AirBnB can truly change the way you travel and help move the dial from tourist to traveler. As mentioned in my Top 5 Reasons Why I Love AirBnB post, AirBnB offers unique properties, the chance to live like a local, save money, have a washer and dryer, and support the local community. With all these stated benefits, it is a bit trickier than booking a hotel, so I will share my tips to help you pick that perfect property and avoid potential mistakes.
Top 10 Booking Tips
1. Book early
Book as soon as you can. I book once flights are locked down. Since the properties are unique, that perfect one really can get away.
2. Google the neighborhoods
Before starting an AirBnB search, I google, "best neighborhoods to stay in <city name>". You are able to search specific neighborhoods with AirBnB filters. I prefer to be somewhere central but quiet, safe, convenient to stores and restaurants, and close to public transportation. Not too picky!
3. Optimize usage
In general, AirBnB isn't your best option of a one-nighter. It is more effort to find a place than to book a hotel, and the fees will typically offset the savings over a hotel if not spread over a few days. Depending on logistics, we often get a hotel the first night or two and again the final night before departure (if not staying near the airport). Check-in is easier at a hotel...especially after a long (or late) flight. We then use AirBnB for stays in one location of 3 or more nights. If possible, we book for a week as hosts will often offer discounts that can be equivalent to a free night or two. We also find it preferable to day trip from a basecamp rather than hopping from place to place.
4. Use filters wisely
AirBnB has handy filters that greatly help the vetting process. I prefer to start broad and then focus in to ensure great properties aren't missed. Select minimum criteria - start with dates, number of people, and whether you want the entire house or a shared place. Dates and the number of people effect the price, so don't start picking properties without updating these fields. I don't recommend eliminating properties by choosing the Instant Book filter, unless booking very close to when you need the place.
Amenities is an expandable section that helps as well. While I don't suggest selecting Hair Dryer as a requirement, selecting a Washer may be one if you will be there for some time. On the first pass, we typically select washer but not dryer. A/C is one to consider depending on the season and climate.
If there are still numerous places that still meet your criteria after initial filtering, you can start getting more selective. Another filter to consider is the Host Language. We did have a very confusing check in experience that we'd prefer to not repeat.
5. Enjoy the shopping experience
Every property is unique. Have fun saving various properties that you like to a Wish List. Do a first pass before getting into all the details. Get a feel for the price range, variety, and sleeping arrangements, saving favorites along the way. After your first pass of saving everything that caught your eye, go back and remove the ones that aren't as interesting now that you've seen a large selection. Hopefully you're down to 5-10 at this point.
6. Read the description and look at the pictures carefully
Sometimes they show pictures of the same bedroom from multiple angles. Understand exactly what your room / bed layout will be. It's easy to get sucked into a cute place and then realize someone gets stuck on the pullout couch in the front room. Try and get a gauge on the size, if its two floors, in an apartment building, etc.
7. Read the reviews
While the star ratings / quantity are important, and they do a good job of breaking reviews into categories, the details are best. I look at whether they liked the location, were the beds comfortable, was it quiet, and was it clean. Some mention that the host was incredible and picked them up or drove them around...this has the makings of a very nice experience.
8. Understand the fees
The fees seem to vary greatly, so pay attention. Some charge cleaning fees, others also charge extra guest fees and AirBnB charges a services fee. Also, remember some places charge a premium for multiple people, so look at total cost when comparing.
9. Understand the cancellation policy
AirBnB allows hosts to choose from multiple cancellation policies, so make sure you understand what is offered and how committed you are to your plans. Some charge 50%, others let you cancel 24 hours before but you will still be charged the service fee. Obviously the latter is preferable, but understand just how committed you are. You can contact the host and request a date change which they will generally accommodate (if available) without penalty.
10. Contact the host
If you have any questions, there is a Contact Host button. Besides answering questions you may have, it is a good test of their responsiveness and helps build a relationship. This is also helpful to see if the language barrier will be a problem as you will be interacting throughout the course of the engagement.
Here's a few screenshots to highlight the functionality of the search tool.