Before you book with Airbnb

With listings in over 34,000 cities, Airbnb is an online marketplace where you can host, browse and book unique accommodation around the world.

I first got the chance to try it out when we made a trip to Barcelona last year, and it’s now the first place I look when we book a new getaway.

Naturally, there’s a bit of anxiousness when it comes to staying in what is essentially a stranger’s house, but you’ll soon realise there’s nothing to worry about. While you can simply rent out a spare room in someone’s home for the night, you can also book entire houses (or yachts, castles and even tropical islands if you should be so lucky!), meaning it’s more like having a home away from home.

There are a ton of benefits to choosing this over a hotel, with price being particularly competitive in comparison. Whatever your budget, you’ll usually get much more for your money in both space and location, with tons of listings to choose from especially when travelling to larger cities.

Hosts are usually available to answer any questions you have throughout your trip too, and will also provide you with plenty of tips for the local area. Granted, you won’t get room service or a buffet breakfast, but if you can compromise on that then Airbnb can be a fantastic alternative to traditional hotels.

If you’re new to the site, here are a few things you should take note of before booking your first stay…

Availability calendars

Each host is different on Airbnb – some prefer to be contacted before you book, while others are happy for you to book now and ask questions later.

You’ll need to send the former a reservation request for them to accept or decline, which they’ll have 24 hours to do – your card will be charged immediately if they confirm your booking, and not at all if it’s declined. This means that sometimes a host’s calendar might look free, but the dates have already been promised to someone else. It’s worth filling in your Airbnb profile and dropping them a message to ask about availability before requesting to stay, as you won’t need to enter your card details that way.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of contacting a host first, just look for the lightning bolt symbol on listings – this means you can make an instant booking, as long as the dates are available.

Cancellation policies

Ranging from ‘flexible’ to ‘super strict’, it’s important to be aware of the cancellation policy that’s been set by hosts before you make a reservation. The most common policies you’ll come across are:

Strict – This policy means once you’ve booked, you’ll only be eligible for a 50% refund if you cancel at least 7 days before the local check-in time of your booking. For example, if you were supposed to check-in on a Monday at 3PM, then you’ll need to cancel by 3PM the Monday before to receive 50% of what you paid.

Moderate – This is similar to the above, but you’ll get a full refund if you cancel at least 5 days prior to your booking. If you cancel less than 5 days in advance, you’ll only get 50% back and will also be charged for the first night.

Flexible – You’ll get a full refund if you cancel up to 24 hours before your booking, and will only be charged for the first night if it’s later than this. Should you decide to leave part way through your reservation, you’ll also be refunded any nights remaining.

Note: Every booking made comes with a ‘service fee’ which Airbnb charges – you won’t get this back regardless of the host’s policies should you cancel a reservation.

Visit the website for full details on cancellation policies.

Additional fees

The cost per night you see in result pages isn’t what you’ll end up paying, as there are cleaning fees and service charges which are yet to be added to your trip. The total amount won’t be shown until you go to the booking page, so it’s worth having a look to make sure you’re happy with the final cost before booking, or adding it to your shortlist.

Security deposits

Sometimes, hosts will also ask for a security deposit when you make a booking. This payment won’t be charged or authorised, but your card details will be stored by Airbnb should you accidentally spill wine on the sofa, or break a lamp, for example. The host will have 48 hours after you check-out to make a claim against your deposit, and Airbnb will mediate the costs to address the issues.

After you’ve checked-in

Most listings will come with shining reviews from previous travellers, but if you’ve turned up to find your accommodation isn’t what you expected, Airbnb allow guests to claim for a full refund should there be any problems during the stay. You can find out more about their guest refund policy here.

Of course, Airbnb isn’t the only one to offer this kind of service. Here are some alternatives to Airbnb which you could try instead.

Useful links

airbnb voucher

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