Airbnb continues to grow in popularity around the world. It’s a great platform to book travel accommodations tailored to your specific wants and needs. It is many times even cheaper than popular hotels!
Before booking on Airbnb, it’s important to understand how it works and what risks you might be taking. There are several pros and cons of staying at an Airbnb when compared to a traditional hotel or even a bed & breakfast.
I’ve stayed at many Airbnbs within the last few years during my travels to Quebec City, Montreal, rural Maine and more. Personally, I’ve never had a bad experience.
However, I’ve read enough negative reviews to know that anything can happen if you neglect doing research ahead of time. In this article, I’ll give you comparisons between hotels and Airbnbs, the pros and cons of staying at an Airbnb, and extra tips to make your Airbnb stay enjoyable and safe.
What is Airbnb?
If you’re not familiar with it, Airbnb is an online platform where people book overnight stays at someone else’s privately owned property. In short, property owners list their home, apartment, guest house, spare room, etc. on Airbnb, and travelers are able to rent that property to stay at during available dates.
The interface experience is similar to that of a travel website. For example, Expedia shows all available hotels, flights, and car rentals and their prices for a specific geographic area on certain dates. Similarly, Airbnb shows all privately owned properties available to rent near a specific geographic area on certain dates.
When searching, you enter your property preferences, budget, location, and dates and it will show you all available properties. You’re able to read reviews, see pictures, look at the host’s profile, and browse what amenities the property has to offer.
At first, it may seem like a weird concept. After all, you’re paying to stay and sleep in a stranger’s home.
But, once you learn how to vet properties and owners to make your stay safe and enjoyable, it’s really not so weird anymore. Plus, there are some great benefits to using Airbnb over hotels or Bed & Breakfasts.
Pros and Cons of Staying at an Airbnb
The biggest benefit of staying at an Airbnb is the amount of space. You can rent an entire house to yourself! It’s much more enjoyable to hang out in a dedicated living room than on the bed you’ll be sleeping on in a hotel room.
And of course, this makes it easy to stay with or host more people. Airbnbs are awesome for traveling with a large group of friends or family.
Some gatherings I’ve heard of people hosting at an Airbnb are bachelorette parties, family reunions, murder mystery dinners, hanging out before a concert or sporting event, or just traveling with a group of your best friends. These are either uncomfortable or impossible when squeezed into a tiny hotel room.
*Note: Make sure to read the rules of a property before booking for a get-together or party. Some have limits on the number of people you can host (more on that later).*
Find a property with ample living space and a nice kitchen to host whatever activities you have planned. If you’re traveling during the warm months, find a place with a big yard for the same purposes, but outdoors.
Privacy is my favorite pro that staying at an Airbnb offers. There are no other guests to worry about or to bother you. Heck, if you’ve got an entire house to yourself, you won’t encounter any people at all during your stay. Talk about relaxing!
Often at Airbnbs, you won’t even meet the host or owner. Most properties have a key-code pad to unlock the doors, so no human interaction is necessary. I personally prefer this to checking in with an employee or innkeeper.
At bed & breakfasts (although I love them!), you usually have to check in within a set range of hours. This can limit travel arrangements, especially if leaving after work or coming straight from an event.
Whenever I stay at hotels, there’s always a worry in the back of my mind that I’ll be in a room next to crying kids, a couple partaking in “romantic” activities or someone that sleeps with the TV on all night. I’ve experienced all of these while staying at a hotel, and it honestly puts a damper on the entire trip.
At an Airbnb, these concerns are less likely to be an issue. If you’re staying at a free-standing house, you definitely won’t have these problems.
Even if you’re staying at an apartment or condo, those things could still happen, but I think it’s less likely. People in an apartment building are just living their normal lives, which usually doesn’t involve loud or disturbing noises. At a hotel, people are either out of their element, or taking advantage of being away from home, which often involves rowdy and annoying behavior.
Apart from not being disturbed, you can also come and go as you please without feeling the need to be quiet. You won’t have to share the pool or continental breakfast with inconsiderate strangers.
My personal favorite is not being judged by the alcohol, pizza, or takeout I’m bringing in to feast on.
Depending on your preferences and budget, an Airbnb will often have more amenities than a regular old hotel.
The obvious one is a full kitchen. I’ve found that I usually only end up using the fridge and dishes. But, even this makes a big difference when compared to tiny hotel mini-fridges and no available plates or silverware.
With a full-size fridge, you can chill drinks, bring cold snacks, and have more room to store leftovers from restaurants. Additionally, you have the option of cooking instead of eating out for every meal, which could save you some money if traveling on a budget.
Other unique amenities I’ve had are: personal hot tub, access to premium streaming services, indoor gas fireplace, outdoor fire pit, kayaks, grill, a nice balcony, personal lake beachfront, and more. These were all included in the nightly price. At hotels, you either have to pay extra for similar services, or you’re forced to share with other guests.
4. Airbnbs are Everywhere
Read it again. Airbnbs are everywhere. This includes big cities, small towns, out in the country, in the middle of the woods, and certainly in locations miles and miles away from the nearest hotel.
I’ve stayed at 2 extremely rural Airbnbs in Maine, one up North, and one in the Western Maine Mountains. Both times, my boyfriend and I were looking for a relaxing weekend away from people and distractions, preferably in/near the woods.
