The Truth About Staying in Airbnbs

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Last Updated on: 5th September 2023, 02:50 am

A sure sign of success is when your competitors gear their ads toward disparaging you. In the summer of 2022, the vacation rental company VRBO released a series of ads stressing that with VRBO, you and your family get the whole house to yourself. The campaign was called “Only Your People.” Here is one of the ads:

I find it odd that VRBO would spend money on this slam against Airbnb (although it is never mentioned by name). Anyone who has used Airbnb knows they offer many rentals where you get the whole place to yourself, and they offer top-end homes like the ones shown in the VRBO ads. You can also filter your search for self-check-in properties if you are strongly opposed to talking with someone who isn’t “your people.”

But hey, it’s their money.

Hilton Hotels also got a dig at Airbnb (again without naming names) with an ad showing a family arriving at a spooky house on the requisite dark and stormy night. As they approach the front door, the dad says, “Huh, it looked different online.” As they enter the house, they are met with a list of ridiculous rules. The family screams after a creepy doll says gesundheit when the daughter sneezes. But all ends well when they check into a Hilton hotel. You, the viewer, are then reminded that it matters where you stay. Check it out:

Airbnb has faced quite a bit of criticism lately, some of it deserved. They have been accused of driving up rents and forcing residents out of neighborhoods. People on Facebook threads are quick to mention high cleaning costs and hosts who impose too many rules.

Having stayed in over 40 Airbnbs during the past five years, Steve and I remain strong supporters of the company. As full-time travelers who keep a sharp eye on the budget, here is the truth about staying in Airbnbs as we see it.

All money is in USD

The Best Things About Airbnb

The Cost

Even if the other reasons in this list didn’t apply, we would still use Airbnb because hotels can’t come close to providing what an Airbnb rental does for the money.

With Airbnb, we can rent apartments with separate bedrooms, full kitchens, and clothes washers. Since we often stay in one place for four weeks, these things are important.

In the past year, we’ve had seven four-week-long stays with an average nightly cost of less than $60. These included stays in Greece, Morocco, Croatia, and Romania.

Comforts of Home

Even if you find a hotel with kitchen facilities, they will likely be limited. Our Airbnbs have a full kitchen with a full-size refrigerator, an oven, a microwave, and a stovetop. We often have a dishwasher.

While it is hit or miss when it comes to cooking supplies, most hosts do a good job of anticipating their guests’ needs. When we need a tool that isn’t available, we can find it inexpensively at a local store.

Our Airbnbs have entire living rooms, not just a few chairs set to the side, and separate bedrooms.

A modern living room and a view of a pool from above
Two of our best Airbnbs: Medellin, Colombia, and San Jose, Costa Rica

Great for Groups

Airbnb is especially great for groups since it is easier and cheaper to find a listing with several bedrooms than it is to find a large hotel suite. Even when Steve and I travel with our two daughters, we prefer it so they can each have a bedroom.

Good Quality Accommodations

Airbnb started as a place to get a room in someone’s home. The offerings have grown to include many elegant and modern listings. Even on a tight budget, the choices are pretty nice.

We have never had an uncomfortable bed, but we have had some less-than-comfortable sofas. Now we check the photos to ensure the sofa isn’t too simple; no futons or armless seats for us.

Helpful Hosts

Overall, our hosts have been superb. They have provided what they advertised and made themselves available to answer questions and address issues.

When we arrived in Pula, Croatia, for a 28-day stay, the host showed us around the apartment. I noticed there wasn’t a clothes washer, even though it was on the listing. I pointed this out, and the host asked if it was important to us. He said there was a laundromat around the corner. I told him that doesn’t work for us as we have very few clothes and do laundry often, and we don’t wish to spend time sitting in a laundromat. He understood, and the next day a washer was in place.

This turned out to be an honest mistake. The host had several listings and apparently copied the information from another listing.

We recently booked an apartment in Tirana, Albania. It didn’t have a microwave, so before we booked, we asked the host if he could provide one. He said yes.

We don’t bother our host for minor things like a dirty air conditioning filter or a hair-clogged drain, and we have had excellent responses when there has been a bigger problem.

Diverse Choices

Do you fancy a stay on a sailboat? Or perhaps a tree house is more your style. While hotel rooms may vary a little, there is only so much a hotel can do to make its offerings unique. Airbnb is full of variety.

