Are you headed out on summer vacation soon and have your eye on a great Airbnb? Maybe you're convinced that staying in someone's home is the best way to experience an off the beaten track neighborhood, or to get to know a city beyond its Top 10 lists. Pick a place that's right for you, and it can be the difference in just a fun summer getaway — and a really memorable trip. A good host can steer you to their under-the-radar favorites, gems not on the tourist trail. My host in Paris once sent me across the city for what she promised was the best eclair, even though there were plenty available right around the corner. She was so right and I still think about that perfect pastry.
But booking into an Airbnb or other short term rental isn't quite like staying at a hotel — the popular “instant book” option (where you can reserve without having to ask first) notwithstanding.
While there are a number of listings run as investment properties, complete with a property manager and call center if you call for help, plenty are still the original Airbnb idea — a room in someone's home, or their house that they vacate for you. Think of yourself as more of a house guest than a hotel customer at these places and you may see that some questions or behaviors that are par for the course at hotels are downright deal-breakers at an Airbnb.
And don't forget one other big difference. Trash that hotel room and the worst that can happen is the hotel charges you. Be a bad guest in someone's home, a place they love and care for, and you may be saddled with a bad review that could make that your last Airbnb. That's right: reviews are a two way street.
How do you know what pitfalls to avoid if you want to get the good reviews that mean you'll be welcome at any host's place? Reading and following house rules, respecting the property and the community and generally behaving like a responsible adult are a given. But if you've never been a host yourself there are probably some pain points we hosts contend with that you wouldn't be expected to know about.
As one of Airbnb's longest tenured superhosts I'm here to let you in on a few things many of us wish you knew. Follow these seven tips and you'll stand out as an all-star guest we'd fight to have.
Use a real photo
You may think it's cute to have your kitten as your profile photo (and it's probably a very cute kitten!), but it's a scary prospect letting strangers sleep under our roof. We want to know that you are who you say you are. Help your host feel at ease by verifying your identity in as many ways as the platform allows — and make your profile photo one that will help them recognize you when you arrive.
Send us a complete message
We get it, you're busy. You have a zillion other things to do besides book an Airbnb. But if your booking message is just a few terse words, say 'coming to town for work,' that can activate our Spidey senses. Think of the things we have to be concerned about: Are you a professional party host (that's a real thing) here to trash the place? That's pretty much a worst case scenario and highly unlikely, but even with a legit guest there's always the worry that they might damage the property. We have to infer how you'll treat our (probably very substantial) investment — our home — based on very few factors.
If you can include a polite greeting and a line or two about what brings you to town and/or why you chose this place, it helps hosts feel more like you're a trustworthy human being they can give the keys to their house to. Besides, remember the spirit of homesharing is travelers and locals getting to know one another so why not start off with a nice introduction?
Don't ask for a break on the rate
Nothing sets off red flags like a guest asking for a discount. Bargain hunters are notorious among hosts for other bad behavior like not respecting house rules; demanding exceptions to other things like check-in and out times; and being dissatisfied no matter what. The price the host sets is the price they need to make this worth their while, and the price the market will bear. If your budget isn't that high, look for a lower-priced alternative. Or check less popular dates or try plugging a longer stay in — often those will trigger lower prices.
It's hard for us to judge what you deem 'safe'
Remember this isn't a corporate hotel with a staff. Unless you're dealing with an investment property run by a property manager, chances are you're talking to the homeowner themselves. It could be seen as rude to insinuate the neighborhood they choose to call home may not be good enough for you. Besides, how do they know what your personal threshold or definition of safety is?
This one's on you to do your homework. The listing will show the general neighborhood and there should be exterior photos of the property. Be honest with yourself about where you'd be comfortable, then do your Googling, check out street view and read the past reviews. Ask away if you have questions not answered in the listing that will help you feel more at ease. But send concrete questions that address specific concerns, such as “are there working street lights?” or “do you have security cameras?” or “am I likely to be approached by people asking for money?” if these are things you worry about.
Do tell us how we can help!
Many of us got into hosting because we have a passion for hospitality. And who knows the neighborhood and destination better than a real, live local? If you're looking for a certain kind of restaurant or attraction — tell us! I for one love to help travelers discover the corners of my town they may not know about. As a guest myself I've benefited from wonderful hosts in other cities giving me their inside tips.
And if you are lacking something in the Airbnb itself, let us know! I don't know any hosts who would want you to suffer in silence. Need a fan? Wish you had one more towel? Just say the word. That doesn't mean we can always fulfill your request but I know an awful lot of hosts who will go to great lengths to make sure guests are happy and have what they need (I helped some of my recent guests elope, but if they hadn't asked me for some suggestions I'd never have known I had the opportunity).
Looker not a booker? Please know this
There's warning on my Airbnb dashboard telling me I need to get my acceptance rating up or risk suspension of my account. (As they should) the company takes discrimination seriously. And they don't want guests to be disappointed by a rejection from a host, so they require that we accept a high percentage of requests.
If you have a party of eight with one traveling chinchilla and you love that listing that sleeps just four and allows no pets, you may be tempted to try to book it anyway. When the host (quite reasonably) turns you down, that's a strike against them. I rent my whole house listing so infrequently that thanks to someone trying to book it as an event venue, and a pricing glitch that made my listing show up for a fraction of the actual cost — both requests that I rejected — I'm now on thin ice.
Please do be a nice person and take a look at the listing's rules and requirements and be sure it's a match before you send off that request.
Don't forget to leave a review
Your stay's not over when you check out. Not only do your fellow travelers count on your honest review, your host needs a certain percentage of guests to leave a review in order to meet Airbnb standards. Sure, once you've moved on it's the last thing on your mind, but take five minutes to leave a review with specifics on what you liked about your stay and heads up for other guests. (I'm always glad when my reviews mention the vertiginous stairs at our third floor flat; they're no joke and I want any potential guests to know just what they're in for!)
And if you saw room for improvement — and the host clearly cared about offering a great place to stay — send them a private note with your suggestions. Bingo: good travel karma! Plus, if you look like a nitpicking complainer in your reviews, future hosts may not be so keen on taking your booking.
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