Last year, I tried Airbnb for the first time when traveling in order to save money on the costs of a hotel. I was staying in a pricey city and wanted to keep costs low for as many expenses as possible so I could spend more money on attractions.
If you haven’t heard of Airbnb, it’s an online marketplace where people who own properties can list out rooms or their entire home for short-term rent or lease. Travelers can create an account and browse properties they're interested in, then book their stay right on the site.
What I love about Airbnb is that their prices are very fair and much better than most hotels. Plus, if you’re looking to get a more authentic experience when you travel minus the concierge, hotel housekeeping, and overpriced breakfast buffets, Airbnb is a solid option.
My first experience with Airbnb actually had some good and bad aspects, but I can honestly say that it was a great learning experience and I wish I would have taken more time to properly prepare beforehand.
If you’re thinking of trying out Airbnb for yourself, these hacks will help you save time, money, and enhance your overall experience.
Get $40 Off Your 1st Stay
If you've never used Airbnb before, you can get travel credits from another user. Right now, it's $40 off your first trip (of at least $75) if you get a referral from an existing user.
Hey! I'm an existing user!
Use this link to register and you get $40. (it used to be just $35, they've upped it!)
Look For Listings With Quality Photographs
When looking at listings on Airbnb, the photographs for each property can play a major role in your final decision. Good photographs are good news because it means the host has taken the time to take quality photos that showcase their property and that they have nothing to hide.
Just like if you were comparing hotels, you’ll want to look at pictures of the property inside and out including all the rooms to ensure it meets your needs. Properties that don’t have quality photographs probably shouldn’t even be considered since you won’t have a clear image of where you’d be staying.
It's also a good sign that the host is professional. By professional, I don't mean they necessarily own multiple properties and do this for a living. I mean they take this seriously and your going to be well taken care of. It's not some person's closet with an air mattress.
Finally, look for hosts that have a photo of themselves. Anonymous photos are always tricky.
Complete Your Profile & Get Verified
When you sign up for Airbnb, make sure your profile is completed and verified. Put in at least three pictures and make sure they're clear and not of crazy situations. You want to build trust. Hosts want to see complete profiles for potential guests just as you’d like to see a complete listing and profile from the Airbnb host.
Getting verified is very important as it builds trust between you and the host. Plus, unverified guests don’t get the same benefits as those who are verified. Getting verified is easy and requires you to upload a photo of your ID or passport, answer a few questions about yourself, and connect a social media account if you wish.
Use the Wish List Tool
Airbnb has a cool wish list tool that allows you to save listings you like and group them in certain categories so you can either add to the list later, share it, or remove listings when you want.
This is a great tool to use if you’re planning multiple trips or just want to compare property features and amenities in a specific area.
Let’s say you’re taking your kids to Florida in the summer and traveling to Cuba in the fall. You can create 2 separate wish lists to curate listings that you’d like to consider.
You can also look at other people's wish list (Google it!) for potential ideas.
Know the Icons
When you are searching, you will see these icons next to the price.
Here's what all the Airbnb listing icons mean:
- Lightning bolt – Instant Book listing (what that means)
- Medal – Superhost (the host meets these conditions)
- Suitcase – Business Travel Ready (meets these conditions)
Watch the Fees, Extra Costs, Cancellation Policy
The price you see listed might not be the final total cost, keep in mind the other fees and charges that might be lurking.
The cleaning fee will be listed on the search results, divided across the days of your search, but on the listing page it will be separate. You may see a low daily rate but with a larger than average cleaning fee on top (rest assured, the search results include this). This and other extra fees, like extra people, water, etc. Also any other amenities you may need, like parking, could be extra too.
Finally, some listings allow you to cancel your booking and get a full refund (look for the cute little piggy to the right). Others are less flexible, like 50% refund if cancelled up to 7 days before your trip. There are six levels of strictness:
- Flexible: Full refund 1 day prior to arrival (most hotels work this way)
- Moderate: Full refund 5 days prior to arrival
- Strict: 50% refund up until 1 week prior to arrival
- Super Strict 30 Days: 50% refund up until 30 days prior to arrival
- Super Strict 60 Days: 50% refund up until 60 days prior to arrival
- Long Term (28+ day reservations): First month not refundable, 30 day notice for cancellation
There are other sub-rules regarding service fee refunds on each but the reservation itself is governed by those rules.
And check the “House Rules” – some hosts are stricter than others, the House Rules will reflect that.
Pay Attention to the Type of Living Arrangements Offered
This is important for newbies. Properties listed on Airbnb do not all offer the same accommodations. While one listing may offer you the entire property to rent out, other listings may only offer you a private room.
This is something I wish I paid more attention to when I tried Airbnb. I stayed with two of my friends and instead of renting out an entire apartment or house, we had a private room that actually turned out being super small. To be honest, I think we focused more attention on making sure other amenities were available to us like WiFi and left out the most important one – sleeping arrangements.
The property claimed that a maximum of 3 people could stay in the room, but it was definitely a tight fit. Two of us shared a bed while one laid on the floor on an air mattress. While the bed and air mattress took up 90 percent of the room, it wasn’t too bad because we hardly stayed in the room during our trip.
If you think you’ll need more space than a private room however, make sure you book your stay at a property that provides you with more bedrooms or full access. That way, you can cook, relax, and enjoy the property to the fullest.
Even if the property description says it can accommodate 3 or 5 people, read carefully about the bedroom size and number of rooms you’d have access to. You can even reach out to the seller on Airbnb if you have questions.
Use Instant Booking If You Can
If you have strict travel dates and need to book your stay quickly, you can select an Instant Book property. Instant Book doesn’t require the host approve you before the reservation is secured. There is also no additional fee for this but you do need a profile photo to use this option.
All you have to do is choose your travel dates and discuss the check in time with the host to ensure the property will be ready when you arrive.
If you are looking to book your stay instantly, you can filter the search results to only show Instant Book options.
Read the Bad Reviews
Don’t skip the reviews when comparing listings on Airbnb and pay close attention to any bad reviews. Negative reviews can often be seen as a red flag or even prompt you to do some more research.
If you do come across a bad review for a property you’re interested in, consider the nature of the review and if it’s directed to the property itself, the host, or both.
Also, look at how the host responds. If the host doesn’t respond, that could be a bad sign indicating they just don’t care, or that they prefer to take a hands-off approach when issues arise with guests.
Ask About Discounts For Longer StaysMost Airbnb hosts list a minimum required stay of 1-2 nights. However, if you’re staying for longer than a week, it may do you some good to reach out to the host and request a discounted rate.
The host can set a discount ahead of time, and many do give a discount for week+ stays, but it never hurts to ask. Any automatic discount, weekly or monthly, is shown under prices.
You can always contact them directly and negotiate a better deal.
Airbnb has been around for several years but to many of us, it’s still new. In most cities, you can save a significant amount of money by booking your stay at an Airbnb vs. a major hotel.
If you’re going to try Airbnb, consider using these hacks to make the entire process from booking your trip to your stay more enjoyable!