'How To Get The Best Deal' Guides

Sunday, March 3rd 2024

"I'm a travel junkie who's hooked on deals from YYC." - Chris Myden

How To Use AirBNB - The first site you should visit after booking your flight


Getting a flight for a great price is just 50% of the amazing travel deal equation. You also need to land a great deal on a place to stay. Endlessly searching hotel websites won't help you. They're all the same, and hotels are now very efficiently priced, thanks to the Internet, making good deals hard to find. So what can you do?

AirBNB is one of those rare sites that has truly changed the game. These game-changing sites are easy to spot, because the traditional industry, the hotel industry in this case, recognizes they are about to lose billions, and will do everything in their power to try and stop them.

From what I've observed, 2014 seems to be the year that AirBNB has really started to gain traction in Canada. Even though it was launched in 2008, and has since raised $450 million with a potential valuation of $10 Billion, this year I've noticed it being mentioned a *lot* more than previous years in my Facebook groups across the country.

I'm not ready to call AirBNB 'mainstream' just yet. Your Mom has likely never used it. Your friend who travels a lot likely has. You may have heard of it but haven't tried it yet, or don't really know what it's about.

As for myself, the first time I used it was in Turkey in 2012. Since then I've used it in 3 other countries, with plans to use it again for an upcoming trip to Iceland. In this article I'll explain what I've learned from using AirBNB these past 2 years, offer some tips, and show you why it should probably be the first place you look for accommodations after booking a flight, no matter what kind of traveler you are.

AirBNB, is that where you, like, pay to sleep on someone's couch?

I think perhaps the biggest hurdle to AirBNB going completely mainstream might be the perception that AirBNB is only for a certain type of traveler that just needs a place to crash for a while, kind of like couchsurfing.

AirBNB is more like the wild west of accommodations. You can find everything from an entire home or apartment, to cabins and yurts, to villas, and even the occasional cave, tree-house, or castle. The accommodations run the gamut from bare bones to ridiculously luxurious, and everything in between.

AirBNB, the wild west of accommodations

The accommodations can be owned by anyone, from someone who's just renting out a place for fun, or a couple looking for a way to help pay the mortgage, to people that have been renting out rooms as a real business for years (bed & breakfast owners for example) and just want to be listed on AirBNB because it's becoming a valuable place to be seen in the travel sector.

The great thing about the wild west of AirBNB is that the prices set by the owners can often be way out of line with their real market value, in your favor. In other words, you can find amazing deals on great places to stay where you're getting way more for your money than with the traditional hotel route. But, to correctly navigate this wild west you need to make sure you know how to use AirBNB effectively.

How To Use AirBNB

Step 1: Pick a location to search

This is pretty straightforward. Go to www.airbnb.ca and enter in the name of a city, town, or country.

Enter the name of a city, town, or country into the AirBNB searchpage

Tip: You can also enter in the name of an entire continent (eg: 'Europe').
You can also try landmarks (eg: 'Eiffel Tower') but they don't seem to work on the front page search box, but do work in the search box on all other AirBNB pages.

Tip: If you don't have any specific dates in mind yet, you can just hit 'Search' without entering any dates to start browsing all AirBNB listings, regardless of availability. If you *do* enter in dates, it will only show you the listings that are actually available on your dates.

Step 2: Entire Place, Private Room, or Shared Room ?

AirBNB Private Room Shared Room or Entire Place

This might be the most critical decision you make when using AirBNB. In my first AirBNB experience, I went with a private room in an apartment in Turkey. 'Private Room' means you have your own room to yourself, but the owner likely lives in the same dwelling where you are staying.

Living in the same place with the owner can be a great experience. You have someone who likely knows the city very well, with valuable local knowledge on the best things to do and the best restaurants to eat at (and the ones to avoid).

It can also be fun just to see how a real person lives in a different part of the world, and the place they are renting out has a good chance of being in a real neighborhood that gives you an authentic travel experience that a regular hotel stay never could.

All of this was true with my first AirBNB experience in Turkey. I was in a great neighborhood (Cihanghir) in the trendy Beyoglu district of Istanbul. The owner was really nice, and had a cool cat. He gave great tips on restaurants and nightlife, and was extremely helpful and excited to share info about his city with me. But....

He also had a new girlfriend, who was spending the nights (and mornings) in the same apartment, and let's just say the walls are a little thin in Istanbul. The experience suddenly became a little more authentic than I had bargained for.

After that, I've always started my AirBNB research with 'Entire Place' selected first.

