I want to love AirBnB. Really, I do.


Last August I finally had my first AirBnB experience. I got a great little apartment in Rio de Janeiro for pennies on the dollar compared to regular hotel rates in the area. Plus the host was an awesome guy. It didn’t take much for me to be pretty much convinced that I’d love to do more of that type of stay where at all possible. I tend to avoid them for single-night bookings, mostly because I don’t think it’d be as convenient for me or the hosts, but with a 3-night stay coming up in San Diego I figured I’d check out my options.

Part of the motivation is location. There are no hotels near where we’re trying to base ourselves in the Hillcrest neighborhood so AirBnB should be a perfect match, right? Alas, it seems that it was not to be. I have some restrictions I’ve placed on my search, covering property type (we want our own place, not a room in someone’s home), location and price. And the AirBnB map shows a few options right in the neighborhood which meet those parameters. So I started contacting hosts. One by one, despite the properties showing available in the AirBnB booking system my requests were denied.

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I expanded my search to a broader neighborhood, with even more hosts listing properties. Still no love.

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One of the hosts clearly is running something resembling a hotel using a number of units in a condo building. Click on the listing and she makes it clear that you have to email her for specific details on the properties available. I figured that would increase the chances of getting a room at the offered rate.

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That $160/night booking turns out to be a $200/night option (plus the AirBnB fees) once you actually get in touch.

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Turns out I was wrong.

And so, despite the theory that staying in a private apartment can be more comfortable and less expensive, I’m now back to my usual searching options. Maybe it is just that the first handful I reached out to were all flakes and all the others are great. But I’m betting against that; I’ve still got many open inquiries pending to hosts without replies.

Of course, it isn’t that searching for hotels is any easier or more streamlined. I submitted one best rate guarantee inquiry for a SPG property and there are a few others where the price and availability varies significantly by booking site. But at least I know that once I submit the booking I have a room reserved rather than the ongoing back-and-forth of maybe yes, maybe no.

I want to love AirBnB, and as a concept I really do. But actually trying to use it this week has me seriously reconsidering that plan.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

15 Comments

  1. Have you tried Home Away? It’s always struck me as less sketchy than Air BnB — among other things, they don’t even list shared accommodations. We list an apartment in our house in NYC on Home Away and both the other listers in our neighborhood and the people who inquire have always seemed quite professional.

    That said, I did use Home Away to scout for last minute accommodations in Rio during Carnival and a lot of what came up appeared to be people listing multiple apartments, places without a published price, and places without an on-line calendar so perhaps the quality level of listings is different in different places.

  2. I can second the comment about HomeAway. I’ve had a good experience with AirBnB in central Mexico, but I rent multiple times a year from HomeAway and have had great experiences every time.

  3. Sorry to hear your Brazil experience. That being said, I’m a frequent AirBNB host (renting my apartment out). I often decline about 50% of the people that inquire for reasons that would probably be considered discrimination if I were a commercial business. Candidly, I don’t want just anyone to occupy my family’s home and have access to our personal property. I focus on prior reviews from other AirBNB hosts, how much personal information they offer and then it’s a gut reaction. I’m much more inclined to rent to a family with kids than a pair of 20 year old college kids who are more likely to have a house party. And a single male traveler without much AirBNB history would pose a lot more concern to me. I’d rather pass on him and hope to get an elderly couple in retirement with a few positive reviews.

    1. That’s fair, Songer, I suppose. I didn’t consider that aspect of things because, especially on this trip, I’m not a single guy traveling. I made it clear that I was visiting with my wife and, while I don’t have a ton of history on AirBnB I also don’t think that I look like a 20-something college kid. But that may be blinders on my part.

      A few of the hosts who did eventually reply (not all did) noted that they were pulling their properties off the market. Maybe that was their way of trying to let me down softly but I don’t think so. But it does show that many hosts are not fully committed to actually doing that. And I can understand but I don’t have to like it.

      1. It’s entirely possible that yet another issue is one of commitment. While people may not want to block out a particular span of dates completely, they may not want to make tie themselves down to having someone on specific dates until they are really confident those dates will work for them. Or alternatively they may want to wait for someone to book for a longer stay, so as not to tie up dates with short-termers. That would depend on locations and likelihood of other bookings. So far I’ve usually had good success with getting my booking requests honored, even for short stays.

