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What Anika discovered when she gave Airbnb a try

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We have all heard about it, may know someone who has done it and possibly even have thought about doing it ourselves but were wary about what to expect: Airbnb.

Head for Points tends to focus on the major hotel chains – because those are the ones which hand out the loyalty points – but there is a quiet revolution going on.  Based on its last funding round, Airbnb is valued at the same level as Hilton.

The Airbnb idea is great in theory. Someone with a spare room rents it out to travellers who would like to experience a bit more of a place than just hotel rooms and hotel bars.  The best case scenario is that you end up staying with hosts that show you around, give you insider tips and become your Facebook friends.  At least that’s how I pictured it.

santa monica

When I went to Los Angeles my original accommodation fell through and I decided it was time to give Airbnb a try.

I found myself sitting in Starwood’s SLS Beverly Hills, which I reviewed here, not knowing where to spend the following night.  I set up an Airbnb account and worked my way through a long process of giving personal information and verifying my identity – after all I was going to stay in a private home and there needs to be some sort of safety and security.

Signing up to Airbnb

The first thing I did was search for a place in Santa Monica. I typed it into the search bar and looked at all the places in that area.

airbnb website

I chose a room about 20 minutes from Santa Monica pier, wrote a message and waited for confirmation.

airbnb accepted

Verification

But before I could get a confirmation, I had to verify my identity and prove that I was a real living person.  I chose to connect Airbnb with my Facebook account but apparently there was not enough going on on my profile (which could have been due to my privacy settings) and I had to use another form of identification.  I took a picture of my drivers licence and uploaded it.

verify ID

When I had finally been verified, a message was sent to the host.

request sent

Confirmation

I received the confirmation via text message and e-mail with a phone number and address. Thanks to iMessage it was easy getting in touch with my host and arranging my arrival the following day.

From the pictures and comments I knew what to expect – a decent size room with en suite and a dog as a flatmate.

The room was exactly as shown on the site but could have done with a bit of hoovering prior to my arrival.  The bathroom was ok – but definitely not hotel standard.  I was warned about this from the comments on the host’s Airbnb page, but as this place was the only one in Santa Monica available I decided I could live with it for a night or two.  (I haven’t put the pictures here because I want to focus more on the Airbnb process than the specific places I stayed.)

I didn’t get to meet the host until I checked out but that was mainly due to me not spending much time indoors and her not being around when I was checking in.

The Airbnb app

My second room was booked via the Airbnb app whilst I was sitting in a Starbucks in Venice Beach.  I found the app very easy to use and highly recommend it if you want to be a bit spontaneous with your travel.

You can enter your preferred destination and have a look on the map to find the exact location. It also shows the prices of every room and apartment. As your credit card details are saved on your account, you don’t need to put in any card details when booking.

APP

I loved the second place I stayed at. It was a lovely hostel just off Hollywood Boulevard (Orange Drive Hostel – if you ever need to recommend a hostel in Hollywood to anyone) which I found useful as I could walk down the Walk of Fame on my way to the Metro station,  snapping a few pictures without outing myself too much as a tourist.

One reason I booked it were the 100+ positive reviews. I wasn’t disappointed when I arrived. Everything looked as in the pictures, there were two lovely outdoor spaces, a kitchen with free breakfast, fast free wifi and everything was incredibly clean.

garden orange drive hostel

Afterwards

After your stay you are being asked to write a review about your stay which will appear on the hosts page and also to give feedback to Airbnb for internal use. The hosts are also asked to write a review and as soon as both parties have written their reviews they are published (if one decides not to write a review the other one will be published after two weeks). The review from the host can affect whether or not you will be accepted by a host when booking in the future.

review hostel

Is Airbnb for you?

I loved using Airbnb. It is not really comparable with a hotel as it is a whole different way of travelling.  If you are travelling alone as I did it’s good to search for a room in a shared apartment where the comments are very positive about the host.

Usually you can also find out through comments if the host will be around to show you around the area. In my case the flatmate (the human flatmate not the dog flatmate) didn’t know much about Airbnb but was happy to tell me about a great bar around the corner and how to get around by public transport.

When travelling in a group or as a family a whole house or apartment is also an option. You are independent, can cook your own meals and won’t be disturbed by anyone. The search option lets you narrow the results down to the price you want to pay and goes up to £500.

