Travel Tips

Published on April 17th, 2016 | by Mark Chesnut


7 Things You Need to Know Before Booking Airbnb

Which do you prefer: hotels or Airbnb? Last week, I ran a post that highlights the differences between these two types of accommodations — essentially a roundup of the selling points of hotels versus Airbnb, and vice versa. Now, in case you’re participating in the so-called sharing economy, it’s time for a checklist of the 7 things you need to know before booking Airbnb. It’s a handy list of travel tips to keep in mind when you reserve that next vacation or business trip.

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7 Things To Check Before You Reserve Airbnb
Airbnb clearly offers benefits to travelers — otherwise, it wouldn’t be thriving. But one of the “ifs” associated with reserving accommodations via this home share service. Obviously, unlike a hotel chain that provides McDonald’s-like predictability, there is no consistency whatsoever in the types of accommodations on Airbnb from one owner to another. No reliable branding. So that makes it more important to make sure that you’re getting what you want.

I’m one of those travelers who loves both the hotel concept and the Airbnb concept. I’ve had some amazing stays using both styles. In general, if I’m looking for a unique experience, extra space and more privacy, I’m likely to look at Airbnb. If I want on-the-spot service, extra luxury and amenities, frequent guest points and flexibility, I prefer hotels. But every traveler is different, of course.

Here are 7 questions to ask before you make your decision on a specific apartment or house on Airbnb.

1. Do you want a shared space or your own space? Some listings are a bedroom in an already inhabited home (or even just a couch in a living room). If you’re like me, you want a full apartment or house, all for yourself. Be sure to check your preference when you start your search.

2. What’s available in the destination you’re going to visit? In Latin America, for example, you’ll find lots of great apartment listings in Bogota, Lima and Mexico City — but hardly any in Panama City, Panama (luckily, hotels are fairly reasonably priced in Panama’s capital). So if you’re heading to some cities in Colombia, Peru or Mexico you may find lots of possibilities on Airbnb. In Panama, you’ll likely do better just staying in a hotel (only in Panama, after all, can you stay in a hotel room with a Barbie doll theme!)

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3. Is it really an apartment, or is it a hotel? Airbnb sometimes lists hotel rooms and hotel-style condos as if they were apartment rentals, without even mentioning the name or that it’s a hotel. Telltale signs: Descriptions of a “studio” apartment that has no kitchen, or tinier-than-usual spaces with kitchenettes.

4. Read the reviews — and take note of how many reviews there are. I shy away from “new” listings with no reviews, or with very few reviews. You want a place that enough people have stayed at so that you can have a good idea of what the place is like.

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5. Research the neighborhood independently. If you’re not familiar with the city that you’ll be visiting, you shouldn’t accept the listing’s neighborhood description as absolute fact. Check out information about the neighborhood in travel guides and sites to make sure you’re where you want to be.

6. Do you and the owner/manager speak the same language? You may feel more comfortable if you see the information in a language you understand. If the owner profile is written in a language you don’t understand, you may want to avoid that listing.

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7. How are the keys handed over? Be sure to communicate clearly with the owner/manager before your arrival. How will you get keys to the home or apartment? What if your flight is late? And can you get two sets of keys so you and your traveling companion will each have a separate set? (If you can’t get two sets of keys, in the case of buildings with doormen, one of you can simply leave the keys with the doorman when you leave. But if it’s not a doorman building and you only have one set of keys, how are you going to work around that?)

Photo credit: mighty.travels via Visual hunt / CC BY

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About the Author

The founder and editor of, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He’s worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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