It frequently happens that friends tell me about a trip they're planning, followed by a remark like “But the hotels are so expensive”. When I then suggest they book an Airbnb, a puzzled look appears on their face. “Is Airbnb safe?” Followed by the question if I have any tips on how to use Airbnb. And I do!
Because I love staying at Airbnbs around the world and think it's a shame if someone doesn't use the site because they doubt it's trustworthy, I decided to put together this mini-guide on how to book an Airbnb successfully.
How to use Airbnb: what is airbnb?
Let's go over the basics first, shall we?
Airbnb is a rental booking site on which property owners can put (a part of) their property up for (usually) short term rent. Whether it concerns a spare room, an apartment or an entire villa, they can rent it out on Airbnb and thus make some money.
Guests, in turn, can benefit staying at a bigger place than a hotel room for a usually (much) lower price. Aside from the size and price benefits, Airbnbs are great if you want to stay in a more residential neighborhood where there aren't too many hotels and if you're trying to get a taste of the local life at your destination.
Airbnb is one of the biggest and best-known examples of the sharing economy and while not everybody is happy with the growth of that economy, I think it has tremendous potential and will only continue to grow
Recently, Airbnb has also started growing their community more by offering experiences with locals (dinners, tours, parties, art gatherings…) on their platform and they've even started building a flight booking tool, but we'll just focus on how to book accommodation through Airbnb here.
Creating an account
While you can look at the rentals without being logged in, you won't be able to request to book a property without creating an account first.
Do you have an airbnb account? If not, get one now!
When you create your account, make sure to fill in all the fields as complete profiles have better chances of being accepted by hosts. You'll be asked to verify both your email address and phone number and I highly recommend doing this, as it shows hosts they or Airbnb will be able to contact you if necessary and you're someone who actually exists.
Tip: At the bottom of the first page of your profile information, you're able to enter a business email as well. If you do this and later book a business stay of at least $75, you get a $50 coupon to use on a next trip.
How to choose where you want to stay
1. Dates and location
The first step is easy: just fill in the dates of your trip, where you're going, and how many people you're traveling with. Even when you're dates are rather flexible, I still recommend entering them as that way you won't see any Airbnbs that are definitely not available the month that you're traveling.
You wouldn't want to get hot for something that isn't available, now would you?
2. Use all the filters
Once you've entered that information, you'll be able to see the available airbnb properties on a map, and some further search options.
Two things to note here:
- You can choose if you want to have an entire place for yourself, if you just want a room or if you don't mind sharing a room and you can also set a price range, but below that, there's a button that allows you to filter even more. It doesn't really stand out, but it's important!
- The search results are spread out over several pages and the map on the right will only show you the results of a particular page. So don't despair if you don't see anything in the area you were thinking of staying in, simply go to the next page first for even more Airbnb listings.
Now, filters are your best friend. They allow you to choose the number of guests, how many bedrooms and bathrooms you need, what kind of amenities you require (Wi-Fi!), what language you'd like to speak, and also – important – what neighborhood you want (or don't want) to stay in.
For some smaller places, like Bologna, for example, you'll want to stay in or near the historical center and that's that, but with a place like London, the number of neighborhoods to choose from can be overwhelming.
In those cases, I recommend you first do some research on what you would like to do on your trip and where you need to be close to so that you can limit your Airbnb search to those areas. And if you don't want to look up the names of all the neighborhoods, you can simply leave the “search as I move the map” option checked on the map and zoom in and out to only see the search results for the areas you're interested in.
3. Check for reviews
Now that you have a list of search results to work with, you might be tempted to open up all those with pretty photos.
At least not before checking if they have reviews. I've never booked an Airbnb before that hadn't been reviewed yet and I also probably won't unless I really have no other choice.
I know that reviews are subjective and definitely don't say everything, but usually, you'll have the choice between several places with only good reviews and then some places with a few meh reviews as well.
Go for a place with only good reviews.
So first, only look at the Airbnb results that have reviews (I tend not to open any that have less than 4/5 if possible), then thoroughly read what they have to say. Do they mention things that are important to you?
In my case, if all the reviews are super positive aside from the fact that they mention the Wi-Fi isn't working well, I won't book there because I need that Wi-Fi. But if the only complaint is that the flat is five stories up and there's no elevator, then I don't really care because I'm fit enough to take the steps five stories up.