Marina
The marina where we stayed on a sailboat for two weeks

Good Cancelation Policy

When we started using Airbnb in 2018, any stays of 28 days or more were non-cancelable. Since that is what we generally booked, we accepted this risk as part of traveling. The only time this was a problem was when Steve was laid up with a broken pelvis, and we couldn’t visit Kyiv. I let the host know, and he credited back part of our stay as he was able to rebook it.

Lately, we’ve noticed that most long-term stays allow cancelations, usually up to one month before the start of the reservation.

The Not-So-Great Things

Now that I’ve finished singing the praises of Airbnb, let’s talk about the not-so-great things.

Search Time

Steve and I spend hours researching every Airbnb we book. When we first started renting Airbnbs, we didn’t know what to look for, and we ended up in some less-than-ideal ones.  Over time, we have learned what to look for. And our methods keep evolving.

For example, when we booked a pleasant-looking apartment in a new building in Istanbul, we were pleased to find it was in a block of other new buildings. We were not so pleased that everything else, in every direction, was a slum. And this was after we had been traveling for more than four years. After that experience, we began using Google Maps street view to check out the neighborhood.

I would love to see Airbnb add a comparison feature to decrease guests’ search time.

Two views of Istanbul
Photo on left: our building next to the Cher Hotel; Photo on right: our view

Learn more about our rough start and how to find the best Airbnbs in “5 Tips for Finding the Best Airbnb Rentals.”

Disappointing Showers

If you can’t live without long, hot showers, Airbnbs may not be your best bet. We’ve found the shower quality to be lacking.

Our first Airbnb was in Barcelona. It had a small shower stall and, even worse, a small water heater. After a short while, the water would turn cold, and you had to turn it off and let the water reheat. This had to be done several times during one shower.

But the worst was when I slipped and hit the faucet after the water had reheated. I got a blast of scalding hot water, and because the stall was so small, I couldn’t step aside.

We’ve had a few Airbnbs with a limited amount of hot water and one in which the water never got more than lukewarm, even after the host sent someone over to check on it. We suspect he was not a plumber.

Our first Athens Airbnb required us to turn on the water heater half an hour before showering. The second Athens Airbnb was the one we stayed in with our daughters. None of us were happy that the shower hose was hand-held. We did manage to tie it to the towel bar but don’t understand why it wasn’t attached to the wall.

When we get a good shower, we savor it. Ironically, one of our worst Airbnbs (in Paris) had the best shower and the only one we’ve ever had in which we could set the water temperature.

Hosts’ Lack of Attention to Details

The Airbnbs we’ve rented have consistently been clean on the surface. The furniture is dusted. The floors are washed. The bathrooms and kitchens are clean, and the bedding and towels are fresh. Unfortunately, many hosts fail to take cleaning a step further.

We aren’t clean freaks, but we do have standards. We often have to scrub pots and pans, clean ovens, wipe out silverware drawers, clean air conditioning and air vent filters, and clean hair from shower drains. We rarely find a vacuum that has been emptied after the last user.

The worst was a wooden cutting board that someone had put away wet. It had mushrooms growing on it. The host was with us when we found it, and she was surprised and embarrassed. She replaced it the same day.

I don’t think hosts are purposely ignoring these things. I think it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind. But frankly, you’d be surprised at the number of people who put dirty pans in cabinets.

Four photos of Airbnb problems
Just a few of the things that our hosts should have addressed before we arrived

Hosts Not Being Proactive

Along with failing to check on hidden items, hosts often fail to fix little things or wait to fix them after we check in. In one apartment, the outlet cover and wires were hanging off the wall in plain view, but it wasn’t fixed until we pointed it out to the host.

The Airbnb we rented in Casablanca had electronic exterior shutters. The one over the bedroom window was broken, and there was only a sheer drape over the window. This wasn’t a privacy problem since we were on a high floor and no one could see in, but it meant the room wasn’t dark at night.

It didn’t bother us, but one day the host messaged us asking if he could send someone over to install an opaque curtain in the bedroom. We said sure, and a young man showed up with a curtain he installed in front of the sheer. This one was sheer, too, not opaque, so it didn’t do much to block light.

It would also be appreciated if hosts would replace burned-out light bulbs and dead remote batteries before guests arrive and leave a few spare bulbs and batteries in case the guests need them during their stay.

