Just like with booking a hotel or vacation rental, booking an Airbnb requires research and planning. (Although the word “Airbnb” has become synonymous with any form of alternative accommodations or vacation rental, these tips are specific to the Airbnb site.)
Heard horror stories about booking a bad Airbnb? You can avoid the same fate if you know exactly what to look for and the best ways to make the most of the platform. Read on to find out everything you need to know about an Airbnb listing before you book.
Determining Your Needs in Search
The best way to ensure you won’t be disappointed with your Airbnb rental is to manage your expectations and know exactly what you want to get out of your rental. With Airbnb’s search feature, it’s very easy to do.
After you select your location, use these helpful filters to streamline your search on Airbnb:
- Dates: If your dates are flexible you can leave out that field. Note that if you do filter by dates, only listings that are available on those dates will show up.
- Guests: Select the number of adults, children, and infants in your group. Guests are determined by bed space.
- Home Type: This is the most important section to filter if you’re looking to have a whole house or apartment to yourself. If so, make sure you filter by this search item. Other options are a private room and a shared room.
- Price: You can set your price range and Airbnb will give you the average nightly price for your location.
- Instant Book: Instead of going back-and-forth with your host arranging dates or fielding questions about your trip, select the “Instant Book” filter, which will let you instantly confirm your rental. I’ll expand more on this later.
- Trip Type: Here you can select if you want “For Families” or “For Work Trips”. This will show vetted properties for either category.
- More Filters: This includes everything from neighborhood filters to the number of beds, bedrooms, or bathrooms. If you’re traveling with a group and know you want a specific number of bedrooms, I recommend using this filter. You can also add filters for things like free cancellation, specific amenities or facilities, and even “Unique Homes” like barns, boats, campers, treehouses, etc.
If you’re looking for Airbnb to do the work for you, check out its Airbnb “Plus” section. These listings are vetted by the company for exceptional quality, consistency, design, and comfort, “All Airbnb Plus homes are visited in person … They are checked for 100+ things that guests told us they love, from must-have amenities to the art on the walls.”
Once you’ve filtered your search accordingly, you can search a specific area on a map for listings. (Just toggle the “Show Map” feature in the top right corner of the search bar). This is great if you know exactly where you’d like to be in a city. However, if you’re unfamiliar with a location, you’ll want to do some more research on your destination before you book.
For safety and privacy reasons, you won’t find out the exact address until you’ve confirmed a booking for the majority of listings, but Airbnb does supply some additional information. Hosts need to fill out a “Neighborhood” section, so make sure to read and verify all of the information here. Most listings have a map of the general area, including a filter for public transit. Hosts will typically list a few local coffee shops or nearby attractions in the listing, so I suggest plugging in one of the mentioned locations into Google Maps and using the street view to get an accurate feel for the area.
If you still need additional information about the location, check the reviews for any red flags or message the host with any specific concerns or questions.
Airbnb’s legal issues are constantly in the news in regards to zoning and administrative codes, but these issues mostly concern the hosts, not the guests. According to Airbnb’s help section, “Some cities require hosts to register, get a permit, or obtain a license before you list your property or accept guests. Certain types of short-term booking may be prohibited altogether.”
While this issue is the responsibility of the host, you can search by your location in the “Responsible hosting in the United States” section if you’d like to read up on the latest information. Some listings, especially in urban areas like New York City where this is a known issue, will state if it’s a legal or registered listing. You may also see a line item in the price listing for occupancy tax in certain tax jurisdictions, which can also verify the legality. As always, read reviews or message your host for more verification if needed.
Amenities & Sleeping Arrangements
Depending on your type of trip, you’ll need certain amenities over others. Hosts are able to list amenities, so make sure to expand this section and review them. More times than not, you’re booking an Airbnb for some additional amenities, like kitchen access or a washer and dryer, than what you’d get at a hotel, so make sure those are included here. While Wi-Fi is usually included, always make sure to check that it’s listed before booking. You can also check this section for things like access to outdoor spaces, a hot tub, washer and dryer, and to confirm the essentials like toiletries, hair dryer, etc. Also, verify the number of bathrooms and make sure the amount of showers suits your needs.
If traveling with your pet, check for the “Pets Allowed” amenity listing. You should also look if the “Pet Owner” amenity is listed as that means pets may be at or live at the property with the owner.
From my experience, some hosts don’t always include every amenity, so if you have a specific question on whether something’s included, from anything like towels to parking, reach out to the host.
