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First Time as AirBnB Guest: a Review

We spent three nights at an AirBnB house for our visit to Boston. It was our first stay via AirBnB, and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect…

What is AirBnB

AirBnB is a leading member among the rise of “alternative accomodations” – alternative to traditional hotels and bed & breakfasts. Other members of the space include VRBO – Vacation Rentals By Owner, Homeaway, and Roomrama. AirBnB helps connect homeowners who rent out a room in their house, or their entire house or apartment with travelers who are looking for a different, and many times, cheaper, experience than a hotel would provide. It’s been around since 2008 and have generally received good reviews in the press (but for an example of how things can go VERY WRONG, see here).

To use AirBnB, you fill out a profile which can be as detailed or as vague as you’d like and then you search for vacancies in your destination with your dates. Guests review the properties after their stay, and hosts review the guests as well. Now, MOST of the reviews I’ve read on the site are overwhelmingly positive. I think this has to do with the fact that most hosts try to do a good job, but that it’s also awkward to give very negative reviews when you know you will be reviewed in return.

You pay AirBnB via credit card, and the payment is released to the hosts after you check out. This, the thought goes, provides some incentive for hosts to keep their word and provide at good service.

Our Experience

We actually took a bit of a risk, as we booked our stay with a new listing that had only one prior – but positive – review. I suppose our hosts took a risk as well, given that we were brand-new members and haven’t been reviewed before. Fortunately, it turned out very well. For our 3 nights stay in the heart of Cambridge, we paid $314 for a spacious room with a shared bath. This price includes the AirBnB booking fee. Because we were coming into Boston during graduation season, the cheapest hotel we could find would cost $441 for the same dates. Even with a $25 cancellation fee – I booked the hostel before I searched on AirBnB – we saved $100 on our lodging. And that was enough for a nice meal at Lineage in Coolidge Corner and a canoe ride in Concord!

We had our own key to the front door and could come and go as we please. The host was very ameable and we chatted a couple of times, but there was no pressure to have a long conversation. The kitchen was open for our use, but we didn’t really take advantage of that. If you like to cook during vacations, though, having kitchen access would be a huge plus.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The most important tip I have would be to do some research on exactly what kind of location the house/apartment is in. A place that is listed as “just 15 minutes from the beach” might take you an hour to drive under Los Angeles traffic conditions, and a room that is advertised as “only 5 miles from city center” might be in a bad part of town. Do your due diligence. Fortunately, I had a friend in Boston who vetted my AirBnB place, so that was really helpful.
  • You are staying in someone’s home, and that experience can be very different from staying in a hotel. Our house had far more charm and space than any hotel we can book for the same price, but it also came with its set of quirks. Very noisy wood floors, a tiny sink, a bedroom door that didn’t quite lock, etc. None of these things detracted much from our experience, but just know that you have to be much more open to adjusting to different things to have a good experience with AirBnB.
  • Hosts can also institute a cleaning fee – typically $25-$100 – and a security deposit – I’ve seen up to $500! I typically avoid properties with high cleaning fees or security deposits above $100 because that seems to me a way of artificially deflating their list price. According to AirBnB, “we’ll automatically authorize the guest’s credit card for the deposit 24 hours prior to check-in. We release it back to the guest 48 hours after the checkout date, if no damages are reported by the host.”

We didn’t have to contact AirBnB for anything during our stay, but I do appreciate the fact that the company has 24/7 support. If something goes wrong, you have somebody to reach out to.

Would I use AirBnB again?

Yes, I would. In fact… we had such a good experience with AirBnB that we booked a room through them for our wedding weekend. Our room cost $220 for 2 nights, while all the hotels in the area cost $180+ per night. The savings can be quite remarkable. There are things that I will miss about a hotel (which is why we decided to do luxury hotel all the way for our honeymoon), but I was very happy with AirBnB.

