Airbnb is awesome – until it's not. Ten years in, face it, it's still a leap of faith as a traveler to go stay in a stranger's home. You roll the dice and could land in a place that makes all your dreams come true — I've found some absolute treasures like that. Or maybe it's not horrible but it's a boring corporate rental. Or maybe there are literally two of each utensil and dish because the host is a cheapskate who doesn't get that this is hospitality, not real estate. Or maybe it reeks of cat pee, or there's one slimy bar of soap sitting in a pool of scum for all the guests to share or worse – so much worse.
Yes, yes, that's why there are reviews, but here's the thing with reviews: people write them. And you know what that means – a whole mess of complicating factors can come into play.
Hi, I'm Dana, and I'm an Airbnb host. I'm also an Airbnb guest, and I can lose entire days scouring the site for just the right place to stay when I travel, trying desperately to parse reviews and read between the lines. It's bad enough in a smaller city where there are only a few hundred listings. Start talking about a place like Paris, on the other hand — where a bad decision on where to stay can really kind of ruin what might be a once in a lifetime trip – and the pressure is real. Do you trust leaving your vacation happiness to the people who might be writing bitter yelp reviews?
Until now I've stuck with my playbook of only staying with Superhosts (I'm one, so I know how hard hosts have to work to get there), really studying reviews, and making sure to read the reviews hosts leave their past guests (I don't want to stay in the Airbnb this writer did!).
That's a lot of work.
Enter the Airbnb Quality Score from Airdna. This decidedly non-catchy title of a tool buried deep in the blog of a company that provides data and analytics on short term rentals is just what you didn't know you were looking for.
The creator Scott Shatford came up with this nifty tool when he had a revelation while planning a trip: "Booking a good Airbnb is HARD!"
Scott founded Airdna a few years ago after he left his full time job and considered Airbnb hosting as a potential income stream, he says. He'd come from a data analytics role and was "surprised there was no information provided by Airbnb or a third party on how to price, set minimum stays, all the knobs you can tweak to improve your listing and revenue."
So, he says, "I set out to scrape all the data on every property in the country [and later beyond] to figure out what separates the best from the underperforming listings and create data insights to help people become better operators."
Looking at all this data, Scott says, "you realize it's hard to decipher what is a great Airbnb from the rest of the pack. Because there's this issue with the ratings scale where everything is sort of inflated." Americans in particular, he says, "like to rate things very high —or very low." We're exuberant with our praise it seems. "Typically Americans are like, 'this was the best experience ever!'" he says.
So we end up with 82% of all Airbnb properties having at least a 4.5 star rating. That means a 4.4 is actually bad, but "that isn't obvious to a consumer."
What's more, Scott says, "from a consumer perspective, they aren't thinking about cancellation policies," and other factors that go into a great experience.
So when he had that aha moment, he took all that data and put it to work – for the guest. So thanks to them, we can let science weed through the contenders for us. The tool, the site says:
...ranks every Airbnb property based on previous guest experiences and other characteristics including Superhost status, review counts, review content, ratings, host response times, instant bookings, cancellation policies, and much more to predict where you will likely have the most enjoyable Airbnb stay.
Now as a host I'd surely like to know what that "much more" is. But as a traveler I'm just happy somebody else is doing the heavy lifting. It's also great that they show you the average booked price for the property over the past year. With most (smart) hosts adjusting their prices daily – there's an app for that! – and the addition of wildly variable cleaning fees, it's hard to get a handle on whether the price you're looking at is a fair deal so this alone is worth the cost of admission (which is free, by the way – there's no charge for this tool).
The only drawback is we're still relying in large part on guest ratings. And as I found in my most recent stay in another city with a highly rated host with a very disappointing property, there is definitely some over-inflation going on. So I'll certainly add this tool to my travel-planning arsenal, but I agree with Scott on this – there's still no substitute for actually reading those reviews.