I downloaded the Airbnb iPhone app several months ago, but it wasn’t until our Canadian friends shared their recent experience of finding accommodation in Paris that my husband and I decided to give it a try too. Having booked our flights to return to New York, we didn’t particularly want to return to the hotel where we stayed last year. Although it was in a great location, the room was tiny and the noisy air conditioning unit drove us mad. As with most New York hotels, it was also expensive.
Just in case you don’t know about Airbnb, it’s a site where people rent their homes out to those looking for accommodation. Usually a daily rate is charged, but this can depend on the host who may want you to stay for more than one night. Watch out for cleaning fees too, which may be included or may be extra. It’s extremely important to check the reviews to find out details that the host’s listing may not mention, including noise from other neighbours and the general level of hygiene of the home. And you may only want the entire house or apartment, as opposed to a room within someone’s home, so set the search filter as appropriate.
There are issues with regards to verification of one’s identity, which has raised concerns with users. One verification option is to upload a photo of one’s passport or driving licence. There is no way I am ever going to do that. You can also ask friends to provide references for you, but as far as we could see, there isn’t a way to search for your friends on Airbnb so that you can leave references for each other, which would make much more sense. Fortunately I was able to verify my identity using my LinkedIn profile. I also composed what I thought was a suitably quirky user profile emphasising my love of home interiors and fanatical levels of cleanliness (‘my dining chairs wear Tokyu Hands chair socks’). Ultimately, both guest and host must trust each other for the stay to be successful.
Although our initial research and booking was made on the actual website, the Airbnb app works much better and is aesthetically more pleasing. My husband used the website, while I used the app, and we both found very different locations in Manhattan. We eventually settled on a Greenwich Village apartment. The host responded promptly and the booking was soon confirmed. Compared to the hotel stay last year for the same number of nights, we’ve saved approximately £1000 by using Airbnb and not staying in a hotel.
I have to add, it’s also very addictive going through photos and descriptions of people’s homes, many of which resemble show homes featured in interior design magazines. I favourited many places on the app and thought it would be fun to decide future holiday destinations based on what I find on airbnb.
Airbnb is facing problems though. A few months ago, a New York host was fined $2400 for breaking a city law which forbids the rental of an entire apartment for less than 30 days, and Amsterdam has been cracking down on ‘illegal hotels’. I’m sure landlords in general can’t be happy with their homes being sublet without their permission, and the hotel industry must also be feeling the impact. Let’s see what the future will hold for Airbnb.
I’ll report back on the reality of using Airbnb after our New York trip! Meanwhile, do share your Airbnb experiences, I’d love to hear them…
Helen Yuet Ling Pang