If you haven't come across the concept before: AirBnB is a rental site; people rent our rooms in their apartment or home, or they rent out their entire home to guests. You can book properties in around 200 countries all over the world and there are approximately 600,000 homes available on the site.
I didn't get chance to actually book using AirBnB until August last year when we decided we wanted to go to London. We were travelling with my parents so a hotel wasn't really going to be suitable and we wanted to be in a central location. Cue the decision to book with AirBnB. Both James and my parents were understandably hesitant: What if we turned up and it wasn't a real home? What if it wasn't in the place it claimed to be? What if the owners came home? All real and valid questions.
Me? I was mostly excited that we were going to finally be using one of the beautiful properties I had been eyeing up for over 12 months!
Any concerns we had about using AirBnB went straight out of the window when our request was accepted and we immediately had a phone call from our hosts. They went out of their way to ensure that everything would be perfect for our arrival, even calling us on the day to check we had found the house and the keys without any issues and offering us guidance on how to beat the traffic when they realised we were stuck.
Our next AirBnB test was a little bit more risky; we decided to use it when going to Oslo late last year. There's a slight difference between being stuck in London, a city we know and where we speak the language to travelling somewhere overseas and potentially being without somewhere to stay but again it went absolutely smoothly.
Now I'm not claiming to be an AirBnB expert because I have used it without any hiccups but I did a lot of research before booking and wanted to share some tips I had picked up:-
Is it safe?
This is probably the main concern that we had before completing our first booking but AirBnB go out of their way to ensure that the process is safe for both hosts and guests. You have to provide identification (scanned ID like a driving licence) and a phone number which will be verified before you can make a booking or become a host.
There is also a star rating and review system so you can see what other people have found at the properties you are considering.
Payment goes through AirBnB and generally speaking AirBnB will cover up to £600,000 in damages for hosts. AirBnB's customer service is available 24/7 so you can always get in touch with someone if something should go wrong with your booking.
Of course there are always going to be horror stories as with any accommodation booking. How many times have you been to a hotel and found you've been let down or it didn't quite live up to expectations? There are certainly ways you can try and prevent this from being your experience but nothing is ever 100% guaranteed.
When does it work?i
I think there is a lot to be said for staying in a hotel but there are some times when AirBnB just works better such as when you are travelling in a group (like we were in London) or you want to stay in a specific area of a city perhaps. We also found it was cheaper for us as a family of 4 than staying in a hotel when we were looking into going to Oslo, so it is always worth comparing the two when looking to go away. You have to keep in mind however that you don't get the perks which come with staying in a hotel; no pre-cooked breakfast or concierge service available here!
It's also not a great choice if you are looking for somewhere last minute as there is no guarantee as to when your chosen host will reply and whether their availability calendar has been kept up to date.
How to avoid a bad experience?
Make sure you read the ratings and reviews from people who have previously stayed in the property. If the host is new and you have any concerns then I'd stay away until you are more au fait with the AirBnB process. You can see from a host's profile whether they have been verified and so on, so take the time to read in detail about any potential property and host until you are satisfied.
Check the amenities list carefully to make sure that everything is above board and as you are expecting and it's also worth reading the cancellation policy as these vary (being set by the host not AirBnB) and you should know where you stand with regards to refunds due to cancellations.
When you request to stay ask any questions you think may be relevant to your stay such as the distance from the airport or train station, access to public transport, wifi availability, whether your room locks etc...anything which you would need to make your trip the best it can be. This will allow you to make an informed decision about whether the home is right for you. I would also recommend being honest about why you are travelling; both in London and in Oslo the hosts were only too happy to recommend local places for us to visit and try out once they knew why we were coming and who we were travelling with.
Remember that a host is under no obligation to accept your request so again, don't leave your booking until the last minute.
- I would recommend getting a telephone number for your host and having that to hand in case of any issues. If you are staying a room and not booking out an entire home I would also pass on your transport details just in case there are any delays.
- Be considerate guests, leave the home in the condition that you found it even though you might be paying a cleaning fee.
- Leave fair feedback which is an honest reflection of how the home was advertised versus what you found. Remember that a host is not in control of the weather, whether the people in the adjoining apartment were noisy or if something happened whilst you were out sightseeing and believe me I've read some reviews where people have complained about the above!
- You are given the option to leave both public and private feedback for a host so if there is some way you think a home could be made better, you can tell the host your opinion without blasting it all over their review page.
And enjoy! I can't wait for our next AirBnB experience...possibly Stuttgart in September?!