Airbnb Like A Pro: Tips for Booking a Vacation Rental

Airbnb tips for better stays at cheaper prices

1. Know the place you will visit

It doesn’t matter if you find the best Airbnb property in all of Mexico City if you find yourself on the wrong side of traffic from the sites you want to visit! This is key #1 because without understanding where you’ll want to be in your chosen destination, you won’t know if your Airbnb selection is in a good location for you.

If you plan to go to the beach every day, your perfect Airbnb might be walking distance from the best beach. If you want to visit the beach, but are more interested in the city’s nightlife, it might make more sense to locate yourself in the city and figure out a transportation strategy to access that secluded beach on the edge of town that no one knows about!

Once you’ve got a sense of your destination, narrow your search to the ideal spots on the map. By doing this, you’ll often cut out as much as half of the potential options and be in a much better position to find the best airbnb for your stay.

2. Search in your price-range + a little more

Perhaps the easiest way to narrow down your search for the best Airbnbs is to limit your price-range; you know how much you want to spend, and also have the opportunity to weed out properties below your expectations by setting the lower price limit, too.

Typically, it’s important to be careful about not going over-budget before even arriving at your travel destination, but it still makes sense to search up to 10-20% over your intended price range.

One of the most valuable things to know about Airbnb rentals is that the price is not necessarily fixed. If you find a few great Airbnbs at your price-point and then find one that’s priced out-of-reach, but is the absolute best Airbnb you could hope for, contact the host!

There are many ways to go about this negotiation, but the easiest is probably just to explain how wonderful you think their property is and ask if they’d be willing to come down to the price of the others you found. You lose nothing by trying, and they lose a lot by not accepting. 

Unless the property is booked consistently, there is a good chance that the host will seriously consider your offer. Consider the example of a 5-night, $500 stay where the host’s operational cost is $100. Normally, that results in a profit of $400 for the property manager, but only if the apartment is rented.

If you offer $450 for the rental, the profit goes down to $350, but that’s still $350 in the host’s bank account that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Everyone can win here! This will work best with last-minute bookings (greater probability of Airbnb property going unsold) or longer stays (lower daily operational cost).

3. Amenities & deal-breakers

The amenities offered by an Airbnb rental unit can significantly impact your experience. One big plus for travelers that is often understimated is the washing machine. No one wants to go looking for the laundromat in a foreign city (let alone waste several precious vacation hours tending to the wash), and knowing you’ve got that easy access allows for lighter packing, too!

Does the apartment you’re renting have a shared pool/jacuzzi or a workout facility? What’s the access to nearby coffee shops or restaurants? Are you in a city where front-door security/concierge will make you more comfortable?

Then there are your absolute deal-breakers, which can be selected and filtered for to reduce the number of properties you have to consider in the search for the best Airbnb.

If you’re traveling with friends, you’ll definitely want to make sure you’ve got the right bed configurations to suit all parties. When staying somewhere tropical, or in a place with summers that bake the sidewalks, A/C is probably a deal-breaker; there is so much to be said for returning to refreshingly cool apartment or house after traipsing about in the heat.

Another key amenity that will be a deal-breaker for most is access to WiFi. Most Airbnbs offer it, but clicking on that WiFi amenity sorting option will often cull out of few stray properties that would make your electronic devices very unhappy.

The key here is to think about and filter for things you absolutely require, and then use additional amenities to further narrow down your options if you still see a lot of Airbnb properties you like.

4. The importance of reviews

Reviews are almost as much of a currency with Airbnb as cash-money. The whole Airbnb ecosystem is built around the idea that reviews will ferret out the poor opportunities and reveal the best ones, whether for the renter or property owner.

First, let’s start with property reviews. Generally, the more reviews you can read, the better you will understand the merits of the Airbnb property you are assessing. If there are more than one or two, you will start to pick out repetition in the reviews (i.e. no hot water, patchy wifi, better than the photos!), which will help you understand what others have found significant.

If there are no reviews, the property is probably new, but there is also a decent chance it’s not truly for rent. Airbnbs with no reviews might be willing to offer you a deal in order to establish credibility, but they also might be a dead-end. Proceed with caution!

