In this article I share the top 5 AirBnB booking strategies that work so you can be on your way to rental bliss (and most importantly, avoid substandard AirBnB rentals that ruin your travel experience)!
Being an early adopter of AirBnB, I’ve had nearly a decade of experience finding hidden gems and side-stepping the duds. To help you do the same, I’m sharing my top AirBnB search and booking techniques.
Follow the steps below and you’re destined to land your dream rental!
Before we dig in, here’s a quick summary of the top 5 AirBnB booking strategies:
- Choosing the right AirBnB booking location
- Filtering for non-negotiable features
- Using photographic “evidence”
- Uncovering AirBnB rental rave reviews (and not so rave reviews)
- Becoming BFFs with your AirBnB host
And if you’re new to AirBnB, click here to get a $40 discount on your rental (plus, an extra $15 to use toward an experience worth $50 or more). In return, AirBnB will give me a $30 travel credit and you’ll be helping support more of my AirBnB “research travels” — win, win!
1. Choosing the Right AirBnB Booking Location
The beginning of the selection process doesn’t start on AirBnB. Instead, you’ll need to put those Google skills to use and research the right neighborhood for your needs.
Most cities run the gamut when it comes to neighborhood options – hipster, yuppie, urban, suburban, expensive, up-and-coming, business, residential. Your goal, when you research location, is to match up the feel you’re looking for with the area(s) available in your destination. This is the foundation for your AirBnB search.
For example, on the island of Cebu in the Philippines, I wanted an AirBnB rental that was close to Oslob and close to the ferry I would be taking to Bohol.
Colorful, tropical Tum’s Resort fit the bill. And as an added bonus, I got a free massage with the booking. Score!
It is hard for even the most lovely rental to solve a neighborhood mismatch (unless you plan to spend the entire trip in your room, and hey, I’m not judging, it’s your trip do what you want!).
Once you’ve narrowed down the field to a few potential neighborhoods (I usually have 1-3 in mind depending on the size of the city I’m researching), you’re ready to hop on AirBnB. Start by entering your dates (if you know them) and select the number of guests who will be traveling with you (if any). Hit the “home type” tab to indicate your preference re: entire place, private room, shared room.
If you don’t have your dates solidified, you may be able to snag a coveted rental (you know, the ones you’re constantly seeing on social media with infinity pools, rainfall showers, and on-property staff fanning you with giant palm fronds… the last one might be a stretch, ha!).
If there is a property you’ve pinned up and down your Pinterest bucketlist, remaining time-flexible may make it a reality.
Pro Tip: AirBnB also lets you save your aspirational properties into handy favorites lists (click the heart icon and create a list to save it to or make a new list). This may save you time in the future if your travel plans and the dream rental’s availability coincide!
2. Filtering for Non-Negotiable Features
So you’ve done the research and selected 1-3 great neighborhood options. Next, you should determine your budget. If there is an amount you absolutely want to stay under, use the “Filters” tab price slider. Adjust it to your desired price ceiling and you’ll only see rentals up to that price point. If you’re flexible, you can bump the slider slightly above a desired price point to see more options.
Pro Tip: When there are hundreds of results and the first dozen or so cheapest options don’t meet my needs, I use the price slider to remove the 5-10% cheapest rentals. Even then it pains me to exclude some of the cheapest options (cue the FOMO), but the time-savings from going through wayyyy too many reviews is worth it.
I also love using the “Filters” tab to select my non-negotiables. There are handy categories for the number of beds, bedrooms, and bathrooms – especially important for family travelers. For the digital nomads / location independent / [insert whatever description embodies your device-dependence], there is a “WiFi” option under “Amenities.” I almost always select this unless I’m planning on a self- (or husband-) imposed #digitaldetox.
If the strength / speed of the WiFi connection is important to you, message the host and ask them detailed questions about the connection.
If the host seems unsure, you can ask them to test the connection and send you a screenshot of the test results. When I was a newbie renter, I was burned quite a few times by hosts that said they had good WiFi, but in reality, it had too many issues for me to get work done.
In addition to Wifi, I’m usually filtering for air-conditioning / heating, depending on the season and forecast. I am one of those “forever cold” people that you see layered up with a scarf even when temperatures push the upper 60’s.
If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, you may also want to select the washer/dryer options and then scan the listing to see if detergent is provided (if not, there are many wonderful travel options!).
Likewise, if you’re planning on dining in a lot, you may want a dishwasher (especially if you’re used to having one back home). Many places don’t provide dishwashing soap so check in advance or buy a small container locally.
Although a pool / hot tub is a fabulous extra, I usually don’t filter specifically for those options since they tend to over-narrow the field.
However, if it’s been a particularly dreadful Chicago winter and I’m traveling somewhere warm (but not close to the ocean), I usually do try to snag a rental with a pool and/or balcony. Especially in places where quite a few AirBnB rentals have pools like Florida, California, the south of France… le sigh.
In Annecy, France I filtered for an AirBnB rental with a balcony so I could watch the sunrise over the mountains while enjoying a delicious breakfast!
If you’re traveling with your pet, make sure to select the “Pets Allowed” option. This way you can travel with your fur-child, knowing that the rental will happily accomodate everyone.
