Have you heard about Airbnb? If not, where have you been! Here’s our comprehensive guide to this budget travel phenomenon including how to save money with Airbnb
Discover Top Tips on How to Save Money With Airbnb
In each sector of commercial society, a few companies tend to rule the roost. When it comes to smartphones and tablet technology, Apple and Samsung often spring to mind as the biggest players; for online shopping, Amazon is king of the jungle; and when it comes to budget (and general) travel, the last few years have seen the rise of a truly global giant: Airbnb.
With the dawn of the internet age and digital interconnectivity, the entire concept of travel, from the very first stages of booking, to arrival, and the experiences we have in a new place, have been changed forever. Airbnb – the immensely and ever-increasingly popular online marketplace that allows users to offer their property as accommodation – has become emblematic of our new era of travel, and if you know how to save money with Airbnb, it can also be one of the cheapest ways to explore somewhere new.
For a total newcomer, the experience can be a little daunting, but even the savviest user of the platform can still be surprised by some of the ways you can save money using Airbnb. We’ve put together a guide that not only explains what Airbnb is, how to get started, and how to use the service – but also some of the best tips to cut back on costs, and travel on a shoestring budget.
What’s the big deal about Airbnb?
For travellers a mere decade ago, Airbnb wasn’t available. The company has only been around since 2008, but it’s a testament to the brilliant simplicity of its central concept that it now offers global travellers over 3 million listings, in 65,000 cities, across 191 countries.
At its core, Airbnb is essentially a broker. It’s an online marketplace that acts a little like a travel agent, but instead of offering travellers a choice of established and registered hotels and hostels, it allows users to list their own properties, and rent them out to other guests on the site.
The company charges a small fee to both guests and hosts, but in allowing people to open their homes to travellers, it has essentially found a way to circumvent the high costs of with many hotels and other types of accommodation, and the result is one of the best ways to find a cheap and pleasant place to stay.
Airbnb can be accessed both on a computer desktop via their website https://www.airbnb.co.uk/, and there’s also an app available on iOS and Android. Both options offer intuitive, simple-to-use interfaces, and are very user-friendly.
The process works something like this: a host, who owns an apartment, townhouse, castle, or similar, decides they want to make a little extra money by offering their property as accommodation to travellers – in fact, economist Dr Margarethe Theseira predicts that by listing their home for 7 days a month, the average household could earn £5,600 a year, which is roughly the same as an annual pay rise of 15% – not that little after all.
Sometimes hosts will be away from their home on holiday themselves, sometimes they’ll be staying with other loved ones, and sometimes they’re just offering a spare bedroom or annexe and will be present during the stay, but whatever their modus operandi, the result is the same.
The host creates a listing on the site, which includes plenty of information on what they’re offering, the location, some photos, and the dates the property is available. They decide how much they will charge, and they publish the listing.
Then, when guests search the site for accommodation in the hosts’ area, if the listing meets their search criteria – boom. It appears (along with many others), and the guest can look to see if it’s a good fit for their needs. When they’ve made the decision, the guest can request to book the listing for their stay.
Why it’s so good for budget travel
Because hosts get total control over costs, Airbnb really does have something to suit ALL budgets. There are properties listed for mere pounds per night, as well as indulgent luxury complexes that go for thousands – and everything in between. It’s the perfect platform for travellers on a budget, as there’s nearly always something within their minimum-maximum spend.
While other, free options exist for budget travellers, such as house sitting (check out our comprehensive guide to house sitting for details), the beauty of Airbnb is that it doesn’t involve an obligation such as looking after a pet, and you’ll have total autonomy over how you spend your time during your stay – all while spending far less than you would if you were to limit yourself to more traditional accommodation.
The question of how to save money with Airbnb is still worth thinking about though – sure, in using Airbnb, you’ll save money compared to staying in a hotel, but even within the platform, there are still plenty of ways to save even more cash – but more on that in a minute!
How to use Airbnb
First things first. Before you jet off on your next adventure with the help of Airbnb, you’ll need to set up an account on the platform. This is extremely easy, and works pretty much like every other online marketplace. You sign up with your email address (you can also link your social media accounts), follow the on-screen steps that are fairly idiot proof, add a nice photo that shows you’re the kind of person people should invite into their home, and you’re off.
Once you have an account, you’ll be able to browse the site for listings, and the first thing you should take note of is just how many filters there are to search by. After entering the dates you want to stay, and the location, you’ll be able to filter by home type (private or shared), properties available for instant booking, and under ‘more filters’ you can select everything from properties that allow pets to listings that include shampoo. (Really. Hair care is important, y’know.) These can all be filtered by your preferred budget.
Once you’ve found a place that looks great, you can browse the listing for more info. You’ll be able to peruse photos, see more details on amenities, and – importantly – check reviews left by previous visitors. If it looks perfect – great! You can proceed with the booking process.
