This post idea didn’t pop out of the blue, although, I wish it had. I experienced the worst situation with an Airbnb booking last week, for a trip I thankfully hadn’t yet left for. This terrible and unlucky issue got me thinking – there are so many different ways to help you understand the safety, legitimacy, and accuracy of a homeshare listing. Of course, when you’re using a site like Airbnb or Homeaway, you know you’re not signing up for a traditional, name-brand, and predictable hotel. There’s always some form of adventure (as some may call it) and mystery to booking someone else’s home in a far away place. Of course, sometimes those feelings outweigh the bad when you’re planning a long trip, a vacation with a large group, or looking to save $ on your vacation accommodations.
A little back story…
My family and I always go to Mexico for Christmas. Playa del Carmen and Tulum are such special places to us, we couldn’t imagine a white (sandy) Christmas anywhere else! Sometimes we stay at luxury boutique hotels, and sometimes we stay in Airbnb’s that are located in condo-hotels, basically a condo facility that you can look up on Trip Advisor or Expedia, and usually have fitness centers, concierges, and restaurants/bars on site. This year, we’re bringing along a few extra people, and have a whole crew set to arrive Playa for the holidays! Since we have more people than two hotel rooms could fit, we decided to go with a large condo. We were so organized this year, and booked the trip in August! Us Taylors are usually still going back and forth over accommodations for this trip over Thanksgiving….we thought we were #winning at this pre-planning thing.
That is until I received a sketchy email from the host THREE weeks before our departure, which happens to also be one of the busiest tourist/travel weeks of the year, that then lead to a cancelled booking. We spent almost a week on the phone countless times with Airbnb customer service, and furiously searching for a back up plan (for five people, nonetheless!) Thankfully and surprisingly, we were able to find a new accommodation that was just as good as the original. I’ve stayed in so many incredible and perfect Airbnb’s, like this one in Italy, here in Cabo, and here in Charleston. I’ll be making sure to keep this past week’s lesson in my back pocket for when I’m planning my next trip.
Pay attention to the listing type. Sometimes, even when you’re booking an entire home, and have the number of guests in your filters, it still lets you book a “room”. Sometime’s hosts, especially if they’re new, will mistakenly put that it’s only a room in the details, when really it’s a full 3-bedroom condo, or similar. If this happens, it’s fine to book as long as they confirm via the homeshare site private messaging that it is an entire home. Just be aware that if you need to cancel for any safety, security, or other reasons, Airbnb will only consider this booking a private room, no matter the confirmation you had been verbally given.
Try to book with Superhosts. On Airbnb specifically, a Superhost has 4.8 star reviews or higher, has never cancelled on a guest within the last year (VERY important), has had over 10 active stays within a year, and responds to inquiries within 24 hours.
Watch for the same listing that’s posted multiple times. I’ve seen this happen in many of my searches for condos in Mexico. A host will have multiple accounts, and use different listing names and a different mix of the same photos in each. This is a red flag as it deters the traveler from seeing the real reviews, and shows that the host isn’t trustworthy.
Look out for automatic cancellation reviews. Airbnb automatically leaves a “review” when a host cancels on someone, and even includes how many days before the check-in they cancelled. This comes in handy when a host has multiple listings, but no reviews for the specific place you’re considering. It shows how reliable they are. This was a big red flag I should have accounted for when we booked our original Christmas week Airbnb.
Try to pick places that aren’t someone’s main residence. This can be a tricky one, but generally, you can usually tell by the photos and the host description if they live in the home. I try to stay in places that are clearly run by management companies, or exist as an actual business. I feel strange sleeping in someone else’s bed, and looking at their personal items and photos. Creepy! If you’re unsure, ask the host before booking! I learned the hard way about this tip on a trip to San Diego a few years ago. The fridge in the house was even filled with personal items.
Book somewhere you can cross-reference. If you do some in-depth research, you can easily find out more details that you can reference online about a place. The Airbnb we rented in Italy had named itself “SoSore Apartment One” – a quick google search lead me to the hosts (three sisters) website, along with their popular Instagram, where other travelers tagged the location. When we travel to Playa del Carmen or Cabo, I always ask the host what the condo complex name is. With that information, I can easily find the complex’ professional website, and Trip Advisor reviews.
Pay attention to amenities. Going to Lake Tahoe for a ski trip? I’d definitely want to make sure there’s a hot tub! Coffee snob? You’ll want to ask your host what kind of coffee maker they have. When we go on long trips, a washer and dryer is a huge plus.
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