Airbnb can be a good website to use for either saving money while you travel or earning some extra cash. For the past six months we’ve listed our spare bedroom in Dublin on Airbnb to make extra euros, which we’ve invested back into travel. During this time we’ve had guests from England, Scotland, Estonia, Poland, Ireland and Germany share our living space. We’ve had both positive and negative experiences using Airbnb as hosts, but we never use the website to stay (though we have friends that do and have had positive and negative experiences). So here are some pros and cons of Airbnb, with tips on getting a better experience on using this service for staying or hosting.
Saving Money – If you’re willing to share a strangers apartment you’re going to save some cash over staying in a hotel. The savings per night might not be massive but it definitely adds up. To get the most out of Airbnb, compare apartments listed to equivalent hotel listings in the area of your choice on hotel booking sites like booking.com, which generally offers the best deal. On a side note, we’ve seen a lot of innovative booking sites being touted lately, but the gimmicks are generally exactly that. In any event, compare how much you’ll save and weigh whether sacrificing some privacy is worth it to you.
Kitchen Access – If you use Airbnb, you’ll usually have access to a kitchen, which can also save you money. Though you should read the hosts guidelines on use of their kitchen, like whether or not you’re allowed to cook your own meals. When we host, in addition to complimentary tea, coffee and continental breakfast, we provide guests with full access to our kitchen. This means they have some fridge space and can cook meals (though the rules are that they have to clean up after themselves). On short stays, we’ve found that guests typically don’t cook. But on stays of 5-7 nights, guests will cook up a couple meals to save money.
A More Local Experience – Staying in an apartment is a great way to experience a city, and for some places, websites like only-apartments or GoWithOh are good options for having a city apartment all to yourself. It doesn’t get much more authentic than shopping in markets and bringing fresh local ingredients back to your place to whip up a nice meal (outside of taking employment!). Additionally, part of your hosts job on Airbnb is to insure you have a comfortable stay and they should have some great recommendations for eating out and using public transport. Some hosts even provide hot breakfasts or give the option to pay extra and they’ll bring a hot breakfast to your room.
People use Airbnb for various reasons. We had one guest who stayed Monday through Friday while on a business trip and we barely saw him. He never touched anything in the kitchen so all he shared was our bathroom. In some hotels you share a bathroom anyway, and our spare bedroom is listed for the same price or cheaper than a private room in a Dublin hostel, and our spare room is nicer than a hostel room!
Airbnb holds guests money for longer than they should – When people transfer money through the Airbnb system, the money is always held until after the guest checks in, or if the host denies or cancels the reservation. In the event of a cancellation, Airbnb can take 2-3 days to refund the money to a guests bank account. We absolutely hate this about Airbnb and it’s one reason why we don’t use the site to stay when we travel ourselves. For travellers on a tight budget, having money held for several days can ruin a travel experience. Read this nightmare Airbnb story on Budget Traveler.
A professional host should keep their Airbnb calendar up to date, but at the end of the day they make mistakes and the host has the discretion to accept or deny any request to stay in their house. Always email a potential host to ask whether you can stay, rather than just making a booking based on their calendar being open. We personally don’t accept guests that don’t already have positive reviews, or seem like they are planning to move to Dublin (unfortunately we had a bad experience with this as we found ourselves too caught up in our guests drama for a whole week while they searched for jobs and a permanent apartment while being extremely unorganized).
Sacrificing Some Privacy – This goes for whether you’re a guest or a host. While you can have a private bedroom you’re often sharing a bathroom and if you want to cook in the kitchen you may have to negotiate times with your host. When we host we usually don’t cook at home much, using Airbnb as an excuse to either eat out or just grab some easy takeaway. This also allows the guest to have access to cook in our kitchen if they wish, but every host is different. Again, if you’re hosting, it’s part of your job to make your guests feel comfortable and welcome. We personally feel this means giving them some space in the kitchen and living room, if they want that, and communicating well about the expectations.
Hosts Can Cancel Last Minute – If a host does this they better have a good excuse. We’ve never cancelled on any guest whom we already accepted their booking. That would both be unprofessional and unfair. Again, Airbnb holds guests money and they don’t have good customer service for finding people an alternative accomodation if a host cancels on them. Airbnb needs to do a better job with this.
We’ve never used Airbnb to stay in someone else’s house. When we were younger, we both hosted and stayed through couchsurfing and had some fantastic experiences. But as the mainstream media began advertising couchsurfing as a “free place to stay” the website began drawing a freeloader element that doesn’t understand that in lieu of exchanging money, the website is about exchanging cultural experiences. Airbnb can have an element of cultural exchange, which we really like as hosts, but the exchange of money naturally creates different expectations. As a host, you have an obligation to be more flexible with your paying guests. It’s a ballgame that we feel more comfortable always playing on home turf.
Biggest Tip for Guests – Ask your host if you can stay before sending the money through the Airbnb system! And of course check the hosts references.
Biggest Tip for Hosts – Be professional and accommodating to your guests. They’re paying money to stay! And along with checking references you may also want to ask guests requesting a week’s stay what the purpose of their visit will be. It’s your house so you have the right to ask before accepting a booking. If they plan to move to your city understand that the dynamic is very different to someone who is just visiting as tourist to have a good time. Be prepared for this should you choose to accept the booking.