How To Save Money on Airbnb?
Here comes your in-depth guide on how to tweak the world’s largest apartment rental site to the fullest.
Booking an apartment on Airbnb.com can get you one of the best value-for-money-deals when traveling abroad. As user-friendly as it is, there are a few catches when booking a place to stay with Airbnb. This article will give you 5 travel tips that teach you how to save money on Airbnb when you’re looking to book yourself a nice apartment in cities like Wroclaw, Varna, Warsaw or even Jakarta.
Let’s start off with a mini-tutorial on how to book an apartment with Airbnb.
Travel Tip #1: How does Airbnb work?
The website’s interface is self-explanatory. You need to set up an account and provide some sort of identification. This is no big deal as you can simply take out your driver’s license and take a picture of it through your notebook’s web cam. Alternatively you can upload/email a scan of your ID. In any case the website will guide you through this process and make it an easy thing to do. Once you are a verified member you can make full use of the site.
The way Airbnb works is that you make a request to book a certain apartment. The owner will then see your request and check whether the apartment will be available. Apartment owners are supposed to post an updated schedule of their occupancy on Airbnb. But for various reasons many owners do not always make sure their schedule is up to date.
This is one of the catches when booking with Airbnb.com: You have to guarantee to get the apartment you requested. Some hosts didn’t update their schedule, they are busy or they have given the apartment to a friend instead. So you may send out a request for an apartment that was shown as available but still get a negative reply. The less you book in advance the more likely you will get a reply in funny English like:
“Sorey, apartment not available”.
Nonetheless, there is an easy work-around to this common problem. If you use it the right way you can even save money on top of it.
Travel Tip #2: Send out at least 20 requests all for the same date.
Do not send out 3 requests. Do not send out 13 requests, either. In order to succeed on Airbnb you must shamelessly send at out at least 20 request all for the same date.
Once you are done with that you can lean back and wait for the replies to trickle in. As they do trickle in you will be surprised by the variety of messages you will get. As mentioned above a good deal of your replies will consist of simple denials of your request. Some owners will deny your request but will at the same time offer you an alternative at a discounted price. Some will even offer you a discount right off the bat.
A Brazilian traveler I met in Kiev was an expert on Airbnb. His method of getting a good deal was almost too simple. All he did was pick his dates and then send out an generic message to no less than 30 different hosts. All this by using copy & paste which took him no more than 5 minutes. The message he sent was as short as it was effective.:
I’m interested in renting your apartment! What offer do you have for your Brazilian fellow?
Have a nice day!”
No small talk, no asking questions. Straight to the point. This way he also weeded out the severe cases of cow milking hosts as they would never bargain. unsurprisingly, a lot of hosts took the hint. They stepped forward and offered a discount. Using his simple message template I was able to save money myself.
Travel Tip #3: Focus on apartments with zero reviews
Take a look at the picture below. It shows a sample search for the lovely city of Budapest. Circled in red you can see an apartment that has 22 reviews. Next to that is an apartment that even has 146 reviews. What we will focus on this chapter are the two apartments below that are circled in green. These apartments have no reviews at all and they are your best bet in order to land a profitable deal on Airbnb.com.
Now, how can you save money with Airbnb in regard to reviews? It’s simple if you consider the background of a booking site that caters to the individual traveler and not to mass tourism. Here’s some background information on how reviews play into the pricing of apartments:
Unlike hotels apartments on Airbnb have no walk-in customers. They also get no customers from travel agencies like the big resort hotels in Spain or Greece. And even peer recommendations don’t really work with Airbnb as the apartments have no brandname that could be remembered and recommmended to others. Thus, every review on Airbnb stems from an individual traveler that made an indiviual choice to stay in that apartment. And that traveler made his choice based on reviews.
Therefore, you can be assured that the 146 reviews you see for the 36€/night apartment above will be, in all likelihood, all positive reviews. That is because every booking for the apartment has been the individual choice by someone comparing reviews just like you which makes it impossible for the host to stack up such a high amount of reviews if there were a lot of bad reviews thrown in. What does that tell you if you want to save money on Airbnb? It tells you that the two red circled apartments are established and sought-after offers that have no incentive to lower their prices.
Things look totally different with apartments that are new to Airbnb. You can easily spot these apartments by checking out how many reviews they have. If an apartment has zero reviews then it is either total trash that noone would ever book – which you could easily tell from the pictures – or it is brandnew to Airbnb with a host lusting after a first positive review.