But, if that search does not return any options (or any desirable options), feel free to message hosts that are not listed as pet-friendly, describe your pet, and see if the host will make an exception. It never hurts to ask!
Pro Tip: Offering a (refundable) deposit may help ease the host’s concerns. Also, if you’ve traveled with your dog before, you can ask former hosts to give you “good doggy behavior” testimonials which you can then show to potential hosts!
After selecting your non-negotiables, you could keep scrolling the “Filters” tab to make a neighborhood(s) selection, but I suggest you use the map view instead.
Zooming in / out on the map will give you some location flexibility for listings that may be technically outside of a desired neighborhood but are so close to the border that you would still consider them.
This AirBnB booking my girlfriend found for a girls’ trip to Charleston, South Carolina was farther from the center of town than some of the other properties we considered, but it was in a hip area and VERY close to the most adorable cupcake shop in town. SOLD!
3. Using Photographic Evidence
You should now have a perfectly paired down list of potential rentals to review. As you click on the first option, feel free to peruse the photos before reading the description.
Truly great photos can indicate a host that takes a lot of pride in their place and what they do. Horrible photos can mean the opposite.
I’m always surprised by how many bad photos there are for listings that would otherwise be winners.
Oddly-rotated photos are easy to fix right in your phone’s photo editor. Still, every so often I have to crane my neck 90 degrees or turn my laptop sideways to see the host’s photos properly.
Not making a few easy edits gives the impression that the host just doesn’t care that much. I also ding listings whose photos are too dark. If I can’t see into the corners of your space, I’m going to assume that you’re hiding dead bodies in those darkened areas.
After you take a first pass at the photos, read the description. Yes, the whole thing! Including any special house rules and especially the check-in and check-out times.
Then go back to the photos and use them to corroborate the description. If the description talks about a queen bed, take a look at the photos and see if the size looks about right.
Pro tip: If there are no pictures of the bathroom, that’s a red flag for me. When there’s no photo of something you need to see to make a booking decision, use the oh-so-valuable “contact host” link and send a message asking for photos of x, y, z.
4. Uncovering AirBnB Rental Rave Reviews (and not so rave reviews)
Just like picking the right neighborhood, this next step is crucial when choosing your AirBnB booking – reading the reviews! The more the better.
I like to see a sample size of 30+ for statistical significance. Yes, I’m a nerd. No, I don’t expect you to read every review. But you should scan the reviews.
Prime your brain with words that indicate an exceptional experience – “wonderful”, “exceeded”, “will be back”… and let your brain do the work as your eyes run down the reviews page.
Scanning the reviews in this way should give you a sense of the experience that you can expect.
Pro tip: If you have a lot of options, you should look for properties that garner “rave” reviews. The kind where the reviewer can’t help but to go on and on praising the property. You find a place that has several of these and you’ve struck gold!
On the flip side, you should also train your eye to spot reviews where the reviewer was let-down by the rental. Did the reviewer bring issues to the attention of the host? Were they resolve satisfactorily?
Things can and will go wrong during one’s stay; the sign of a great host is how he/she responds when they do.
Was the host easy to reach? How long did it take to resolve the issue? Did the host try to make the stay as pleasant as possible in the meantime?
I value problem-solving skills over perfection. Seeing reviews that highlight a host’s desire and ability to problem solve makes me feel a lot better about clicking that “book” button!
5. Becoming BFFs with Your AirBnB Host
Once you are down to 10 or so contenders, I highly recommend you contact the host (if you haven’t already).
Not only is establishing a relationship important to getting the best deal (discussed in Part 2), it is vital to distinguishing the dream rental from the dud rental. Having a welcoming, caring, responsive host can make all the difference to your rental experience.
For example, in Paris, I stayed in the cutest rental — a bakery that was converted into an AirBnB with a lovely loft bed and a perfect location in the 4th Arrondissement – but it was the hosts’ wonderful welcome that started the visit off on the right foot.
Chris met me at the rental, gave me a quick history of the space, and walked me through a “Top 5 Things to Do this Week” guide-sheet that he and his wife, Angie, created, highlighting the best local restaurants, coffee shops, and attractions.
Contacting Chris and Angie beforehand and establishing a rapport helped make the initial meeting especially comfortable!
Also, if anything goes wrong during your rental or any questions come up, it’s important that your host is responsive. Contacting them before you book will give you a preview of this.
Introduce yourself and share your enthusiasm for the host’s city/country. I’m always VERY excited while trip planning and it clearly leaks into my communications with hosts. Rather than scaring them, it (hopefully) comes across as friendly and charming.
Don’t forget to take this time to get any remaining questions answered. As you start falling for the fabulous rentals you’ve found, you should save the top contenders into your “favorites” list. This will make it easier to look back on your selections and compare them to each other.
You’ve done great work and are now an AirBnB booking machine! You can pull the trigger and book your dream AirBnB rental.
How do you make sure that your AirBnB rental fits your needs?
If you have any rental horror stories, please share them below (I’d love to try to figure out what went wrong!).
Also, please let me know if you try any of these hacks and how they work out for you. I’d love to hear about your successes!
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