Let’s Go Surfing
If a room catches your eye, first check out how many listings the host operates. According to Jason Clampet, of the travel blog Skift, the ideal number of properties in a potential host’s arsenal is four. As he explains, any dude hawking a single shabby room probably runs it as a cheap money- maker with stained towels. And an owner operating dozens of listings suggests a corporate business that’s likely to charge you something in the neighborhood of hotel rates. Stick with the safe middle ground.
When you study the photos, be mindful that the sleeker and more professional looking the shot, the higher the likelihood that it’s been photoshopped or even a fake listing altogether. Kepnes’ personal trick is to look for an accidental selfie of the photographer in a mirror or other reflective surface, which is a surefire sign of authenticity.
When you scan the reviews, look for properties with lots of feedback. In fact, you shouldn’t stay anywhere without at least 10 separate comments, says Kepnes. An active comments board means that it’s well-traveled, which is a good sign. But because some hosts require rental agreements with built-in non- disparagement clauses—effectively preventing an honest critique from their guests if things go awry—and because some otherwise great list- ings might be tarnished by a couple of unnecessarily harsh write-ups, disregard the five best and five worst reviews and focus your attention on the more thoughtful ones in the middle.
Before you book the room, remember that navigating Airbnb is like a first date: Ask lots of questions, listen intently, and don’t push too hard—no matter how badly you want to spend the night. Engage the owner directly. If you’re especially tall, ask how low the ceilings might be, or how big the bed is. In return, you can gauge the owner from how fast and polite the responses are. Thanks to his probing, friendly, and not-too-intrusive e-mail correspondence with his hosts in Curaçao, Kepnes was able to finagle all of his extra perks.
Play The Game
The sharing economy only works if you participate in the whole process, so follow the rules and don’t try to strike under-the-table deals with your hosts outside of the system. (Once you’re there, you’re on your own.) If you take issue with your stay or your host, experienced Airbnb users will tell you that it’s simply not worth it to write a scathing review at all. (If it’s really so terrible, e-mail the host directly, then contact Airbnb’s customer service.) If you start a flame war online, no one benefits and it will only cause problems for you down the road. Remember: Hosts give guests ratings, too. The risks are real for everyone involved.
In March, one Airbnb user rented his New York apartment to a clean-cut stranger. He returned home to pick up something and discovered his guest hosting an orgy for lovers of plus-size women in his apartment. The eager callers had responded to an ad for Turn Up, Part 2: The Pantie Raid, a raunchy party which listed his home as the meet-up spot. If you’d prefer to arrive and find a chilled bottle of wine, do your due diligence.
Mark Ellwood is the author of Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World.