There are 2 types of booking on Airbnb. The instant listing, which includes a ‘book now’ button and a poignant lightning bolt symbol, allows you to immediately pay for and book the accommodation. The majority of listings opt instead for the ‘request to book’ option, which gives the host a chance to check your profile before giving you the all clear (which is only fair – if someone’s profile picture were to show them in front of a burning apartment, with a box of matches in hand and a grin on their face, it’s only right a host be given a chance to politely decline their booking.)
Once you’ve clicked ‘request to book’, it’s important to note that things work rather like an auction – if you’re accepted by the host, you won’t be asked for final approval, you’ll be charged immediately, so only request to book if you’re 100% willing to pay.
How to save money with Airbnb – some of the best tips
Now that you know how to get started on Airbnb, and book your first listing, you’ll want to get down to the meat of this article – how to save money with Airbnb. Yes, in using the platform itself you’re likely already saving money, but there are also a number of things you can do that even many seasoned users of Airbnb might not know about:
Get in touch with hosts before booking
When you’re looking at a listing, scroll down the page until you reach the host’s profile, and you’ll see an option to contact the host prior to booking. Doing so allows you to message them privately in advance, which can be used to your advantage.
First and foremost, it’s a great way to find out a little more about the host and the listing, including more detailed information on the location or accommodation. It’s also a very good idea to get in touch with a potential host to introduce yourself – if you’re looking at the last minute, or manage to cultivate a positive relationship with the host, they might even be willing to give you a discount on your stay.
There are a few very important caveats to this. Firstly, we absolutely don’t condone spamming hosts and asking for money off, as that’s just rude, and won’t get you anywhere. Always be polite, introduce yourself first, and don’t ask for a cheeky discount straight away – not only will this not work, you’ll also probably land yourself with a well-deserved bad review (yep, guests get reviews too!).
Sometimes, when a host offers a discount for a weekly or monthly period, they may be willing to apply this to a slightly shorter stay – for instance applying a 10% discount for a 5 or 6 day stay. If a listing is available at very short notice, it might even be in the host’s interest to secure a booking rather than leave the property empty, so this is a situation in which it might be appropriate to politely ask if they would consider an offer.
If the host decides they’re willing to make an offer, they can give you what’s called a ‘special offer’, individual to you, at a reduced rate. This is a form of ‘pre-approval’, which a host can give to any guest of their choice.
Pre-approval acts like request to book in reverse – a host can give a guest approval before they request to pay for a booking, and it’s always worth messaging a host if you plan to book first, as many will happily pre-approve a guest they deem fit to stay. This way you can accumulate a few choices, and weigh up your options before finalising anything.
Hunt for discounts
Many Airbnb hosts will offer a discount on longer term stays, usually weekly or monthly – these can vary from small discounts of a few %, up to more generous 20% offers from hosts looking to book up time in their property, rather than hope for multiple shorter-term bookings.
If you’re planning a week or more away, it’s always worth checking to see if there are any listings with discounts available – sometimes accepting a second choice could save you a considerable amount!
See if the listing appears anywhere else
While most Airbnb listings are from hosts offering their own property as accommodation, some small hostel businesses also operate on the site. This is perfectly within Airbnb’s guidelines, but also prevents a good opportunity for those looking at how to save money with Airbnb.
If you’ve found a private room listing that appeals and the room is either stated to be or looks like part of a hostel, do a quick Google to see if the listing is available anywhere else.
Because Airbnb charges a fee to the host, on occasion the same apartment or room can be found on the business’s own website (or hotel comparison sites such as booking.com) at a cheaper rate. This isn’t always the case, but it’s always good to check!
Book longer than you need – sometimes
Admittedly a confusing title, but to explain: when factoring in discounts for weekly or monthly stays, it can sometimes actually work out cheaper to book an extra night. This might seem silly, but if a listing costs £10 a night, and you’re planning to stay for 6 nights, this would cost you £60.
If the same listing offers a 15% discount on weekly bookings, then booking 7 nights would cost £59.50. Ok, this example isn’t exactly going to help you save for retirement, but the model is scalable, and it’s always good to do some maths to see if you could end up paying a little less.
Similarly, some cities (such as Miami) levy fairly hefty hospitality taxes on hosts offering accommodation. These city taxes sometimes only apply to rentals below a set number of days, for example, a 12% tax on listings under 14 days.
If you’re planning on staying for 13 days or fewer, this tax will be applied to your price – but if you book an extra night (or however longer you need to make up the tax limit) then the tax won’t apply to your stay at all. This only applies to certain cities, but it’s one of the lesser known techniques for saving money with Airbnb, and it’s worth looking into.
Important things to think about when making a booking
As with any travel booking scenario, there are quite a few things to consider when making a booking on the platform. Particularly if you’re focused on how to save money with Airbnb, there are a few things that really stand out as important, so here are some of the most important things to bear in mind:
Possibly the most important thing to do when considering a listing is to read what previous guests have to say about the host and accommodation. Airbnb guests are nearly always keen to leave their thoughts on their accommodation after a visit, and most listings have plenty of reviews to browse.