  • MakingSenseofCents - Glad you had a good experience! ReplyCancel

  • shopping2saving - I have never heard of this before, glad to hear that it worked out well. I was watching a show about a really bad bed and breakfast in Hollywood that was run by someone who thought that the guests in her house were intruders. It was awful and it turned me off from B&Bs. If I was looking for a cheaper alternative I'll check this site out. I'd rather do this than stay at a motel! ReplyCancel

  • Bridget - Great review! I booked through AirBnB for my stay in Frankfurt next month. It's costing me about $330 where all hotels & hostels were $600-$900!!

    I hope I have as good of an experience as yours!

    If I had a 2-bedroom place I would definitely participate in this. ReplyCancel

  • bekah - AirBnB is great in Europe, as well! We've booked with them 3 or 4 times (once earlier today, in fact!). I've only had good experiences. Staying in private apartments is way nicer than a shared hostel dorm for about the same price, and usually the hosts are really friendly and helpful. ReplyCancel

  • Lance@MoneyLife&More - Never heard of this place but it seems neat. I'll have to remember to keep it in mind whenever I decide to plan a trip :) ReplyCancel

  • Pittles - I used them to book a trip in D.C. last summer and it worked out great. I’m planning to use again for a trip to NYC. ReplyCancel

  • Marissa - i'm glad you had a great experience. There were so many horror stories floating around last year that it scared me away. Maybe I'll look at them again for Blogher in NYC. ReplyCancel

  • yourlifeforless - I've heard great things about AirBnB, but haven't had the chance to use them yet. I thought that the minimum stay was a week. My wife and I take a few weekend trips each year and almost always book our hotels on Priceline, but I'll look into AirBnB next time as well. ReplyCancel

  • Jessica - I'll have to try this sometimes. ReplyCancel

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter - Thanks for posting this review, I was searching for 2012 Air BnB reviews but mostly was coming up with their site. This type of post is exactly what I was after!! ReplyCancel

  • Savings on Sleeping | Unique Gifter - […] Good  from Well Heeled Blog […]ReplyCancel

  • Marlene - It’s a great service. I’ve rented my place and apply a security deposit just as any landlord would do. People are subletting their homes to strangers after all. ReplyCancel

  • Duncan - Host get paid 24 hours after guests arrive. I know this because I am one. I use them when I travel too as a guest.
    I've seen security deposits as high as $1000. Mine is low compared to this. My cleaning fee covers the cost of doing laundry, purchasing a rotation of linens and towels often and cleaning the room which can be time consuming depending on how busy things are.
    If something isn't right and you can't work it out with the person you're staying with, call airbnb within a day of getting there.
    These mostly aren't B&Bs but they're places that private people live in or in some cases rent out. I've seen a few actual B&Bs, some property managers with serviced travel apartments on the site and avoid them. That is not the experience I want for myself when I travel.

    I like to leave tea, infusers, tea cups and an electric kettle in the guest room. ReplyCancel

    • Ashley - If a guest uses a coupon for their booking, does the host still get paid their full booking price? ReplyCancel

  • Gil Baxter - That was a very nice review. It is really difficult to find cheaper hotels to stay during vacations. Advertisements aren't that reliable nowadays. They deceive customers with catchy and attractive commercials but in the end collects additional payments after you check out. I have already went to different places to write articles. It was always a problem for me to find affordable yet satisfying place to spend the night with. Hosts are mostly accommodating to their customers but not all. I have already met different personalities of hosts as I travel. Some of them are really good and approachable but others seem to ignore your needs.

