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A Quick and Easy Guide To Using Airbnb

Written by: Dave Owen

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Arguably the biggest revolution in travel accommodation since the invention of the roof, Airbnb has the hotel and hostel industries quivering in their boots.
It puts travellers in touch directly with hosts offering a place to stay, providing the opportunity to forego sterile rooms and crowded dorms in favour of homely rooms, private apartments, and even the likes of castles and villas. Having taken the US by storm, it’s now available all over the world.
In 2014 Airbnb was used by around six million people, and in the first eight months of 2015 it’s had 30 million bookings on its platform. It has quickly become a major player in the hospitality industry and not just a quirky alternative for adventurous travellers.
Yet unfamiliarity means some are still wary of using Airbnb. Here’s a quick guide to put your mind at ease.

Is Airbnb safe?

This is the biggest concern people have about Airbnb; you’re staying in privately owned property without the familiar security of a hotel or hostel. Yet horror stories are few and far between, and it’s usually the tenant causing problems rather than the host. In some ways an Airbnb is safer than a hostel, as you won’t be sharing the space with strangers.
Airbnb does not run background checks on its hosts, but many provide verified ID, and there’s a robust reviewing system. More on that below.

Read the reviews

Airbnb user profiles, like most online marketplaces, rely on building a reputation through reviews, recommendations, and ratings. Take the time to look these through, as they can tell you a huge amount about a property and its host.
Importantly, users can only leave a review if they have a confirmed stay at the place in question, so profiles can’t be padded out with fakes. If the reviews are bad, look elsewhere.

Look for watermarked photos

Every profile should come complete with photos of the place you’re staying, so that you know it has important things like walls and a floor.
If a photo features a triangular “A” watermark in the top right hand corner, it means it was taken by professional Airbnb photographers brought in by the host. It’s by no means a prerequisite, but the watermark is a good sign that what you see is what you’ll get.

Don’t be afraid to contact your host

Alongside its reviewing suite, Airbnb’s website comes equipped with a messaging service that allows you to contact a host without having to request a booking.
Making contact and building rapport before booking is a good way to put both you and the host at ease; remember, the host is often giving up their personal space to a total stranger. They don’t have to accept your booking request, but chatting beforehand gives you a much better chance of getting the accommodation you want.

Read the cancellation policy

Airbnb hosts can abide by one of five different cancellation policies, ranging from ‘Flexible’ to ‘Super Strict.’ The former allows you to cancel up to 24 hours in advance without losing too much money, while anything on the strict end of the spectrum can see you badly out of pocket, depending when you cancel.
Needless to say, Airbnb isn’t quite as flexible as hostel accommodation. Before you make a booking, make sure you’ve read the cancellation policy closely to avoid nasty surprises somewhere down the line.

An Airbnb is not a hotel

Your host has to be at the property when you arrive to let you inside and hand over the keys. So when you give them your time of arrival, make sure you stick to it. If you’re running late, do your best to let them know as soon as possible.
Don’t expect all the amenities of a hotel. No one’s going to be turning up your bed while you’re out on the town. Enjoy your privacy instead, and do your best to keep things tidy. Many hosts charge a flat cleaning fee, and take a security deposit. So you’re paying for any damage.

What’s it likely to cost?

Rates vary widely depending on location and the type of accommodation. A room in an apartment will cost less than a converted railway car, which will cost less than a medieval castle. You get the idea.
An Airbnb is unlikely to ever be cheaper than a hostel, but it can often cost far less than a hotel, and you’re probably getting somewhere with a lot more personality. It’s also worth noting that rates aren’t fixed. Don’t be afraid to haggle (respectfully) with hosts.

Use your host’s local knowledge

Your host will be local to wherever you’re visiting, and many are happy to help make your stay in their city a good one. They’ll know the best attractions, bars, and restaurants, and can help out with transport and directions. Some might even invite you to dinner.
Don’t be afraid to ask their expertise, but always remember that a host has no obligation to provide it.

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