As you probably already know, Airbnb is a game-changer. Gone are the days when you have to pay $1000+ or own a timeshare to have a suite with extra space to stay in when you’re traveling.” When we travel, I’m picky about where we stay. I like the types of rooms that are “champagne tastes, but on a beer budget,” so that I can get the most luxurious space possible for the best price. I’ve spent countless hours on Airbnb searching for rooms and becoming familiar with how their site works?. We’ve been fortunate to have great experiences in several different countries, including Austria, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Spain, and many others.
Surprisingly, even with all my good feelings towards Airbnb, I recently had a bad experience with the site. I attended a bachelorette party, where everyone planned to split the cost of a rental. There were six of us visiting for two nights, so I figured that once the total was split up, the price would be pretty low for each person. But, when I received a message saying my portion of the room price would be nearly $300, I almost choked.
I thought perhaps the price was much higher than expected because we’d be staying in a luxury apartment or that it would have several rooms with more space to spread out, and I was okay with that. But it ended up being a small two-bedroom apartment, and everyone had to share a bed with a few of us sleeping on the floor. The rental wasn’t in great shape— it was disorganized and cluttered. The 4-star hotels in the area were going for less per person, which made renting through Airbnb seem like a downgrade. My friend who booked the room seemed bummed about the booking, as she had tried hard to find a great apartment.
It made me realize that booking a great room on Airbnb isn’t always straightforward and obvious. It’s easy to get roped into a rental that looks nice on the surface, but, in person, it is a disappointment. Thankfully, there are discernable patterns among the apartments that tend to be the best places to stay. So, here are my top tips for finding those diamonds-in-the-rough rooms when scouring through hundreds of listings:
1. Prefer “SuperHosts”
I know everyone needs to start somewhere, and I’ve stayed with my fair share of up-and-coming hosts. But, when I want to play it safe and have the best chance of getting an excellent room, I limit my search to “Superhosts.” Under the “More Filters” tab, you can select Superhost, restricting your search to experienced hosts that have great reviews. A property owner, to get the Superhost badge, has have hosted in the past year: at least ten guests, maintain a 90% or higher response rate, maintain at least 80% 5-start reviews, and have a low cancellation rate. Logically, it makes sense, as Airbnb rewards the hosts who provide an excellent, predictable service that can increase their bookings and revenue. There are still thousands of hosts who have amazing properties but have not yet reached the Superhost status; however, if you want to increase your chances of a safe bet with your accommodation, then apply this filter.
2. Start Broad
Let’s say you want to go to Italy, but you aren’t set on which city you want to visit. Airbnb allows you to search the whole country, which can help inspire the direction of your search and to find some wildly popular rental gems that provide unique experiences. For example, in the search I have just done, the top results included a treehouse in the Italian countryside and a room at an Italian cookery school. Both listings have 200+ 5-star reviews, but they’re in cities I’ve never heard of before. If I limited my search to just popular cities, more commonly known cities, like Rome & Venice, I would miss these fantastic listings. So if you can, try to stay open to different areas and start with a broad search.
3. Apply the Right Filters
Take advantage of the many filters the website provides to narrow down exactly what you’re looking for and where you would like to stay.”. You can do this either by selecting pre-set filters under “trip type,” such as “for business” or “for families,” or by manually working through the individual filter categories. Like the Superhost program, the pre-set filters are set up to help you carry out a quick search to find the best properties. I often find that these filters can be a little too narrow; therefore, I like setting up my own filters, being mindful of things that are important to me. For example, if I stay in a city, free parking can be a significant added benefit, as no one likes being surprised by a $30 a day off-site parking fee. I also like to start with searching for my ideal setup, then reducing certain filters if you can’t find it. For example, if I can get a property with a gym AND a pool, I’d prefer to start with those filters to look for my ideal experience. But I’m also willing to take away those filters if I don’t find somewhere great. If you decide to go through the individual filters, it’s easy to work backward if your search is too narrow.
4. Find the Right Area
The neighborhood you stay in can significantly impact your experience, especially in big cities, or if you have children. Being near several sites you’re interested in can save you time and money, and it will help you feel more immersed in the culture you desire. Take the time to learn a little about the various areas of town, i.e., which are safest, have the best restaurants, are near public transportation, and are near the things you want to do on your trip. Prioritize what’s most important to you, and then look for neighborhoods that fit your criteria. With the bigger cities, I often do a quick google search for the “best neighborhoods in X (insert city of choice”). Then I’ll look on TripAdvisor for the best restaurants and activities, and see if the things I want to see most are near a specific area(s). I also try to check the neighborhood’s safety by doing a quick crime stats search, especially if I’ll be walking quite a bit or using public transportation. Once I have found this information, I then start to find rooms or apartments in or near the areas, which my research has yielded by using the Airbnb “Neighborhoods” filter or by narrowing places down on the map. Although Airbnb won’t give you the exact address until you book (for safety reasons), you can still gather the relevant information about the nearby area or message the host if you want the exact address. When you stay in the right area of a town, it can save you hours of commuting time that you can then pour into fun activities.
