Prior to 2008, going on vacation had only a few options for accommodations. Aside from hotels, you had the option of motels, inns, lodges, bed, and breakfasts, or hostels. But in 2008, a game-changing type of accommodation allowed people to find their home away from home: Airbnb.
Airbnb connects property owners (“hosts”) with people (“guests”) looking to rent a place for short or long term stays. While some Airbnbs are just as (or even more) expensive than other forms of accommodation, most stays provide amenities others cannot provide. To ensure their guests’ safety, they verify each listing, make sure hosts and guests communicate exclusively on their platform, and collect and transfer money.
If you’re interested in learning more about Airbnb and how to book one, here’s what you need to know.
What Is Airbnb?
Airbnb began in 2007 when two roommates, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, decided to put an air mattress in their living room. They couldn’t afford the rent of their apartment, so they turned it into a bed and breakfast for those who had a hard time booking short-term accommodation within San Francisco. By 2008, together with Nathan Blecharczyk, they created a venture which they named AirBed & Breakfast.
What Does “Airbnb” Mean?
The name “Airbnb” is the shortened form of its original name, AirBedAndBreakfast.com. The team changed its name by 2009 shortly after it began to take off. By this time, their marketplace had around 10,000 users (both hosts and guests) and had 2,500 listings. These listings were no longer limited to the airbeds that Airbnb started with and now included shared and entire houses, apartments, rooms, and other types or properties. By 2018, Airbnb also featured luxury rentals like villas and other high-end listings worldwide.
How Does Airbnb Make Money?
While Airbnb was founded in 2007 and expanded worldwide over the next 10 years, it didn’t turn a profit until the second half of 2016. The company has received venture funding as early as 2009. This is what the company used to expand its business while it wasn’t profiting between 2007 and 2016. The commission it makes through charging a service fee for connecting hosts and guests did not start to turn a profit until 2016.
Airbnb makes its money through its service fee. When you pay for a booking, majority of your payment goes to the host for their property and a cleaning fee. Airbnb charges a service fee which can be between 9 to 15 percent of the property’s cost.
How to Book an Airbnb
You can book an Airbnb stay on your personal computer, phone, or tablet. For phones or tablets, you’ll need to download the Airbnb app, but for your computer, you can go to Airbnb’s website. If you don’t already have an account, you’ll need to sign up. Before you can successfully reserve a place, you’ll need to provide your government ID, phone number, email address, and a selfie. Don’t worry about Airbnb sharing your ID with others, though. Once they verify your identity, they’ll simply put a verified icon on your profile. This is to ensure hosts that you are a legitimate profile.
Take note that booking an Airbnb may require you to have a credit or debit card, as this is the only option available to all countries. People booking through iPhones and iPads can pay via Apple Pay, while Android users can use Google Pay (only in the US). PayPal may be available for certain countries. Check Airbnb’s payment modes to see if your prefered mode of payment is available.
Once you’ve made your account, you can now start booking your place. It’s fairly simple and similar to booking a hotel online. First, start off on the main page. We’re going to show you how to book via computer, but booking through a phone or tablet is fairly similar. Let’s say you’re visiting family in Los Angeles for a weekend in June. You’ll be arriving Friday night and leaving Monday morning. Type in the details of where you want to stay, the dates you’ll be there, and how many guests will be staying in the property. Take note that some properties have an occupancy limit, and bringing in additional people may result in additional charges, so be honest.
Be sure to select “stays” if you’re looking specifically for properties. Since 2016, Airbnb has began to offer “experiences,” a place where hosts can offer tourist activities and attractions for those staying within the area. Click search, and you’ll be taken to a page where you can see all the available places in the area.
If you want to narrow down your search, toggle the filters above.
- “Work Trip” narrows down your search to affordable and practical properties for those traveling for work.
- “Type of Place” narrows down the types of property you’re looking for. You can select the entire property, a private room (shared common spaces but private bedroom), shared room (common bedroom and common spaces), or hotel room (private or shared hotel and hostel rooms). You can select more than one option.
- “Price” adjusts the price range for a minimum and maximum price. It also indicates the average price within the area to manage your expectations.
- “Instant Book” shows you properties where you don’t need host approval. Some hosts can reject your booking for different reasons (e.g. incomplete profile, bad reviews from previous hosts, refuse to say why they’re booking when asked) or fail to approve you within 24 hours, which can be inconvenient for those booking at the last minute.
- “More filters” include the number of beds, bedrooms, and bathrooms; narrowing your search to high-quality or high-end luxury properties; homes accessible to people with mobility needs (e.g. homes with no stairs, wide hallways, grab bars in the bathrooms); amenities like WiFi, kitchens, and air-conditioners; property types, house rules, neighborhoods, and hosts that can speak a certain language.
You’ll notice that the number of available Airbnbs have decreased from over 300 stays to just 40. These are the available stays in Los Angeles that meet my filters. In this example, I filtered down the results to private properties for me and my group up to $310 a night, Airbnb Plus (for higher quality and cleanliness), 2 beds, and a property that has WiFi, air-conditioning, and a kitchen. From there, I can make my selection. Click on each of the choices to see which one you want to rent out. If you like what you see, click “Reserve.” You’ll be shown a breakdown of how much you have to pay, including the cleaning fee, service fee, and the taxes that may be applicable to the area. In this case, Los Angeles has a Transient Occupancy Tax I have to pay.
Before you can confirm your booking, some Airbnbs require you to send a message to the host introducing yourself, your reason for booking, and what time you’ll be checking in. After sending this, you’ll go on to payment. If your host rejects your booking, you’ll be refunded the full amount. Otherwise, your booking is complete.
Tips on Booking an Airbnb
- Get Verified ASAP. Tired of having to always request approval but find your instant booking options are always limited? Then, verify your government ID ASAP. Some hosts offer the instant booking to users who are verified. This will increase the number of properties available for instant booking.
- Read the Reviews. Pay attention to the ratings and reviews left by previous guests. Don’t be swayed by strategically taken photos and flowery words as these can be very misleading. Reviews are likely to be more honest because they’re from guests like you who have actually stayed there.
- Look at the Photos Closely. Are most of the photos only focused on the decor and certain angles of the room? Then, it’s highly likely that they’re trying to hide something. I once went to an Airbnb that promised a Scandinavian-themed one-bedroom condominium. But when I went there, the only area that followed the theme was the kitchen counter as seen in the photos; the rest of the place was fairly generic.
- Ask for Discounts, But Don’t Be Pushy. If you want to negotiate a lower price, chances are you can if you’re staying for longer than one or two nights. Staying for a week or longer, you could negotiate by pointing out that they don’t have to deal with the cost of cleaning up to accommodate new guests because you’re blocking off a substantial chunk. However, some hosts use Airbnb for their main source of income, so they are firm with their prices. If you feel like they’re not going to bend, don’t push it.
- Airbnb vs. Hotel. It’s easy to tell what the difference between a hotel and motel is in terms of price and quality, but some Airbnbs can be as expensive or even more expensive than a hotel. It really depends on what you’re looking for in accommodations. If you’re looking for something simple and no-frills, a place that feels like a home, or a place that allows you to cook your own meals, then an Airbnb is better. But if you prefer the freebies, quality, room service, and someone cleaning your room while you stay (rather than after you leave), then a hotel is better. However, Airbnb offers luxury stays as well, so it’s best to weigh your options.
While there are plenty of horror stories of Airbnbs, the best thing to do to avoid having your own poor Airbnb experience is to do your research and think carefully where you want to book your accommodations. For any more questions about booking an Airbnb, feel free to leave a comment below!