Here, hosts are willing to bargain like you haven’t seen. Why? Because reviews are crucial for Airbnb as they establish a host’s reputation on the site. In short, positive reviews = lots of sales. Therefore, a host’s life and death depends on getting good reviews. Anyone renting out an apartment over Airbnb knows this and they will act accordingly.
Try the “Brazilian mass-approach” on apartments that have no reviews yet and you automatically double your chances to make a bargain.
Travel Tip #4: Ditch the cleaning fee
Airbnb adds two additional fees to your booking that can really add to your costs. Take a look at the offer in the picture below that is from a centrally located apartment in Milan, Italy.
At a rate of 133€ per night the apartment’s host demands a pricey “cleaning fee” of 25€. That amount almost comes down to 20% of a nightly rate.
The interesting part is that there is no rule when hosts charge you with such a fee and when they don’t. Since they do so as they please you should do the same: Drop any offer that charges a cleaning fee. There is so much fish in the pond at Airbnb that you don’t depend on one specific offer. Why should you pay a second VAT to the hostjust so that he will change the bed sheets and take out the trash?
Travel Tip #5: A way to avoid Airbnb’s service fee
The second fee is Airbnb’s horrendous „service fee“ which is the only real disadvantage of Airbnb. The fee ranges in between 10% and 20% of your total booking price. It increases with higher rates and may even come down to a full nightly rate. For the apartment in the picture the service fee is almost 30% of a nightly rate.
The bad news is that there is no real work-around for this fee. There is, however, a way to avoid it if you plan on staying at a place for a longer time, let’s say for 10 days or more. Here is a 4-step guide that has worked very well for me in the past:
1. Book a hotel for the first night of your stay.
This is just so you have a fresh start in your city and so you can go on a mini-apartment hunt the next morning.
2. Send out 20 messages to hosts telling them you would like to see the apartment before you book it for a longer period of time.
Airbnb will censor phone numbers in your messages but you can easily arrange a meeting with your hosts through Airbnb text messages. If you are actually looking for a long term rent then do tell the hosts. They will be more eager to show you the apartment before you book it if they are aware that a larger amount of money is on the horizon.
3. Set up 3-4 meetings with Airbnb hosts in a 90-minute interval.
This is easily managable if you focus on apartments in the city center. Airbnb will, again, censor street names out of any message that you send on the platform, but you can easily set up a time and meet up with your host at a well known sight nearby, then walk to the apartment together.
4. Exchange numbers with your hosts, go for a coffee and reflect over the offers. Then choose the apartment you like best.
Done! You will pay the host in cash. If you like then have the host take down the dates of arrival and departure as well as the fact that he has received payment from you. You now all set and can enjoy a splendid lunch with the money you just saved. Don’t forget to cancel the other offers.
That way you can also see the apartment in real life before you spend any money on it. This will exclude any bad surprises as they still have a slight chance to come about, and even more so with apartments that have no reviews yet.
Some hosts will refuse to let you see the apartment. Some host have no interest in renting out their place outside of Airbnb. Technically it is not allowed for them to rent out their place outside of Airbnb if they offer it on Airbnb. Personally, I have no idea how Airbnb should get aware of that as hosts can change their apartment’s schedule from available to unavailable as they please. Also they cannot receive a positive review from you since the booking was not made over Airbnb. Nonetheless, many hosts are struggling to find tenants during off-season etc. and they will readily accept your offer. They are, after all, interested in renting out their apartment and not in guaranteeing the well-being of a booking site.
In conclusion: ten nights in the above mentioned apartment in Milan, Italy will cost you an insane “service fee” of 120€, an amount that would equal $134. Personally, I think it is justified that this money should stay in your pocket and not go to Airbnb. Why? Because in all likeliness Airbnb will not use that money for the good of their clients or customers, but rather spend it on a lavish conference room that looks like the war-room in the movie Dr. Strangelove.
If you plan on staying longer than 10 days then this option might come in handy to save money on Airbnb. The only consequence from bypassing airbnb’s service fee will be one more host replying to his next prospect with the line of:
“Sorey, apartment not available”.
5 Travel Travel tips that tell you how to save money on Airbnb:
1. Be prepared that most of your requests will be rejected
2. Send out an abundance of requests yourself
3. Go for apartments with few reviews
4. Avoid apartments that charge a cleaning fee
5. Bargain with landlords on-site if you stay longer
Read next: How To Save Money When Traveling