A hotel room is a handy option for a couple of days' vacation, but during a longer stay, the comforts and spaciousness of your own apartment may win over a basic hotel room.
This article covers topics you should pay attention to when choosing an apartment, if you are not yet familiar with Airbnb rentals.
1. Entire place or private room
The most decisive choice right after choosing the city, dates, and number of guests, is whether you want to book a private or shared room in an apartment, or the entire place for yourself, in which case, for example, there's no need to share a bathroom with anyone.
Today, the selection consists mostly of entire places, although in the early days of Airbnb, the situation was different. To focus your search regarding this and many other things, you can use filters.
2. Price and costs
The total price of accommodation consists of:
- possible cleaning fee
- service fee charged by Airbnb
The service fee is divided between the host and the guest, but if the host is offering hotel services or categorizes as a professional host with certain criteria, the service fee is only charged from the host. Sometimes, local taxes are mentioned separately as part of the price. Usually they are included in the price.
There can be discounts that are deducted from the total price of the nights, such as a weekly discount, a monthly discount or a less common early-bird discount, which can vary significantly between different apartments.
From the filters, you can choose the maximum price per night that you are willing to pay, which hides the overpriced apartments from the view. The maximum price indicated after the filter selection is the actual price after all expenses and deductions.
After selecting the city, you can move and zoom using the map on Airbnb. When doing so, only the apartments of the selected area are shown in the apartment listing. This way you can easily focus your search and eliminate unnecessary apartments.
After choosing a potential apartment, it may also be useful to look at the surroundings of the apartment in advance, for example, on Google's Street View, to see if it suits your taste. However, you won't know the exact address of the apartment until after the reservation, since the location shown on the map is not accurate - it might be off a street or two in one direction or another. However, it is usually quite accurate. If you can see the front of the house or the view from the balcony to the opposite house in the apartment's presentation photos, you can often deduce which house it is when you compare it to the views on Google Street View.
You should also check Google maps for possible differences in elevation, so that you don't end up walking ten minutes uphill every time you return to your apartment. You can't see this on the map on Airbnb.
By using the filter on Airbnb, you can choose the things you want in the apartment. For example, a washing machine is handy on a longer vacation, as you can get by with fewer luggage. Air conditioning is pretty much an absolute necessity, especially in southern Europe in July and August. You should make sure from the pictures that there's one to be found in the bedroom as well.
You can also send a message to the host before booking and ask if there is anything unclear about the apartment.
5. Ratings and reviews
While you can infer a lot from the photos and presentation text of an apartment, the reviews given by previous customers will add good information about the actual level of the apartment – verbal reviews indicate details, average ratings the general level.
However, the ratings on Airbnb don't match other platforms. In fact they are better across the board than those on Booking.com or Tripadvisor, for instance. The general practice is to give best possible rating if no major problems have occurred. Perhaps this is influenced by the fact that the renter is often not a faceless company like a hotel or restaurant, in which case there is a greater threshold to criticize. Especially if the renter has been nice.
Should problems occur, it is better on a personal level not to give written reviews at all than to give bad reviews, as renters have fierce competition for residents, especially in big cities. Just one bad review can make it difficult for the renters to attract guests in the future. Therefore, if someone gives critical reviews on a regular basis, renters may hesitate to rent an apartment to this person in fear of bad reviews. Of course, that makes the reviews too good on average.
While 9/10 in Booking.com's hotel ratings or 4.5/5 in Tripadvisor's restaurant ratings are already good averages, on Airbnb these types of ratings indicate that there may be something wrong with such an apartment.
The average rating is divided into different categories at the bottom of the apartment's presentation page, indicating as to which category has received the worst reviews. Most commonly it is cleanliness. If there is a bad review for accuracy, such an apartment should be totally avoided.
The best apartments collect average ratings between 4.8 and 5.0. Sometimes you see apartments with an average of a full 5.0 after dozens of reviews, which is quite impossible on other platforms.
6. Cozy or clinical
It's more a matter of taste whether you want to stay in an apartment that’s intended for rental use only, or in a part-time Airbnb apartment. You can't necessarily see directly from the introductory texts, whether the apartment is available only occasionally during the high season or all year round. However, you can sometimes deduce it from the number and timing of its reviews. Also, by looking at the reservation calendar, you can see whether the apartment is available in the coming months or not.
You can see it even better in the pictures – i.e., whether there are personal items of the owner/main tenant on the tables and shelves, or whether the number of such items is minimal. Some like a cozy environment, while others may appreciate a clinical, more minimalist interior.
There is also an ethical aspect to this choice. In many popular cities, it is more profitable for renters to rent out their apartment to tourists through Airbnb than to offer it to locals as a permanent residence. This leads to an increase in the general level of rents and, thus, to the fact that a large part of the locals can no longer afford to live in the centers of popular tourist cities. By renting a temporarily available flat from a local resident, you are not contributing to this problem.
7. Host profile
By clicking on the profile picture, you'll open the entire profile of the host, and you'll see whether the host has more than one apartment and the kind of average ratings he/she has received. Generally, if you come across a host that has several apartments, all with good average ratings (at least 4.80/5), you can trust that everything will go smoothly.
New apartments that don't have reviews yet may turn out to be disappointments. However, the risk can be reduced if the host's profile indicates that he/she also has other apartments with sufficiently good reviews. In general, a good host takes good care of all their properties.
A host that achieves certain criteria (e.g. an overall rating of at least 4.8/5 and a low cancellation rate) gets the Superhost status. Usually, things work well with such hosts. From the filters, you can select for the search results apartments that are from Superhosts only.
8. Check-in and check-out
Check-in and check-out times vary quite a bit from time to time. However, you can always ask for flexibility, unless the previous or next reservation is on the same day than your arrival or departure.
If you have a late flight when arriving, you can also use the filter via the Airbnb menu to show destinations with self-service check-in only. In these cases, the key is usually left in a code-locked box attached to the wall by the front door, from which you can take the key according to your own schedule. Also when leaving, you can conveniently leave the key in the same box if your flight leaves early in the morning.
You should always remember to mix the key box code after taking or returning the key, so that people passing by do not see the correct code.
9. Cancellation policy
Cancellation conditions between different apartments can vary from full refund to partial refund or no refund, depending on the time of cancellation. The conditions are mentioned at the bottom of the apartment's presentation.
The host can also cancel the reservation at any time, in which case you just have to find a new apartment. If you want to reduce this risk, you should only book with Superhosts, or at least look at the entire review history of the apartment in question, because there will be an entry for every cancellation by the host, as well as how many days before the check-in date the accommodation was cancelled.
10. Instant booking or request
Some hosts provide an instant booking option, which allows you to book the apartment immediately. Otherwise, you can make a reservation request regarding an apartment, which the host accepts or declines.
Hosts also often leave reviews of Airbnb users after the trip. Future hosts can then determine whether they want to rent their apartment to the person or not. A new user may in fact have a problem, if a host doesn't want to take the risk to reserve an apartment for a person without any reviews. In such cases, the instant booking option may be convenient. Such apartments can be filtered separately.
Is there something essential missing from the article? Has something happened on your trip that should be considered when booking an apartment? Please leave your tips about renting an Airbnb apartment in the comment field below.
Text and photos: Jussi Ryynänen