We found an off-the-grid cabin in the mountains, and a small cabin on a remote lake. Both were down miles of dirt roads with no conveniences nearby. Obviously, we would never find a traditional hotel to book for such an experience, so Airbnb was a helpful resource.
5. Cheaper than Hotels
Airbnbs can be cheaper than hotels, but certainly not always. Some factors that play into the cost are your preferences, the location, and the time of year.
If your main concern is cost, it’s important to do some research before making a decision on where to stay. I suggest comparing Airbnb to a travel website like Expedia or Kayak, where you can see the cost of all hotels available.
When comparing prices on Airbnb, it is VERY IMPORTANT to enter specific dates and click through to the final total (more about this later).
Upon arrival, the place you booked may not be of the quality you originally expected. To combat this ahead of time, I suggest thoroughly reading reviews. Go through 2 or 3 pages of reviews, even if the property is highly rated.
I almost booked a place in Montreal that had a 4.4 star overall rating. Although not stellar, this still seemed pretty good and still acceptable to me. Right before pressing the “reserve” button, I decided to read the reviews. Most of them were good, however the few bad ones were horrible.
Apparently, guests had arrived at the property for their scheduled stay, and it hadn’t been cleaned since the last guests left. This had happened multiple times and within just a couple of months of when I was looking. To me, this was a big enough persistent problem to change properties.
Remember, pictures can be deceiving. If a listing on Airbnb only has 2 or 3 pictures, this is a red flag.
Either there’s something unfavorable the owner doesn’t want to show you, or they’re lazy. It only takes a few minutes to take pictures and post them. Even if the couple of pictures look nice, I would avoid these properties.
It’s better to see a lot of pictures of an average property and know what you’re getting, than take a chance on a place that could potentially have issues.
Of course, quality can be an issue in hotels as well, but there are employees there to assist in getting any problems taken care of. Hotel brands have well-known reputations that you can usually base expectations for future stays on. If a room is dirty or noisy from a nearby highway, you can request to switch rooms or try to get a discount.
At an Airbnb, there are no options like that available, you’re stuck with what you have.
2. Cancellation Policy
Airbnb has a wide spectrum of cancellation policies of 6 different levels ranging from flexible to super strict 60 days. Find the details here.
The host gets to decide what cancellation policy they want guests to abide by. This is generally not an issue, since you know upfront what level of cancellation policy a property has before you even book it.
The part that can be incredibly inconvenient is that hosts can cancel stays at any time up until check-in. Airbnb states you will get a 100% refund if this happens last minute without enough notice to find somewhere else to stay.
However, if you get to the property and the host has canceled, depending on where it’s located, you may not have any other lodging options.
This has never happened to me, and I think it’s pretty rare. From what I’ve read in reviews and on other websites, hosts that cancel last minute tend to be repeat offenders.
Once again, and I cannot stress this enough, always read several pages of reviews before booking a property!
3. No Continental Breakfast
While some Airbnb hosts do leave complimentary coffee to make, there’s usually no breakfast included.
For me, this is the biggest drawback to staying at an Airbnb instead of a hotel. I like not having to think about breakfast.
At a continental breakfast, I don’t have to get ready for the day before attending. And while I understand that the cost of breakfast is baked into the room rates, it is nice to eliminate that additional meal out or to cook.
4. Driving Rent Prices Up
It’s been a hot news topic lately that short-term vacation rentals, like Airbnb, are driving rent and home prices through the roof. According to this article by US News, Airbnb has had catastrophic impacts on several big cities in the US and Canada.
“In Toronto the platform has eliminated some 6,500 homes from the city’s badly pinched housing market, according to a recent report from the coalition group Fairbnb. In Boston long-time residents of Chinatown ‒ a dense neighborhood that’s become the epicenter of that city’s gentrification battle ‒ are being displaced by overseas speculators, who buy property at inflated prices only to turn around and list on the site.”
While this doesn’t directly impact you in any way as a renter, you are still playing a part in what it’s doing to locals in cities across the world. This is certainly something to consider when thinking about booking an Airbnb instead of a hotel.
Extra Tips for Staying at an Airbnb
1. Read Reviews
As mentioned several times above, READ A LOT OF REVIEWS. They are the best indicator of what to expect from the property and its owner. If you’re not comfortable with the reviews, don’t book the property. This is my biggest piece of advice for using Airbnb.
2. Search Prices Properly
When price surfing on Airbnb, there are a couple of things you need to do to ensure you’re basing your decisions on accurate information.
1. Make sure you’ve entered the dates you want – pricing fluctuates heavily based on date and day of the week.
Look at the pictures below.
The one on the left says this property is $90/night, but I haven’t entered any dates. In the middle is a 2-night stay on Monday and Tuesday in the middle of March – probably one of the least busy travel times in the Portland, Maine area, and the listed per night price is $140.
The one on the right is during a Friday and Saturday night stay in June – prime time for tourists, and the price is significantly higher at $323. Always use dates!
2. Always look at the price details – Airbnbs have cleaning fees, service fees, and taxes. These can be quite hefty – an advertised $80/night stay might actually be $130 when all the fees are factored in.
Airbnb has recently updated its website to show both the “listed” price per night and the “actual” price per night on search results, which is quite helpful.
3. Be Over-Prepared for Check-In
I always take a screenshot of all directions and passcodes from the Airbnb host before leaving on a trip. You never know if you won’t have service or internet (especially if traveling in a different country!).
At least get the passcode, wifi password if provided ahead of time, the address, and the host’s name and phone number.