Airbnb launched in summer of 2008 as an affordable, practical alternative to hotel lodgings. The Airbnb website currently has over 1.5 million listings across 34,000 cities in 191 countries, which makes it an enormously valuable resource for budget travelers around the world.
Homeowners or hosts benefit from Airbnb by listing their available rooms or properties on the website to bring in a nice side income with regular guest stays. Travelers benefit from Airbnb by finding unique accommodations beyond the usual option of hotels or motels.
The concept isn’t perfect, but over 60 million guests have tried Airbnb since it first came out. A recent consumer survey found that only 40% of people who have tried Airbnb still prefer hotels.
Is Airbnb Worth It?
If you haven’t heard of Airbnb before or you’ve only tried Airbnb a couple times, there are some pros and cons of staying with Airbnb that you and your traveling companions should consider:
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The Pros and Cons of Staying with Airbnb
Pro: Cheaper than a Hotel
According to Priceonomics, Airbnb accommodations are cheaper than hotels by a pretty significant margin. For Airbnb accommodations in the United States, apartment rentals are 21.2% cheaper than hotels on average.
The average savings you’ll get by renting a private Airbnb room instead of a hotel room is 49.5%. BusBud compared Airbnb and hotel prices around the world and found that not all Airbnb accommodations are cheaper.
It really depends on the city. But, generally speaking, Airbnb homes, apartments, and rooms are more affordable than their hotel counterparts.
Many Airbnb hosts are simply property owners looking to make some money on the side while meeting new people, while hotels are profit-driven companies that need guests coming in to sustain their bottom line.
This intense price competition has left hotels scrambling to fill their rooms. Some hotels even list their rooms on Airbnb to attract more guests. Politicians are currently debating how to regulate companies built on the sharing economy concept like Airbnb and Uber.
But, even with potential taxes for locals making money by hosting – amongst other costs like cleaning fees and security deposits – Airbnb will likely remain a cost-effective alternative to traditional accommodations for many years to come.
Con: Less Privacy
Some Airbnb hosts allow you to rent out an entire house or apartment for your group, but in other instances, you’ll be renting a room in a home where the Airbnb host and possibly other guests are staying.
The latter option means you will inevitably have to interact with other people – even if it’s a simple “good morning” and small talk – and your bathroom may be shared with the host or other guests. Some Airbnb owners also have pets that might want to visit you as well, though you can search for pet-free homes on Airbnb if you don’t like animals or have allergies.
If you don’t mind hanging out with strangers and other people’s pets then you shouldn’t have an issue, but if you value utmost privacy while you travel then a private hotel room might be preferable to Airbnb.
Pro: Use of Household Facilities
Unless you’re staying in a suite or extended stay hotel, you probably won’t have access to any kitchen facilities, which could have otherwise saved you money on dining out expenses. With Airbnb however, many accommodations offer full use of the kitchen and other useful amenities like a washer and dryer, Jacuzzi, living room television, and more.
A good Airbnb description outlines exactly which amenities you have access to, and some hosts go a step further by providing coffee and cream for the coffee maker, detergent for laundry facilities, and DVDs or Netflix if you want to stay in for the night.
If you’re newer to Airbnb, you might feel initially uncomfortable with storing your food in someone else’s refrigerator or using their plates and stovetop to make dinner instead of going out. But many hosts will reassure you that you’re free to use these facilities (if it was promised in the online description), so take advantage of this opportunity if you want to.
Some hosts go an extra mile and provide snacks for their guests as well! That sure beats the $5 in-room water bottle and overpriced room service at a hotel, right?
Con: Unresponsive Hosts
When you’re booking your accommodations on Airbnb, some hosts offer instant booking, while others require potential guests to put in a request so they can check out your guest profile before deciding to let you stay with them. Most hosts respond within a few hours, but in some cases, you might not be able to get in touch with your host.
Airbnb recommends waiting a couple days in case the host is dealing with an emergency, but if you’re unsuccessful in contacting them via Airbnb message and email or phone and your trip is about to begin, then Airbnb recommends contacting their own customer service representatives to get help.
In rare cases, hosts might suddenly cancel on you at the last minute, not show up to give you the keys or let you inside, or disappear during the course of your stay. A host with poor communication skills can put a serious damper on your trip, especially when you think of the 24/7 concierge service you could’ve had if you had stayed at a hotel instead.
If you have to deal with an unresponsive host, you might qualify for a refund from Airbnb, as well as alternative accommodations in the area. To avoid this from happening altogether, you can get a feel for how promptly a host responds to you by communicating with them well in advance of your trip and clarifying everything – check-in time, quiet time curfew, add-on amenities, etc. – before you depart.
Pro: Meet Cool New People
Unless you’re traveling for a conference or event, you might have a hard time meeting new people by staying in a hotel. By staying in an Airbnb however, you can make new friends with the host (if they’re present during your visit) and meet fellow travelers if there are multiple rooms rented out to Airbnb guests.
Airbnb’s blog even has stories about couples who met through Airbnb and two strangers who fell in love during an Airbnb stay in Berlin. Maybe you’re not looking for a soul mate, but nevertheless Airbnb is a fantastic way to meet new people (without having to stay in a crowded hostel!).
Con: Property Doesn’t Match Its Description
Before we get started on cleanliness and availability of amenities, it’s important to note that this issue does not apply to most Airbnb locations. Many hosts hold their properties to a very high standard for their guests’ comfort, but if you’re staying with someone who’s a new host on Airbnb or they have few or negative reviews from previous guests, then you can’t know for sure if the actual property will match its online description.
There’s an entire website called Airbnb Hell that posts stories from hosts and guests alike. In the guest stories section, you’ll find some folks complaining about low cleanliness standards or how the property was completely different than what they had expected. Airbnb doesn’t require hosts to hire maid services or keep their properties squeaky clean, and some hosts may slack off by not changing the bed sheets, leaving dirty dishes in the sink, or shrugging off a dirty (but still functional) bathroom.
Sometimes cleanliness isn’t the issue, but the property itself is far cry from what you thought you’d be getting. For example, you may be promised a private bedroom “with a view” in a bustling area close to local shopping destinations, only to find out when you arrive that you’re sleeping on a couch with a beautiful view of a brick wall at a home that’s “only” a half hour’s drive from anything interesting in the area.
These instances are rare, but if the Airbnb property doesn’t match its online description or it’s disgustingly unclean, check out Airbnb’s Guest Refund Policy to see whether you qualify for a refund or new accommodations to escape your current situation.
Pro: Live Like the Locals Do
If the accommodations are up to snuff and your host is helpful, then your Airbnb stay could be a unique opportunity to explore the area as a local. Sure, you’ll probably want to check out the touristy destinations like well-known landmarks or famous bars and restaurants during your stay. But, your host can also give you the insider scoop on the best-hidden spots that only the local residents know about.
While hotel guests are usually limited to pamphlets and flyers for tours and popular eateries, you as an Airbnb guest can live like a local with recommendations from someone who knows the area very well. Some places may not even be listed in “things to do in _____” travel guides, but you won’t miss the must-see gems with the help of a good Airbnb host.
Airbnb isn’t perfect, but it’s a great option for budget-conscious travelers. As long as you read reviews of the host before your trip and don’t mind a slight lack of privacy during your trip, staying with Airbnb can be a fantastic idea for anyone looking for a unique experience with interesting people along the way.
Have you ever stayed in an Airbnb instead of a hotel? Were the cost savings worth it? Is Airbnb worth it?