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Airbnb Eco Cottage
Eco Cottage on Lake Atitlan. Image Credit: Airbnb.

Review: My Experiences Using AirBnB (Better Than Hotels?)

Prior to this past calendar year, I was aware of AirBnB, presumably like the rest of the globe, but had never considered it in terms of either short-term stay or long-term rental.

I started seeing frequent ads for AirBnB, including a rental treehouse apartment (yes, an actual treehouse, with a working bathroom inside of it), and even sublet apartment options. Clearly the business model and structure has evolved into a new space in real estate, along with more traditional overnight stays for tourists and travelers seeking valuable options, in comparison to traditional hotels. User experiences will clearly be highly variable, based on a multitude of conditions and factors.

I can easily see someone having a horrible experience with one apartment and a wonderful experience with another apartment and corresponding host. Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to only have extremely positive experiences and find great value in deals for travel. Similar accommodations using hotels provide less space for a higher cost, and you can find all of the same amenities (and perhaps even higher standards for cleanliness) using Airbnb. This can be attributed to different factors, but with the ability to rate both hosts and guests (which seems more personal then a hotel Yelp review), users are held to a standard of good behavior. Sometimes a deposit is required, and valid ID and background are also required, for those concerned about safety (though, that isn’t to say the model is risk-free).

While I had heard and read about Airbnb for years and had friends with glowing reviews after stays, prior to actually trying it (and loving it), I had some admitted trepidation. Most of this was in relation to safety, and some was just inexperience and fear of the unknown. During a transitional living period and move from one long term apartment to another (the latter not being immediately available), I was uncertain about real estate options.

I knew the interim period would be about a month or two, much longer than any person would ever typically stay in an Airbnb. Certainly too long for a hotel. So I started seeking out online deals for shorter term stay apartments. Unfortunately my need for tenancy at the time was pretty immediate, but the trend I noticed was a growing number of sublet and short-term offerings were pretty comparable to studio fees I was seeing on the Airbnb app, and the latter seemed beautiful and spacious. Taking the plunge in a big way for a first-time user, I sprung for a month at a Chelsea studio, quite the steal and lower than a month-to-month agreement for the property. The apartment transition was subsequently seamless and I was able to save money by investing in a soon-to-be-ready temporary rental at a great price.

The stay was nothing short of wonderful, with a lovely host, and only the highest standards of both cleanliness and safety. Overall, it changed my mind about Airbnb completely, which I now use frequently (whenever possible), and I remain committed to never staying at a hotel again!

Airbnb Cabin
Idyllic Cabin near Cocino National Forest. Image Credit: Airbnb.

AirBnB: The Company and Background

Airbnb is a San-Francisco based company offering an online marketplace to rent and sponsor rooms, homes, and varying properties. They have 5 million listings in nearly 200 countries. Stays are typically available on a nightly, weekly, or even monthly basis, and guests and hosts can communicate before and during the entire process. The apps neighborhood feature provides guests with information and schedules including sightseeing, dining options, music festivals, events, and local shopping ideas. There are also work travel options for businesses. The company was originally founded by two California natives on more of a bed and breakfast model, providing local lodgings for affordable rates, at a much smaller scale. The company experienced rapid growth following local outreach and strategic business sales, and has subsequently evolved into an entirely new category of lodgings and real estate, a game-changer in the market and a highly unique offering that can’t be compared to any specific competitor. As a personal aside, this company seems to have some of the best digital and social marketing I’ve ever taken note of. Their Instagram page will delight anyone keen on travel, customer or not, providing an immersive first-hand travel account, visually.

Review: My Experiences Using AirBnB (Better Than Hotels?) 1
Modern Cabin near Mohonk Preserve. Image Credit: Airbnb.

AirBnB: Positives and Negatives

While I personally sing praises to Airbnb for such a unique solution to a growing market of hospitality and rental issues, everyone will find their personal experiences completely unique, especially with a service like this. Here are some key positives and negatives, as reported by most users of the app, mainly from a guest perspective:

