Airbnb is an online marketplace that enables people to list and rent rooms in their flat or home to travelers. Budget travelers choose Airbnb because it’s usually cheaper than a hotel and gives them an opportunity to know local culture by staying with local people. With more than one million listings in almost every country in the world, Airbnb shows no sign of slowing down. More and more people sign up to become an Airbnb host/guest and take advantage of Airbnb’s unique platform to rent out their properties and earn extra income or join a new group of world travelers who want to feel “belong anywhere.”
I used Airbnb as both a host and a guest for a couple of years and can say that the overall experience was good for me. However, like all other forms of accommodation, Airbnb has its advantage and disadvantage which first-time Airbnbers should know to get an idea what will be in store for them.
Have a local experience
There are many travel companies selling cultural immersion packages for travelers who want to experience the local culture by living with local people. And what can be more local than sharing the same the same apartment or house with your hosts?
Cost less than a hotel and offer more privacy than a hostel
Airbnb has a broad range of properties, so you’re bound to find an affordable place that matches most of your criteria. You can find a much cheaper flat or room that is located near where you want to be e.g. conference, university, business venue.
Free access to facilities
When you stay in a real home instead of hotels and hostels, beside your room, you should have access to most facilities in common areas including the kitchen, bathroom, toilet, etc. While you might want to double check with your hosts which food they might share with you, you should be able to use all equipment in the kitchen to prepare and cook your meals. For medium-term and budget-conscious travelers having a full kitchen and a fridge to store food and prepare meals is a great perk because this helps them save a lot of money on food.
Also, you can wash and dry your clothes for free. Both hotels and hostels charge for this service.
To know what is included in your Airbnb rental, look at the property descriptions and the amenities.
When I was a host on Airbnb, I let my guests use whichever things they see in the kitchen and bathroom. I tried to stock my fridge with stuff for guests to make a basic breakfast: milk butter, jam, tea, coffee, eggs, and sometimes juice.
I’m sure there are many other generous hosts offer much more for their guests.
Meet new and people
My experience as a host and a guest were different. As a guest, I didn’t care much about the local experience. I only rented a big flat for my group and only met the hosts at check-in. As a host, I met all sort of people, many of whom were interesting. So if you’re up to meeting new people, you might enjoy the Airbnb experience very much.
Cheap for group or family stay
Airbnb works great for people traveling in a small group with friends and family. A triple room doesn’t cost three times more than a single room. A triple room sometimes costs the same. Many hosts put more beds or sofa-beds in one room and list a fixed price for the room. So you pay the same for one person, a couple or as many people as long as the number of persons doesn’t exceed the maximum occupancy specified by the hosts.
Airbnb surely beats out hostels in term of prices when it comes to group accommodation. Hostels charge per person, so as the size of your group grows, booking a hostel room becomes costly. Eventually, it might be more expensive to stay in a hostel.
Convenient for medium and longer stay
Airbnb is a great choice for people who travel for business purposes (attend a training, conference or workshop) and need to stay longer in a city. It’s a lot cheaper using Airbnb instead of staying at a hotel for one, two weeks or one month. Price isn’t the only factor though. For this kind of trip, you don’t want the crowded and noisy environment often seen at hostels that you might otherwise like if you’re on a backpacking trip. Instead, you prefer to have your own private place that you can feel like your own.
Additional fees are not shown in the listing
When you search for Airbnb properties, you see only the basic price. Once you select a property and proceed to confirm your reservation, you will see additional fees added to your total account: the mandatory Airbnb guest service fee (a percentage of the subtotal before other fee and tax), a cleaning fee (specified by hosts), and sometimes tax. Some hosts don’t ask for cleaning fee. Some charge as low as $3, $5 to $20. Airbnb guest service fee ranges from 6% to 12%.
Not cheaper than a hotel
Don’t automatically assume that Airbnb is cheaper than hotels. Do a quick search to get an idea of the cost for accommodation in your travel destination. Airbnb doesn’t always give you the better deals. I wanted to use Airbnb for my trip to Dublin and Stockholm, but couldn’t find anything that satisfying. The rates were either too expensive compared to hostels, cheaper but too far from the city center or located in the suburb, or almost equal to hotels. In the end, I opted for hotels.
When you factor in the extra fee such as tax, cleaning fee and Airbnb service charges listed above, you find that you might not save much on Airbnb.
Want to save on hotel? Read my “10 tips to save on hotels.”
The local experience is not always guaranteed. Hosts are not obligated to interact with you.
Many people expect to get to know their host and learn about the culture. Isn’t that one of the reasons why people choose Airbnb instead of other forms of travel lodging? It’s true that with Airbnb, your temporary stay in a foreign country can turn into a mini culture experience. You get to see how local people live, how they decorate their space, what they eat, and who they are.
Sometimes you will be lucky to find generous Airbnb hosts who take the extra time to spend time with you, give you tips on what to do and where to go, take you out for drink or sightseeing, even cook for you. It doesn’t always happen like that. Sometimes you don’t see the hosts at all because the hosts are at work or have other obligations. Sometimes your hosts might not live in the same flat you’re renting. They have an extra space to rent, that’s all. Also, real estate agencies are using Airbnb to rent out their many rental units and hire a dedicated person to meet and greet the guests. There is no local experience exchange in this case.
When I used to host people on Airbnb, I tried to spend at least a few hours to chit chat with them. Depend on my schedule, I even took them out for a drink and sometimes cooked for me although it was more often that my guests cooked something for me. Some even became regular guests, and we ended up being friends. However, there were many occasions that I was busy, so I didn’t see or interact with my guests at all. Some were fine because they liked to be left alone, but a few didn’t like it.
You will either have a fantastic experience with your hosts, or you might wish that you should have booked a hotel or hostel instead.
The condition of the property is not always the same as described.
Remember that you’re not renting a room from a real lodging business, you’re renting a room in a regular home of someone who does it for fun or extra income. Airbnb is the only legitimate business here, but they do not dictate how hosts maintain their rentals. Airbnb offers a platform for the hosts and guests to do business and relies on built-in review, rating, and feedback systems to encourage proper behaviors from both hosts and guests. Airbnb hosts most likely provide accurate descriptions of their properties. What you see on the listings should match what you see in reality.
However, you and the hosts might have different standards of cleanliness and orderliness, and you might find yourself living in a place that does not match your standard. Or you might expect privacy and peace during your stay but end up booking a noisy place or sharing the space with noisy people who live there.
Cleanliness isn’t a big deal compared to the property being entirely different than what it was described on Airbnb. Once I had a guest who came to me because her previous Airbnb property was completely different than the one listed online. The host moved to a different flat after the reservation was made and didn’t inform the guest about it.
The host can cancel on you.
Airbnb allows both the hosts and guests to cancel their reservations. Both parties can cancel as late as the day before the arrival. Although this is rare, cancellation does happen. The hosts can’t do this a whim because they will be penalized by Airbnb. As a guest, you don’t lose your money and get your full money back. However, you will have to find other places to stay when you expect that all your travel arrangements are finalized. If you travel during a popular holiday season, all good and affordable rooms are already booked, and you might have to pay a lot more to pay for other Airbnb rooms or switch to hostels or hotels. Hotels and hostels don’t cancel your reservation. Once you reserve a room, it’s yours.
Still want to do more research about other types of accommodation besides Airbnb? Read my other travel articles to get more travel tips on hotel and hostel: “Why should you try hostel once in your life?” and “10 travel tips to save on hotels.”
If you’re thinking about opening an Airbnb account to list your room or book your first Airbnb apartment, please consider doing it via my referral link. You get a discount on your first booking, and I’ll get one on my next travel. Thank you.