Lack of Consistency in Lodgings

With hotels, you pretty much know what to expect, especially if you book with a chain. With Airbnb, there is no telling what you will find. Luckily, we’ve never seen anything frightening or embarrassing, but our Airbnb in Rabat, Morocco, did have some serious issues with the electricity that required several visits by the handyman.

We stayed in a few places that were cluttered with the host’s belongings. One place had a loft above part of the living room, which would have been cool, but the ceiling wasn’t high enough for you to stand up in it. Minor, but still weird, one apartment had picture frames without any pictures in them.

The Wifi is Usually Sub-Par

We haven’t spent much time using hotel wifi, but the wifi in Airbnbs is often undependable. I don’t know how much of this is because of the hosts’ choice of service and how much is because of the services available in that location, but outages are not uncommon.

The other issue is security. Every single one we have used has weak security. Because of this, we use ExpressVPN.

The Average Price is Meaningless

When you search for a place to stay, you can set your filters, including your price range. At the top of this page, you will see the average price of Airbnbs for your time frame and location. There is one big problem with this.

One host in Jacksonville had 89 properties listed. The most expensive 15 had an average price of over $100,000 per month. The highest was $716,000 for one month! None of these were worth what was being asked.

If Airbnb is going to allow these outrageous prices to be listed, they should at least show us the mean price, as these outliers are skewing the average.

Common Airbnb Complaints

I found a video by Retirement Travelers talking about why they quit using Airbnb. They bring up a lot of good points, and given their travel style, it makes sense that hotels are a better option. Check it out here:

Here is my take on some of the issues John and Bev discussed in their video:

Higher Prices on Short-Term Stays

I totally agree with this. We have gotten fantastic deals on long-term Airbnb stays, but for shorter stays, we haven’t seen the savings. Even so, if the price of an Airbnb for a short stay is similar to that of a hotel, we compare the benefits and drawbacks of each.

High Cleaning Fees

John and Bev mention that some cleaning fees seem high. I have also seen this complaint on Facebook several times. Does it matter? All I am interested in is what I will be paying in total.

No Loyalty Program

I agree. It would be wonderful if Airbnb showed appreciation to their frequent users like hotel chains often do.

Scary Elevators or No Elevators

Absolutely. We’ve stayed in multiple buildings with tiny, old elevators. I refused to get into the one in our building in Paris. Sometimes there is no elevator. This is one of the factors we weigh when choosing a place.

In fairness, we have also stayed in hotels and B&Bs that didn’t have elevators. Our room in the last hotel on our Dales Way adventure was on the third floor. We had the pleasure of lugging our suitcases up the stairs after having just completed an eight-day, 81-mile walk.

Bugs

In all our Airbnb stays, we only had one bug problem. That was in Rabat, Morocco, where the roach traps were a clue. We should have walked away from that place, as it had many issues, not just bugs, but the pickings in the city were pretty slim, so we toughed it out. Our review was pretty brutal, though.

A Chore List for Guests

I’ve seen this complaint on Facebook as well. Maybe it is common where John and Bev traveled, but we have never experienced this in European countries, Morocco, Turkey, or the U.S. The most we’ve seen regarding rules are the expected: no smoking inside, no parties, quiet hours, and a request to turn off the air conditioning or heat when you leave the lodging. No one has ever asked us to do chores, although we make it a point to leave the place as good or better than we found it.

The Final Price is Hidden

This has been fixed. Now, if you toggle “display total price,” you will see the total cost before taxes on the first page of listings. Very seldom have we had taxes on our choices.

Disappointment with the Place

Like John and Bev, we’ve had some disappointing Airbnbs. Also, like them, we partially blame ourselves.

The few bad ones we’ve had were mostly when we were new to Airbnb and were easily seduced by pretty photos or a low price. We’d like to think that we have gotten better at analyzing the listings, but even our best efforts failed us in Morocco.

Even so, there is no substitute for doing your homework when deciding on an Airbnb.

If your choice turns out to be horrible, you have the option of walking away. It is important to do it quickly, first by letting your host know about the problems. If the host doesn’t solve them, get Airbnb involved asap.

In Summary

Airbnb can be a wonderful way to be comfortable and save money when traveling, especially long-term. But it has drawbacks, including how long it takes to sort through the listings. For us, it continues to be a great option for long-term stays. We hope that will continue in the future.

Until Next Time

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts on this post. Just drop a note in the comments section below. If you found this information helpful, please consider sharing this post using the share buttons at the top.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Chris Robert on Unsplash.com

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