Bear in mind the average star rating, the number of reviews, how recent they are, and how valid you think the opinion of the reviewer is. This is much like any online review platform, but it’s particularly important when you’re planning to spend money on accommodation, as a good listing can make or break a stay.
Research the location
When you’ve picked the city or location you’ll be staying in, it’s easy to just assume all accommodation will be a viable option, but it’s really important to do a bit of research on the location the listing is found in.
Don’t just check maps, as these only provide a surface level of information – check everything from how well reviewed local restaurants are (if at all), to how accessible the property is via public transport, and how affordable this option will be.
While the vast majority of hosts are honest about their property’s location, all you have to go on when making a booking is their word – check a few forums, and see if the area is regarded as safe, or convenient for travellers.
Also, bear in mind Airbnb doesn’t give you the exact address of a listing for safety reasons, so consider messaging the host for more detailed info if you feel you need it – just be polite, and never be pushy – this is their home, after all.
Double check amenities
It’s good to delve a little deeper when looking into the amenities of a listing. For example, many properties might state they have a kitchen, but this might only include a hob and microwave. Think about the facilities you’ll need to use during your stay, and if you have any doubts, consult reviews or get in touch with the host.
Think about flights
One of the easiest traps to fall into when planning a budget stay is picking super-cheap accommodation, only to discover that the coinciding flights cost a fortune. Air travel is expensive, so if you’re committed to finding the best budget options, you’ll need to search for listings in line with flights.
Try to be flexible, and try shifting the dates you’re willing to stay – or fly – back or forward a day or two. It’s surprising how much of a difference this can make to the overall cost of your adventure.
Carefully consider your accommodation needs
It’s always worth remembering that Airbnb listings either offer a property in its entirety, or a private room in a shared accommodation space. You don’t have to book an entire apartment, and if you’re travelling by yourself or in a couple, it might be more cost effective to book a room rather than an entire apartment or home.
If you’re open to sharing, make sure to double check the nature of the shared spaces. Look into whether you’ll be sharing with a family, a local couple, or an individual (often a lovely experience, and a great way to gain some local insights) – or whether the listing is for something like a family-run hostel, and you’ll be sharing a space with other travellers.
Look into things like how bathroom and shower facilities are shared, and always (always) make sure there’s an option to safely store your belongings under lock and key – as some private rooms don’t offer a lock.
If in doubt, don’t book
One of the best things about Airbnb is how simply vast its listings are. There’s nearly always a wide choice of places to stay within your chosen filter parameters, and with so much on offer, you’ll hardly ever be forced to ‘settle’ with your choice of accommodation.
One of the advantages that hotels do have over Airbnb is that they’re professionally regulated – while this doesn’t mean there aren’t some ghastly hotels out there, a bad experience with a poor Airbnb listing can be truly awful for any number of reasons, and if you’re not 100% sure you want to stay at a listing, don’t book. Wait a few days and look again, or be a little more flexible with your parameters, and something else will likely come up.
Triple check costs
As each Airbnb host gets to set their own costs, many also include things like deposits or cleaning charges. These can vary from nominal amounts to hefty refundable charges, and it’s important to check what your host expects from you.
For instance – while every guest should endeavour to keep an Airbnb property clean, check what your host expects in terms of how you maintain their home, and how much they’ll expect you to pay if they don’t deem your treatment of their property up to scratch.
Be a crazy calculator person
This one might need a bit of explaining. When you book a travel package with a reputed travel agent, granted you’ll end up spending more, but you know what you’re getting for your package. Flights, transfers, and accommodation are often included in one price – and there are often options to include things like public transport passes.
When you book with Airbnb, you are very much in charge of everything. This is fantastic, as it means you can seek out the best budget option, and potentially save money at every stage of the journey, but it also means there are far more variables, and costs to keep track of.
When you’re thinking of making a booking on Airbnb, try this simple tactic: grab a calculator, a pen and paper (or the ‘notes’ section of a smartphone or tablet if you’re more technologically inclined), and make a simple chart with ‘cost’ in the top column, and rows for every single element of your trip, excluding spending when you’re there.
These will likely include: flights; transfers or travel costs to and from airports; parking at said airports; public transport costs to your accommodation, and during your stay (e.g. day card costs for trams, buses or subways); cost of the flights themselves; likely cost of food during the travel itself (i.e. expensive plane ‘food’); the accommodation; and the cost of the Airbnb charge.
Set a maximum budget you’re willing to spend on your travel, and then tot all of these points up every time you change something like a date you’re considering, or you pick a different listing.
It’s a little time consuming, but it’s a watertight way of making sure you don’t get caught out with extra costs – it’s all too easy to find cheap flights and accommodation, only to discover that when you factor in transfers, check-in costs for bags, and the bus to your flat, you’ve overspent considerably.
We hope that you have found the information provided useful and that your understanding of the Airbnb business is now a little clearer. If you have any further questions or comments regarding how to save money with Airbnb, please enter them in the comment box below.