At a glance
Can you imagine staying in an Italian villa for $67 per night? What about staying in Paris, within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, for $75 a night? What about sleeping aboard a houseboat in Amsterdam for $150 a night?
With these prices, you might think the accommodations would be questionable. However, you might find yourself in a garret apartment or cozy room that’s clean, well-decorated, often luxurious, and incredibly comfortable.
For frugal travelers, this scenario might sound unbelievable. After all, if you want to pay $75 a night in Paris, you usually have to stay in a hostel somewhere and risk bed bug infestation or a snoring roommate. Thanks to Airbnb, you can stay in some of the choicest areas of a city on a budget.
What Is Airbnb?
The Airbnb website connects travelers to local residents who let people rent out a room in their home, or rent their entire home, for one night, several weeks, or for months. Airbnb offers accommodations at often drastically reduced prices. Most of the time, you stay in homes of the same quality, or better, than comparably priced accommodations booked on other websites. Of course, “cheap” isn’t always the case; many homes and rooms are as expensive as a hotel. However, you do get a unique place to stay compared to a bland hotel room.
You receive the full amenities of a regular home, including a kitchen so you can cook your own meals, a washer and dryer for laundry, and a host who can give you valuable insider tips to make you feel like a local, instead of a tourist.
People who rent out their homes often do it to meet new friends, and to earn extra money. Most of the homeowners on Airbnb rent out an extra bedroom, but many also rent out their entire homes. Sometimes the home is a vacation property; other times, you stay in the homeowner’s primary residence. The homeowners may vacate their homes while they have renters, or they may be present during your visit.
Homes for rent include traditional homes in cities and suburban neighborhoods, treehouses, houseboats, and island cabins.
How Airbnb Works
Say that you plan a trip to visit San Francisco, and you want to stay in the heart of downtown. You’ve checked Expedia, and already know that rooms downtown average $165-$250 per night. Ouch.
So, you head over to Airbnb to see what they have to offer, and complete your online profile. You find a host on the site offering a room in Nob Hill for $59 per night. The room is two blocks from everything you want to see in the city; exactly what you hoped to find on Airbnb. The pictures of the apartment look clean, comfortable, and inviting. You can even see the Golden Gate Bridge from the balcony! You check past reviews on the apartment and find that past visitors have raved about the apartment and the welcoming and accommodating nature of the owners.
You contact the owner through Airbnb’s chat feature, and start getting to know each other. You both agree that the apartment, and your personalities, make a great fit, so you book the room through the site. When you arrive in the city you take the BART public transportation right to the apartment. The apartment owners give you some great tips on where to eat and visit during your stay in the city.
You stay a week, cooking breakfast and lunch in the apartment and doing laundry, saving your money for dining out in the evening, shopping, or seeing various city attractions. You end up having a great trip, for a fraction of what you would have paid at a hotel.
In addition to saving money, Airbnb hosts offer guests the opportunity to experience something unusual: personal attention. Many guests also compliment hosts on the locations of their homes, particularly the homes located in downtown metropolitan areas.
Using Airbnb has many benefits, including:
- Saving Money. Do a quick search through the site and you will see that staying in a home or apartment booked through Airbnb often costs less than staying in a hotel (although not always). You might end up paying as much as you would for a hotel, but in return you receive an entire apartment or a room in a home in an excellent location. You can even cook and do laundry when staying in many Airbnb homes, so you save even more on your trip.
- Greater Comfort. Impersonal and impractical hotels don’t offer guests the creature comforts of home. You have to pay to do laundry, and most hotel rooms don’t come equipped with kitchens. Airbnb homes are often far more comfortable and inviting than hotels. Staying in someone’s home means just that – you stay in an actual home. You can relax on the couch, make a fire, cook a leisurely breakfast, and sit on the back patio with a glass of wine.
- Personal Experience. Sometimes, you stay in a home or apartment with the owners. Other times, you have the house or apartment to yourself. Either way, most hosts can pass along insider tips about their city. In fact, many travelers have reported that their hosts took them out for a night on the town, taking them to little-known restaurants, bars, clubs, and attractions. Staying with a local means you receive a personalized, “local” experience in the city you visit. You also might make a lifelong friend in the process!
- More Options. More than 70,000 people have listed their homes or apartments on Airbnb. It doesn’t matter if you travel to Johannesburg, South Africa, or Mobile, Alabama; Airbnb has accommodations all over the world. You can even rent an entire island in Fiji if you wanted to.
There are a number of downsides to booking a room or a home using Airbnb. However, even negative reviews of hosts and homes often still highlight the inexpensive prices, and the five-star locations of many Airbnb properties.
Disadvantages of using Airbnb include:
- Shared Space. Sometimes, you stay in a home or apartment with someone whom you have never met before. This makes some people uncomfortable. If you have concerns about traveling alone safely, you can search for homes or apartments where the owners won’t be present during your visit. Most apartments already have several reviews listed, so you can also read about other travelers’ experiences before you book your stay.
- Questions About Legalities. Some cities have laws banning short-term apartment rentals. Conduct online research to learn more about the laws in the city you plan to visit.
- Concerns About Safety. If your belongings are damaged or stolen while you are staying in an Airbnb rental, your host probably won’t have experience handling the problem. If you or your companions are injured on the homeowner’s property, your host may or may not have adequate liability insurance to cover your expenses. Your homeowners insurance provides you with off-premises coverage for your belongings when you travel. If the host has liability insurance, you should be covered in the event of injury. There are no guarantees, however. While the chances of anything going wrong might be slim, the Airbnb hosts aren’t professionals and may not be able to offer much help in an emergency situation. The good news is that although your hosts might not be able to help in the event of an emergency, Airbnb can help. The site has a 24-hour emergency hotline, and a $50,000 guarantee. You can also be sure you’re renting from safe people by viewing their online Dashboard, which includes verified phone numbers and mailing addresses, and social media profiles.
- Airbnb Members Aren’t Professionals. In addition to concerns about injury or theft of personal belongings, what happens if your WiFi doesn’t connect, the air conditioning doesn’t work, the sink leaks, or the toilet runs at night? Airbnb hosts most likely do not have maintenance personnel on call. If something goes wrong during your stay, chances are, it won’t be fixed before you leave.
- Airbnb Homes Are Not Hotels. If you don’t like your Airbnb accommodations for any other reason, you can’t upgrade or move to another room like you can in a hotel. Negative user reviews of Airbnb homes and hosts include extra fees due upon arrival, cluttered homes, low ceilings, WiFi only available at apartment clubhouses, and windows without blinds, resulting in early wake-up calls. In addition, speaking to the homeowner about a problem with the accommodations might feel awkward, especially if they are staying in the home with you.
Many have used Airbnb, and they enjoyed their experiences. It’s important to look closely at the rates. Sometimes, listings on Airbnb are per person, not per couple or group. So, it could say $40 per night in the listing, but that’s for one person. For two people, it could be $60, or even $80. Make sure you look carefully before you book a room.
Have you booked accommodations using Airbnb? Do you rent your home to guests using the website? What has your experience been like?