Finding Accommodation with Airbnb

Finding accommodation with Airbnb might seem like a great option if you’re looking to save money and immerse yourself in the local culture of your destination, but

  • is it really worth using Airbnb to find accommodation?
  • are you sure you’re aware of all the features Airbnb offers?
  • do you know all the possible alternatives?

In this post, I’ll try to tell you everything you need to know to find accommodation with Airbnb, taking full advantage of the site’s features and some tricks to save money by exploiting the few bugs on the site.

Airbnb: A Brief History

The site was launched relatively recently (in 2007), during the years when all the web giants exploded (Facebook in 2004, Twitter in 2006, LinkedIn in 2002; Booking was founded in 1996 but “exploded” in 2006 with the acquisition by Priceline).

The initial idea of the founders (Brian Chesky, Co-founder and CEO, Nate Blecharczyk, Co-founder, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chairman of Airbnb China, and Joe Gebbia, Co-founder and Chairman of Samara and Airbnb.org) was simple and somewhat banal (mimicking the idea of Geert-Jan Bruinsma when he founded Booking.com) and, initially, aimed to provide a tool for finding accommodation for college students living off-campus.

However, the strategy soon shifted, and Airbnb began to also target tourists and travelers looking for lodging rentals (houses, apartments, or rooms) directly from private individuals, to save money compared to hotels.

The spread of laws in favor of Bed & Breakfasts worldwide, combined with the “trend” and the demand for economical lodgings by tourists and travelers, has favored the exponential growth of the site, making it today one of the most interesting options to consider for saving on accommodation expenses.

But is it really so?

Finding Accommodation with Airbnb

The “failure” of the idea that decrees its success.

As often happens when analyzing the “case histories” of successful companies, the initial idea is just the first step that triggers a series of events leading to greater success, which is the result of an unintended journey.

The founders’ idea was to provide a tool to connect people who had a room or apartment to rent with those seeking temporary accommodation (college students). The founders were students themselves, and at that time, that was a priority for them! The beginning was not at all easy, and in 2008 they celebrated the milestone of 80 bookings received!

Meanwhile, in the world, there was a demand (from tourists and travelers) for alternative forms of accommodation that needed to satisfy the need to save money and the desire to experience travel fully immersed in the reality of the destination one wanted to visit.

At the same time, the “trend” of Bed & Breakfast was spreading worldwide, and various countries’ legislations were regulating this new form of hospitality offered by non-professionals.

Thus, what was initially supposed to be a tool to help students find shared accommodations for studying away from home had already become a tool used by tourists and travelers.

But that’s not all! Even the concept of Bed & Breakfast has been completely overturned over the years, and what initially was supposed to represent a (valid) alternative to hotels today represents a formidable competitor (for hotels) and a potential failure for tourists looking for alternative accommodations to save money. In fact, in many cases, the prices of B&Bs are not at all lower than those charged by hotels and unjustifiably high.

However, Airbnb’s success seems unstoppable, and despite the evident failure to realize the initial idea, it remains one of the most valid and interesting alternatives to consider when looking for accommodations for travels and vacations.

Finding Accommodation with Airbnb

Finding accommodation with Airbnb: is it really worth it?

If you choose to use Airbnb instead of Booking, Momondo, or any other website capable of letting you book accommodation independently, you believe you have already made your first choice: to save money, you will not stay in a hotel (where you find services and professionalism) but in a private facility, managed by a non-professional with whom you will share spaces. I have to give you the first piece of bad news (if you don’t already know it): most Bed & Breakfasts in Italy (and worldwide) are no longer (for some time now) shared accommodations with the owners but are actual facilities dedicated to hospitality.

Moreover, Airbnb has also opened its doors to hotels, and since 2019 it has acquired HotelTonight, a website that allows you to get discounts if you book a room on the same day you need to stay.

If this may seem like good news to you, in reality, it’s not: The failure of the initial idea of Airbnb’s founders is also due to a change in customs and a misinterpretation of the concept of “Bed & Breakfast.”

What was initially supposed to be just an alternative source of family budget for those who had “an extra room” has become a business activity that has disillusioned the expectations of tourists and travelers who choose to find accommodation with Airbnb driven by the desire to live experiences in contact with the real reality of the places visited (to find themselves instead in structures far from the “family hospitality” concept) and by the need to save money which remains completely unsatisfied.

Let’s do an experiment:

Suppose we need to stay in Rome from July 1 to July 4 (three nights) and are looking for an economical arrangement:

First Step: Search on Airbnb:

I activated two filters (later we will see what they are and how to use them)

  • instant booking
  • private room with shared spaces (so in an apartment, with a kitchen shared with the owners or other guests) the result is this:
    Finding Accommodation with Airbnb

The average price I selected is about €163.00.