  4. I think AirBnb works better international. I’m considering using it for upcoming stays in Hamburg and Copenhagen. Great reviews on AirBnb and around $40-50 a night. Great location, free wifi, tea and breakfast in the morning. What could be better?

  5. Air Bnb has no online-calendar that tells you what dates are available for rent, which is very inconvenient. After many attempts, I managed to get a room in a house with the lady house owner ( I prefer that way this time) in NZ. I’ll try Home Away next time. If I pay the same amount to stay at a chain hotel as I pay for a rental property, I’ll choose the latter because I will always try to support the little people and small business owners (for the same cost and quality). There are lots of condo rentals in Hawaii that cost less and have kitchen to cook meals.

    1. There has absolutely been a calendar on every listing I’ve ever reviewed. That the hosts don’t always seem inclined to honor it is a different story.

  6. I agree with Grant, I think its better than international travel. Like you, I’ve only used it in Rio but I’ve used it to search other locations, including LA. Seems like a better deal overseas. When finding a place in Rio I ran into some problems too as a lot of the hosts seemed to list the apartment on multiple sites so despite showing availability, there was none. Still not a big deal as there are thousands of apartments on there in Rio.

  7. I’ve used it about a dozen times with mixed results. 25% disappointing, 50% OK, and 25% amazing. But I agree that it’s not reliable. I had a reservation pulled the day before I arrived (Rome), a so-so hotel posing as a home (Istanbul), and a smoke-filled room that wasn’t noted in the reviews (Nice). But I continue to use it for the 25% amazing experience. There’s really nothing quite like moving from a high-end hotel to a comfy place with my own washer/dryer and a balcony with a little table and a view of the neighborhood.

    Another problem with the Airbnb structure is the review process. Since the host can review the guest, the guest is less inclined to leave honest feedback for the host. And the inability to format the review you leave (not even paragraphs!) is inexcusable.

  8. I’m about to go in for my first AirBnB at SXSW in Austin. It turns out I had to add a night to my stay and the hotel I had already booked wasn’t able to accommodate. I found what looks like a great little studio about 2 miles from downtown and my offer has been accepted, but having never used AirBnB before I’m pondering holding onto my existing hotel reservation and eating the late cancelation fee as a safety net. Obviously there’s a lot of factors, but what do you think , Seth?

    1. There are definitely a lot of factors at play, David. That said, i probably wouldn’t sweat it with what you’ve got. Assuming the property gets decent reviews I’d assume it will be as advertised; most are. My main gripe right now is not being able to depend on the availability factor or hosts not flaking out in advance. Once booked I was very happy with the property I got in Rio.

  9. I’ve used Airbnb a few times and have friends who’ve had their requests declined when we travel together because they didn’t have any travel history (really, how do you build history if nobody rents to you without it? catch-22) or some other inane reason. What I find is airbnb hosts are really finicky, and at times, even pretentious. “We just don’t think you have the right vibe for our place.” Whatever, man.

    Homeaway’s website is not as nice but the properties are cheaper and homier, the hosts are less likely to be running it is a full-time solely money driven business like airbnb, you are not paying extortionary airbnb fees, etc. Basically, a lot less fuss and cheaper – mostly it’s the pretentiousness of airbnb that bothers me these days.

  10. The search function has been giving me issues recently. I specify my dates and it suggests properties that already show a full calendar. I did have one person cancel on me a couple weeks before SIN DO and 2 giant cockroaches in the backup place i booked. Other than that no problems.

  11. I agree with those above re: AirBnB better for int’l travel. My fiancee and I used it for 80-90% of our 5 month Euro trip last summer. I’d say we got approved on the first attempt about 75% of the time. It was great, we mixed between completely private rentals and renting private rooms in a shared apartment. We made friends with some of our hosts and felt like we got a better cultural appreciation of the places we were visiting by staying with locals. Then on a recent 1-2 week trip within the states we had to contact dozens of potential hosts to get an approval. We have a decent amount of great reviews and present ourselves in a favorable (not party people) light, but it seems that American hosts are just too picky/guarded/unresponsive/irresponsible.

    Our experience may be a small sample size, but it seems that your experience and some of your readers’ have been very similar.

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