Published November 27, 2018|7 min read
Whether you travel for work or pleasure, renting a home through Airbnb offers a number of advantages over traditional properties like hotels and motels. For starters, you have access to a much greater variety of properties that can deliver a truly unique experience.
But if you’ve never used Airbnb, it may sound more complicated than just booking a hotel room. We’re here to help you navigate the experience, which is actually pretty user-friendly.
Here’s how to rent from Airbnb. (Psst: We also have a guide for anyone looking to become an Airbnb host.)
Airbnb is a lodging site that allows property owners (which Airbnb calls “hosts”) to rent out their homes to travelers. There are plenty of websites that do this, but few boast five million listings in over 161 countries.
There are many benefits to using Airbnb. You can access amenities that are common to homes but rare in hotels, browse a wide selection of property types and experience a “home-like” atmosphere away from home. There are a few scenarios, however, where Airbnb becomes especially useful:
You need to accommodate a large group in a single property.
You want to save money by staying in a more affordable property, such as a private room in someone’s home.
You want to stay in a very specific neighborhood that has no hotels.
You’re visiting an area during a popular time and you don’t want to pay inflated hotel prices.
Each Airbnb home also offers specific benefits because each property is unique. If you’re accustomed to the amenities and service that hotels provide, Airbnb might not be right for you. But if you try out Airbnb the next time you travel, you might be surprised by how much you enjoy the experience.
Looking for the right home is one of the coolest aspects of the Airbnb experience. You can use your web browser or the Airbnb app to look at properties. You don’t need an account to use the browser.
As soon as you land on Airbnb’s homepage, you can input your destination, planned travel dates and number of guests. If you’re not sure where you want to go yet, you can leave the destination blank and Airbnb will provide suggestions.
Once you hit search, your browser will bring up a screen with types of homes, restaurants and experiences. You can scroll through the categories (e.g., homes with a kitchen) or simply click “Show All” under “Where to Stay” to see all available properties. (The app will automatically take you to listings with no steps in between).
Once you have a list of results, you can view pictures, prices, a brief description and the average review score (from one to five stars). Browsing a long list of homes can be overwhelming, so we recommend using these two handy features to narrow things down:
Map: In both the app and the browser, you can toggle a map that gives you a bird’s eye view of all the homes in the area, with a price tag for each. You can zoom in or out and drag your screen around the map to populate new homes. This is especially helpful if you want to browse different neighborhoods or hone in on one specific area.
Filter: You can filter your search as broadly or narrowly as you like. You can filter by price range, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, desired amenities and home types. You can even look for unique homes such as RVs and houseboats.
One filter you should set immediately is Home Type, which lets you pick between having a place to yourself, having a private room in a shared home or staying in a shared space like a common room. In most cases, you’ll probably know which experience you want, although you can select more than one.
“Play with the filters to narrow down your options and find the best price,” said Stephanie Bolling, travel expert at The Penny Hoarder. “You can fine-tune your search to specific needs like parking, accessibility, amenities and pet-friendliness.”
As you browse, make sure to click into properties to get more information. You can learn about the rental, the neighborhood, the house rules and the host, and even read reviews from past renters!
Once you found the perfect home, you’ll need to create an Airbnb account to book it. You can create an Airbnb account directly through the website using an email address, your Facebook account, Google account or American Express account.
You will need to provide your email, your name, a password and your birth date to get started. Airbnb doesn’t require users to upload a profile photo or create an extremely detailed profile, but it encourages those personal touches to help appeal to hosts.
You can use your Airbnb account to browse homes as much as you like for free. But once you’re ready to book, simply click into the property you want, check the availability and click Book!
Tip: before you book, be sure to message the host directly through the listing with any questions you have. You can try to negotiate price, though your success might depend on consumer demand. (You can find more Airbnb travel hacks here.) Also, pay close attention to the house rules and cancellation policies, the latter of which range from flexible to strict.
Once you click Book, you will need to provide the following info:
Introductory message for host
Agreement to abide by the house rules
You will also see the full cost, including fees, of your booking. Your request will be sent to the host, who has 24 hours to accept or deny your reservation. The host won’t see your real contact information, but will respond to a temporary email that forwards to your email inbox. You can either manage your communications entirely within Airbnb, or respond directly to emails that land in your inbox.
Some hosts require guests to provide ID before they accept the reservation.
You will pay for the reservation, in full, once the host accepts your request. Payment information must be provided at the time of booking. Acceptable forms of payment include major credit cards, debit cards, PayPal for certain countries and other payment tools and apps. If you’re traveling somewhere with a different currency, Airbnb will automatically handle the currency conversion for you.
Some hosts require “security deposits” to protect against damage to their home, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay a deposit upfront. Instead, the host can submit a damage claim, along with evidence, after your stay. You can either agree to pay the amount they request, or involve Airbnb if you disagree.
Most reservations are fully refundable if you cancel within a certain time frame - again, check the cancellation policy of the host before you book your reservation.
Airbnb cautions users never to submit payments outside of Airbnb. Paying directly through Airbnb helps protect the host and renter under their terms of service and cancellation policies.
After booking, you can communicate with the host about your upcoming reservation. They will send you information including the exact address, how to get into the home when you arrive and other instructions. Make sure to message the host with any questions you have.
“Once you book, you’ll receive check-in instructions, detailed information for your stay as well as the best way to communicate with the host. Use this information to work with the host,” said Bolling.
When you arrive, the host may meet you at the home or send you a keycode or other instructions for getting in. Treat your property respectfully and follow the house rules during your stay. This will help you maintain a good reputation as a guest and avoid any unnecessary fees.
If you have minor problems or maintenance issues during your stay, you should be able to contact the host directly. For larger issues — such as the host not holding up their end of the bargain, or a home that is not as advertised — you may need to go to Airbnb directly.
Researching the property, messaging the hosts prior to booking and reading reviews should help you avoid issues.
When you check out, make sure to follow the instructions provided by the host. They’ll likely want you to clean up after yourself and lock up when you leave.
Remember, Airbnb also lets you make restaurant reservations and book experiences, including walking tours, concerts, classes and other unique activities.
Once you check out of your Airbnb, you and your host have 14 days to provide reviews. Your host won’t see your review until after they’ve provided theirs or the 14-day period is up, so there’s no reason not to be honest. You can leave public feedback for the property listing and send private feedback to the host. Leaving feedback can help other guests make informed decisions and help hosts improve the guest experience.
Hosts can also review you as a guest, and these reviews are made available to future hosts the next time you submit a reservation request. That’s why it’s important to treat the home respectfully and follow the house rules (You can access your reviews directly from Airbnb’s website).
“Treat every property like you would your own home," Bolling says. "Follow the house rules and instructions provided by the host as they will have the chance to leave feedback about you. Other hosts will use the reviews and recommendations on your profile to decide if they want you to stay in their home.”
Curious about how much you can make as an Airbnb host? Use the marketplace’s free tool to find out.
Traveling overseas? The U.S. State Department has a checklist designed to help you have a safe trip.
Wondering what travel insurance protections your credit card offers? Here’s a guide on what might be covered.
For weekly money tips, sign up for the Policygenius newsletter.
Disclosure: This post contains references to products or services from one or more of our advertisers or partners. While these codes earn us a small fee at no additional cost to you, we only refer products we love.
Get essential money news & money moves with the Easy Money newsletter.
Free in your inbox each Friday.