Start your AirBNB search with Entire Place selected

By selecting 'Entire Place' you are guaranteed that no matter what you are renting (house, apartment, etc) you will have the entire place to yourself. The only interaction you'll have with your host is likely just to get the key (at which point, you could still tap their knowledge of the area).

This isn't to say I would never 'Private Room' it again. In fact, I did, about a year later, on a trip to the Azores when I stayed at an amazing, large house with ocean views for something like $40/night. The host was a kind woman who made delicious pastries for breakfast and everything worked out great.

Great AirBNB stay in the Azores

But the room type you might want to focus on could be dictated by what sort of traveler you are (a solo backpacker, a couple, a family or group) and what level of interaction you're looking for with the host.

Here's a chart for some guidance (but as is always the case with travel, one size does not fit all)

AirBNB room type chart

Step 3: Narrow down your choices

After setting my Room Type to 'Entire Place', the first thing I usually do is zoom in a bit on the map, into the area I'm really hoping to find a room (the listings will automatically update as you move the map).

AirBNB map listings automatically update

Next, I set the price range. If you can't see the price range filter, click on 'More Filters'. I usually start by looking for something great in my area of choice for under $100/night.

AirBNB.ca price range filter bar

Now I look at the number of results...

AirBNB, number of results

If it's anything higher than say, 50 Rentals, I lower the price, to reduce the number of listings (why pay more if I can find something great for even less?). In this case, I'm showing 90 rentals, so let's lower it to under $90/night and see what happens.

AirBNB, lower number of results

Now I have 49 results, perfect! The other thing I could have done to get my results down to less than 50 is keep the price at $100 or less, but click the 'More Filters' button to select some amenities (TV, Hot Tub, Kitchen, Pool, etc) or increase the number of bedrooms and washrooms. Let's see who will offer us the most for our dollar!

Tip: After clicking the 'More Filters' button, click the little arrows on the right to expand the number of amenity selection options.

AirBNB amenities selection

Like I said earlier, AirBNB is the wild west of accommodations, with prices that are not always efficient, so it's amazing what you can sometimes get for the money!

Either way, the key is to get it down to a manageable number of listings. Anything under 50 listings is pretty good. I usually aim for around 30.

Tip: If you want to see what spending a little more will get you, you may want to try moving up the price bar in increments. For example, after checking out the $100 and under listings, set the price filter to 'minimum $100 - maximum $125'. Otherwise, if you set it to $125 and under, your results will include all the under $100 listings that you've already seen.

But I'm finding very few results, or none at all!

If you're finding less than 10 listings in an area, it's probably time to sacrifice something. There are 3 ways you can sacrifice...

Price: You may want to consider going up in price by $10-$20 increments, until you find at least 10 listings.

Room Type: You may want to consider changing your room type from 'Entire Place' to 'Private Room'. Private Room listings generally cost less than Entire Places. There's also 'Shared Room', which is the cheapest, but personally, I'd probably sacrifice my price or location first.

Location: Click and drag around the map . Move the map to a location that's a little further away from your ideal spot. The results will automatically refresh, hopefully with more options.

I usually start by sacrificing on Price a bit. If there's still not any decent listings I drop my room type down to Private Room. And if there's *still* not many options (rare), I drag around the map a bit, to areas that surround my ideal location.

Step 4: Look for listings with a decent number of reviews

In the bottom right corner of each listing's picture, you will see the number of reviews that particular listing has ...

AirBNB number of reviews

If you want to take a chance on a place with very few reviews, or none at all, go ahead (somebody has to!), but personally I like to see at least 10 reviews before I'll consider it a viable option.

To see the reviews, you need to actually click on the listing and view it. AirBNB does not seem to offer a way to filter or sort the listings by number of reviews (perhaps on purpose?).

As you scroll towards the bottom of the listing, you'll see the Overall Guest Satisfaction Rating...

AirBNB guest satisfaction rating

along with the individual reviews from each person that has stayed there...

AirBNB reviews from each person

You can learn quite a bit about a place by quickly scanning the reviews. If anything is specifically mentioned more than once, it might be an issue to consider. Keep an eye out for people mentioning cute pets, if you're allergic to cats or dogs.

Overall, I find the review scores given by guests on AirBNB are pretty generous. I usually hope to find a place with an Overall Guest Satisfaction Rating of 5 out of 5, which I don't think is unreasonable, just because the scores do tend to skew higher.

But a 4.5 out of 5 is fine too, as long as the place has a decent number of reviews (say, more than 15). I've never found it necessary to consider any place with less than a 4.5 rating.

If two places have the same rating, and I can't find any significant differences in amenities to help break the tie, I'll generally give the edge to the place with a higher number of reviews.