    You just gave me an idea about that hotel. I'd love to stay there when I reach Cambridge 😛 ReplyCancel

  • Ways To Save on a Hotel | Well Heeled Blog - […] reviews (they have to pay in order to leave a review, so they are more likely to be true). [Note: I've used AirBnB twice, and were very happy both times – Well Heeled […]ReplyCancel

  • missFriday - My experience with airbnb has been great. I have used it once before for a short trip to northern WA state and it was everything the host describe. She had a garage that was completely remodelled for a living space. It was huge as you can probably put 2 and a half cars in it. It had its own bathroom, fully equiped kitchen, living area, and a queen bed, and your own parking spot right outside your unit. I met the owner once as her house is right next to the space. It was located in a great area with good proximity to the highway. It was not posh, but for trip at the time, it was perfect. I am currently staying at an airbnb apartment in Paris, France for a month! I feel like I am extremely lucky to have found this apartment as as it is perfection. My host is amazing! I have met his family and friend and they have bent over backwards to make my stay as perfect as it has been. The entire apartment is mine. I dont like renting just a room, i like my privacy. I cant help but have high regard with honest people who rent out their homes to complete strangers. They are the ones who have so much to lose. if you are using airbnb as a guest, do a thorough research, ask the owners questions that are important to you. And when you find the perfect place, please treat the owner's property with respect, as if they're your own. Airbnb is the first place i look when searching for a place to stay, hotels are my last resort. ReplyCancel

  • Carrie Cheng - Beware of this airbnb!

    My friend told me about this airbnb website and as I was trying to find an apartment for a week in Dubrovnik , I decided to give it a try, HUGE MISTAKE! I lost €100 within 48 hrs for reservations I have never made.

    First I found this rental called “rooms old town” from an owner named Piero, as I have used other websites like hotels.com, booking.com, I asked for availability of the last week in August ( I asked last week, end of July ), the next thing I know that my reservation was confirmed, I looked at it and found that it was a room with a share bathroom , I quickly replied to the owner and told him, I did not want a share bathroom but want a room with private bathroom as he listed in the site, and of course I cancelled the reservation . Little did I know that they already deducted €30 euro from my credit card.

    Then the owner replied back saying that the private room was only available for the 1st, 5th,6th and 7th night and asked me to move to another room in between , I immediately replied that I did not want the room as I had no desire to move 3 times during 7 nights stay.

    The next day there was an email telling me that the reservation was confirmed and my credit card was charged. Then again, I cancelled the reservation and found that my credit card was charged for another €70 ! Of course , I emailed the owner and the website and told them this was totally ridiculous as I have never made any reservation and merely asking questions. I have made it very clear to the owner that I did not want to move from room to room!

    Someone from the website emailed me back stating that it was “company policy” and never explain to me why I was charged even if I did not make the reservation. Their attitude was ” tough luck, you sucker!”

    I felt totally being cheated and am furious of these kind of scam! How unethical these people can be!

    The website never again send me any reply and the owner of this property said that “don’t worry, they will refund you since you cancel almost a month before , they only deduct when cancellation is within 5 days.” I do not know if the owner really did not realize of this total scam or he is actually working with this website to rib people off.

    I have now lost €100 by asking availability of a room one month before my travel date. ReplyCancel

    • james ryan - I don't think you were using Airbnb. Also, you should call your credit card company and dispute the charge. If it was airbnb here is a toll-free number you can call. 24/7 Phone Support (currently only available in English)


      • Christian - I have been dealing with their customer service for the past few weeks. Horrible is the only way to describe it. The place I rented was not at the location promised. The owner changed the postal code and city location. My receipt from AirBNB has a false address. You would think it would be pretty straight forward. CS response is that when they look at Google maps it looks close to them. What a scam!!! If you expect to stay in NYC make sure you actually end up there. It took 20 seconds to discover the home owner made up the address. Convincing AirBNB to refund funds when I never stayed at the location seems to be a bit harder. Don't expect what they say to be true.

  • Dumbledore - Beware of Airbnb. I imagine it's rare, but if you have to deal with their customer service reps get ready for some condescending attitudes. I booked what I thought was an entire apartment (that was the classification anyway) to find out that there would be someone staying there! 20 min after I paid, I canceled and tried to get my 50% fee and booking fee back. (over $400) The renter was cool and willing to do the refund but Airbnb was anything but. 10 emails and 6 phone calls got me the 50 % back but Airbnb refused to refund me 75 dollars for a misunderstanding of the rental and only 20minutes of actual booking.

