is a good idea for any travel plan. When you book early, there are more options available.
…But Don’t Be Afraid to Book Late
No, this tip doesn’t contradict my first tip. It supplements it.
Booking early is great. But you may be surprised at some of the last-minute deals available. Some people cancel at the last minute.
Or, one of the best travel deals you can find is when a host needs to fill a 3-day, 5-day, or 8-day break between bookings. They might discount rates for that specific period just to get it filled. You swoop in and capitalize on a great discount.
Take Advantage of Weekly and Monthly Discounts
Airbnb hosts may set weekly or monthly discounts. These discounts can be substantial.
I’ve personally taken advantage of 50% discounts for one-week bookings and 70% discounts for one-month bookings.
Sure, staying in one place for one week might not be ideal. However, if you’re exploring a region and already staying for 5 or 6 days in one place, then a 7-day booking can save you money and give you a great base from which to explore.
Don’t Assume Superhosts Are the Greatest Hosts in the World
A few years ago, I saw a superhost while booking on Airbnb and got pumped.
I rolled up to small-town Romania ecstatic about what my superhost experience was going to be. And then I realized my host was worse than the average “non Superhost” Airbnb host I’ve had before.
The problem is with the way Airbnb picks “Superhosts”. The criteria are surprisingly low:
- A Superhost needs to have had at least 10 people stay in their place over the past year
- The Superhost needs to have a rating of 4.8 or higher from at least 50% of the people who stay in the place
- The Superhost needs zero cancellations over the past year
- The Superhost needs to respond to 90% of new messeages within 24 hours
That’s it. If you’re a decent Airbnb host with a place that looks as advertised, then you should have no trouble meeting these requirements and becoming a Superhost. It’s not that big of a deal.
Put simply, being a Superhost doesn’t mean you’re staying in a high-quality rental unit. It means most people who recently stayed in the rental unit agreed that the place looked and functioned as advertised on the listing. That’s it.
Get Creepy When Examining the Details in Airbnb Photos
I’ve never stayed at an Airbnb place where the photos didn’t match the unit. I have, however, stayed at Airbnb units where the description exaggerated the unit.
Photos don’t lie. With that in mind, I recommend going super-sleuth on every photo from the Airbnb unit’s description.
In rare situations, you might spot evidence of a fake Airbnb listing just from photos. Right-click on a photo and click ‘Search Google for this image’ to find other websites where that photo has been listed, for example. Or, look for inconsistencies between two photos of the same place: there might be the same piece of furniture in two different photos, for example. The owner is trying to trick you into thinking the place is better-furnished than it is.
If I’m booking a place on Airbnb, I go full on creep mode with the photos. I’ll reverse Google image search the photos. I’ll zoom in on anything. I’ll pretend I’m on Geoguessr and zoom in on street signs to verify the photos come from the advertised spot.
Hey, I’m spending money on your place, and I want to make sure I know everything I can about it. I don’t always trust your words, but I do trust your photos.
Spend Extra to Be Closer to Town
I’m thrifty as fuck. However, I’ve learned that I’m willing to pay extra to be closer to the attractions I’m trying to visit.
Saving $20 per night to stay in Richmond instead of Vancouver, for example, isn’t worth it if I’m going to see a Canucks game. I’m going to spend $10 on public transit or more than that on a taxi (because, of course, Vancouver doesn’t have Uber).
Wherever I’m staying, I’ve learned it’s better to spend a little more for a place closer to town instead of saving a few dollars on a place outside of town. This lesson is triply true if you’re only in a place for a short period of time.
Don’t Trust Airbnb’s Recommended Listings
Maybe it’s the internet marketer in me, but I breeze past the “promoted” listings on every search website I come across.
On Airbnb, I feel the promoted listings are particularly useless: Airbnb will frequently recommend vacation rentals that are just not good.
Remember: a good vacation rental with good reviews and a good location doesn’t need to pay extra to advertise itself on Airbnb.
Send a Message to Airbnb Hosts for Easy Pre-Approval
Did you find the perfect place but are worried about one specific thing? If so, then I recommend taking advantage of Airbnb’s ability to ask the owner a question. You can ask about elevators, parking, public transit, or whatever without confirming your booking.
Typically, the host will pre-approve your booking after answering your question, which puts you in the driver’s seat. You can choose whether or not to confirm the place.
Negotiate Checkout Times (If You’re Leaving Town Late)
Most Airbnb hosts are just normal people trying to maximize the value of property they own. They don’t have housekeeping teams that start at 6am and need to work.
With that in mind, checkout times are often flexible. If your flight leaves late in the day, for example, then message the host and ask for a late checkout. They should be willing to accommodate you as much as possible. Even if a guest is checking in the next day, the next guest may not be checking in until late.
Note: Never overstay your checkout time without first verifying with the host. This is trashy behavior.
Bring Your Own Toiletries
I’ve stayed at five-star Airbnbs and much worse Airbnbs. There’s little consistency in the type of toiletries offered.
Most Airbnbs will offer towels for the shower. However, not all Airbnbs offer soap, shampoo, and other necessities. Sometimes, if they do offer these items, the items are budget hotel quality – i.e. shit you don’t want to put into your hair even if you’re a degenerate like me.
Double Check Wi-Fi Access and Other Necessary Amenities
Wi-Fi access is becoming increasingly common at Airbnbs. However, you can still find plenty of Airbnbs that have no internet access whatsoever – even in 2020.
If you found a cheap Airbnb at the last minute and it seems perfect and unusually cheap, then I guarantee there’s something wrong with it – like no Wi-Fi or no parking. Double check the amenities to verify.
