As we're well into year two of the pandemic and international travel is still on hold, people are jumping on Airbnb rentals for local summer adventures, so it's not too early to book your stay!
We weren't able to travel outside of our province in 2020 so we stayed close to home and visited Muskoka, Killarney, and Bruce Peninsula National Park, and stayed in some awesome local Airbnb's. Plus, throughout the past 5 years of using Airbnb rentals for international travel, we've collected tried and true tips we'd love to share with you (many which are unique to us because we're quite selective with where we spend our hard-earned money).
This post solely discusses tips to help you book the perfect property, especially in light of Covid-19. In the future, we'll write another with tips on making the most out of your stay!
Tip 1: Do your due diligence when selecting a property
We've been asked, are Airbnbs clean and safe during Covid? And the answer is yes, IF you do your due diligence.
As of November 20, 2020 all hosts must commit to Airbnb's "enhanced cleaning" protocols and can be suspended if they are non-compliant. There are a whole slew of protections in place for guests, and customer service will listen to you if the host doesn't comply, which is why it's important to book through the platform. Plus, properties are often the hosts' own homes and your good review matters A LOT, so they're likely to be more diligent in cleaning compared to hotels.
Pro Tips during Covid (you can never be too careful):
- Bring your own pillowcase, linens, and towels. Or, get a sleeping bag liner (which contains your linens and pillowcase all in one piece of fabric). We swear liners are one of the most underrated pieces of travel gear and you'll be thankful when you have one.
- Thoroughly sanitize all high-touch areas. We bring our own bleach solution on local trips, which is equally effective and more environmentally friendly compared to Lysol wipes. Some areas that are commonly missed include coat hangers, inside the fridge, the toilet seat & handle, and drawstrings for window blinds.
- Rewash dishes and cutlery before use.
- Don't ask for room service (if you're staying at a hotel-type Airbnb). Cleaning staff are notorious for using the same towel to wipe almost everything!
- Take photos when you arrive if you find something unclean/not up to standard. This will be important evidence when making a claim with Airbnb customer service.
Tip 2: If your dates are not available, you still have a chance!
Do a general search without date specifications. If you really like a property but it's unavailable, check if the calendar is completely blocked off for a couple months. If it is, this could be a sign that the host hasn't yet opened up bookings for that period of time!
Pro Tip: message the host and ask if the date is available.
- To get around not being able to message the host without a date selected, contact the host through their profile. They're often happy to make accommodations for you even if they hadn't planned on hosting at the time.
We know this because a host told us her "secret" - she only opens bookings for her cottage within 2 weeks in advance (down to the day before), because she doesn't know whether she'd be able to make it out of town to host her guests. I must say though, she did have the upper hand with her 5-star listing that is on such high demand it gets booked within 11 seconds!
Tip 3: Search using filters but don't be too picky
Knowing what you are looking for helps pare the abundance of options down to what is relevant. But don't get too picky! If you use too many filters, there may not be available properties that fulfil your criteria.
Sometimes, a host may have just forgotten to check an item off (ie. "shampoo" or "iron") but would be happy to provide it if you ask beforehand.
Important filters are:
- Property Type
- Covid Tip: During the pandemic, we filter for the "Entire Home" and choose standalone properties. This allows us to maintain our cleanliness routine and social distancing. Also, thoroughly read through the description and check whether the property requires you to pass through common areas.
- Price Range
- Instant Book (see Tip #4)
- Superhost - These hosts have maintained a consistently high rating from guests and have to uphold a high standard. For example, they can't cancel on their guests or they will lose their superhost status for a year.
- Cancellation flexibility (see Tip #9)
Select "Plus" if you want a property that is thoroughly vetted and personally visited by Airbnb for you. They're not necessarily more expensive despite being cleaner and more luxurious! You're guaranteed to have a property that actually looks like the pictures.
Tip 4: If the property isn't available for "instant book", send an inquiry, don't "request to book"
Don't click "Request to Book" if Instant Book isn't available. If you "request to book", you will be charged the fee as soon as the host accepts. Make sure you only request to book one property at a time!
Instead, scroll down to "Contact the Host" and send them a message with an inquiry (see Tip #6). By chatting with the host, they will often send pre-approval and invite you to book the property within 24h.
Instant Book benefits guests more than the host, but some hosts would rather risk getting a questionable client than losing them entirely. Instant Book is great because:
- It eliminates the 24h host response period and you can move on with your trip planning.
- The host can't reject your request (see Tip #10 regarding your guest reputation)
Tip 5: No address? Zoom into Airbnb's map, note the intersection, and check out the neighbourhood with Google Street Views
For the host's safety and privacy, the addresses won't be revealed until you confirm the booking (not even in a private message).
Airbnb's are often in obscure locations because you're likely booking a space in a local's home, which may not be in the centre of tourist attractions.
