Tips for using Airbnb as a traveller: a user’s experience

I have been so very in love with the idea of Airbnb for ages now. The first time I heard about it, I just fell head over heels: you get to stay with the locals, in their homes, feast on their infinite local knowledge and make great new friends around the world. Not only that, but it effectively turns an entire city into a hotel spreading wealth away from the big chains and empowering ordinary citizens both financially and with a great deal of real life tourism experience.

My experience

But using it was a lot less of a romantic experience than I had expected. I jumped through all of Airbnb’s hoops: I filled out an extensive profile online, I included a photo, I linked my Facebook profile, I lodged my credit card details, I got my friends to do character references, I even sent a copy of my ID for Airbnb to verify that I was a real person.

All this, I thought would help me, alas, it did not appear to. My first request to stay with someone in San Francisco (who, according to Airbnb had a 100% response rate and responded within a few hours usually) went unanswered for 48 hours, after which it was inexplicably rejected. The second with another host almost expired without any response when in the 11th hour as I was about to try a new host, they responded. My first booking request for an amazing redwood forest cabin in Northern California was rejected by the owner because she wasn’t sure if I would be okay with her not being there at the house during the time I was visiting. Because she rejected it, I was not able to book that room again for a while, so I booked another room in the same house, which she also rejected because she felt that she needed to finalise her personal travel plans first. It was only one leg of my journey with Airbnb which did confirm without hassle: 3 nights in Santa Cruz; and refreshingly this confirmed in less than 10 minutes.

It’s important to bear in mind that for each of these requests, Airbnb prompts you to pay up front and puts a hold on your credit card for the full amount of each stay, including their +/-10% fee. If your request is rejected or expires, it can take days for your bank to release the amounts. The result for me was a maxed out credit card which meant I was unable to pay for car hire or any other travel arrangements until the holds had been released.

5 Tips on being prepared

But, if you’re like me and you believe so strongly in the idea of Airbnb that you’ll try 5 times in a row to get your dream home-stay, here are my tips on how to be financially and psychologically ready for trying to book:

1. Make sure you have a sizeable credit card limit. Either that or make sure you don’t leave it until the last minute to book as you’ll need time to let the holds clear to try again if things don’t work out first time round.

2. Make sure you pay for everything else first, book your Airbnb last. The very last thing you’ll want is to be without money to pay for essentials like flight tickets, car hire and so on.

3. Contact the host first, before lodging payment if you’re short on credit card limit, while hosts are supposed to respond more favourably to requests with a lodged payment, this was definitely not always true in my experience.

4. Book with an open mind and don’t get too emotionally tied to the idea of staying at any one property, it can be really disappointing and disheartening if your dream host rejects your request and that could put you off trying again completely.

5. Keep an eye on hotel prices and availability in the area. If you’re getting little joy from hosts and notice that hotels are starting to book out, book the hotel and be done with it.

In summary, remember that you are dealing with the public, not travel professionals here – they’re reacting to your request on emotional and perhaps at times irrational criteria. You’re also staying in their personal space and so hosts can be as picky as you are in choosing the right hotel. These people often have full time jobs and many have families to take care of too, so you may not be their first priority at the moment when you enquire and it’s nothing personal.

A brief caveat: There are loads of people who have positive experiences on Airbnb, close friends of mine have, perhaps it’s just my experience which has been frustrating. And, that being said, I still fervently believe in the concept of Airbnb and I believe it can change the world for the better.

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