Guide to: Airbnb for beginners

Airbnb is an amazing tool that can dramatically reduce your annual travel spend. I’m a self confessed Airbnb junkie, having notched up over 21 Airbnb stays in 8 countries. It can seem a bit daunting for the beginner, so I thought I’d run through the service from my own perspective to help tip you over and make that first booking.

TIP: If you haven't created an Airbnb account yet, use this link to get a £25 credit towards your first stay

What is Airbnb?

The Airbnb started life as a DIY B&B service. Anyone with a spare room could rent out that space for a night or two. The host make a few pounds, and the guest gets an ultra cheap night away - win win. Both the host and the guest rate each other after the stay, to help other hosts and guests decide whether to make future bookings.

The concept has now developed to include the renting of entire homes. It’s the same concept, but instead of sharing the space with the host, you get an entire apartment, house or villa to yourself.

Renting a room versus an entire home

Most of you reading this will have no interest in renting out someones spare room, and I think it’s this concept that puts many newbies off. It’s worth saying it again - You can rent a whole home on Airbnb. In fact, there are three types of accommodation you can book - a shared room, a private room and an entire home. Unless you’re backpacking around the world, I can’t imagine why you’d want to share a room with a stranger, but if that’s your thing, then you’ll get the very cheapest price. Personally, I always have the “Entire home” filter option ticked.

On Airbnb you can find whole apartments or houses almost anywhere in the world for a fraction of the price of a hotel room.

Can I trust Airbnb?

YES! The company have done a great job of building trust into the system. Everything is kept within the Airbnb platform, from communication with hosts to payment to ratings, meaning that Airbnb themselves can guarantee the whole process.

Is it safe?

YES - as long as you use some common sense! At the core of the Airbnb system is the concept of reviews, and those reviews can only be submitted by real guests who have been verified by Airbnb. Obviously, you still need to be smart. If you’re opting to stay in a private room (or share a room) then positive reviews of the person hosting are essential.

As for the safety of the property itself, read the hosts description of the property carefully. I stayed in an apartment in central Paris that had a vertical ladder up to a mezzanine level bed. It was quirky, but if you had mobility problems or vertigo, this would have been a complete disaster.

Many countries regulate Airbnb locally, requiring safety certificates and inspections similar to hotel accommodation. Other places require no checks. The key thing to remember is that you are staying in someone’s home for a cheap price. Be vigilant, read the reviews and don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do in your own home.

You can read more about safety on the Airbnb website here.

Reviews, reviews, reviews

In my experience, the reviews on Airbnb are the most genuine you’ll find on the web. As a rule, I’ll want to see 5 positive reviews minimum before I consider a booking. Sometimes you’ll see people complaining about silly things (“There was constant noise outside your Times Square New York apartment”) that you can disregard, but multiple reviews about a rude host will have me skipping a stay.

No reviews? Brand new listings can be an absolute steal, because the host will be reducing the price right down in order to get started. My advice is to message the host and try to strike up a conversation. Be up front and say that you normally only stay in accommodation that has been reviewed. You’ll soon get a feel for the host - particularly if they reply quickly are helpful. If you’re in a hurry to book somewhere, don’t go for a new listing and instead go for an Instant Book.

Discounts, cleaning fees and security deposits

The headline per-night for a stay won't include cleaning and security deposit fees. These are normally reasonable, but the key thing is that they are set by the host, so vary quite a bit. Also, hosts often offer a discount for staying for 2 days, or a week, or any arbitrary number they see fit. This all means that the headline price per night can change once you click on a property and all the discounts and fees are calculated. It often works in my favour, when clicking a more expensive home suddenly comes out cheaper that a lower cost-per-night option because the cleaning fee is lower and a multi-night discount is applied.

Use instant booking

Instant book accommodation is shown on Airbnb with a little lightening bolt next to the title. These are the places that you can confirm immediately. I’d suggest that all beginners use this option for two reasons: 1) They tend to be the less quirky places, with more professional hosts, and 2) as a newbie you need to build up some positive reviews.

The other option is accommodation that you need to request to book. You send through your request with a little message and the host decides whether to accept your booking, based largely on your reviews. This process can be a little hit and miss. It can take a day or two to hear back from the host, so if you’re in a hurry to get something sorted I wouldn’t recommend it.

Treat hosts with respect

So you’ve made your first booking. Hurray! The next thing to remember is that your Airbnb host is a real person, who could have a day job. Remember to communicate all plans (and changes in those plans) with your host using the message feature. Don’t expect them to be at your beck and call 24 hours a day. Some hosts will be but others won’t - you’re paying for the accommodation, not a maid service. If you really need hand holding, look for Super Hosts (signified by a little medal next to the hosts name). These are hosts who have accommodated lots of Airbnb guests and have excellent reviews.

Remember that you’re being rated too

Both hosts and guests are rated within Airbnb. If you are rude or difficult you might find yourself unable to book future trips on the platform because of a bad rating. It’s what keeps the system

What if things go wrong?

If you follow the advice above, it’s very unlikely you’ll experience a problem. But inevitably, sometimes things do go wrong. Small issues can normally be cleared up by your host, so long as you communicate them promptly. This is one of the beauties of the in-app message system. Us brits generally loath to call people to complaint, but it’s much easier to send a message containing your grumbles.

If those host can’t help, or the accommodation is not what you were expecting, you can try to claim a refund. When you pay for Airbnb accommodation, the host does not receive the money until 24 hours after you’ve checked out. This means that you can complain to Airbnb if there are any problems at any point up until the day after checkout and your payment to the host will be frozen.

Airbnb list a number of scenarios in which you’d be eligible for a full (or partial) refund. These include:

  • The listing is missing an amenity promised on the site in either the listing’s description, amenities, or photos.
  • The room type of the listing is not what was booked.
  • The number of bedrooms or bathrooms in the listing does not match what was booked.
  • The listing itself or the location of the listing is not what was booked.
  • The listing does not have clean bedding or towels available for all the guests included on the reservation.
  • The listing is unsanitary, unsafe, or hazardous to the health of your guests.
  • There is an animal in the listing, which was not disclosed prior to booking.
  • If your issue is not on the list, raise a complaint. Airbnb are renowned for being fair in the case of disputes.

Download the app

If you’ve got an iPhone or Android, use the Airbnb app. It’s beautifully designed, but more importantly the messaging feature works better on a phone and it’ll mean you can contact hosts immediately if necessary. I actually prefer using the Airbnb website on my laptop when searching for accommodation (a bigger screen just makes everything a bit easier) but I use the app for managing my bookings, and communicating with hosts.

Remember: If you haven't created an Airbnb account yet, you can use this link to get a £25 credit towards your first stay

Post by John

John is a software developer, travel blogger and digital nomad. Where ever his laptop is, he calls home. Favourite country? The USA - California. San Francisco is the coolest place on earth! Next trip? South of France.

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