5. Read the Reviews
I know this may sound like a no brainer, but surprisingly the best information on a property can be hidden in the reviews. You can discover more specific, in-depth details about the property, such as the hosts’ demeanor, the area of the town, safety, etc. Just because a property has tons of great reviews, it doesn’t mean it is the right property for you. For instance, on one of our first Airbnb experiences, we stayed at a property in London, now we laughingly refer to it as “a hippy’s tent.” The property had several glowing 5-star reviews, so I quickly jumped on it without reading deeply into the reviews. As it turns out, the room was a third-floor loft that required us to climb a ladder to get to our room (which wasn’t great fun with two big suitcases). Once we were in our space, the room was tiny, and the ceiling was about 5 feet high, which meant we had to duck when moving around the room. Our host was a shirtless, pot-smoking musician who was sweet as could be, but given we don’t smoke, we didn’t enjoy the smell of marijuana that came up the stairs. It was a cute and quirky place, and I could see how college backpackers would perhaps love it, but it just wasn’t a good fit for us. Later, I looked more closely at the reviews and realized that several people had mentioned the quirks we didn’t like, but I had missed them before I booked because they were wrapped inside the positive reviews.
Also, I try to pick properties with plenty of reviews. Again, I understand that everyone must start somewhere, but I prefer not to be the first to try out a new property. If you fall in love with a property without any reviews, try and see if the host has any other properties they own that are well-reviewed, to provide proof of their quality standards.
6. Be Mindful of Calendars
Picking your dates can be tricky for many reasons. If you wait too long, all of the best places will likely be fully booked. If you wait long enough, sometimes properties will adjust their prices lower to fill the room rather than leaving it sitting empty. If you’re flexible with your dates and location, or if it’s already last-minute, you may be able to take advantage of some great deals or ask for a deal (see more in my next point).
When you’re booking, also be mindful of the property’s cancellation policy. On Airbnb, they fall into three main categories:
- Flexible- full refund of accommodation fees up to 24 hours prior
- Moderate- full refund of accommodation fees up to 5 days prior
- Strict- full refund of accommodation fees up to 14 days prior
When I’m debating between two properties I equally like, I tend to favor a property with a more flexible cancellation policy. Life happens, and sometimes dates/ locations need to be changed. I find great comfort knowing that if needed, I can cancel my booking at the property, and I have canceled a few times in the past. Of course, you don’t want to cancel too many properties, especially at the last minute, as that can cost the host money if they can’t find another renter in time, and after all, we want to be nice people. Plus, Airbnb will only refund you their service fee up to three times per year.
When considering dates and looking for a deal, be mindful of major events or peak seasons, as the prices may spike. So, if you’re flexible with the dates when you want to visit a particular destination, try a few different times to see if you find better prices later in the year, especially if you find a specific property you love that is out of your budget. You might find it to be cheaper in October vs. the middle of summer.
It’s a bummer when you find the perfect property, but it’s out of your price range. Before you blow your budget or give up on it completely, consider messaging the host to see if they’re willing to offer you a discount—particularly if it’s last-minute or your trip is longer than a week. Many people aren’t aware that Airbnb prices are negotiable, and hosts can send you a discounted “special offer.” When reaching out with your request, DO NOT click on the “Request to Book” option, as it can lock you into dates once your host approves your stay. Instead, click on “Contact Host,” which allows you to send an exploratory message.
When you make your request, remember, a host doesn’t have to allow you to stay in their house. So in your message asking for a discount, you want to be as kind as possible. It can help to introduce yourself first and tell the host how much you love their property. After you’ve made the request, end your message with a nicety, especially if it is someplace you will want to stay regardless of whether they go through with the discount. I feel most comfortable using this method when I’m deciding between several properties and have multiple options if the host doesn’t like my request.
I’ve been offered up to a 25% off discount. I’ve also been told no, and still stayed there anyway. Although this method doesn’t always work, when it does, one simple message could save you hundreds of dollars.
As you can tell, I’m a fan of Airbnb, BUT I try my best to use it with wisdom and caution. The reality is that there are many horror stories of failed experiences and misleading listings, and I hope this post will help you join the many raving fans who’ve had great experiences!
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