    They sell themselves as a laid back nice "hipster-type" business but they are just a bunch of elitist jerks in disguise.

    Glorified Craigslist. never again. ReplyCancel

  • Alan in Seattle - I recently found airbnb and am planning on trying it. However, I find it rather strange and a bit disconcerting that there are no negative reviews. I travel fairly frequently (at least 2x year for the last 15 years) and use a variety of websites that have user reviews (like trip advisor) for accomodations. I do not ever remember seeing a property that did not have at least 1 negative review. I think some of the negative reviews I see may be somewhat over blown, maybe an irate customer, but, most contain some sort of legit concern. Things can go wrong.
    I've looked at dozens of listings on airbnb, and have not seen 1 really negative comment (there were 1 or two that said there was one small issue, but, that everything was fantastic). Are negative comments getting deleted? Hard to believe that everything is perfect. ReplyCancel

  • Super Zimmer - Airbnb is worthless. How am I supposed to plan a trip when the potential "hosts" don't respond for a week? It's like MySpace. ReplyCancel

  • Kingston - I am currently dealing with an airbnb reservation and having a very poor experience. I picked a house in Costa Rica to rent from airbnb listings. After being contacted by the host, receiving an airbnb reservation and sending the payment to the place listed on the airbnb reservation I still do not have a confirmation that I have a reservation. Now a week later airbnb says they do not deal with my host anymore and after repeated contact cannot tell me anymore information. My case has been sent to a department that even the airbnb customer service people cannot contact. I am very dissapointed because I choose this rental because it was through a supposed reliable company airbnb. ReplyCancel

  • craig - I just used Airbnb and would *not* use them again! In addition to charging the renter a service fee for reserving a place from their website, they charge you the full rental fee immediately upon securing the reservation even if it's many months from your departure date and they hold on to the money, not the person renting the unit. Most places charge a deposit initially and then require full payment two or three months in advance. Airbnb is running a scam! I'm going back to VRBO.com ReplyCancel

    • Globe Trotter - %100 agree with this. This is exactly what happened to me. I emailed customer service and asked them to give my interest charges back as they are allowed to charge and hold on to the money several months in advance. Obviously, I got a drone answer nonsense. Eventually after several back and forth I got a rude answer indicating this is their business model. This is bad business. Stay away. They have no business charging five months in advance thousands of dollars, plus their outrageously high fees anyway! ReplyCancel

  • judy crouss - My daughter and I recently stayed with michael in coal harbour. He was at the door to greet us with a big smile. He was very attentive to all of our needs and helped us with directions to all of our tousist attractions. We loved his dog hugo. Michael was an excellent host. ReplyCancel

  • Franz - I am glad you had a good AirBnB experience. We have a number of friends who are hosts and I am sure they would be stay with. We also had a short but lovely experience in London. So up until my last stay, I was a big fan of Air BnB for hosts and guests alike.

    But we also had a bad experience which makes me more cautious and reminded of two adages: "buyer beware" and "if it's too good to be true, it's not" (or something like that). Please see https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/1414715 for my review.

    Hoping to have the same epxerience as you! ReplyCancel

  • janie - Avoid airbnb. Atrocious treatment by staff and the forfeit of my security deposit in a rip off move by my hosts. Never again. Maybe I was unlucky but this turned out the most expensive trip I have ever taken. Great concept but no support for guests when things go wrong. ReplyCancel

