Airbnb is an online business allowing travelers and potential hosts to find each other and schedule stays, eliminating the need for hotels. Since its debut in 2008, Airbnb has grown into an approximately $10-billion business accommodating the needs of travelers who are either looking to save money or to find a different experience than the typical hotel stay.
The Airbnb community is growing rapidly — currently they have lodging available through hosts in around 190 countries and thousands of cities across the globe.
To use Airbnb, both hosts and travelers set up free accounts and establish profiles. Hosts will post information about their accommodation offerings, including descriptions and photos, the price and availability, and any other information that the host thinks will be useful to the traveler. The accommodation could be anything from a simple room to a houseboat to an entire mansion.
If you are interested in traveling with Airbnb, set up your account and then search the Airbnb site for accommodations at your destination that are available during your travel dates. You can use filters to search for types of accommodations, price, amenities, and the host language. Using keywords, you are also able to search for specialties or to stay within a certain distance of a landmark.
While you can book straightaway if you find what you are looking for, we recommend rather taking the time to contact your host through the online form and ask questions about things that are important to you that may not be listed in the profile. Subjects could include Wi-Fi access and quality, nearby public transportation options, type of bed, parking, safe/unsafe areas of town, privacy and cleanliness expectations, and the refrigerator rules. It is better to ask upfront than find out after the fact.
Not all hosts keep the calendar regularly updated, so it is best to verify that your preferred booking time really is available.
Once you do decide to make a reservation, click on the "Book It" button and enter your payment information. Major credit cards are accepted along with PayPal. If you want more credit, check out MoneyTips' list of credit card offers. Some debit cards work if they can be processed as credit cards. Newer payment forms such as Google Wallet may be available depending on your location — check the Airbnb site for updates.
You are charged when the host confirms. Hosts are not required to accept your request, but if they choose to do so, then they are obligated to accept within 24 hours, otherwise the request is automatically rejected.
As a traveler, you will pay a 6–12% fee to Airbnb, so remember to consider this as you are comparing your options with local hotels. (Hosts pay a 3% fee.) Check for any security deposits, cleaning fees, and other charges that may be applied at the host’s discretion (such charges must be listed.) Cancellation policies vary by listing, so make sure you understand your options in case you need to back out of your trip.
If you are traveling abroad, you will need to check for any VAT (value-added taxes) that may apply with certain countries. It is possible to request your bill be charged in a currency other than the one your host has requested, but you will have to check Airbnb’s exchange rates to assess how good of a deal you are getting.
You will need to make your own arrangements for the key exchange or similar access. Most hosts will want to meet you, but it is not a requirement. Coordinate the meeting through the Airbnb system to make sure you have a good reference in case problems arise. Stay in communication with your host and make sure you exchange valid telephone contact information.
Airbnb verifies identities but does not perform background checks, so reviews of past experiences are valuable in making your decision. Make sure you leave appropriate feedback after your stay; your host will be leaving feedback for your profile as well.
Airbnb has allowed many travelers an interesting change from the cookie-cutter hotel experience while saving them money. Consider giving it a try for your vacation — you may save money, have a wonderful experience, and maybe even make a new friend that owns property in one of your preferred vacation destinations.