Second Step, let’s do the same search on Booking.

I set only three filters: free cancellation, private bathroom, and breakfast included. The result is this:

lFinding Accommodation with Airbnb

Considerations

What I want to point out is that the prices are practically the same.
Airbnb is slightly lower, but the difference is minimal. In the case of Airbnb, I looked for a “shared accommodation” with common spaces.

In the case of Booking, I selected the filter “Breakfast included in the price” and “Free Cancellation.”

If you’ve read the post where I described the strategies on How (not) to use Booking to save money, you’ll know that to book accommodation using Booking, it is not necessary to enter your credit card details and you can choose to pay only upon your arrival at the hotel.

Using Airbnb, instead, you need to enter your card’s details, and Airbnb “freezes” the amount until your arrival. The actual withdrawal occurs only after you’ve checked in. On all booking pages, just below the space to enter your card details, you’ll find a text box similar to this:

Finding Accommodation with Airbnb

You must be very careful because every “host” has the power to modify the cancellation terms and (very often) it happens that in case of your withdrawal you will be charged

  • a part of the amount due for the room (50% or more)
  • cleaning fees
  • taxes

In the case we are examining, one of my “hosts” has decided that in case of cancellation, the first of the three nights I booked will still be charged to me.

Moreover, almost always, it’s the host who decides whether to accept or reject the reservation (this is because, once, you stayed in private homes) and only at the moment the reservation is accepted is the entire amount “frozen” on my credit card. If the stay goes well, upon my arrival, the agreed amount will be charged.

To circumvent this limit in 2010, Airbnb added the “Instant Booking” option to its filters, which “hosts” can choose to allow. I advise you to carefully consider whether to use this filter: remember that once booked, the entire amount due will be “frozen” on your credit card.

If you decide to cancel or if adverse causes prevent you from traveling, the host’s cancellation terms will come into play, and therefore I might have to pay (even the full amount) if, for example, my host has decided that a storm is not an accepted reason for canceling the stay.

Finding Accommodation with Airbnb

If you want to find accommodation with Airbnb, never neglect to carefully read the links found under the cancellation terms: “House Rules”, “Cancellation Policy”, and “Guest Refund Policy”.

How to find accommodation with Airbnb by maximizing its potential

Now you know that Airbnb is very different from Booking and almost all its competitors, and if you decide to proceed, follow these guidelines to get the most out of the site’s potential:

Sign up for the site

First, you need to exploit the weaknesses of the algorithm that determines the results of your searches: the system is calibrated to provide results consistent with the search terms entered and the user’s expectations.

First, you need to sign up for the site and use it as often as possible (even without making purchases).

With each visit, the system stores data on your profile and “learns” what you like and need. Over time, your results will become increasingly coherent and aligned with your expectations.

Use the ‘wish lists’

If you’re planning a trip to Rome, regularly conduct searches on this destination and create a “wish list” to save all potential accommodations. The “wish lists” (introduced in 2012) as an option to help users find the accommodations they’ve selected actually serve to “inform” the algorithm about what interests you and what you’re willing to buy.

Adding a property to your “wish list” will likely help you receive email offers and find lower prices in your searches. Indeed, by not purchasing, you have communicated to the algorithm your intention to go to Rome, and it will suggest alternatives (almost always at a lower price).

Use the search filters

Using search filters has two advantages: the first is to communicate more details about your search to the algorithm. In this way, the results that will be proposed to you will always be more coherent and close to your needs. The second is to cross-reference data to find more convenient solutions or those closer to your expectations. Don’t forget the consideration we made earlier: very often, hotels can be more convenient than B&Bs (with endless advantages), so also use the filter to search for “Hotel Room” (yes, even hotels are present on the site that was supposed to be an alternative to professionals and dedicated to private hosts) and compare the results.

Use the ‘Shared Room’ filter

If your goal is to save as much as possible, this filter is the one that will bring you back to the principles that inspired the creation of Airbnb. Sharing a room with strangers is certainly the most effective way to spend less, and it is also a good opportunity to socialize and experience enriching travel experiences.

Finding Accommodation with Airbnb

As you can notice, using the “Shared Room” filter significantly lowers the average price. The average is skewed by one proposal that is absolutely off-target, likely due to the centrality of the accommodation in the capital, but the results are much lower compared to the first search conducted.

Conclusions

If you’re planning a trip and are thinking about the best system to understand how to choose a hotel, continue reading this blog and don’t just consult one of the many sites (don’t forget Expedia and Momondo!) that allow you to book accommodation on your own. Visit them all and compare the results. Sign up for the newsletter well in advance of your trip, show your interest on the sites you visit, and wait for the offers.

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This post is also available in: Italian

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