If my comment lambasting Airbnb with 600 upvotes on Reddit is anything to go by…other people are frustrated with Airbnb too.
When Airbnb first arrived on the scene it was a breath of fresh air. I was all too eager to support! It promised unique housing in great (or little known) locations for low prices. But very little of that original vision seems to remain true. So here’s 6 reasons for why Airbnb isn’t a good deal!
1. The Fees
It was a shock for me, on my latest trip to Italy, to discover how many fees Airbnb had tacked on. I’ve been traveling solo for the past two years. I have been using hostels in order to meet people and stay as cheap as possible. Being faced with the higher fees was a bit shockingly.
Additionally, because fees don’t show up in the “original price” you have to click through listing after listing to find one actually within your budget.
- Cleaning Fees: They’re outrageous! Now they’re often used for homeowners to keep their listing price low…but still get what they consider a “full price” for their listing. Often times these fees are forfeited for cancellations! I didn’t stay there, how could the room need cleaning??
- More Than One Guest: This is one of the biggest scams I’ve encountered while traveling, and it’s happening on Airbnb. I never encountered it because I’m often traveling alone. But when I went to Italy with my mother, suddenly we were paying an extra $15-50 for the luxury of a second person. The listings would clearly state it was a two person space, but still, the fee. What on earth is this nonsense? I was so confused I had to Google it. And found dozens of hosts complaining. “A couple brought their baby and didn’t mark it as 3 people, can I claim my deposit?” and “A girl brought her friends over for half the day and didn’t pay for them!” Nonsense. Absolute nonsense.
- The Service Fee: Both the host and the guest pay this fee. For hosts, it’s generally only 3%, but can be as high as 10% in Mainland China. For guests, it’s anywhere upwards of 14.2%. Airbnb says the rate is determined by a “variety of booking factors.” Yeah. Sounds legit. This is supposedly to cover the costs associated with providing 24/7 customer support (then why does it take hours and hours for them to get back to me?), and other unnamed services. All of which hotels provide free of charge.
2. Cancellation Policies
With a hotel you almost never have to worry about cancelling unless your 48 hours ahead. Even after 48 hours a hotel is generally willing to give you a refund if you don’t stay. Making a good impression with your brand name is more important than taking money from one customer. That doesn’t matter to a lot of Airbnb hosts – they’ll probably never see you again.
Now, of course, the cancellation policies are all very plainly stated with each listing. But why worry about last minute changes, as I had to in the onset of the Coronavirus? It’s just more comforting to think I don’t have to worry about emergencies and losing out on lots of money.
3. The Response Times
The response rates for just about every booking we had in Italy were terrible. Yes, we were in the off season, and we definitely seemed to be a practice run for the various properties. But that’s no excuse. In Rome, our toilet ceased to work. Italian toilets are notoriously finicky. And this one refused to allow us to push the button to flush.
Not only did it take several hours to receive a response, but when we did they brushed it off. “We’ll look at it tomorrow.” I don’t know about you, but tomorrow is never good enough when it comes to a toilet issue. Oh, and they didn’t even send someone by!
This was followed by:
- Heaters not working and the host taking 2 hours to respond, thus needing to walk to the host’s house down the road at 10PM in Capri.
- Incredibly confusing check-in systems in Florence that required us to pick up keys at a friend’s house and then be confused as to which apartment was meant to be ours. It took two hours for our host to respond so we had a lengthy lunch in a bistro nearby.
- We had to wait to check in an extra three hours to check in at a different property in Rome because “their cleaning person hadn’t showed up.”
And unnecessary delays in responses from owners plagued it all. All within a 2 week trip! If it had been just one property with just one problem, we’re pretty easy going. But the buildup over the 5-6 places we stayed left a bad taste in our mouths.
It doesn’t matter how much or how little you pay, these issues plagued accommodations at every price level.
4. The Amenities
When you start to think about it, most of the Airbnb’s aren’t exactly luxury. Like most places in Europe, the showers in our Airbnbs were generally tiny and old. Which is fine if you’re living there and you know the quirks. But when you’re only there for a night, scrambling to find the area between boiling and ice, needing to squeegee the bathroom down in case of mold, or strange heating systems or time limits….How is this better than a hostel, and why is it the same price as a low-range hotel?