  • Jack McCafferty - I found AirB&B helpful however the B & B we used was horrible. It was in Quito and Cuenca Ecuador. I would strongly recommend you not use this person in Quito nor her daughter in Cuenca. They lead you in with an add for $300mo and then switch to $550 since the others are no longer available. It gets much worse. These people have no education nor do they even own the property. That means if other guests or outsiders rip you off there is no insurance for your loss. After a week in a substandard room with shared bath they claimed we had used all the gas and they demanded more money. We said no so they turned it off and we could not cook. Went to bed on cheese and crackers. They wouldn't talk to us for days. No written rules or conditions. Do not pay these people in advance. We moved 2 blocks into a mansion for $210mo found with some Canadians help. Her name is Maria Pilar Porras. There are lots of really nice places avail.
    for 200-300mo. but hard to find until you get here. Ask any cab driver or just walking around meeting people and you will be surprised. ReplyCancel

  • AirBnB / short-term rentals ruled illegal in New York | Well Heeled Blog - […] I first used an AirBnB stay in May 2012, and since then have stayed in AirBnB properties in five cities. Often times an AirBnB provides a helpful (and cheaper) alternative to staying in hotels, especially if you are traveling with family. One of my best travel stays, in fact, was at a 2-bedroom AirBnB loft apartment that I got for $90 a night. […]ReplyCancel

  • Global goddess - I’m a world traveler and travel agent, used airbnb for the first time booking in Europe. Even though I paid through airbnb, the host kept demanding more money. She pestered us all night, I didn’t give it to her and wrote a negative review about her on airbnb. It was there the next day after publishing, but it magically disappeared though all other positive reviews stayed. Hmmmm wonder what happened? I think they deleted it!ReplyCancel

  • Christine - As a guest looking for a place to stay in another city, the amenities of home are what attract us to a property in the first place. We have stayed in properties all over the country, using the HomeAway and FlipKey websites. We were excited to find several locations in Los Angeles. From the initial pictures and location, this property seemed to be a place for our family to enjoy the weekend celebrating our children’s wedding.

    From the minute we walked in the front door, it was obvious that something was not right.
    When finding and reading the information provided for guests, we realized that we had moved into a glass house with all of our time at this address watched by a big brother. From limiting the amount of trash bags, dishwasher soap, even toilet paper and bathroom toiletries, it was obvious that the host was not interested in making us feel comfortable. Then when the air conditioning system was shut off on our second day, it really appeared to be retaliation for not parking correctly on our first evening there. There was no accounting for the number of people or the ages of the people staying there. There were several signs threatening legal action or having the friends in law enforcement come pay us a visit.

    We had reserved the property for 10 guests. There was no bedding left for the fold out in the downstairs so all guests had to be upstairs. Our parents are 88 and would have been more comfortable sleeping downstairs, on a bed that they did not have to use a drawer to climb into at night.

    Several rooms did not have light bulbs in the fixtures. The kitchen cabinets are in disrepair, hanging off kilter on their hinges. The walls are peppered with screws in several places as if decorations had been there. From examining the pictures that were sent to us initially, the art has been removed from the bedroom walls and perhaps the hallway stairs. The surround sound speakers to the main television are not connected to the television itself. The bed pillows were lumpy. I took photos to document this lack of attention to the property.

    The “game room” and pool were left open at all times. This was a liability issue. That made us feel uncomfortable as anyone could walk in off the street and say they had permission. We were told to expect “maintenance people” on the property.

    Leaving instructions about separating trash and putting laundry in bags placed in each bedroom (there were only two laundry bags left in the upstairs hallway) seemed out of line when we were paying rent including a cleaning fee.

    It is unfortunate also that the hosts take the position that they are doing people a favor by letting them use their property. Not that we were paying guests with rights of our own to consider. It is obvious that these property owners are unaware of how people just expect common courtesy. No late night texts or phone calls about parking. No turning off the heating and cooling system and then sending the guests an email as far as how to close windows and shut drapes to keep the property cool. These text messages are also saved for evidence of their lack of courtesy.

    The excuse we were given was that the owner no longer wishes to use the townhouse A which we were staying in for a rental property. Therefore it is no longer listed. Therefore he is able to allow the property to be used but without taking care of it or its guests. Therefore we cannot post a review of our experience with this host.ReplyCancel

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