To Airbnb, or Not to Airbnb, That is the Question

Airbnb. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Founded in August of 2008 and based in San Francisco, California, the site has become a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world—be it online or from a mobile phone or tablet.

Image via Guesty.

That’s right. Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries. And with a growing network of users, Airbnb is perhaps the easiest way for people to monetize their extra space and showcase it to an audience of millions.

We wish it were that straightforward however. Looking past all the worldwide licensing and tax issues the site is facing with the cities it operates in—we’ll address all that another time—the simple act of even booking an Airbnb for yourself can be a gamble. Remember, this is an online community marketplace that virtually anyone can be a part of, and the resulting concerns for guests are many.

So, to not quite quote our man Bill Shakespeare: To Airbnb, or not to Airbnb, that is the question…

The good…

Local tips! Even if your hosts don’t share the same space as you, they do typically live in the city. In our most positive Airbnb experiences, our hosts were always keen to make us aware of all the cool, under-the-radar spots to go check out.

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Airbnb’s brand new “Experiences” platform.

– You’re likely to get an authentic city experience. This is typically the kind of place that locals live. Here’s a chance to experience a place the way its locals do.

– Airbnb lets you decide on whether you wish to rent an entire place, single room, or shared room. Therefore the experience is undeniably more diverse compared to that of staying in a hotel.

– Do you like to cook or are you hopeful to stick to a tight budget by not eating every meal out? Airbnbs have a greater chance of including a full kitchen, so there you go!

– Individual hosts are are usually more flexible in terms of check in and check out times, assuming that no one else has booked the listing immediately after you. It’s nice not to be turfed before 11AM on the day of your departure, as with a hotel.

Save money. Face it, tons of Airbnbs cost shockingly less than hotel rooms. Especially if you rent something and divide the cost with your friends. Lots of money will get saved.

The not-so-good…

– You all know about the Airbnb horror stories (remember the Calgary couple whose Airbnb’d home was destroyed in an “drug-induced orgy”?). Messy units, illegitimate landlords, rude hosts, etc. Thankfully it’s all pretty transparent. But please do your homework!

cbc news airbnb trash
A Calgary couple came home to find their couch cushions thrown on the floor in their kitchen, covered in mayonnaise, courtesy of destructive Airbnb renters. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Poor customer service is something that regrettably goes hand-in-hand with Airbnb. So if you face a problem with your place and your host turns their back, rather than get direct assistance, you will be guided to their Help Centre, which is anything but. In fact, to actually get an online chat with an agent (since there are no telephone ones), you’ll have to go through a figurative maze of complicated steps.

Hidden fees can be killer. The nightly rate for renting an Airbnb doesn’t include the site’s service charge or cleaning costs. Occupancy taxes are piled on in cities like San Francisco (where the site was founded) too. These can add up and what looked like you were getting for a steal is often the opposite.

– Beware of unfair cancellation policies. After all, each host is given the right of having their own, there’s no universal standard. So if they have deemed theirs as ‘strict’, you won’t get a refund, even if you have provided plenty of notice. Could be a death in the family, travel plans gone awry, etc. Whatever it is, you’re not getting your money back.

– Also take note that Airbnb service fees are non-refundable, even if it is under a more flexible cancellation policy.

– Sorry for being so blunt, but sh*t happens. Bad luck can strike any time. At least with a hotel or something more organized, you are more often than not getting a guarantee of service. This doesn’t exist with Airbnb. A host you book with may have excellent reviews, then you get there and find them unhelpful, the place in bad shape, and little recourse to get refunded. If it’s a risk you are willing to take, great. Just be aware that risk exists!

Airbnb has been an early adapter and leader in the “sharing economy”. The world is seeing explosive growth with the rise and ease of digital accessibility through various platforms like Airbnb, and no matter how you slice it, there are always risks and rewards to any type of online transaction based on the integrity of individual users.

Always do you research, provide feedback, and read the fine print to guarantee and good experience.


Title image via Design Studio.