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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)

  • James Ward says:

    Damn! Wish I’d known about that before I started hosting – they’re offering 20,000 Elevate points which are extremely valuable when spend in partner awards!

    There were putative plans to launch a pre-paid credit card last year, which would earn 10% (!!) cash back, payable as Airbnb travel credit: http://techcrunch.com/2015/11/10/airbnb-working-on-experience-card-a-preloaded-1k-mastercard-and-rewards-program/

    Not sure if this will ever happen – not heard anything since.

  • Rich. says:

    Works well for me, just remember the two way feed-back….

  • Clare Gibb says:

    Firstly, to declare an interest, I do rent out a property on AirBNB. However, I also used it for a period before putting my own property on there. I have just finished a trip to California almost entirely using AirBNB and it was fabulous, staying in much better places that you would have thought possible for what we paid. There were four adults, and we stayed every night in AirBNB, for 16 nights apart from three nights in hotels for which I had points.

    Hotels in San Francisco are stupidly expensive for what you get. However, we stayed in a top floor Victorian apartment with views of the Bay in the Castro for a week, followed by three nights in Monterey with 180 degree views 50 feet from the beach, followed by three nights in a lush Victorian in the Marina area of San Francisco 150 m from the Palace of Fine Arts. The pppn rate for the bits in AirBNB – £62. Yes. Really. I’ve just looked on Trivago for what you can get for that rate in SFO, and frankly they all look like drugs dens. I did NOT take my parents on a tours of the drugs dens of California.

  • Matt says:

    As for loyalty schemes, Airbnb was still giving me double points (as in 100% bonus points) on an 18-month old Amex Gold back in March, which seems to be the only thing I get bonus points on now.

  • Mr Dee says:

    I like the concept of Airbnb but the security and protection for the guest could be improved, I have had issues with places not being described where the place hasn’t even been cleaned since the last person, in this case I got a full refund from Airbnb. The only way to avoid situations like this is to make sure you check the reviews for any issues at all and only go for the highly recommended even if it is at a higher price than others.

    • Bert says:

      The reviews are also skewed so highly (I think I read that the average rating on Airbnb is over 4.5/5) that I wouldn’t pick one where even half a star is missing in any category – things have to be bad to get guests away from leaving 5 stars…

  • BrianDT says:

    My wife and I are shortly off on a 2 month jaunt around the Northern Territories in Aus before heading over to NZ. We rarely use mainstream hotels apart from arrival and departure, and this will be our first use of airbnb. We tend to just travel day or so here and there,depending how we feel and what’s around.I see that Anika had to post her license for security but I see no way of doing that on the App.What I would like to know is if there are any particular do’s or don’ts we should be aware of before we leave home. It will be very annoying to arrive only to realise “if only we had known”. Thanks for any advice.

    • Tina says:

      I used it for the first time this month in Berlin and Amsterdam. The Berlin apartment was brand spanking new with all mod cons and great F and Fs. Amsterdam was an older ground floor apartment with just a hob for cooking and more basic furnishings.Both were great value however – especially Amsterdam and I would recommend it. The airbnb app does tell you which hosts have cancelled on guests and how many days in advance they have done do.

    • Susan says:

      When looking in NZ try bookabach (part of VRBO – a similar scheme to airbnb). Stayed here – it was marvelous. http://www.bookabach.co.nz/baches-and-holiday-homes/view/8376##

    • Rob says:

      I think the key is to register before you go and ensure ID is verified, credit cards linked etc. You should then be OK to use the app on the fly.

    • James Ward says:

      You don’t have to physically post them your ID. Just login to their website (not the app) and upload photos of your drivers licence, passport, etc.

  • Fredo Frog says:

    I have not stayed at an Airbnb property yet but have used the service to book two properties for a USA trip later this year, one in Washington DC and one in Brooklyn, NYC, each for a weeks stay..

    There are risks, clearly, though hotel bookings can be also. The late cancellation issues highlighted above have been partly offset by me booking a hotel room in each city with a 24 hour cancellation policy, so that offers some reassurance until 24 hour before.

    I would never wish to stay in someones “spare room” but we have booked apartments which will offer the facilities of a high-end suite for the cost of a basic hotel room, albeit withouth room service, bell boys and concierge, but I rarely use such services myself anyway.

    The properties I booked were both relatively new to Airbnb, with few reviews. I was advised against this but liked the look of the properties: one is a new apratment recently built on the Brooklyn waterfront in Wiliamsburg, the other a Washington DC condo in a fancy block near Foggy Bottom. I am pleased to note they have consistently received 5 stars since I booked them and are now virtually fully booked for the entire year. One is a superhost.

    If they work out well, I shall be using Airbnb again as I must admit, I find large corporate hotels very dull. The experience so far has been favourable.

  • Bert says:

    One thing about Airbnb is that each stay is a memorable experience – for better or worse – and the extent to which a few of our stays have been disappointing (usually just not quite as clean as you’d hope) is far smaller than the extent to which the good ones have been great. A sense of adventure, openness and generosity are part of the Airbnb model and I’ve found these traits are in shorter supply when trying to use it in the UK compared to US or Australia.

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