When we decided to stay in Bologna last minute we lived in the Marriott shower.
But it’s not just showers.
- It’s finicky electricity and having to do basic boiler maintenance.
- Doors that are next to impossible to open so you stand outside and have to Google how to maybe unstick a door.
- 6th floor walk-ups
- Heating or air conditioning restrictions (or neither at all, which is particularly treacherous when combined with the 6th floor walkup and it’s the hottest day of the year)
- And sketchy situations and locations. Because you don’t know exactly where you’re located until you book, sometimes you learn that the area is, well, not great once you get there or Google Street View it.
- Or you can tell that they’re running an unauthorized Airbnb where you have to be “careful about coming and going.”
It may sound ridiculous, but I’ve encountered every single one of the problems listed in this post. I’ve stayed in a fair number of Airbnbs, but under 20. And I can say I’ve been to exactly three that were generally without issues.
And isn’t it funny that for a site that calls itself Air Bed and Breakfast, breakfast is rarely included?
5. Last-Minute Cancellations
Beware this common scam from Airbnb owners. They will contact you requesting that you cancel your booking. You feel bad, because something unexpected has happened “There was a leak.” “Someone died.” So you do as they say and cancel your booking.
But now you have a week to find accommodation. Suddenly, all the prices are double what they were before, in less good locations, with less to offer.
You chock it up to bad luck, never realizing that you should never have cancelled in the first place. It is the host’s job to cancel if it is their problem. The reason they ask you to cancel is because they are on a strike system. The more they cancel on guests, the less likely Airbnb will work with them as well.
You’ll also have a harder time getting Airbnb to help you find a new place at a discount. <<Which they will do! If someone cancels on you anyway because their issue was actually real (often times those cancellation requests disappear) they may give you a discount to off-set the new prices. Which is nice, but it shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place.
I cancelled three bookings in Paris for various reasons that, now that I’m aware, all felt like the “dog ate my homework” kind of excuses. And we were cancelled on in Rimini just days before our stay, forcing us to relocate to Bologna using hotel points.
6. Hotels Are Around the Same Price
When I first went to Rome, I raved about the best Airbnb right next to the Coliseum. An incredible value, and if you can snag it, it’s maybe worth it still. But the locations aren’t that different from comparable hotels anymore.
When I hurt my foot ice skating in Florence, I knew I couldn’t handle more than 2 flights of stairs. So we cancelled our Airbnb for our final days in Rome and headed to a hotel. The hotel worked out to not only be around $5 cheaper a night, but it included breakfast and was only a 9 minute walk from the Coliseum. 24 hour reception, they bumped us up to a better room, we got discounts at an extremely delicious restaurant next door, and a free welcome alcoholic beverage.
The more I look at other places I want to stay in the future, once you include all the fees, the hotels are simply better deals all round. It’s sad. Because I love the concept of Airbnb. But it no longer full of hosts that are eager to help you explore, give you tips, or greet you with a bottle of wine. Sure, some of them still exist, but their prices have gone up as well. Even having the ability for the hotel to call me a taxi to the airport when leaving was incredibly helpful and not necessarily an easily found service through Airbnb.
And those are my reasons for why Airbnb isn’t a good deal anymore!
But It’s Not All Bad
All of this is not to say that Airbnb doesn’t have some good products anymore. Sometimes they really are the only option for small towns and that’s fantastic. If I go to graduate school next year I’ll probably have to stay in an Airbnb near the school for two nights every week to cut down my commute times. That’s an excellent service.
And I have loved their newer “Experiences” section. Depending on where you are they can definitely be overpriced and you’d be better off looking elsewhere, but normally the prices are fair. I credit the Airbnb Experiences with making my Japan trip truly special. I learned how to make incense in Tokyo, create paper to make postcards in Kyoto, and went on a walking tour that taught me about Shintoism. I couldn’t find anywhere else that offered those kinds of experiences for the same price or lower. So the experiences are completely worth it!
Now, maybe I’ve just had a run of bad luck with accommodation. What are your stories? Do you like using Airbnb? I want to hear from you!
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