Airbnb is a travel site where people from all walks of life can list and book accommodations and experiences around the world. And homeowners can sign up to become a host and rent out a room, suite or entire house. It’s accessible to anyone with a phone, computer or tablet and an Internet connection.
Based in San Francisco, Airbnb started in 2008 when three roommates were trying to find a way to pay rent and thought renting their space online could be an easy way to get paid. Now it’s worldwide and has plans to go public in 2020.
What can I reserve or buy from Airbnb?
On Airbnb, you can book:
Booking your stay is half the fun! Choose from shared rooms, single rooms or entire spaces. Find the amenities you crave in standard homes, or switch it up and stay in a treehouse, castle, tiny house, villa or cabana in almost anywhere in the world.
Take a simple city walk to get to know the region or enroll in a boxing class for a morning workout. Or be more adventurous with Tea with Naughty Sheep or a Prehispanic Shaman Renewal. Whatever you’re into, Airbnb has a selection of activities and experiences hosted by folks who live and work in the area.
Once you know your destination, plan your adventure with Airbnb. Choose from culinary, active, cultural, animals and boating adventures. Or let Airbnb do all the planning for you with its small group trips, with prices that include your stay, food and activities.
How to book a rental on Airbnb
You can book on Airbnb from a web browser or through the app.
Enter your location, check in dates, number of guests and click Search.
Select a property.
Review the pricing and amenities and click Agree and continue.
Send a brief introductory message to the host and click Continue.
Confirm your reservation and request to book. The host will accept or decline it within 24 hours.
Some properties allow you to book instantly, without sending a message to the host or waiting for approval. In that case, after you select a property you’ll click Instant Book.
How do I get my confirmation?
After your reservation is approved, you’ll receive an email with details about your booking and the host’s contact information.
Airbnb safety procedures during COVID-19
In early June 2020, Airbnb provided hosts with a set of enhanced cleaning protocols with step-by-step instructions for sanitizing between guests. Hosts can take a quiz to illustrate their protocol understanding. If they pass, their listing will get an Enhanced Clean indicator — offering further peace of mind that the property has undergone rigorous cleaning prior to your arrival.
Check the description of each property to understand how the host has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can even send a message to ask about their cleaning methods directly.
Airbnb cancellation policy during COVID-19
Airbnb is encouraging hosts to offer more flexible cancellation policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the host’s policy carefully before booking to make sure you understand the risk up front.
How do I pay with Airbnb?
How you pay depends on the country you live in and where you plan to book. In the US, Airbnb accepts:
Visa, Mastercard, Amex, Discover, JCB
Most prepaid credit cards
PayPal for stays in some countries
Expect additional fees at checkout
The price per night doesn’t tell the whole story about cost. You’ll also have to pay a service fee and a cleaning fee, which varies depending on the number of people staying at the property and the host’s preferences. You may also be charged occupancy taxes and fees.
These costs should all be included in your final amount you pay once your host accepts your reservation request. Here’s an example:
Does Airbnb have sales?
Yes. Here’s how to get a discounted Airbnb stay:
Use a coupon code. Airbnb offers discounts for first-time users and on other occasions throughout the year.
Find a property where the host offers discounts. Sometimes, property owners offer reduced rates to attract business. You’ll see any applicable offers after clicking into the property under Check Availability.
What sets this brand apart?
Here’s why Airbnb has hosted nearly 400 million guests since its launch in 2008:
Authenticity is easier to access.
Let’s face it — it’s easy to go on vacation and barely scratch the surface of your destination, staying at chain hotels and getting stuck in tourist traps. Airbnb flips that around to offer stays and experiences designed and led by local people.
Even if you’re simply staying in someone’s extra room overnight, most hosts are happy to engage in a chat about where to go and what will help make the most of your time.
Three cheers for sustainable tourism, and three more for making one-of-a-kind memories.
Properties almost everywhere.
Airbnb stands out for the sheer breadth of availability — 65,000 cities in 191 countries, to be exact. Got a wedding to attend on a farm in Illinois? A Cute Little Country Guest House has your name on it. Crossing the Atlantic for a weekend getaway to the City of Lights? There’s a Charming Romantic Studio waiting just for you.
Is Airbnb illegal anywhere?
Airbnb isn’t banned completely in any cities as of this writing. However, certain cities have instituted heavy legislation to reduce its presence — primarily because property owners rent properties exclusively on Airbnb, making it harder for local renters to find an affordable place to live.
For example, San Francisco hosts must register with the city, reside at the property full time and limit guest stays to 90 days. Other cities such as New York, Santa Monica, Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, London and Amsterdam have enacted similar legislation.
If you’re looking to rent an entire property in a city with strict regulations that limit your options, check out Vrbo, FlipKey, or One Fine Stay.
Information obtained October 2019
What’s the difference between Airbnb and Airbnb Plus?
Airbnb Plus properties are a curated collection of the highest quality listings on Airbnb, which means they’ve gone through a 100-point inspection process with a special attention to style, design and ambiance. The purple Plus label is basically a shortcut to finding the chicest rentals.
In addition to posting professional photos for your perusal, they come with elevated essentials like:
Coffee and a coffee machine
Matching sheets on the bed
Filtered or bottled water
All the basics for home cooking
Functional locks on bedroom doors
All Airbnb Plus hosts have a rating of at least 4.8 out of 5 stars. When you book an Airbnb Plus property, you’ll also get access to its premium customer support team for faster responses to your queries.