Step 5: Narrow down your favorites

You've searched, you've filtered, and have found some great looking listings with a decent number of reviews that look like they have real potential. It's time to start browsing the individual listings and narrow down your favorites!

I usually start by right-clicking on each listing that has a decent number of reviews, and open up each listing in their own browser tab. Then I just go back and forth between the browser tabs, eliminating the listings that don't make the cut for whatever reason.

AirBNB open up each listing in a browser tab

The decision to keep or eliminate a listing is often based on a quick look at the pictures and scan of the review comments.

Some things to watch for as you're browsing the listings...

- You must have your specific dates entered to see the 'real' price, after any extra charges. Usually the only extra charge there might be is a cleaning fee.
AirBNB factors in this cleaning fee (if applicable) into the 'Per Night' rate. *But* they do not factor in the AirBNB service fee into the 'Per Night' rate, which is a little annoying, but they do clearly display the amount of this fee.

- The map function gives you a pretty good idea of where the place is actually located, but not an exact address (for privacy reasons). As far as I know, the precise location is in the center of the 'general location' pink circle on the map...

AirBNB general location pink circle

- Every AirBNB listing has a unique number code assigned to it, which never changes. You can see the number code for a listing in the address bar of your browser...

AirBNB unique number code

If you like to keep track of things in your own notes or spreadsheet, you can copy/paste or write down this unique number. If you ever want to find this listing again some day, you can Google 'airbnb 416853' (or whatever the number is) and quickly find the listing again.

Or you can just use the built in 'Save To Wishlist' function of AirBNB. I never really use it myself. I could swear AirBNB used to let you sort listings by 'Most Wished For', but I might have been dreaming that.

- If you've narrowed it down to your top few choices, and you're having trouble deciding between them, try comparing by clicking on the Amenities tab to help break the tie.

The AirBNB amenities tab can help break the tie

- You may also want to keep your eye on the cancellation policy of the listing. This can either be 'Flexible', 'Moderate', 'Strict', or 'Super Strict'. Note that the AirBNB service fee is always non-refundable no matter what policy it is.

AirBNB cancellation policy

- At any time, you can contact the host, and ask them any questions or address any concerns. It can also help give you a feel of whether it's the right place (and host) for you.

Step 6: Make your booking

Booking with AirBNB is a pretty painless experience. You will be asked for your credit card info, encouraged to send the host a short note to say hi and introduce yourself (not mandatory though), and that's about it.

You will then likely hear back from the host or owner in a timely fashion, usually with the specific address and directions, and any other info that you will require for your stay.

In their message they sometimes also include great recommendations of things to do and places to eat in the area. They're also usually happy to answer any additional questions you might have, and are generally nice, friendly people (especially if you've picked a place that was well reviewed!)

How To Get A Free $27 Credit On AirBNB

When you create your AirBNB account (free), make sure to go through someone's AirBNB referral link, because you'll automatically receive $27 in credit in your AirBNB account for doing so. If you go to AirBNB through any of the links in this blog post and create an account, you'll get the credit.

AirBNB also gives me a credit for referring you (and you can also earn credits by referring others once you have your account).

If you do not want either of us to receive any credits, you can just go to www.AirBNB.ca directly, to create an account without going through someone's referral link (although I'm not sure why you wouldn't want $27 in free credits!).

Note: For the free credit to apply to your booking, the total price of your booking must be $75 or higher (before the $27 credit is applied).

Is AirBNB *always* the best option for accommodations?

Certainly not always. Even though AirBNB has spread rapidly all over the world, it was founded in the U.S.A., and that's where the listings are still strongest.

In certain countries without much tourism, or in less densely populated areas, AirBNB may not have many listings. There are also times where the best available AirBNB option does not beat the best available accommodation from another source. But in my opinion it's always at least worth a look, if only because the slick website makes it so easy to do so.

I've used it on 4 of my last 6 trips, and other than in Turkey, the stays have all been a resounding success. I'll update this post later on, after trying it in Iceland.

If you have any questions about using AirBNB, or have already tried it yourself and want to share your experience or tips, please comment below or give me a shout.

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16 Responses to "How To Use AirBNB - The first site you should visit after booking your flight"

    Has Ashley been here?
       Ashley on June 3rd, 2014

    I completely agree! I used AirBnb when I went to Spain in April. Although I was a little nervous at first as I was traveling as a solo female, I had a great experience! The payment process was easy and things when really smoothly when I arrive. Definitely recommended! (their app was really useful too!)

