Tips for Booking on AirBnB


I like AirBnB. It enables people to travel affordably and safely. As promised in my last post, here are some things I’ve learned about finding safe, affordable and comfortable lodging using AirBnB. Some of these suggestions also apply to other web sites that enable you to book directly with the owner of a vacation rental.

Finding an appropriate rental

Begin by going to If it’s your first visit you may want to sign in and create an account. Doing so will allow you to bookmark on the site the places that you want to consider. I’ve never received any promotional emails or text messages from AirBnB so I think there’s no reason to avoid giving them my email address and mobile phone number.

At the top of the search screen enter the location where you want to stay and the dates you’ll be there. Many places are available for as short a rental period as one night so any time span can be searched. A new screen will open asking if you want an entire house or apartment, a private room in someone’s home, or a shared room; you can also specify the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you require. You will see a slider that allows you to narrow the options offered by price. It will show you the average price in that area. By moving it left or right you decrease or increase the number of properties to be offered.

A selection of places that meet your criteria will be shown next, with a photo submitted by the host and a thumbnail photo of the host. When you click on a place that interests you a new page will open that shows photographs of that rental and provides more detailed information about the rental. There will also be a moveable map showing the area of the search; clicking on a red balloon opens the property indicated.

Read each property description carefully and give some thought to the issues that are important to you. For example, I really like to have a clothes washer in places I rent so I always look for that. AirBnB provides a great amount of information but it’s likely that you will have questions for the host. On the right side you’ll find a red rectangle to click that provides almost-instant communication with the host. Ask as many questions as you can think of before committing to the booking.

One factor that I consider very carefully is the cancellation policy chosen by the host. Click here to see the various policies. You’ll find the policy in the “About this listing” section pertaining to each property. I always choose a property that allows me to cancel without penalty.

When you’ve found a property you want to rent, click the red “Request to Book” button. That will send a text message and email to the host. Usually you’ll have your reply very quickly. It is required that the rent be paid immediately after the owner accepts your reservation. A small amount for AirBnB’s fee is also charged at that time.

Following your stay you will be asked to give feedback regarding the property and the host. It’s AirBnB’s policy to rank the properties with the best reviews first so that they are the first ones you’ll see in that location. There are many more stacked up behind those on the first screen.


Fire escapes are rarely found in Europe. Buildings are built of stone and often they are centuries old. One tiny apartment I rented had no windows. Most places have only one stairway. Keep this in mind when considering properties.

If you want to stay in the center of a major city you may wish to consider the safety of the neighborhood, particularly if you plan to be stay out late in the evenings. Google has photographed many streets around the world. When you search for a particular street address on a photograph of the building is likely to appear in the upper left corner of the screen. Clicking that opens a street view that you can use to “tour” the neighborhood. If you know what that neighborhood is called you might also try googling that name in

By clicking on the photo of the host you’ll see all the comments past visitors have written. It’s important to read carefully the reviews of the host before renting. Choose hosts who have lots of good reviews and longer track records. Women traveling alone may want to consider only females or couples as “hosts.” Keep in mind that the host will have keys to the property you occupy.

Calling on AirBnB when things aren’t as they should be.

Here’s a link to the Help Center on the AirBnB website. It is a much better source of information about your safety that what I’ve written here. I particularly like the company’s policy of always being available by phone if something isn’t the way you expect or want it to be. I’ve never had to call them.

This is not a complete list of factors to consider when choosing a rental. It’s just advice based on my own experience. A google search will turn up many articles and blog posts with more information and other points to consider.


I have no connection with AirBnB other than as a satisfied user of their service.

Resources:     Michael and Debbie Campbell have become the “poster children” for boomers traveling the world via AirBnB. Read their blog, Senior Nomads, by clicking here.

If you’ve considered renting your empty apartment, cottage or guest room, you may enjoy reading this article which recently ran in the New York Times about the financial benefits for retirees who rent their empty rooms.

The picture at the top shows the scene just around the corner from my Airbnb rental in Quimper, France.

AirBnB Makes Travel Available to Everyone


AirBnB is a very popular new way to rent a place to stay almost anywhere in the world. Using the Internet, travelers can choose to rent an entire house or apartment, a room in someone’s home, or just a sofa to crash on. I’ve used vacation rentals many times. For my recent trip around Europe I rented 11 places, six of them via AirBnB.

