Airbnb: find out if it works

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With over 60 million users, Airbnb is an innovative and affordable new approach to booking accommodation, but does it live up to the buzz? Find out in our hands-on review.

Founded in 2008 by three roommates who were struggling to pay rent, Airbnb is now worth an estimated USD$25 billion. It allows people to rent out their homes, rooms, or beds to travellers at an affordable price. Sounds good in theory, but how does it work in reality? Our tech guru Ryan recently tested out the app whilst travelling in Japan – how did he go?

I booked most of my accommodation before leaving, but intentionally left a few days vacant at the end of my trip, as I wasn’t sure where I would like to spend them. Encouraged by some pleasant reviews of the Airbnb service from friends, I downloaded the app on my smartphone and started browsing for accommodation.

Types of accommodation on the service vary from spare rooms or beds rented out by homeowners, to full-scale bed and breakfasts or apartment buildings run by staff. After browsing accommodations for a few hours, I inquired about a booking that had an abundance of five-star reviews. I received a response in near-perfect English informing me that the room was available, but if I was interested, there was also a better room available in Shinjuku. Excited by this, I requested a booking through the app; unfortunately this is where I ran into some trouble.

Airbnb requires some basic proof of identity before you can use the service, however, you can also provide more credentials to put your host’s mind at ease. Airbnb also selects 25 per cent of users at random and insists that they provide extra proof of identification; I was ‘lucky’ enough to be chosen to provide this.  

This process was an absolute nightmare. Airbnb simply did not have the staff to manage my ‘Verified Identification process’, which was frustrating as I was given a strict 12 hours in which to do so.

The process required connecting with Facebook. Unfortunately my online social life isn’t as glamorous as Airbnb would have liked, and therefore there wasn’t enough information to prove my existence. Next up was providing scans of my passport and driver’s licence, which bizarrely still wasn’t enough proof (even though they got me through immigration without any trouble). The final step was recording an embarrassing video of myself explaining that I am indeed a human.

At this stage I was left hanging. After a few hours of waiting for my video to be verified, I contacted the ‘help’ team and found them anything but helpful. After the 12 hours was up, my booking was cancelled and I wasn’t allowed to make another for a specified time. Frustrated I considered booking a hotel but decided in the end to contact the host directly.

I explained what had happened. They were very sympathetic and offered to pick me up from a train station to arrange the booking the old fashioned way, face to face, paying with cash. Perfect.

From here on it was smooth sailing, the host was nice, the room was cheap, clean and comfortable and the location was incredible, just a few minutes away from the train station. After the initial hassle, the only further frustration was struggling to understand the complicated rules of rubbish disposal in the building.

Although my experiences with Airbnb are far from perfect, most of the stress could have been avoided if I planned further ahead, and made my booking whilst still in Australia. Airbnb is so cheap because it cuts out a lot of the staff, who ultimately make hotel stays so stress free. And while nine times out of 10 this probably doesn’t cause any problems, when it does go wrong, you’re largely on your own.

It hasn’t put me off though – if at first you don’t succeed and all that – I will use the service again next time I travel. Having now verified my identity I don’t expect any further problems and I’m excited to meet some more friendly hosts.

Have you used Airbnb? Were your experiences pleasant or painful?

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Written by ryanbo


Total Comments: 69
  1. 0

    have used it several times- mostly fantastic except for one time in israel, where the host was fairly unfriendly- and the accommodation was a bit substandard- but still Ok for the price- Absolutely give it a try- but read the reviews

  2. 0

    You have to have a lot of spare time and be ignorant to personal identity security to deal with this group. After paying deposit, I was required to supply credit card details – no issue, then a photo – getting suspicious. Then a copy of my passport – are you kidding ! I was booking a place in my home country of Australia. When I refused they would not return the deposit. Can’t condemn this group enough.

    • 0

      So not your cup of tea?

    • 0

      Glad another person saw this website for what it is: dangerous…and potentially accessed by identity thieves. I bet the website has lax security to boot. God help the simpletons who supply the ridiculous amount of details demanded.

    • 0

      I recently booked through them and wasn’t required to provide anything more than my credit card details – standard and my name and address. When I cancelled I forfeited the airbnb admin fee which was clearly stated in the terms of the booking. Very happy. Great interaction directly with the host. Better than some booking sites where you can’t contact the hotel until after your booking is confirmed.

    • 0

      My experience(s) similar to Junior (above). No problems in Aussie or NZ 🙂

  3. 0

    I also tried to book for accommodation. Was asked for a copy of my driver licence, was told not clear enough so need a copy of passport again told no clear enough so wanted link to Linkeden which I don’t have or Facebook page. Gave up after that.

  4. 0

    Ditto, ID copy of passport, etc etc and you have no idea who you are dealing with. We also had to put up large bond money well before we arrived. Left and didn’t get a return of the deposit for ages and only after many emails requesting for the bond money back!

    This was for an apartment in Paris.

    We did OK out of the deal but it was all a bit risky??? If you are prepared for the risk then you might do well out of it.

  5. 0

    I signed up for AirBnB over a year ago and remember it was an easy process, though I do have LinkedIn and Fb accounts. Don’t recall having to provide drivers licence. The accommodation and hosts vary. We always pick a self contained or entire home rather than a share. This usually makes the price higher and almost comparable with hotel/motels, so it’s worth comparing what’s available. Remember their is no room service (beds made, fresh towels, etc). However, the location and the hosts can make your stay one to remember! Read the reviews before making a choice. We have only heard of the occassional problem — just hope it won’t happen to you.