4. Review the listing's information
I know, you want to look at the phoooootooooooos! Just hang on for a little longer. The idea is – again – that you don't want to get excited about a place that looks good but has no heating and you're planning to go there in the middle of winter.
Imagine visiting the Ice Hotel in Quebec, Canada and coming home to a cold apartment. Yeah, not cool. Or maybe way too cool.
So: check all the information.
- Does the host's welcome text sound welcoming?
- Do the check-in and check-out times fit your schedule?
- Do you have to pay a deposit?
- Is there a cleaning fee?
- Is the host verified? You can see this at the bottom of the page where they have a little photo and all.
One thing I always check when finding an Airbnb is if smoking is allowed. I don't smoke and can't stand the smell of it, so I won't book an apartment where smoking is allowed as chances are it will smell. “Smoking allowed” is a filter you can check, but not checking it doesn't guarantee that you'll get no-smoking places only.
I'm also not a big fan of extra fees and deposits and prefer a moderate or flexible cancellation policy because you just never know.
Yes, the time has come. You can now view all the photos. Try to pay attention to things that seem a bit off.
- If a fisheye lens is used, the place is probably not as big as it looks.
- If there's no window in any of the photos, to make sure the apartment isn't in the basement – unless you don't mind staying in the basement, obviously.
6. Optional: message the Airbnb hosts
It's pretty well hidden but somewhere at the bottom of each of the Airbnb listing, above the reviews, there's a small button you can click to message the host before you request to book. I didn't always use this at first but now I do.
So what do I ask them?
I usually ask them about the WiFi speed and something else small. This allows me to not only make sure the place has everything I need but also to know how responsive the host is.
When you send your message, you also need to indicate which dates you want to stay. When the Airbnb host replies, they can then also instantly send you an offer to book, which means you don't need to go back to the listings to complete the booking process.
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets canceled, you get sick or hurt abroad, and sometimes even when your electronics break or get stolen. I always make sure I'm covered every trip I go on.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
Yaay, you've chosen a place to stay! Now, how does booking on Airbnb work?
Before you click that bright “book” button, go over all the priced items. You'll notice that Airbnb always adds a service fee which is 6-12% of the total amount of the price set by the host (who's charged 3% by Airbnb).
Additionally, some hosts add cleaning fees and deposits.
If you haven't sent the host the message beforehand and you hit “book” from the listing page, you'll be taken to a message box for the host, explaining who you are and why you want to stay with them.
This is the point where it becomes important to have a completed profile. Many hosts are renting out their properties to a stranger and the more (positive) information they have about you, the more inclined they'll be to accept your request.
Once you finish your message, your request is sent and the Airbnb host has 24 hours to accept or decline. If they decline, don't be too bummed. If you've filled in your profile, it's likely just that they haven't updated their availability calendar on the site and aren't able to host you at the time of your trip.
If your host agrees to your request, you've got yourself an Airbnb booking. Yaay! Your credit card will now be charged with all costs – the cost of your stay, the service fee, and any additional fees such as a cleaning fee or deposit.
From then on, you can contact your host through Airbnb's messaging system to discuss check-in and ask any additional questions you may have.
Note: Some places offer an option to “Instant book” which means you can – indeed – book immediately without having to wait for the host to agree with or decline the booking.
Another note: Booking requests are automatically rejected if the host doesn't reply within 24 hours. That means that if you need a place to stay in less than 24 hours, it's probably better to book a hotel or hostel for the night.
During and after your stay
While you're there
While you're staying with your host – whether that's alone in an apartment or together with him/her in a private room – make sure to remember you're a guest.
If you're not sure whether you can use the coffee, ask.
Don't throw late-night parties.
Don't be a pig.
While you can continue using Airbnb's messaging system (it also sends text messages to your/your host's), I always like having the host's number, just in case. That also makes it easy to contact them in case something's wrong.
Which brings me to my next point: when something's wrong with your Airbnb, tell them. If the Wi-Fi isn't working and they don't know about it, they can't fix it either. I'm sure stuff breaks at your own place as well and as long as a problem is solved quickly, I'm happy and I'll leave a good review.
After your stay, you'll be able to leave the host and the place a review. It's super important that you do this because positive reviews up a host's chances of getting new bookings. Additionally, you've also based your own booking on the reviews of others, so why not pay it forward? Reviews are good for future guests and hosts!