You can find whole houses with swimming pools in the higher price category or a sofa in someone’s living room for just a few quid. I paid £44 a night in Santa Monica and £33 a night in Hollywood.  My focus was not to have the biggest and best room with en suite and breakfast, but simply a bed for the night in the area I wanted to explore.

When my parents came to visit me in London last week we spent a night at a friend’s place just outside Windsor which is also listed on Airbnb. Unlike the places I stayed at in Los Angeles, this is a large house which can sleep up to eight people. It just shows how different the options are on Airbnb.  You can book a room, a whole apartment or a whole house almost everywhere in the world.

As this is Head for Points I should mention that Airbnb has no loyalty scheme.  There is a refer a friend scheme, however. When a friend sign up via a referral link they get £25 off when booking their first stay and a £45 bonus when hosting for the first time.  Feel free to use my link if your friends aren’t members and you’d like £25 off your first stay.

Comments (55)

  • Simon Bostic says:

    AirB&B is great for all the reasons stated. It did start put as a concept based around people letting out their apartments or houses when they were away so as a traveller you get to experience a more authentic stay. Or indeed as a singleton you stay with a real live local!
    It’s now a bit more commercial than that but the idea is still good.
    Sometimes there are massive amounts of places to search through which can be tedious and you can sometimes be unlucky so definitely scrutinise profiles and reviews and pictures well.

    Am very curious about why your Facebook page wasn’t accepted though Rob. Do you use it once per year ?!

    • Anika says:

      There might have been a window popping up asking for access and out of reflex I denied 🙂 But somehow after my driving licence had been approved, my profile was then also linked to my Facebook….

  • Danny says:

    It’s Anika’s review 🙂

  • robert says:

    Thanks Anika for your review. Airbnb’s always been on the back burner, but might just take the leap for a quick break in the summer.

  • James Ward says:

    I’ve used Airbnb for all my solo business trips for the past five years and absolutely love the experience of staying with a local. I almost never book a hotel these day except for a specific reason – such as an airport hotel.

    When I travel with my partner we tend to rent entire homes which are always way better value than the hotel that we would get for the same rate.

    I’ve found that hosts’ descriptions are generally very honest and guest reviews are helpful (especially if you try to read between the lines). The credibility of reviews increased when Airbnb introduced the policy of not revealing either review until both had been written. Until a couple of years ago there was a game of hosts and guests writing suspiciously glowing reports of each other in the expectation of getting the same in return.

    You will find properties of every style, standard and price. A world away from standardised hotel chains!

    A couple of months ago I decided to try hosting, and listed my buy-to-let apartment on Airbnb (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/1670067).

    What’s great move! If you’re a landlord, I recommend you consider it. I’m now making three times what I was before even after paying the additional costs – council tax, TV licence, utilities, Netflix, etc. Of course, there’s the additional hassle – sorting the cleaning, guest checkins, admin – but I’m find it well worth the effort.

    (FYI – the link I’ve included isn’t a referral link so you should make sure to use Anika’s link if you sign up.)

  • krys_k says:

    Nice plug James!

    I too have used Airbnb for around five years. In Singapore hotels were incredibly expensive, so I used the app there. As it happens, I go to Santa Monica every year for a work thing in Novemeber and all the hotels are booked up and so always rent a room there, I go towards Venice Beach. Same thing in Toronto. I think it’s a great product.

    • flyforfun says:

      Just a warning to check your Lease conditions to see if you can sublet short term. Where I live it specifically states all sub-lets are for a minimum period of 6 months.

      We’ve caught owners and renters trying to use AirBNB and other sites and they’ve received letters from the freeholders lawyers (and a cost for the letter). Those renting and then subletting on these sites usually end up having their leases terminated as a result as the Freeholder has threatened to the flat owners that they will use this as reason to reclaim the flat.

  • Frenske says:

    Now having a baby, the first choice is to rent an apartment. Airbnb is particular good for that. Some hotels even don’t allow children or charge for extra beds.

  • Jonny says:

    I did love Airbnb.. until I had a bad experience, that is.

    We were travelling with a 6 month old baby and a toddler to Asia, so being in a flat in the right part of the city (ie 10 minutes from family, not 45 minutes thru traffic and fumes) was perfect. We booked two weeks with a week at the beach in the middle.

    First week great, apart from issues with apartment plumbing that were pretty standard for the country. The issue came at 10pm the night before we were due to return from the beach to the city, when I received a cancellation notice from my host.