    • 0

      Agree. I dind’t (and wouldn’t provide drivers licence and/or passport copy) have a problem making my first booking for accommodation in N.Z. for early next year. Yes, agree about reading all the reviews and bypassing anything that doesn’t have many. Same as booking through Trip Advisor. Mentioning N.Z. – if any Aussies intend touring/visiting N.Z. I would recommend checking out Bookabach.
      z We had a fantastic 3 week road trip a couple of months ago in Spring and booked 5 ‘baches’ to base ourselves. Great success and only one was slightly disappointing and three were fantastic.

  6. 0

    Trouble free an excellent. I booked a room in a house in Italy.

  7. 0

    I have used it all over the world with no real issues. Some of the descriptions and photo’s could be a tad misleading, and not all amenities offered in each accommodation is exactly as promised. Although if it is inexpensive accommodation you are looking for this works a treat. My advice is to remain flexible in your expectations.

  8. 0

    Read the small print VERY carefully. We had to cancel a booking that we had made and AIR BnB took a huge chunk of the deposit -very unreasonable as they do very little except host the website. I am very reluctant to use in the future!

    • 0

      The only booking I have made with them so far was a couple of weeks ago for 3nts accomm (in N.Z.) in 2 months time. Was a bit surprised to be asked to pay the FULL cost (plus their commission which was about 10% of each nts rate) immediately in advance. No deposit and final payment, say, a couple of weeks before arrival etc. No biggie, but since they hold all of the amount until you have been in the residence for 24hrs, before they pay the owner it would appear they have a fairly sweet cop of your money for quite some time before handing it over to the owner 😉

    • 0

      re heyybob comment. Advance payment is a plus. The A$ dived nearly 30% in the 8 months prior to our booking. Our price was paid and fixed. For long stays the host gets half the day after you arrive and the rest half way through your stay in case of dispute or refund. Caveat emptor.

    • 0

      True ricks, I guess, ref the advantage of early payment. Have managed to save a little that way with my Qantas Cash Card also. We get the same with very early airline bookings and a few other ways. Nicve, when retired to have the time to fiddle around like this. Great fun isn’t it 🙂

  9. 0

    My first booking (for accomms in N.Z.) made a couple of weeks ago and no problem. The booking fee (3 nts) was a smidgeon over 10% of each nights rate so not too bad. The things that appeal to me about it are 1. A break from the usual hotel experience. 2. A lot of unusual and interesting accomms available to experience. 3. Good communications facilitation between owners and yourself. 4. Plenty of reviews (usually and a good sign) to sift through. 5. The choice to interact (if you wish) with ‘the locals’ and all the benefits that can give, if you so desire. I’m looking forward to our first experience with AirBnB to see if it can compliment our usual sites that we use e.g. Online direct with hotels, TripAdvisor bookings, Bookabach.
    z etc.

  10. 0

    We’re not budget travellers but we’re sick of sterile hotels and “privacy” involving hotel staff coming in to check mini bar etc; motels that smell; and apartments that disappoint. We are fussy about cleanliness and hygiene. We’ve had 7 AirBnB experiences in different countries over the past 4 years; 2 were quite poor, most were good. One was excellent. On balance we prefer the experience to the usual routine of commercial providers so we have booked another 3 week stay in London October 2016. Generally we book ahead at least 6-9 months in advance so we get a really good choice. The photographs provided have always been accurate but the shots show the best not the worst of any choice. We have always chosen on the basis of reviews. However AirBnB vets reviews and we noticed that our negative reviews didn’t get published (it’s hard to verify if this is completely correct because it’s difficult to find the apartment/flat you rented previously, so take my vetting comment with a grain of salt. However, see how many negative reviews you find.) Regardless we found it hard to find negative or even neutral reviews so we may have expected too much via the “Pollyanna effect”. If you’re not a budget traveller and you’re planning a lengthy stay I suggest you check the price of hotels of the requisite star rating in your city of choice then use that price to help inform your selection of Airbnb apartments. The fact that we’re trying again next year is an indication that the positives well outweigh the negatives. Give it a go.

    • 0

      Thanks for that 🙂 Interesting and valid point about the lack of neutral/negative reviews and being difficult to bring up your own 🙁 We rely a lot on sifting through reviews, on the ‘providers’ that we utilise, so that will be something that we will be aware of on AirBnB. Cheers 🙂

    • 0

      p.s. meant to mention that (availability of reviews) is something that appeals about TripAdvisor for us 🙂 I appreciate it and its why I contribute as a (top level) Reviewer – a pass it on, thing 😉

    • 0

      Plenty of other sites. The internet is awash with them. And Tripadvisor is good to check if a place has a history, although Tripadvisor sometimes will not run bad reviews. But it usually works and you can’t beat the views/reviews of 20 people or more.

    • 0

      Ricks12 we use it extensively and have only had a couple of lower then expected experiences – many more bad motel experiences. Reviews aren’t vetted, you’ll notice that if the host has already done their review on you your review of them appears instantly and it stays. Trip Advisor vet their reviews.

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