    Has Charles been here?
       Charles on June 3rd, 2014

    Good info as always, Chris.
    I've also had great experiences with VRBO. I don't see myself staying in hotels for longer trips anymore. Getting one of these rentals is almost always cheaper than a hotel, and having the kitchen is a great bonus.

    Has Steve been here?
       Steve on June 3rd, 2014

    Thanks for the info Chris this site does seem to have some pretty good possibilities.

    One red flag for me though is that after spending a couple hours on the site and looking at multiple dates and locations I have not yet seen 1 negative review. (you mentioned that the reviews tend to skew high) but when I don't see a single negative review at all it makes me think that they are either being removed by the host or by airbnb and it makes me lose trust for the positive reviews.

    Somewhere, someone must have had a negative experience and posted a review.

    Also, when I first signed up and checked a week long rental in Galveston Texas the total price removed my $28 referral discount. But when I later logged in again and checked a 1 night rental in Montreal it did not include the $28 discount. I am wondering if the discount can not be used on shorter rentals.

    Has Chris_Myden been here?
       Chris_Myden on June 3rd, 2014

    Hi Steve,

    Great observations. I've never heard of AirBNB removing negative reviews, and I don't think the host has the option to remove negative reviews. *But* I have heard that people are sometimes afraid to leave a negative review about a host, for fear of a host coming right back and leaving a negative review about them (which could impact how willing future hosts are to accept your booking request).

    I think this might be the reason why the reviews tend to skew towards the positive side on AirBNB. I usually look for well reviewed places, but make note of any polite or subtle comments about an issue. If something comes up more than once or twice, it could be a real issue that is hiding behind great reviews.

    I haven't heard of a minimum length of stay for using the credits, but it's possible. I'll check with my own and report back.

    Has Chris_Myden been here?
       Chris_Myden on June 3rd, 2014

    Hi Steve,

    I did some testing on the free $28 AirBNB credits.

    It doesn't appear there is a minimum number of nights, as shown in this screenshot of a random 1 night stay in Italy...


    But there does appear to be a minimum price. When I tried for a one night stay at a place that was $46, the credit did not apply.

    After trying various price levels, it looks like any stay that comes out to $75 or more , for any number of nights, is enough for the $28 credit to apply.

    Around the $75 level the AirBNB service fee hits $10, which may also be the trigger for the $28 credit to apply.

    screenshot: http://s29.postimg.org/flifl2hd3/Clipboard01.jpg

    I'll add some info about this to the article, thanks for letting me know.

    Has Steve been here?
       Steve on June 3rd, 2014

    Thanks for the update Chris, that makes sense regarding the cheap one day rentals.

    How much do you receive each time you refer someone?

    Perhaps people are afraid to post a negative review but you would think that there would still be the occasional negative review somewhere. Have you ever seen a full negative review on the site?

    Has Chris_Myden been here?
       Chris_Myden on June 3rd, 2014

    No problem Steve! You receive $27 in AirBNB credits for each person you refer with your AirBNB link after signing up. The $27 is added to your credits after that person has completed a stay. You can actually earn quite a bit more ($110) if the person you refer decides to become a host, but I imagine the percentage of people that do decide to host is fairly low.

    You can find your personal referral link under 'Invite Friends' from the account menu.

    screenshot: http://s29.postimg.org/hbfeslduv/Clipboard01.jpg

    I'll see if I can dig up some full on negative reviews. I haven't run across too many either. Maybe AirBNB's algorithms are designed to show you the most well reviewed properties and hide the bad ones.

    Or maybe AirBNB automatically investigates hosts that are receiving negative reviews and culls them from the system.

    Googling around I found a thread on Quora that might provide some answers:
    Why are there so few negative reviews on Airbnb?
    Does Airbnb delete them? I haven't seen any after viewing a lot of locations

    There are some interesting thoughts in that thread, including...

    "AirBNB: We don't delete reviews, but we hide the ones we don't like."

    "I also think the non-anonymity of reviews is a big issue. When you've stayed at someone's home and you aren't very satisfied (but not completely outraged either) you don't want to go write a 2-3 star review - it feels socially rude even though it perhaps shouldn't.

    Typically in these cases I've just chosen not to review the place - therefore my reviews are all five stars of places and people I've genuinely liked.

    It is then hard to distinguish if someone just has few guests or if there are a lot of reviews left out by people who have been slightly unsatisfied."