    It turns out that although the host had a ‘strict’ cancellation policy, so we would forfeit the entire booking fee if we cancelled anything under 30 days in advance, the host is at liberty to cancel whenever they want. Even at night, 14 hrs before check in time.

    All of a sudden our perfect setup for a young family became a bit of a nightmare. Hotel rates were thru the roof, there were no other similar apartments on airbnb. We ended up paying about 50% more for a serviced apartment that was 75 minutes drive across the city from our family we came to visit.

    In this situation Airbnb do offer a bonus on your initial booking value to help you find a replacement. Trouble is they just didn’t have enough properties for this to be possible. I sent an email explaining why I felt there should be some cancellation protection of at least a couple of days for the person making the booking as well as the host, but I never received a reply.

    I do understand that often hosts are homeowners and things come up. But the lack of security of a booking puts me off booking again with kids. And in this case there was no family emergency – it was just that the builders wanted to come in and fix the plumbing, so we were kicked out.

    • Alan says:

      Agree about the one-sided cancellation terms, Jonny – that was what put a group of us off booking for New Year in Sydney last January, we were worried the host may cancel nearer the time, leaving us with nothing. We did use it on a trip to Tasmania though and had a fantastic detached house for a trivial amount per person. Definitely worth considering but they need to do something about the cancellation side of things.

    • Bert says:

      it’s always worth filtering by ‘superhosts’ too – I *think* they have to have a record of not cancelling on guests to get this status

      • Polly says:

        Must admit, I am one of those “super hosts” and it’s very hard work maintaining my status. People do expect very high standards even when paying airbnb rates. That said, my charges are basically half those of a regular local b and b, so v g value for money. The rooms are in my home, as kids have left now, so I can vet who requests to stay. Big Biz demand, as am based in Surrey and close to London. I have never cancelled, and wouldn’t like it to happen to us. But understand illness or family can get in the way. We have also used it in the USA. A local host near me actually booked her sister in with me, rather than cancel a guest. It’s a great concept, long may it last.
        James, love your apartment, very posh! Are you not a super host also? Clare, your place is fabulous too. Def want to go there to visit. We love Italy.

        • James Ward says:

          I didn’t have enough reviews by the last superhost assessment. Will hopefully achieve it in June. And in response to Bert – you’re correct. Superhosts have never cancelled a booking. https://www.airbnb.co.uk/superhost

    • Gary M says:

      My daughter uses Airbnb a lot, and learning from her experiences I’ve started as well, and mostly with good experiences, and much more interesting experiences than business hotel travel.
      But the lack of cancellation protection is a big issue. My daughters worst case was arriving in London, to her Airbnb address, and the host not being there. Calling him, he informed her he was cancelling because “someone had offered him a higher offer to get the flat”, and she was left in the street, luggage in hand, and had to in the end seek help from a friend, and got put up in their flat. Researching, (she was more of an Airbnb novice back then), it turned out the guy was basically a commercial buy to let landlord, who had discovered he made more money renting lots of rooms on short term Airbnb lets. She’s also been in a flat, where the flat owner had Airbnb’d a room, his sister came to visit at short notice, and he cancelled the Airbnb that was due that night.
      In slightly different circumstances, when we she was away on business and her own flat was empty, she got a call from a friend who had relations with a young baby arrive from America, and on landing in the UK, found their Airbnb cancelled, and the friend called her out of desperation to try to borrow her flat because it was so late, and they could not find anything. In that case, it turned out the host had fallen ill, and could not leave the flat as he had intended. Genuine reason ok, but it shows the risks.

      I’ve used a few places in the US, but always check the host carefully, and try to keep a backup plan, in case it goes wrong.(that’s usually a very expensive booking using the “guaranteed room availability” of high tier hotel loyalty cards). So far nothing has gone wrong for me, and every experience has been very good, and I could see me using it more frequently.

      • Mr Dee says:

        Being gazumped shows how desperate some hosts are, you don’t want this type of host who will give up their values for extra cash thats why its important to only go for the high reviews and read all the feedback. This why its not always a good idea to go for the cheapest options.

  • Stuart says:

    Similar to comments already posted , I have used Airbnb lots and have always had a good experience.
    My personal favourite was a trip to Oslo at Halloween. I was travelling on my own and my host took me to a party with his friends and gave me a costume to wear and painted my face.
    Airbnb might not be for everyone but you get to enjoy and see things hotel based tourists would not.

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