I liked booking with AirBnB more than with the other companies offering similar services. Why? One reason is that all the places I rented were managed by their owners. The difference between the welcome I received from AirBnB hosts and professional managers was very noticeable. Most of the owners met me when I arrived. The three who couldn’t arranged for their mothers or a friend to greet me and make sure the place was ready for my arrival.

Two other important benefits are offered by AirBnB. The first is that the cost is generally lower than that offered by other large online vacation rental companies. The second is that many hosts on AirBnB offer very liberal cancellation terms. (AirBnB has three levels of cancellation; not all of them offer a full refund if you cancel – watch out for this!)

The website puts the owner and the tenant in touch with one another via text message or email very quickly and maintains that link indefinitely. This is really helpful when you have questions or need directions for finding the place you’ve rented. Although I never used it, I was glad to know that an AirBnB employee was just a phone call away if I had a problem.

One drawback of using AirBnB is that the company wants immediate payment of the full rent at the time of booking. That is held until 24 hours after your arrival as protection for you in case the rental is not available or you arrive to find that the rental is unacceptable. This was never the case with any of my AirBnB rentals.

Here’s a brief description of each of the places I stayed in that were arranged on AirBnB. Click the blue city name to see the apartment.

My AirBnB in Antwerp is located in the recently restored old port area of the city meaning I could easily walk to the center of the city. The apartment is owned by Astrid, a young mother who no longer lives in the city. Her friend Gloria manages the apartment and was very helpful to me. The apartment is large. It includes a commodious living room with kitchen on one end; and a bedroom that’s bigger than mine at home. Astrid has made a number of improvements such as installing a washing machine and a dishwasher. The apartment is located on the third floor (American) in a hundred-year-old building. Although I didn’t meet Astrid we communicated via email and phone several times. She was always pleasant and helpful.

My AirBnB in Collioure is a four-story, single family home with a very small footprint. Each floor contains one entire room and nothing more except the staircase. The building is old but has been totally rehabbed and has a new kitchen (pictured above) and bathroom. It’s just steps from the Mediterranean sea. It’s owned by Elise who lives in another part of France. Her mother met me at the train station and welcomed me to the rental with the next morning’s breakfast and lots of information. I was only here for three days in February but the weather was mild and the location allowed me to totally explore the small town. Communication with Elise was easy. Her English is excellent and so is her vacation rental.

My AirBnB in Nice is one of the very best of the entire journey. The owner, Beatrice, is a very charming French lady who speaks English well. She welcomed me warmly and spent an hour or more telling me about the apartment and the neighborhood. Her place is beautifully decorated and very comfortable. It’s in a high-rise apartment building in a middle-class neighborhood not far from the center of Nice. When I left Beatrice came to see me off. I felt like I’d made a new friend.

My AirBnB in Quimper is a nicely decorated, one-bedroom apartment located in the center of the city on a pedestrian-only street that was very quiet. As you’ll see if you click the link this apartment is stylishly furnished. The owner, Marion, is a young woman who has recently married and moved to another city; this was her apartment prior to her marriage. Marion refused to meet me upon arrival until I insisted that she do so – then she arranged for her very pleasant mother to clean the apartment and to meet me. This was the only time I had an AirBnB host who was anything other than professional.

My AirBnB rental in Totnes is a “mother-in-law” apartment attached to the home Denise has occupied for a number of years. The experience of sharing Denise’s home made my stay there very nice. I had been reluctant to rent a room in someone’s home until I decided to go to England where the cost of anything else is very high. Staying in my hosts’ home turned out to be one of the best discoveries of the trip! Denise and I went out to dinner on the evening of my arrival and then on to see a movie with her friends. The space I occupied included a fully equipped kitchen, but I often settled myself at Denise’s kitchen table to use my computer. Denise is a charming and helpful hostess. I enjoyed my days in her home.

My AirBnB rental in Hastings was a room in a six-bedroom home where Francesca has lived for many years and raised her family. There were women coming and going in this traditional rooming house almost any time at all and after nearly four months alone I really enjoyed their company. Francesca provided breakfast and I could use the kitchen to prepare my own dinner. A real bonus here was the sometime-presence of Francesca’s two-year-old grandson. He’s a darling and it was nice for me to spend a little time with a young child. Francesca and I have become friends on Facebook, and I look forward to seeing her again one day.

This has become a very long post so I’ll stop here but next time I’ll share with you some of what I learned about traveling the AirBnB way.

