9 Things You Should Always Do When Booking an Airbnb, Whether It’s Your 1st Stay or 100th

published Nov 5, 2021
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One of the best ways to experience a unique overnight stay is to book a home or apartment rather than staying in a hotel. A short-term rental can also be an economical choice, as well as one that is ideal for groups as you can book a whole house and share common areas, such as a kitchen and living room.

Whether you use a service like Airbnb or go through an individual company, it’s likely that you’ll encounter one or more common issues, no matter if it’s your first Airbnb or your 100th. Arming yourself with a bit of knowledge can help you choose suitable accommodations while averting a few potential pitfalls along the way. Here are nine things to do when booking your next Airbnb, according to experts. 

Check the final price.

When looking for accommodations, you will have to do a bit of sleuthing to find the best price. The per-night cost listed is a base rate, and taxes and fees are added on top to calculate your total. “The price that is displayed is not the price you are going to get,” warns Jennifer Smith, the host of three rental homes in the United States. “You do still have to add in Airbnb fees and taxes on top of the daily price.”

Ultimately, a location with a lower base price may end up costing more, especially if it comes with a hefty cleaning fee. Guests need to input dates to reveal the total and how Airbnb arrived at that number. Always check the final rate before booking so that there are no surprises or inflated costs.

Secure your dates as soon as you can.

It only takes one booking to make a listing unavailable, so you have your eye on a particular property, book it! Whether you’re traveling for pleasure, a life event (weddings and graduations, especially), or the holidays, claim your date ASAP. “Holidays are usually the first dates to fill up, so plan ahead if you want to travel during those times,” advises Smith. 

New Airbnb hosts have the option to discount their properties for the first few folks that book, so you may be able to secure a brand new listing at a reduced rate. “If a property is brand-new, you are likely going to be able to get it at a discounted rate,” says Smith. ”So take advantage of that and click on the listings that have no reviews.” Of course, being one of the first people to test out a listing can come with its risks, so check with your fellow travelers beforehand to make sure you’re comfortable with doing so. 

Know arrival and departure times. 

Every short-term listing is different, so read check-in instructions and other information before securing the property. “Make sure to familiarize yourself with the listing before booking,” suggests Mary Ellen LaFreniere, who manages several Airbnbs in central Virginia. Although hosts can set parameters, the variance between properties can be confusing. 

“Usually, you can find check-in and check-out times and all the other info you need about a home before you book, so make sure the listed times work for you before you commit,” says LaFreniere. Arrival and departure times may also help you determine which listing best suits your needs, especially if there is an extremely early check-out time that just doesn’t jive with your schedule.

Read the amenities offered at the property. 

Want to cook all your meals on-site? Your Airbnb’s kitchen may be well-stocked with pots, pans, and other kitchen tools, or it could be bare bones. “Decide how you want to spend your time and how you want to eat before you book your stay,” says Teri Gault, who hosts an Airbnb in Agua Dulce, California. “If you plan to cook your meals, make sure you read through the kitchen amenities so that you’ll know what’s already there and so you don’t have to overpack.” 

Smith agrees that you need to see all that the property has to offer, including the basics. “Make sure the place you are booking has all the amenities you are looking for. I don’t just mean the big amenities like a hot tub or game room but the basics like linens,” she suggests. Although most Airbnbs include linens and towels, there are more rustic accommodations where you will have to bring your own. Read the listing thoroughly so that you can be prepared and know exactly what to expect.

Credit: Chloe Berk

Look at the photos and reviews.

Reviews can be a useful way to decide which location to book because future guests can read what previous stays were like. Don’t expect all rentals to have a perfect five-star rating, however. “As with anywhere, some reviews must be taken with a grain of salt,” says Smith. “If you’ve hosted hundreds of people, it is very rare that you are going to please everyone, and some reviews are glowing but only give a 4 out of 5-star rating.” Reading the reviews coupled with the rating will give you a better feel about what to expect.

Many short-term rental owners take their own photos, especially if they are just starting, so a gorgeous property may have poorly lit images. Conversely, hiring a professional photographer may mean that a host’s listing looks better in pictures than it does in person. “Keep in mind that pictures can be deceiving,” warns Smith. “Some properties are going to be better than the pictures, and some are going to be disappointing.”

Tap into your host’s local knowledge.

Often, Airbnbs are in residential areas, so you may not be surrounded by restaurants and attractions. However, many hosts set up a guide within their listing or stock brochures and local magazines in their Airbnb. When in doubt, ask your host for a few recommendations prior to booking. “Airbnb hosts usually love sharing their knowledge of the area and can point out great places to eat, or visit, or tips to help you navigate an area,” suggests Marcia Socas, who owns an Airbnb in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Keep your expectations reasonable. 

If you have a favorite hotel chain, you know what to expect each time you stay, no matter which property you book. However, what you find at one short-term rental may be vastly different from the next. Although hosts are usually accommodating, there might be some limitations to what they can do without the scale and support of an entire hotel staff. 

“You are often staying somewhere to either save money instead of staying at a hotel or are looking for a new experience, so lean into that,” advises Victoria Bartholomew, a realtor who has two Airbnbs in central Virginia. Plus, many listings keep the property’s ambiance, so if you’re staying at a rustic cabin, expect it to be a cozy night in the forest and not a posh room at a luxury hotel.

Be flexible with long-term stays. 

Booking an Airbnb for a few weeks or a month may earn you extra discounts, as many hosts will discount longer stays to encourage bookings. Your host will provide you with toiletries and paper products to get started during your stay, but you may have to foot the bill once that initial supply runs out if you plan on staying for a while. “A basic starter set of supplies should be included, but it’s not a hotel which restocks your toilet paper or shampoo/conditioner, et cetera,” says Socas. “So plan on hitting the store and getting supplies.” If you’re unsure about long-term discounts and what they include, message your host ahead of time and ask for clarification. 

Communicate with your host via their preferred method.

There are many ways to get a hold of your host once you book, whether that’s calling, texting, or messaging them through the booking platform, but check with your host about what method is most convenient and likely to get the answers you need. 

“Depending on the age and lifestyle of the host, some prefer phone calls or texting to using the Airbnb platform or emails, and you want to ensure that you can get in touch with your host quickly if you need them,” advises LaFreniere. Using the host’s preferred method increases the likelihood of a speedy response. Plus, thoughtful communication with your host ahead of time can ensure a positive tone for your upcoming stay.