Pros

  • Unlike a hotel room, you can rent a full house (many at affordable rates similar to single room hotels), or a full studio apartment, sparing additional expenses like room service and opting to cook in your newly rented kitchen
  • Like a hotel room, most hosts will provide amenities (soap, shampoo, towels)
  • Instead of concierge services, the majority of hosts try to be helpful and communicative with their renters, to obtain future positive feedback and a great guest experience
  • The ability to stay in different parts of “town” or areas within a popular city or around a popular attraction, which can provide excellent experiences with locals and even a lower cost trip (based on area expenses)
  • Value: Perhaps the main benefit, you simply can’t find hotels at the same rates for the amount of space and variety offered with Airbnb’s listings
  • Kid friendly and pet friendly- many listings will take pets, and there’s plenty of space and privacy for a full family trip with children, without worrying about noise complaint potential
  • The ability to rate hosts, guests, and see user-feedback: clearly we are more likely to find hosts with experience and positive reputations as more reliable, and on a seller end, you may wish to review a guests background as well (not applicable for new users)
  • You can search using both broad filters (price, location) and specific filters (hot tub, pool, self check-in, doorman)
  • Company conducts background checks on all US hosts and guests, and makes all supply valid ID, to ensure safety
  • The Airbnb app provides guidebooks and travel information for every city, and every area within the city, including recommendations for sightseeing, shopping, plays, movies, etc.
  • The space is quickly moving into different real estate markets, even offering sublet options and room housing, sometimes free of traditional first/last month’s payment, but this is a newer venue for the business
  • If you’d like to rent or stay in a treehouse, cottage, tipi, a home on the beach, a private chalet: the world is your oyster, guests can enjoy experiencing homes they never knew possible, and are likely impossible financially outside of Airbnb. House on a lake for $60 per night? Romantic family home suite for under $100 per night? It’s become reality
  • For sellers: the marketplace has become a way to earn supplemental income
  • Potential for International and domestic travel
  • Different options for weekly, daily, and monthly stays, each with corresponding rates and potential discounts (i.e. some hosts will offer 40% off or more of the ask price for a full month)
  • Rooms are fully serviced and cleaned prior to each new guest arrival- including linens, sheets, bathroom items, and kitchens

Cons

  • Potential for cancellation: of course, one main threat that exists is the ability of the host or guest to cancel at the last minute (policies for this vary, and hosts are typically penalized), if this happens to you as a host, you are out of the money you would have made- and if this happens to you as a guest, you’ll have to find a suitable replacement very quickly, which can be challenging depending on timeframe. Typically Airbnb will work with guests and even offer coupons or compensation to put towards a more expensive rental if it is needed. This is highly unusual for hosts- they will have accounts flagged publicly if it’s done within a certain time frame. This happened to me once, the company worked with me to find different lodgings for the next evening and provided a stipend for pricier fees.
  • Safety issues: there are some stories available, which are actually quite uncommon, relating to security issues on the seller and guest side. But honestly, the risks are no higher than staying at a standard hotel, motel, or even travel in general. If anything, collecting personal information and ID via the app makes the process more secure, including confidential electronic payment. It’s highly safe and regulated, this has only been an associated negative due to a couple of select news stories. With that said, scams exist- so never approve any financial transactions outside of the app.
  • Guests should make sure, especially when booking on weekends, that the fee is accurate and as advertised (sometimes these are median rates and higher on weekends, so be sure to check the final price prior to booking)
  • Cleaning fees and service fees are not included in advertised prices, but ultimately with add-ons the value is still incomparable to anything else
Baja Vineyard Airbnb Bubble Houses
Baja Vineyard Bubble Houses. Image Credit: Airbnb.

AirBnB: The Final Verdict

As someone with prior fears about using the app, all of them have been disproven for me and every experience I have had using Airbnb has been safe and affordable. While a typical stay would not be a month or two, users should know that option does exist, particularly if other options fall through. In terms of more traditional, shorter term travel options, you can enjoy space, privacy, and a full home at a rate lower than a single-room hotel (and save on possibly finding a non-tourist location with lower neighborhood expenses). The benefits to using the app are fairly limitless, with my main qualm remaining the waiting list it takes to get into the infamous treehouse apartment. Well, one day. I would recommend Airbnb to friends, family, and everyone- even if there is initial skepticism. The feedback I have heard from everyone who used the app for the first time was a complete change of heart, and fears are assuaged fairly quickly as you realize there is a background check and ID component, along with other reviews. It’s something to try once in life, be it a vacation, a weekend, a longer stay, or a single romantic evening. Once you’ve tried it once and been convinced, your only issue is usually in over-scheduling travel options at affordable rates, and more so in trying to believe such can exist with a normal work schedule.

Airbnb Plus (September Update)

This month Airbnb has introduced and launched its new Airbnb Plus Home feature. The listings feature beautiful homes, exceptional hosts, and homes verified for exceptional quality. Prior to any stay, properties are checked in person to ensure quality and design. Each home is inspected for a 100 point quality score, and hosts must maintain review ratings of at least 4.8 stars. With these homes you’ll receive plenty of towels and extra linens, art decorations on walls, thoughtfully arranged furniture, hangers to store clothing, and excellent bath products.¬†Every feature is considered, from high-quality linens and comfortable beds to privacy shades. You can expect top quality appliances, filtered water, cooking and kitchen supplies, beautiful dishes and utensils, and even hair tools. All appliances must be in working order, with all spaces of the home neat and tidy.¬†Airbnb Plus ensure every part of the home is extra clean, clutter-free, fully functional, with attention to detail including manicured outdoor spaces, and tidy bathrooms with strong water pressure. Every home or listing that makes the cut must also pass design and aesthetic testing, and all seem to have impeccable design. You get the added benefit of using the Airbnb plus customer support service which claims faster support when needed (although regular support is quite fast, and this seems a bit obnoxious). It’s also important to note that a lot of the aforementioned features and appliances can be found with regular Airbnb’s as well, but it is a new venture for the company into a world of improved home design and style.

Review: My Experiences Using AirBnB (Better Than Hotels?) 2
My sunny studio in Chelsea, New York. Image Credit: Airbnb Host, Takago.
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