How Do the Big Vacation Rental Sites Differ?

Italian cottage

Recently I’ve arranged several vacation rentals for my upcoming trip to Europe. I’ve used AirBnB, HomeAway and Trip Advisor. I’ve found that they are significantly different in a number of ways.

HomeAway (and its subsidiaries including V.R.B.O) is the older of these firms. It only rents entire apartments or houses, unlike AirBnB which offers shared space. People who book on that site are more mature and are often looking for upscale properties. Its inventory consists of about one million listings. AirBnB is the newer firm but it has grown exponentially and currently has about 1.2 million listings. AirBnB offers an entire place, a private room in someone’s home, or a shared room. Its target audience tends to be younger. TripAdvisor (and its subsidiary FlipKey) and have begun offering vacation rental properties as an adjunct to their hotel booking businesses. There are a number of other similar companies.

Here are the differences I’ve found in these companies business models:

Costs & Payments: Generally, AirBnB rentals are less expensive than those on HomeAway. This may be a result of the great increase in potential hosts that have been attracted by AirBnB’s success. AirBnB requires payment in full at the time of booking which can be unattractive for someone like me who is arranging several places over a period of months. I don’t want to pay my July rent in November. In addition, all the costs associated with the booking are paid by the tenant and take the form of a 6 to 12% fee added to the rental cost. Cleaning fees, security deposits etc. may also be added and charged in advance. AirBnB collects and retains the rent and fees until 24 hours after the start of the rental period providing some degree of protection to its travelers.

HomeAway/VRBO and TripAdvisor/FlipKey do not require full payment at the time of booking. They are essentially advertising companies acting as intermediaries, bringing together property owners and renters. Landlords working with them often require only an initial deposit with the balance of the rent due at a later date or upon arrival at the property. HomeAway offers its advertisers an option of paying an annual fee or 10% of the rental amount and that cost is included in the cost of rent. With both HomeAway and TripAdvisor rents are paid directly to the landlord.

Cancellation: AirBnB offers its property listers a choice of cancellation options which are in turn provided to bookers. They are Flexible (full refund up to one day prior to arrival, except fees); Moderate (full refund 5 days prior to arrival, except fees); and Strict (50% refund up until 1 week prior to arrival, except fees). The renter pays for none of these. It’s important to note the type of cancellation offered before choosing a rental.

HomeAway, on the other hand, says this in response to the question of cancellation: “Typically, it depends on the cancellation policy or rental agreement that you signed with the vacation rental owner or manager whether you can get a refund for your cancelled booking on not. Please contact the home owner or manager directly to discuss the concern.” In addition, the company offers to sell renter three types of coverage:

  • Before Your Trip: Cancellation Protection (Underwritten by Generali U.S. Branch) – Protects your non-refundable trip costs if you need to cancel your trip due to a covered reason. (This is pretty standard travel insurance.)
  • On Arrival to Your Rental: Carefree Rental Guarantee (Provided by HomeAway) – Guarantees your payment if the vacation rental is not as advertised or you are unable to gain access.
  • During Your Stay: Damage Protection (Underwritten by Generali U.S. Branch) – Protects against expenses incurred if you or your traveling companions accidentally damage the vacation rental.

TripAdvisor/FlipKey has detailed information about its “peace of mind protection plan” online – click here to read about it.

(While it’s nice to know that some of my rentals can be cancelled if necessary, as a retired travel agent I’m protecting my expenditures and obtaining foreign health care coverage by purchasing a one-year travel insurance policy.)

 Contracts: all these companies appear to leave the issue of rental contracts to the discretion of the property owner. AirBnB does offer to provide standard contract creation assistance to its owner-clients for a price.

 Assistance: AirBnB has a 24-hour a day customer assistance line at 1-415-800-5959.

After a lengthy search on the HomeAway site I found this U.S. telephone number for customer assistance 512-782-0805. TripAdvisor can be contacted on this U.S. toll-free number: 866-322-5942 but only during business hours in the eastern time zone. (Here’s an interesting website I found while searching for these numbers: Not only does it provide those phone numbers that are missing on websites these days but it also tells you how to navigate the automated answering systems and average wait times. I’m going to remember this one!)

The photo at the top of this post is of the cottage we enjoyed in Catania Italy some years ago.

P.S. Here’s some bad news: earlier this month (November 2015) Expedia announced it’s acquiring HomeAway.