First timer's guide to using Airbnb

For all its well publicised shortcomings, used correctly, Airbnb can be a fantastic way to secure affordable accommodation. More than that it can provide you with a completely different experience to what you’d get in a hotel as you have the benefit of a host who can give you insider tips and a local perspective.

This isn’t a blow by blow guide on how to set up an account and make a booking. All of that is pretty self explanatory. We’re going to delve into how you can use Airbnb to score great accommodation, ethically and responsibly, while avoiding some of the pitfalls that might be lurking.

How to secure a top quality booking

Read the reviews. All of them. In depth. This is the best starting place for securing yourself a great booking.

Ok, if there are literally hundreds then maybe not every single one. But the more you read, the more you’ll learn about the property. Sure it may take a few minutes of your time, but it’s worth the effort to ensure there are no hidden surprises.

Reviewers on Airbnb tend to err on the generous side, so get your interpreter hat on and read between the lines. If there are lots of one sentence, “meh” reviews then take it as a warning that there’s nothing to write home about.

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Be sure to fully read the listing. This way you’re not gonna be caught out by anything leftfield. We’ve heard stories of people terrified of dogs inadvertently booking to stay in a house with, you guessed it, dogs. But if it’s there in black and white in the listing, you can’t really complain about it.

Look at the photos carefully. This will give you plenty of visual information to decide whether it’s gonna be suitable for you or not. But always take what you glean from the images with a pinch of salt. Because with a bit of camera jiggery pokery it’s easy to make a property look ten times better than it is in real life.

Use the advance filters. Really narrow your search down to exactly what you want. This will save you time on filtering through some of the less suitable options.

Tips for using Airbnb ethically

One of the recurring accusations thrown at the booking site is around something nicknamed the “Airbnb effect”. Without going in to detail (Google it if you want to learn more), it’s been widely suggested that the short term rentals market can affect communities in adverse ways. But there are a few simple ways you can still use Airbnb without contributing to this problem.

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In regulated areas make sure the property you intend to stay at has the relevant licensing. Technically it’s not your responsibility, but it’s a simple way to proactively help enforce the system. With a quick online check you’ll discover whether your destination is one that has specific licensing regulations. If it does, ensure that the property you book has the licensing number displayed on the listing or that this field says “City registration pending” or “Exempt”.

Avoid renting entire homes in areas with housing shortages. Some people suggest not renting entire homes full stop, but in areas where there is sufficient housing it shouldn’t be an issue. However, in major cities it has contributed to an existing problem. Do a little research on your destination, and if this is the case then opt for a hotel or hostel instead.

Stay in private rooms in someone’s home. This option is what the platform was originally designed for and means you’re simply utilising a space that would probably otherwise be vacant while putting a little cash into a local person’s pocket at the same time. Win win.

How to avoid scams

Despite some of the horror stories you may have read, scams and bad experiences are extremely rare on Airbnb. Especially when you consider the sheer number of bookings made through the site each year.

However, bad things do happen from time to time and unfortunately people trying to take advantage of you is just a fact of life. There are some basic precautions you should always take to avoid the most common scams.

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Always communicate via the Airbnb app. This keeps everything discussed with your host above board and on record and allows you to speak directly to Airbnb about it if needs be with them able to access the chat history. It’s just like any other chat messenger so you can receive and send messages in real time.

Similarly, never give your personal contact information out. If a host asks for an email or your phone number, decline. Sometimes scammers do this to take transactions off the site.

We’ve heard of instances where they will offer a large discount then send a link to access it by. You’ll find yourself on a site that looks and behaves exactly like Airbnb. But guess what? It’s not Airbnb and you’ll never see any money you hand over again. Never make payments outside of Airbnb. If someone asks you to do this, report them and find another place. Payments made via Airbnb are secure, anything else it taking it into your own hands.

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