- Within the listing's "location", zoom into the map and make note of the intersection
- Then use Google Maps or street view, to ensure the neighbourhood isn't sketchy and find the distance from your day's activities
- Conduct a reverse image search (here's how)
- Message the host for general location info (ie. proximity to a specific attraction)
We learned this the hard way when we booked a house "15 minutes from the south gate of Yosemite" but found that it actually took 1.5 hours to get to Yosemite Lodge where our hike started. Sometimes hosts exaggerate their location's convenience and the truth only comes out in a direct message!
Tip 6: Message the host before booking
a. Negotiate an Airbnb discount: It never hurts to ask! Please be respectful, empathetic, and reasonable because many hosts rely on Airbnb for their livelihood. Some discounts you can negotiate include:
- Waiving the cleaning fee when you only stay for one night as a solo traveler
- Asking for a special rate for a longer term rental
b. Advice about the area - many hosts genuinely care about sharing the wonders of their hometown. If the host likes you, they may even offer their local secret locations! That's how we hiked some amazing lesser-known trails in the Bruce Peninsula and stayed away from the crowds during the pandemic.
c. Ask Covid-specific questions - if the host hasn't specified in their description, ask them - When was the home last occupied? What are they doing to clean the space? Is there a keyless check-in or a lockbox so you don't have to come in contact?
- Discount requests are more likely to be accepted in areas with high competition
- Show that there is a benefit for both you and the host (ie. try negotiating for last minute bookings, when you're nearing the date and the property is still unbooked. The host would rather it not sit empty for the weekend.)
- Look for hosts with a 100% response rate and quick response time. This could indicate that they're invested in renting out their property and will be responsive if anything goes wrong during your stay.
Tip 7: Compare prices on different platforms
Sometimes properties are listed on different 3rd party websites and have price differences (they could also be a VRBO, or hotel/motel). Airbnb rentals could be pricier because of the 3rd party service and cleaning fees passed onto guests. You may be able book for a cheaper price directly with the hotel, or try to message the host directly for a discount.
Some clues that the property may be listed on other 3rd party sites:
- If the listing's name contains "inn" or "hotel"
- The host has multiple listings in the same building on their profile
- The property is numbered with room/building numbers
- Your Google Map search in the area brings you to a hotel's address
- Reverse Google Image Search
Take this property for example: Kaanapali Ocean Inn is listed on multiple platforms. Pay attention to the currencies - Airbnb is listed in CAD and Reservations.com is in USD (Reservations.com ends up being a tiny bit cheaper after factoring in all the fees). However, Airbnb's customer service is unbeatable so I would still go with Airbnb.
Tip 8: Pictures are not always worth 1000 words. Read the reviews (especially the bad ones)
We've definitely felt cat-fished when the actual property looked nothing like the photos. The host could've taken the photos when the property was new, or used an ultra-wide angle lens to make the space look larger than reality.
Are Airbnb guest reviews reliable? Yes! Only verified guests can leave a review, and the guest/hosts can only see each other's reviews after a 14 day period has elapsed. We usually don't book properties without numerous reviews. They may reveal information that's not in the description, or even red flags.
- Go on the host's profile and see if they have other properties. Reading those reviews too could give you a feel of whether the host is consistent.
- Host cancellations automatically appear on reviews. Do not book if there are too many cancellations. Even though hosts are heavily penalized for canceling, a last minute loss of accommodation could throw a wrench in your plans.
Tip 9: Check the Airbnb Rental Property's Cancellation Policy
Once booked, you have 24 hours to cancel. Many hosts have added "flexible cancellation" to their listings to accommodate for unforeseen events during Covid.
- Even if a listing says "flexible cancellation", be aware that service fees are only refundable up to 3 times a year, so be careful not to cancel too many on the same Airbnb account.
- If a booking is not refundable, try contacting Airbnb's customer service. We cancelled an entire trip to Iceland when WOW Air went bankrupt shortly before our trip, which was considered an "extenuating circumstance" by the customer service. Luckily, we received a full refund.
Tip 10: Build a good reputation on Airbnb
While it is tempting to make numerous Airbnb accounts to use the newcomer discount (we were guilty of this at first), building up "street cred" on your profile is important.
- Book your trips with one Airbnb profile and garner good reviews on it
- Fill out your entire profile and include a nice photo of yourself
Why? Your host may read your reviews just like you read theirs. Our friends have been rejected without question in a "request to book" simply because they had no prior experience or reviews on Airbnb!
On the other hand, we have many 5 star reviews on our profile dating back to 2016 which makes it really easy for us to book any property.
Tip 11: Use the wishlist function
Save your shortlist of properties in a wishlist, and then compare their locations and prices using the map!
You can also see other guests' wishlists if you simply Google search "Airbnb wishlist + location".
Tip 12: Extra Tips on how to save money
Unfortunately, Airbnb cancelled its referral program so we don't have a discount code for you. But here are some tips that work!
1) Book new properties without ratings. If you are willing to take the risk, these usually come with a discount. You can even haggle a lower price
2) Filter for properties with a kitchen, or breakfast included (Did you know that Airbnb stands for "Air Bed and Breakfast"?)
3) Your first "business trip" will get you a $50 discount - look for listings with a briefcase.
Disclaimer: our tips do not cover every circumstance possible on Airbnb, but they will be helpful in most countries!