“Sharing economy” advocates remain smitten with online room-sharing service Airbnb for its myriad uses, but all the added quirks involved in using the service also mean things can go very, very wrong. It might be worth boning up on your booking strategy. Are you getting the most bang for your buck?
Unlike big hotel chains, Airbnb hosts tend to be amateurs when it it comes to figuring out their value. Less experienced hosts, who aren’t as ruthless with pricing, can play to your advantage. Hotels often charge double-digit markups for bookings on weekends and popular holidays, whereas unknowing Airbnb hosts may consistently charge a flat price—which could be a big win for you.
The other benefit of booking with amateurs is that they’re human and thus often more flexible (an Airbnb host renting their own home is probably more in need of the income). There’s little room for haggling with professional Airbnb landlords who manage multiple properties—and less so with websites like Hotels.com or hotel deal apps. As for the moms-and-pops of Airbnb, the website’s option to contact the host before booking sets you up perfectly for negotiation. Maximize your stay with a request to check in early or check out late. Found a host with a lot of availability or a hole of a few days in their bookings? Ask for a steep discount that fills the gap. Everyone wins.
Much like hotels, savvier Airbnb hosts tend to make hay on last minute travelers. Learn Airbnb, a website for Airbnb hosts, advises hosts not to rent too early, especially before learning about special events: ”You’ll be potentially missing out on significant profits as special events could sometimes fetch 2-5x the normal nightly rates…aim to be fully booked out 2-3 weeks out and at most 50% booked from 4-8 weeks out.” If you’re traveling for, say, a festival or a concert, reserving far ahead increases the odds that the host will be none the wiser.
The Airbnb experience may feel consistent thanks to its seamless website, but the rules surrounding its product vary by the host. Some hosts allow for pets, some for smokers, and some tack on big asks and fees you may not expect. That Parisian apartment in the Marais may seem like a good deal on its face. But after the $150 cleaning fee, you may as well have booked a hotel. Some hosts foist that work onto you, mandating tasks like stripping the beds or taking out the trash. Failure to follow such rules may mean being kicked out early, without a refund.
If you’re traveling as a couple, watch out for hosts charging extra for a second guest. On Lifehacker, one pro Airbnb host advised newbies that, ”Airbnb allows you to charge a surcharge for extra guests. I’ve found that adding $15 or $20 to the one-person rate is totally acceptable, and can go a long way towards beefing up your bottom line.”
Don’t assume that Airbnb is cheaper than a decent hotel. A US city-by-city study by web data company Priceonomics found that Airbnb is not always cheaper than hotels in smaller cities, where there are fewer apartment owners clambering to rent rooms, and living costs are lower. As always, it pays to do your research.