If you’re used to the ease and comfort of a hotel, Plus could be a good way to try Airbnb for the first time, since you don’t need to worry about an experience that’s rough around the edges.
Are Airbnb guest reviews reliable?
Generally, yes. Airbnb guest reviews are reliable because only verified guests who stay at a property are allowed to comment on it. Hosts cannot delete reviews, so you’ll see people’s unfiltered experiences posted on each listing.
While Airbnb doesn’t moderate reviews for truthfulness, it does moderate for bias and relevancy, which means its team will delete reviews that don’t directly relate to the guest’s experience at that listing.
You can be fairly confident that the reviews you see are legit. That said, if it’s your first time booking or you want to take extra precautions, choose a property owned by a Superhost that has dozens of positive reviews for further peace of mind that your experience will be top notch.
It’s quick and easy to book. Find a room by navigating its geo-locator, and confirm your reservations in just a few clicks. It’s even faster with properties that allow for instant bookings.
It can be cheaper than a hotel — and even a hostel. If you’re traveling with a family of five, you could reserve an entire home for double digits in many places — think more space for fewer dollars.
Easier to connect with local folks. Ask your host about the local coffee shop, and go there instead of a big chain. If you’re hoping to brush shoulders with community residents, Airbnb is an excellent choice.
Fees can add up quickly. The cleaning fee, service fee and taxes can take a super-low rate and almost double it. Tight budget travelers should remain wary until they see the final price at checkout.
Some experiences are better than others. Without the ease and reliability of a hotel, an Airbnb rental can come with cranky hosts, dirty bathrooms or be something that you didn’t expect. People reserve based on reviews, so be sure to leave a review if you notice something amiss.
Inconvenient check-in and -out times. Since each host sets their own check-in and -out times, arrival and departure may be less flexible than a hotel. Though many properties have a lock box so you can enter without meeting up with the host.
I joined Airbnb later than most, while planning a 2014 trip to a Midwestern neighborhood of few hotels. My family of three found a tidy bungalow nestled in a cool neighborhood hosted by a couple who greeted us with drinks. No better first experience.
Since then, we’ve used Airbnbs nearly exclusively in Asia, Europe and Australia — from fabulous beach penthouses and eco lodges to tiny homes and a remote converted bull barn. Each stay offers an opportunity to live like a local, adopting lifestyles in areas we might not have gained access to without the intrusion (to us, anyhow) of room service. With few exceptions, our hosts have provided a wealth of tips and tricks — and sometimes hiking passes and weather gear — that made nestling in that much easier. Sure, we’ve had a few duds, but we consider it part of the adventure of travel.
The system is intuitive, but could use one big improvement (you listening, Airbnb?): The ability to compare total costs — including cleaning and service fees — across a range of dates without needing to click into the listing details. Those fees can sometimes double the expected nightly rate advertised by unscrupulous listers.
Case study: Amy's experience
Fresh out of college and wandering through Europe, my friend and I knew that hotels would break the budget. While we opted for hostels in Venice and Florence, in Munich we found an Airbnb near the Englischer Garten, a large public park by the city’s center. The total price was about $36.30 per person, per night — including service fees and taxes. Our host was a Vietnamese graduate student studying engineering at a nearby university. He was polite and conversational but not overbearing. The private room and two twin beds that my friend and I slept in were neat and comfortable.
I’ve also stayed at Airbnbs in Nashville, Louisville, Richmond, Tampa, NYC and Minneapolis — and have no plans to engage in front desk hotel service anytime soon. The combination of affordability and an authentic neighborhood experience is almost impossible to beat.
What does Airbnb mean?
Airbnb comes from “air bed and breakfast,” because when co-founder Brian Chesky and his roommates first started the site, they were renting air mattresses and providing breakfast to guests in the morning. The first ever Airbnb bookings were during a design conference in San Francisco, when hotels in the area were full. The roommates — who needed extra money to help pay rent — charged three people $80 each to sleep in their living room.
Today you don’t have to worry about sleeping on an air mattress — most properties will give you a proper bed — unless otherwise stated.
Airbnb offers a unique, unforgettable experience — the top item on most travelers’ to-do lists. If Airbnb doesn’t have what you’re looking for, or you’d rather try something else, compare other rental sites — each with a twist.
Frequently asked questions
How old do you have to be to use Airbnb?
You must be at least 18 to create an Airbnb account.
What are Superhosts on Airbnb?
Superhost is a badge that Airbnb awards to stellar hosts with a solid track record. These hosts are known for quickly replying to guests’ messages, seldom canceling a reservation, and overall ratings of at least 4.8 stars from past guests.
If you’re new to Airbnb and are a bit nervous about staying in someone else’s house, look for the Superhost badge and rest assured that individual has been thoroughly vetted by Airbnb and past travelers.
Does Airbnb have an app?
Yes. Airbnb’s app has a 4-star rating in the Apple store and a 4.6-star rating on Google Play. In 2017, it was nominated for best-in-class visual design by the The Webby Awards.
Amy Stoltenberg is a staff writer covering all things travel, shopping and lifestyle. After earning a BA at Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked as technical designer in corporate fashion before opting for a career with unlimited travel time. When her laptop's closed, you can find her wandering around Los Angeles looking for hole-in-the-wall eateries and plotting her way to all 50 states (she's currently at 28).
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