Street View is Your Best Friend
Not sure if an Airbnb rental unit is in a rough neighborhood? Worried that an exterior shot looks suspiciously nice?
Google Street View is your best friend in this situation. Do a digital drive by of your rental unit. Take a cruise through the neighborhood. I’ve seen plenty of Airbnbs that look amazing on the listing even if they live in a dangerous neighborhood.
There’s Always a Catch with Cheap Places
“Wow! This place is only $50 per night when every other place nearby costs $200. What a deal!”
Don’t fall for this trap. There’s always a catch when a place is substantially cheaper than any unit nearby. Some of the most common “catches” I’ve found include:
- Shared bathroom
- Shared bedroom (seriously)
- No Wi-Fi
- A hostel advertising itself on Airbnb
- In a dangerous or sketchy part of town
- No parking available
Be Suspicious of Places with Zero Reviews
You should be on high alert if you stumble upon a place that looks amazing but has zero reviews.
Yes, scammers use Airbnb. And they can make a fake listing with fraudulent photos.
If a place has zero reviews, and if the host has zero reviews for any properties, then you should be on high alert. Every host has to start somewhere, but you should be wary of a place or host with absolutely no independently-verified history.
But Don’t Be Afraid to Book a Place with Zero Reviews
I have booked places with zero reviews on Airbnb. With no exceptions, every place has turned out great.
Sometimes, I’ve taken a leap of faith and booked a place with zero history and zero reviews.
In other cases, I’ve booked a place with zero reviews but the host has had plenty of strong reviews for other nearby properties.
As I said, everyone has to start somewhere. If the place looks legit and the host is communicative, then take a leap of faith – and leave a great review if you had a great experience.
Don’t Ignore Shared Airbnb Units
Even when I’m traveling alone, I like my own space. I have never booked a place where I share a kitchen or bathroom with the host.
However, I will sometimes look at shared places when searching on Airbnb. In fact, I have found a bunch of great, underrated private places when searching with shared places enabled.
Many of the shared places I’ve stayed in have technically been separate places – but the host cannot technically label them separate places because there’s one shared door.
Put simply, I’ve stayed in several “shared” units on Airbnb and I have always had my own bathroom, bedroom, shower, and kitchen.
Dress Up Your Airbnb Profile
I work from home in my pajamas every day of the week. My Airbnb listing, however, is a picture of me in a suit. It’s a picture my parents took before I went to a buddy’s wedding. I look great.
Dress up your Airbnb profile to make yourself look your best. It reduces the chance of a host rejecting you because of how you look (which, unfortunately, is a thing).
At the same time, I back up my status as a good host: I always leave Airbnb places as clean as how I found them. I’m a great person to host.
Verify Your Portfolio
Giving a private, US-based company like Airbnb your information is uncomfortable. I know. However, if you want to maximize your chances of being approved, then I highly recommend verifying your Airbnb portfolio. The more verification you have – like phone number verification – the better your chances are of being approved.
I’ve even uploaded my passport to Airbnb for added verification. Some hosts request it.
Instant Book is Amazing in Certain Situations
Airbnb has a feature called Instant Book. If you need to book a place at the last minute, then Instant Book is your best friend. Instead of going through a manual approval process, your Airbnb booking request gets approved instantly.
Instant Book is your best friend if you’re stranded in a random place and need a place to stay but don’t like any of the hotel options.
Be Aware of Refund Policies
Airbnb has stricter refund policies than virtually any other booking platform. Even if you cancel your listing two weeks in advance, you may not get a complete refund.
If you are unsure of your travel plans, or if there is any part of your travel that could go wrong, then I recommend researching your Airbnb unit’s refund policies thoroughly before you arrive.
Know your Communication Method Before You Arrive
I’ve rolled up to Airbnbs in eastern Europe with no communication method whatsoever. I had to run around to various convenience stores and restaurants and beg for Wi-Fi passwords until I got back to the internet.
Don’t assume you will roll up to your Airbnb and immediately get greeted by the host or gain entry.
Make sure you understand your communication method beforehand. If you don’t have an SMS or data plan for Albania, for example, then don’t take a bus from Croatia (where you have a data plan) and roll up to Albania (where you don’t have a data plan) and expect to gain entry to your Airbnb (like I did).
Be Honest with Host Reviews
I’m Canadian. I’m polite. I don’t want to leave a bad review for a host – especially if that host was nice to me.
However, it’s a bad idea to leave a positive review for a place if you didn’t have a positive experience. You are guaranteeing that another guest will also have a negative experience.
Be honest with your host reviews. Suggest actionable, meaningful changes to your host in the “only hosts can see” section. Leave honest (and reasonable) feedback in the publicly-viewable review section. Airbnb works because guests are honest.
Avoid Airbnb Listings that Show a Stock Image or City Image First
You want to stay at an Airbnb in Paris. You search Airbnb for rentals in Paris and find a listing that shows the Eiffel Tower as the first image.
Great! Unfortunately, I don’t trust listings that show generic images, stock photos, or attractions as the first photo.
If the first photo you use to sell a place is a photo of the main attraction in a city – and not your rental unit itself – then I’m immediately skeptical. I already know what Paris looks like. Show me a photo of what your vacation rental looks like.
Don’t Be Afraid to Host
Becoming a host on Airbnb can be a scary step. You’re sharing your place with idiots from all over the world.
Fortunately, Airbnb has protections in place to weed out bad guests – and reimburse hosts for bad guests. Yes, your costly Airbnb fees do go to good use.
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