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Better Bookings with Airbnb

August 19, 2011

Photo courtesy of Bela Kiefer

It’s true the internet didn’t revolutionize everything. Pets.com never delivered, well, whatever it was that it tried to deliver. In other areas, though, the internet has proven as transformative as the initial hype suggested. Newspapers struggle to cope with free content, a technology company now dominates music sales, and large book sellers are liquidating because they can’t compete with something called ‘Kindle.’ In recent years the web’s networking properties have also allowed markets to form for things that were previously unmarketable; like empty rooms and houses. The hotel industry should worry. Travelers should rejoice.

In planning our trip to New York, we experimented with Airbnb.com, a peer-to-peer hotel service. For the Luddites among us, Airbnb is nothing more than a global classified ad listing ‘rooms for rent,’ although the word ‘room’ is applied very loosely. Listings include nearly every accommodation imaginable: from dorm rooms to castles and igloos to lighthouses. Rent them for a single night, or for several months. As the network grows, so do the options.

Right now the network is large enough to make it useful. With over 100,000 listings in more than 16,000 cities and 186 countries we were still surprised to see over 2,000 options available for the nights we planned to stay in New York. The biggest challenge we faced was sorting through the results.

To aid in the search, Airbnb has some rudimentary screening tools. We were able to narrow our list to single rooms with bathrooms, leaving 500 offerings to choose from. The neighborhood filter was less helpful. Airbnb has the city divided into an astoundingly large 81 neighborhoods, making the tool more cumbersome than it is worth; at least for New York. Alternatively, a small Google map shows room locations, but we found sifting through the list on our own more efficient. Without a good working knowledge of the city’s geography, neighborhoods and transportation options we might have felt overwhelmed, or possibly made a bad choice. Clearly advanced research into a destination pays dividends when using Airbnb.

Each listing includes a description, photographs of the space, and all-important reviews from previous guests. The room we ultimately selected had 51 reviews, all glowing, and – as we found out – all accurate. Comments about cleanliness, location, and amenities are not only extremely helpful; they enforce discipline on the host. Slumlords won’t long survive a few bad reviews. Guests be warned, though, you’re also evaluated. Anyone who wants to use the service repeatedly should remember the Golden Rule: don’t be a douche.

Booking works a little different than with a normal hotel. Guests have to be accepted by the host. Newbies like us who lack a history with the service are at a disadvantage. Hosts must be willing to take a flyer on letting strangers into their space. A long list of positive reviews obviously helps. We had no problems, though. After a few e-mail exchanges, Daphne gave us the green light.

Once accepted, Airbnb charges a credit card for the agreed upon price. Each host sets their own cancelation policy, which is fully disclosed up front. If needed, Airbnb pledges to refund money in accordance with those terms. The host doesn’t get paid until after the arrival date so refunds should be pretty straight forward; in theory at least. Fortunately we have no experience with how well this works in practice.

What we can report is that our experiment with Airbnb was an unqualified success. Our accommodations were exactly as described. Our host was gracious. It fit our needs perfectly. Best of all, we paid a whoping 60% less than the cheapest traditional hotel we could find; even compared with offerings from higher profile sights like Hotels.com.

We may never stay in a regular hotel again.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2011 7:35 am

    very cool and thanks for the review as I now have this sight bookmarked…

    • August 19, 2011 9:35 am

      It’s definitely something to keep on your radar the next time you’re searching for a hotel. It worked very well for us in NY, and we plan to use it again in the future.

  2. flyfishnevada permalink
    August 22, 2011 4:31 pm

    Has potential. We were planning a trip to San Francisco and wanted to park the vehicle across the bay and take BART into the city and walk or use the cable cars and MUNI buses to get around. We we’re looking for a boutique hotel, but the places on AirBNB look so much more interesting. Thanks!

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