There’s a handy section in each Airbnb listing that displays the bed size and location of sleeping arrangements so you know exactly what you’re getting with your listing. Always confirm that this section meets your expectations as a listing can say “sleeps 6” but some of the sleeping arrangements may be a day bed, pull out sofa, or air mattress instead of a bed. If you need additional sleeping arrangements, ask the host if he or she has an additional air mattress or if you can bring your own.
House Rules & Interaction With Guests
Always verify the check-in process, house rules, and the “Interaction with Guests” section. This section is sometimes hidden in the top listing part, to get to it, make sure to hit the “read more about the space” section. Here you’ll better understand if the host lives near or on the property, if you’ll be able to check in by yourself or via a lock box, and any other specifics about the property. Usually, hosts are open to as little or as much communication as you’d like.
Review the house rules, typically hosts list things here like no smoking, no parties, check-in and -out times, a pet policy, and quiet hours. Make sure you’re upfront with the hosts about any daytime guests you might have or anything else that might go against any of these rules.
There’s also a section in the house rules under “You Must Acknowledge” which allows hosts to mention anything that might not be up to expectations such as a potential for noise. Some hosts may list a security deposit charge here for damages. Be advised that when you book, you’re acknowledging and agreeing to these terms.
Airbnb does a great job with price transparency, as long as you make sure you enter your dates for an accurate price search. You’ll see line items for the base nightly rate (which is usually what is advertised in your original search) broken down by each date of your stay, plus an Airbnb service fee (between six and 12 percent of the base fare), cleaning fee (determined by the host), and sometimes an occupancy tax and/or conversion fee (if booking in a different currency). If you have guests over the listed maximum number of guests, the host may add on an additional fee per person.
Insider Tip: I’ve heard of guests messaging hosts before to get the cleaning fee waived when they only stayed for one night or a solo traveler. Although I haven’t tried this myself, it’s worth asking.
Hosts determine their own cancellation policy from three Airbnb-standardized policies: Flexible, Moderate, and Strict. The cancellation policy will be clearly stated in the listing, so make sure you note the terms before you book and know what, if any, part of the price is refundable for changes or cancellations. In some cases, a host may grant you a refund outside of the cancellation policy if you reach out to them, and Airbnb has an extenuating circumstance policy.
Some hosts live in their homes when guests aren’t there and others use the space solely for vacation rentals, so your experience will differ with every Airbnb listing. The platform designates some users as “Superhosts”, which means they have a high rating, are responsive, have active listings, and honor all of their reservations. This is one way to add a layer of comfort and trust to a listing.
You can also view your host’s profile which will compile all of their reviews, show the date they joined, whether or not they’re verified, and provide some general information about them. Some also chose to link social profiles, which is another level of Airbnb’s identity-verification process.
Only communicate with hosts on the Airbnb app and never share personal communication information like emails or phone numbers. This allows Airbnb to keep track of all information if there are any issues throughout the booking process or before or after your stay.
If traveling internationally, check to make sure English is a listed language in his or her profile so you can communicate effectively if need be. You may come across a host that is an inn, hostel, or vacation rental company, especially overseas, take extra care when reading these listings to make sure it’s not a scam. Note: Airbnb does actively remove unauthorized hosts/listings and you can always report a suspicious listing.
Once you’ve found your perfect Airbnb listing and it’s time to book, make sure you understand the booking terms. You must have an account and get verified with Airbnb before you can book a listing and can read more about that process here. Note that when booking you have two options: Instant Book and Request to Book.
Instant Book: You can confirm your reservation right away.
Request to Book: This means your host has to accept or decline your booking before your reservation is confirmed. Things that help get you accepted are guest reviews and verification on your profile, as well as being upfront with your travel plans and adding a little bit about yourself in the request. Your request might be declined if there are date conflicts or if you have a large group for a small listing.
Note, you do need to enter your credit card (which will only be charged in full once your request is confirmed) to submit a reservation request. Hosts have 24 hours to confirm your request and your reservation is automatically confirmed once they do, so be careful about submitting more than one booking request for the same dates.
If you reach out to a host with questions before booking, they have the option to invite you to make a reservation as a “pre-approval” booking or with a special offer, which lets the host change the price, date, or other details in the listing based on your message.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Airbnb Offers Split Payment Option
- Airbnb’s 10-Year Plan to Rock the Travel World
- 7 Airbnb Problems and How to Solve Them
We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.