    "One reason people don't leave negative reviews if fear of retaliation. Same problem eBay and others have/had. "

    "As someone who has hosted 15+ guests and stayed as a guest once, I've never left nor received a negative review. Furthermore, I've seen very few negative reviews. I'd guess the lack of negative reviews are due to three possible factors:

    1. They could leave you a negative review (less likely)
    -- Since guests and hosts can see the reviews that are posted about them, a user who has been negatively-reviewed by someone else could, in theory, leave a negative review for the other user, out of spite
    2. It's socially awkward to leave a negative review (somewhat likely)
    -- You most likely interacted with the guest/host for at least 15 minutes and feel some connection. Also, as a guest, there's a feeling of "this person let me into their home and sleep there."

    3. Almost all Airbnb experiences are extremely positive (most likely)
    -- My girlfriend and I have had only positive experiences using Airbnb, both as hosts and guests. Sure, we've had a less outgoing guests (very few), but everyone has been extremely respectful of us, our space, and our apartment/stuff. We've never left a negative review for a guest/host for this reason and this reason alone."

    "So far, I received 43 reviews and I also wrote 43. All the reviews are good because the guest really liked to stay in my house and I really liked them. However, I also saw some "competitors" in my area that they had some bad reviews and they deleted this property and created a new one. However, the bad reviews can be seen on the "user" reviews.

    So, when the guest books the property, usually he checks the reviews for the property only. Thus, the "bad" reviews are not there, since the house is a "new" fresh start. However, the "bad" reviews can be seen under the user profile.

    But the guests usually do not check there, mainly because the new Airbnb users are not aware about that. All the reviews received for a particular user can be seen under his profile."

    Has Steve been here?
       Steve on June 3rd, 2014

    Thanks Chris, that is good info.

    You've once again saved me a fair bit of money.

    Has Karen been here?
       Karen on June 3rd, 2014

    My husband and I (60's) used airbnb a number of times in Australia. The hotels there are quite expensive so we had a great and more economical stay every where we went!

    Has naomi been here?
       naomi on June 4th, 2014

    I've left a negative review on a room in Brugge and see that it is still up along with the hosts response.

    Ive had 1 amazing experience (LA california) 2 OK experiences (Montreal and Amsterdam) and 1 bad (Brugges) with AirBNB.

    Has Christine been here?
       Christine on June 4th, 2014

    Buyer beware! I've used Air BNB twice in Hawaii, one great experience, the other was just awful. The listing was NOT as advertised. Tip: if the owner does not have several pictures of their place, do not rent it! They should have pics of every room, not just the bedroom. In this example, only one pic was listed for the bedroom (looked good), but the rest of the shared condo was awful. The host's housekeeping standards were gross. BUT, Air BnB took care of that, and fully refunded my $ when I left early. The host did slam me though on the reviews when I mentioned this on her site.

    Has Angela been here?
       Angela on June 4th, 2014

    I've just started using AirBnB (on my fabulous trip to Portugal) and it was a great experience. I've used VRBO many times before this as well as a Craigslist listing. No problems there either, but this just feels more secure and that I've got some recourse if things go wrong. Can't beat the prices and I doubt I'll stay in a hotel again.

    Has Allison been here?
       Allison on June 19th, 2014

    I love airbnb but have often found it a painful process to book, as I've encountered lots of hosts who don't update their calendars frequently - so basically you put in your request but they hadn't bothered to show the place as booked on their calendar yet. And of course you have to put these requests in one at a time, cause otherwise you could get charged for multiple stays. So...some patience is required. (Don't know if I've just been unlucky, but I've found over half of the requests I've put in have gotten turned down or just ignored, and I have a great rating on there.)

    Has Margot been here?
       Margot on June 26th, 2014

    all it takes is a little googling around to find many, many bad reviews on the Airbnb system. unfortunately, i didn't do this before we listed our place with Airbnb, and ended up not getting paid for the nights that we had guests. there was no follow up as their system indicated payment had been made. Calling customer "service' is a joke. there is never a supervisor to speak to or someone that can get to the bottom of the issue or call back with a resolution. everytime you call you get a new "friendly" representative that has no tools to resolve payment issues. Once i peeked closer into reviews for this system there were many many similar complaints, some people ripped off of 2 weeks of guest payments, due to the inadequacies of airbnb. or alternatively, from guests that never got their damage deposit returned, due to the system. Buyer beware with AirBNB. i will never use it again.

    Has Andy been here?
       Andy on November 15th, 2014

    Just came back from Portugal where we shared a 4 bedroom apartment in Belem, Lisbon. The place was spotless and very convenient for travel by train to Lisbon or Cascais. The price being divided by 4 couples was ~€30 each. Only drawback was the 2 set of keys they provided.
    We generally avoid VRBO because comments can and are vetted by the owners.

    Has Azebunuk been here?
       Azebunuk on January 3rd, 2015

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