The cool thing about Airbnb is that you can leave both public and private feedback. So if you really enjoyed your stay but have maybe one or two points for improvement, you can let your host know privately.
Don't leave negative feedback about things that aren't your host's fault, though. If the Wi-Fi stopped working on the second day but you didn't alert them, don't complain that they didn't fix it. Likewise, if the place is five stories up and it says in the listing that there's no elevator, don't complain that there's no elevator.
Lastly, remember that hosts can also review you and their reviews will appear on your profile.
Recap: how to use Airbnb step-by-step
1. Enter your travel dates, destination, and number of travelers.
2. Filter on type of accommodation, desired facilities, amenities, price range (this is usually on a per night basis), and neighborhoods.
3. Open up all the interesting-looking Airbnbs with 3+, preferably 4+ ratings.
4. Read all the reviews. Check for things that matter to you.
5. Check everything listed for things that are important to you, such as check-in times and whether smoking is allowed.
6. Look at the photos.
7. Check for extra costs such as cleaning fees.
8. Hit “book” to send a request to the host. Make sure you personalize your message.
9. If the host declines, repeat; if they accept, yay!
10. Use Airbnb's messaging system to discuss check-in.
In regards to safety
When you follow all the filtering steps I outlined above, the chances of ending up at a horrible Airbnb are slim. That being said, most of the filtering options apply to the accommodation and not the host.
If it's staying at a stranger's place you're worried about, carefully check the reviews to see if previous guests mention anything about his/her behavior toward them. Also, make sure to always book with a verified host.
Airbnb requires both hosts and guests to provide proof of identity and Airbnb customer service is available 24/7 for traveling guests. If you're a host, Airbnb will cover up to $1,000,000 in damage, although there are some exceptions.
If you're feeling good about the host and the place, but have doubts about the neighborhood, subtly ask the host whether it would be better to taxi a taxi home at night when you're messaging them. You don't want to offend anyone by asking if they live in a safe neighborhood or not.
Just like when you're booking a hotel, you can never be 100% sure that it's going to be nothing but perfect. You can always have bad luck. So far, though, I haven't had any negative experiences with Airbnb yet and I've already got future trips planned during which I'll be staying at Airbnbs.
What if something goes wrong
In February 2020, I've had my first rental-go-wrong with Airbnb in more than five years. I had to leave the flat I'd booked and file a refund claim. To help you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I wrote a post about how to deal with Airbnb issues as a guest and how to make use of the Airbnb safety process.
If you found this post helpful, please consider booking your next Airbnb through this link. I'll earn a small commission while the price for you stays exactly the same. Income like this helps me travel independently and create new content.
Airbnbs I've loved
This is a small selection of Airbnbs I've stayed at around the world that I thought were great:
How do you use Airbnb? Do you use it always or for particular trips only?
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Samantha Taki says
Hi Sofie, great post. I We are actually using Airbnb next month and looking forward to our first stay. We have actually rented flats and such in Europe, but this was long before Airbnb was around. Thank you again for a great post, and going to share for others who are thinking about using Airbnb.
Thanks so much Samantha! I can imagine platforms like airbnb make it a bit easier to find suitable apartments now. I hope you have a great stay!
Thank you for this post. My wife and I use Airbnb quite frequently and we’ve been sure rhappy to host as well. WE also own a hotel and have put up rooms there but have our house right above the hotel that we’ll use as a vacation rental once we’re on our own vacation. It’s good to see how people go about looking through Airbnb.
You’re very welcome and I’m glad you liked it! Glad also to read that airbnb is working out for you :)
Tina Shamu says
Hi just wanted to find out something, me and my friends we have booked with Airbnb and our booking was confirmed, we payed half the money,a day after it was cancelled because they Said I don’t have a host review, please inlighten me how does this work. Am very worried still waiting for my refund
Everything I know is in the post. For assistance, you best contact Airbnb support.
Annette King says
Just wondering what you think about Airbnb plus and superhosts.
Have you found these better or more reliable or not really?
Appreciate your thoughts.
I’ve never taken them into consideration when booking.
Perhaps I’ve stayed at/with some but I never paid attention to it.
Dr C datta says
Loved your helpful post. Thanks for highlighting some of the pitfalls
I’m glad you found it helpful!