Online home-sharing platforms are now regarded as a viable option by most travellers. But how do you avoid becoming a horror story? Here's our guide to getting the most out of Airbnb...
The online rental industry is here to stay. The pioneering service Airbnb can boast 150 million users in more than 65,000 cities, and now has plenty of competition including HouseTrip and FlipKey.
But while growing in popularity, these platforms have also picked up their share of bad press – stories of squalid bedsits, raucous raves and defrauded travellers. In reality, most users check in without incident, and the majority of issues stem from misunderstandings between the two parties.
You can greatly reduce your chances of being let down if you keep your wits about you...
Firstly, tailor the experience to suit your needs. The trend began with sofa-surfing but has expanded into everything from shepherd’s huts to private islands. There are listings for every budget and adventure. Consider your level of interaction with the host.
Sharing a home can be a great way to live like a local, although it’s not always conducive to a holiday ambience. If you enjoy long baths or staying out late, it probably isn’t for you. Private residences are popular; you can even bypass the host entirely using a key safe.
Remember to thoroughly check the reviews. These sites are user moderated and testimonials are as vital as photos. Comments confirming everything is as stated will help verify a listing.
Don't go off-piste. Lack of reviews? Blurry photos? It’s unlikely this listing is a hidden gem. Stick to tried and tested hosts with lots of positive reviews. If you’re nervous, some sites identify trusted hosts with outstanding records. Airbnb label them Superhosts.
‘Even better than the photos’ is high praise in a review, but look out for discrepancies. A host is not a hotelier, so you might need to ask questions you wouldn’t normally. For example, that idyllic farmhouse may not have heating...
Use search filters. This is your chance to eliminate listings that don’t cut the mustard. Airbnb hosts are only required to provide you with bedding, towels, toilet paper and soap. To ensure yourself an iron or a smoke detector, make sure you check what’s on offer.
An 'eco-friendly' Airbnb is an excellent choice, but is it suitable for your trip? One area you must be sure about before you confirm your stay... the kitchen! A host’s idea of a well-equipped kitchen may be different from yours. Check that they have all the utensils and kitchen gadgets you need ahead of your visit.
Many hosts take great pride in what they do and will go the extra mile to pamper their guests. Others are just leasing a spare room on the side. So, if you want that little bit extra, you'll need to do some sleuthing, too.
To suss them out, read between the lines and examine the pictures. Are there flowers on the windowsill? Do they present a space or an experience?
If the host allows smoking, be aware the home may smell of cigarettes. If a host is slow to reply, they may be less attentive. The more legwork you put in, the less disappointed you’ll be once you pick up that key.
Don't operate outside the site. There's a messenger function within Airbnb, so no need to move your conversations or payment elsewhere.
While paying the host directly may seem like cheating the system, it’s more likely they’re cheating you. Sites such as Airbnb use an escrow system to hold your money until check in. If you go off-site, there’s nothing to protect you.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't contact your host. It’s good to build a rapport with potential hosts as this gives you a chance to gauge what they’re like. Remember, this is the person you’re calling at 3am if the power goes out...
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