You’ve heard about this awesome (semi) new way of staying at your dream location other than a hotel but you’re not quite sure you’re ready to take the plunge or how to maximize your experience without taking a big risk. Check out the amazing situations I’ve stumbled into and what I’ve learned along the way to help you on the road to booking your stay like a Pro through Airbnb or HomeAway.
What should you look for?
- Know what spots you want to visit. You may find a killer deal at an awesome villa but it turns out, this place is almost an hour traveling distance to all the places you want to visit. If it’s worth it to you, book it. If your time is more valuable than spent traveling back and forth, find something closer to your “must sees”.
- Know what features are important to you. Do you want wifi, air conditioning, laundry facilities, free parking, linen provided (towels, sheets), access to entire house, elevator? Make sure they are included in the place you’re booking because each one is different.
- Be aware of check-in/check-out times. Is the homeowner flexible? Most times they are but drop them a message to make sure and see if they charge a late check-in or early check out fee.
- Do you need a baby bed/highchair? Make sure to communicate all of your baby needs like a crib or a highchair to your homeowner. I’ve found that every time I’ve asked, they’ve had one available and brought it to the location but had I not asked, I wouldn’t have had a place for my baby to sleep.
- Know your location. Make sure you know if public transit is close to your lodging or if a car will be required to get around (or a taxi to and from the airport/train station).
- Only book from places with reviews. And read them! You could get lucky staying at a place without reviews but I like to make sure to stack the deck in my favor. I now only stay at places with 4 star and up reviews and I make sure to read them. Reviewers give you even more insight into where you are booking and in my opinion are invaluable (example: ‘the photos aren’t accurate,’ ‘the walls are paper thin and there was a lot of street noise,’ ‘bathroom was broken’ OR ‘grocery store was right down the street,’ ‘beds are so comfortable,’ ‘apartment was close to EVERYTHING.’).
- Understand bedroom number. Some areas (mainly Europe) will list an apartment as having 2 bedrooms when in fact it is one bedroom and the “second bedroom” is the living room with a pull out couch. Make sure you have an accurate understanding of the layout and decide what’s best for you.
- Look at prior cancellations. If this homeowner is a serial canceler, you may not want to risk staying with them (or you could try to use this to your advantage when negotiating price – see #2 Negotiations, below). Of course, things come up and you could have the ideal stay on paper, booked but have a last minute cancellation. Consider having a Plan B in mind whether it be a hotel in the area or another apartment. Although it completely stinks, when we were cancelled on in the past, we were given a discount by the website for a future rental and the homeowner guaranteed us half off if we decided to book through them a different time.
- Know the cancellation policy. Booking a home through Airbnb or HomeAway is not the same as reserving a room at a hotel in that you do not have the ability to cancel within 24 hours of arrival without penalty (in most cases). Make sure you read up on the cancellation policy and know what you’ll be responsible for if something comes up.
- Be aware of any additional costs. Depending on the place, there may be an extra charge per person after a certain amount of guests (I usually only list ‘2 guests’ as staying and don’t count my kids because they’re young, aka not adults. The website would otherwise automatically charge for them but I make sure to communicate this to the homeowner to ensure we’re one the same page). I have also encountered additional fees for taxes per person and electricity used during our stay so make sure there are no surprises.
Now that you found your perfect place, how do you get the best deal?
- Compare pricing. Usually, homeowners will list their home on multiple rental sites for greater visibility. I’ve found that Airbnb fees are usually higher than those on HomeAway so if I find the same place listed on both websites, I’ll compare the prices and book with the cheaper listing.
- Negotiate the price. I always start by reaching out to the homeowner and compliment their home. I say who will be staying with me (families are usually more welcome because they know you won’t be partying in their house!) and let them know that I’d like to book but the price is slightly out of budget and ask for a lower price per night. Depending on when I’m booking (months out vs. weeks out), they’ll accept it or not. If not, you can look for a different place to stay or book or tell them you’ve decided to pay above your budget and complete your reservation. Also, if you’re looking in an area where the demand is much higher than the supply, the chance is pretty slim that they’ll budge on the price.
- Only pay through the website. It may seem extremely tempting to cut out the middle man and pay the home owner directly for a reduced price but this limits your protection against a scam and cancellations. I highly discourage paying any other way than through the website.
- Compare currency pricing. If you have a credit card that does not charge you for paying in a different currency, compare the rates you would be charged in your country’s currency vs. the currency in where the home is located. You can find the current exchange rate in a quick google search. Sometimes the prices are equal and sometimes they’re not. I’ve been able to save over $50 because I paid in the currency of the country that the home was in.
Knowledge is power. Make sure you are completely aware of what you’re renting and enjoy your stay. Ultimately, I’ve absolutely loved most of my stays and only had some complaints about few which is why I continue to use these sites. We’ve considered going back to hotels for the ease of check-in/check-out and the ‘standards’ but now that we’ve experienced these amazing cities in a different light, hotels start to look boring. Make the most out of your stay and book like a Pro!