Airbnb is one of those companies that you wish you started! From renting space in their own place to a couple of travellers, the guys that started Airbnb then went on to create what is probably the world’s best-known accommodation booking service with hundreds of thousands of accommodation listings around the world.
Whilst I’ve known about Airbnb for a number of years now, and friends and family have used the site, I only started using it to find accommodation recently. The Holidays to Europe accommodation directory has apartments listed in many locations around Europe so that is always my first source but sometimes the options aren’t suitable or there aren’t any apartments listed where I’m headed. This was the case for my 2016 Europe itinerary which included visits to Reykjavik in Iceland and Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany.
So it was off to the Airbnb website I headed and there were plenty of options for both destinations. I chose my preferred apartment in Reykjavik and sent a message to the owner, via the Airbnb website, requesting a bit more information. The owner replied promptly and I decided to go ahead with the booking, so I added my credit card details and voila, the booking was confirmed and paid.
Whilst I was happy to have secured my preferred accommodation, there were a couple of things about booking via Airbnb that I didn’t really like.
Firstly, Airbnb require you to pay in full for your accommodation at the time of the booking and secondly, they charge a service/booking fee on top of the cost of the accommodation.
Reykjavik is not a cheap destination and my booking was made nine months ahead of my arrival date, so I had just forked out over $1800 (including an Airbnb service fee of $190) that would sit in Airbnb’s bank account, earning them interest, no doubt, for nine whole months. (Airbnb pass the rental cost on to the apartment’s owner 24 hours after check in.)
I’m more than happy to pay a deposit at the time of booking but I’m not really so keen on paying the full amount upfront when my trip is many months in advance.
Now I know that one of the benefits of using a service like Airbnb is that they are a well established company and provide 24/7 support. If you show up at your accommodation and find out it doesn’t actually exist or you encounter other problems, Airbnb is at the end of the phone to assist you.
This peace of mind is very reassuring and is probably a factor in why so many travellers use the service, however, I still don’t understand why they need to collect the full payment upfront. If it’s to avoid travellers booking at multiple accommodations and then cancelling later, why not request a 25% - or even 50% - deposit with the balance payable a month before your arrival?
For last minute bookings, full payment upfront is understandable, but bookings made nine months in advance?! I’m more than happy to pay in full before I travel, in fact I prefer it as that way all my major holiday expenses are taken care of BEFORE I leave Australia, but nine months in advance is a bit rich, in my opinion.
Having booked my Reykjavik accommodation, it was now time to find somewhere to stay in Rothenburg. Last time I was in Rothenburg it was just for an overnight visit so we stayed at a hotel but on this occasion we decided an apartment would suit us better.
I found a lovely apartment on Airbnb but also discovered a way I could avoid the service fee and get around paying the full balance upfront.
The listing for this particular apartment had a building/property name so instead of being listed as (for example) ‘Modern apartment in quiet location’ it was listed as ‘Apparthaus Anna’ (example only, not the real name). Aha, I thought and quickly went on to Google to search Apparthaus Anna. Sure enough, up came a website for this apartment. After browsing the website and reading the guest testimonials, I emailed the owner for more details and prices.
Dealing directly with the owner via her own website rather than via Airbnb, meant that I would save the Airbnb service fee (around 11%) AND the owner did not require pre-payment or even a credit card guarantee, instead requesting cash payment on arrival.
Having made this discovery I did go back to Google to see if I could find a direct website for the Reykjavik apartment I’d booked, but nothing came up. In the Reykjavik instance, Airbnb was my only option but luckily for me, I could book direct for the Rothenburg accommodation.
Now I realise that not everyone is going to be confident booking their accommodation this way but after corresponding with the owner via email, I was happy to go ahead. After all, what did I have to lose? If I arrived in Rothenburg and the apartment didn’t exist, I would have just had to find somewhere else to stay. It’s not like I had parted with any money.
Had the owner requested a hefty payment upfront, I would probably have booked via Airbnb. And if I still had any concerns about booking the accommodation directly with the owner, I could have always contacted the local tourist office and asked them if they were aware of the property. At the end of the day, you have to decide whether the Airbnb booking fee and payment conditions are worth it for the peace of mind of booking with a 'secure' company.
Would I book with Airbnb in the future (if I couldn’t find suitable accommodation in the Holidays to Europe directory) ? Yes, BUT…… if I was booking more than three months ahead I would definitely try and source my accommodation either directly with the owner or via another online booking site that doesn’t require full payment up front.
If you're looking for self-catering accommodation for your trip and you can't find anything suitable, you can search Booking.com as they list a lot of apartments and villas. Click the banner below to start your search.
Note: Unfortunately I had to cancel my European trip due to a family medical emergency. The cancellation conditions of the apartment I had booked in Reykjavik via Airbnb were strict - 50% cancellation fee if booked more than 7 days before arrival and no refund of the Airbnb fees ($190 in this instance). I have claimed back these cancellation and booking costs on my travel insurance.
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Have you booked accommodation via Airbnb? What are your thoughts on their payment policy and booking fees?
Photos are not examples of accommodation found on the Airbnb website.
Disclosure: This article contains an affiliate link. Should you choose to make a booking via this link, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.