Airbnb: Is It Right For Me?

If you asked me where you should stay in 'x' city... I'd probably list a number of lofts, beach houses, tree houses, farm stays, and castles - and you could probably find all of them on Airbnb.

I'm an avid user of the website - whenever I'm booking accommodation for myself or my colleagues, it's the first place I look.

Below are a few things worth noting, pros and cons of using the peer-to-peer platform, and my good and bad experiences.

Should I Book With Airbnb?

First things first, why Airbnb and what is it? Airbnb acts as the middle-man for the people who want to rent their properties or rooms while they're away or want to make some extra money, and travellers who are looking for a unique stay. It verifies personal profiles, has a super-easy and trustworthy messaging system, and does all the fiddly stuff like collect and transfer funds. It also tends to be the cheapest 'luxury' form of accomodation on the market.

PROS:

  • It's usually a lot cheaper than hotels or conventional forms of accommodation, and they're cost effective - usually providing you with a lot more room for your money and access to a kitchen, saving you even more money on getting take-out every night.
     
  • You can live like a local - other than having the freedom to choose from a variety of unique homes you can't find elsewhere on offer (like said tree houses, castles etc.), you get to experience living in the city like a local, with your own set of keys, and a place full of personality and culture. 
     
  • The hosts are great - No receptionists or doormen here, but the hosts are generally great and go out of their way to make sure you're as comfortable as possible. They're the go-to for recommendations, as well as learning about local culture if you're sharing their home with them. You may even make a new friend and come back time and time again.
     
  • It's not like a hotel - for someone who finds hotels bland and repetitive, it's refreshing to come home to something a little different and feel like you're actually home.

CONS:

  • Photos, descriptions and reviews may be misleading/some hosts are not so great: It all depends on how well you assess the situation, just as you would a hotel. Read all of the reviews. If there aren't any, feel free to message the host and suss out the situation a bit more, then choose carefully. 

  • It's not the same as a hotel - because you're not staying in one. There aren't a hundred of the same rooms you can stay in if one books out, so the best places to stay are booked out in peak periods, and you'll have to plan ahead and be quick to get somewhere that suits your taste. Also while general amenities are usually provided, sometimes they're not. If you want housekeeping to clean up after you, room service, and anonymity - stick to hotels.

  • There is less security - there aren't any security cameras or body guards manning the building. However, you are staying in someone's home. I find my apartment extremely secure and comfortable, and don't feel the need for any of the above, so it all comes down to personal preference. Live a little.

  • If something isn't right, you're dealing with a person not a company - if the property or stay isn't what it was made out to be, it's up to you to resolve it with your host through the messaging system, and contact Airbnb as a mediator (which is free). All hosts I've come across strive to right any wrong and are reasonable when problems arise.

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Things I Check Before Booking
(most of the time):

I say most of the time, because I skipped this a few weeks ago and accidentally booked a private room instead of the entire place (more on that later).

Other than the general process of running through your booking - price, photos, description, amenities, bed and wifi situation, and whether it fits what you're after... the most important things I suggest you do are:

  • Read through most, if not all, of the reviews - this helps you suss out whether the images are true to the reality of the place, the safety/convenience of the neighbourhood, what the hosts are like, as well as recommendations from other travellers. The more reviews the place has, the better and more consistent the information will be.
     
  • Check the location and map how close it is to what you're planning on doing in the city - although there are usually trains (except for in Tasmania), Ubers and hire cars, it's still better to stay somewhere convenient than in the middle of nowhere.
     
  • Check out the hosts profile and their reviews - There are two types of reviews - ones for the rental property, and the other for the host themselves. Even if you're booking an entire place and never have to see them, this is important. I'd rather book with someone who is flexible, understanding and easy to contact, than someone who never answers your messages and refuses to help.

Only then do I even consider the place. If it ticks all the boxes, I book!

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My Experience

I've stayed through Airbnb a number of times, and so far so good.

The good, great, and excellent: 

This describes basically every time I've booked. Notably, our West Village apartment in New York City had me speechless the moment I stepped in the door. As if I had decorated it myself, it smelt like candy and out of 5 stars earned 50 of them. I loved pretending I lived there, in a beautiful apartment in my favourite city, eating home-cooked meals and feeling at ease and at home. To this day, it's my favourite stay.

My second favourite is my most recent trip to Tasmania. We had left flights and accommodation a bit late and things were booking out fast. I only ever search for entire places to rent, but among my rush to get a place and having too many tabs open.... I somehow had landed on a private room rental and booked it. It's the only time I've skipped reading the reviews until after I had paid, because the host was a Super Host, and the rental had nearly 100 5/5 reviews (the rating I did check). The cancellation policy for this property was lenient, but we stuck with it and it lived up to all 100 reviews. Comfortable, accomodating, and homely. The hosts also had another room available for rent during our stay, so we shared the house with the hosts and 3 seperate couples during the course of our 4 nights, so it was great to be a little social.

The one bad seed: 

The only stay I had that didn't live up to my expectations (and continued downhill throughout the trip) was my first stay in Los Angeles, and luckily only had to do with cleanliness, or lack thereof. We were only after a small apartment in West Hollywood, and the photos of this place made it look bright, modern, cosy and clean. In reality, the place was old, dirty and could only be reached after a long, narrow staircase at what felt like a 90 degree angle. This particular property was managed by a property management/cleaning company rather than the host, and after getting housekeeping in on two separate occasions to clean up the mess we walked in on, ended in a reimbursement of one full night from the host, who had to intervene. 

If you have any problems with the property through Airbnb, you have 24 hours after check-in to bring it up with your host, with a description and preferably photo evidence, then contact Airbnb. If the 24 hour window has passed, you can request a refund through the Resolution Centre.

Have you booked through Airbnb? How have your experiences been, and are you likely to recommend it?