Second, you’ll want to make sure you establish your own credibility. Even one positive review will help put an Airbnb owner/manager’s mind at ease when you approach them. If it’s your first time, include a little note about yourself and why you’d make a good renter (i.e. very clean, quiet, respectful, worked in hospitality before). Once you’ve got some reviews, no Airbnb property manager will bat an eye, but those first few reviews are crucial to always getting the best Airbnbs.

5. Make sure you can comply with property rules

It’s very important for a pleasant experience that you comply with the property owner’s rules. Why? You’ve got to remember that this Airbnb you’re renting is or was probably someone’s home. Airbnb is essentially a means of sharing vacation properties, and at the very least, the owner put considerable time into creating the beautiful environment that drew you to the space.

Beyond this element, Airbnb can be controversial for the owner’s neighbors, who might not have counted on so many new people passing through or making noise until the wee hours of morning. If you are the type to leave a hotel room looking like a tsunami blew through, Airbnb is not for you! Respect is an absolute key to a successful Airbnb rental and it’s also how you’ll establish yourself as a good renter in reviews of your stay.

6. Understand the cancellation policy

Unlike most hotel rates, Airbnb rental properties have three types of cancellation policies, and understanding which ones are acceptable to you is an important element to picking the best Airbnbs for your travels.

Flexible is awesome, because you can cancel in a way similar to most hotel policies, but it almost seems wrong to bail on a host who is tending to a single property, as opposed to a hotel front desk agent that deals with dozens of customers every day and has very little skin in the game.

Moderate is still decent if you will know for sure within 5 days before your trip if you’ll be able to keep the reservation, but after that you’re on the hook for the whole rate.

Strict cancellation involve losing a 50% to all of your reservation price if your plans change at any time, which will be an unacceptable loss for most.

In general, it makes the most sense to use Airbnb when you have firm plans, so that cancellation is unlikely, but if you’re on the fence about two properties, the one with the more lenient cancellation policy is compelling. Keep in mind that, regardless of the cancellation policy, the Airbnb service fee is always non-refundable. You can find a very detailed description of Airbnb’s cancellation policies here.

In Summary

Whether you’re just jumping into the vacation rental waters with Airbnb or you’ve experienced its benefits and drawbacks all over the world, it can be agreed that selecting the best Airbnbs is part strategy/part finesse. With these tips for selecting the best Airbnb property for your needs, you’ve got a solid framework from which to begin. Happy travels!

If you found this list of criteria for selecting the best Airbnbs, consider signing up for an account using this link. If you do, we’ll both get $40 in Airbnb travel credits, and your support of this website will be greatly appreciated!

14 Comments on “Airbnb Like A Pro: Tips for Booking a Vacation Rental

  1. Great tips! I think some people might be hesitant to try Airbnb since it’s a newer thing, but, like anything, if you do your research and are prepared, it should be fine 🙂

  2. We just booked an amazing week long vacation in Costa Rica with 26 of our closest friends and it wouldn’t have been possible without Airbnb. You can find amazing deals there but you need to use a strategies like these to shop smart. It makes all the difference.

  3. I haven’t used Airbnb yet, but I know friends and family who have and have had some great experiences. You point about searching a little over your price range, and contacting the owner to negotiate if it’s too high for you is something I wouldn’t have thought to do. Thanks for these tips.

  4. These are excellent tips! It is important to remember that the rate can be negotiated. The cancellation policy can detract some people, but if you do your due diligence then it’ll usually work out.

  5. These are excellent tips for me as I may end up utilizing Airbnb for the first time next year! especially tip #2, I wouldn’t have thought about trying to negotiate price.

  6. This is a good checklist on renting an AirBnB and some of us just learned trial by error. I agree…get a washing machine…what a bonus!

  7. Some great tips here. Airbnb’s can be such a great way to travel, if you find the right one. Doing your research is well worth it.

  8. Well be staying at an Airbnb for the first time soon and I read the comment/review section like crazy haha. I do that for booming websites too and all hotel stays. I didn’t know you could negotiate price. Good tip to know

  9. This is the best post I’ve read about Airbnbs. You did a great job covering the cancellation policy and deal breakers (we all have them). My husband and I rent some of our properties in Panama via Airbnb and reviews are so important, plus a great way to weed out the lackluster properties. Well done!

  10. My experience with Airbnb had been amazing so far. I’m glad you included #5. We consider a lot of criteria that suits us when looking for a place to stay but some of us unfortunately overlook the need also to respect the owners of the property.

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