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AirBnB has become such a great side hustle and even a main source of income for many of us in the personal finance (PF) community.
They have also written extensively and beautifully about this topic.
Today, I will share a somewhat different perspective on AirBnB.
I recently had a frustrating experience booking a room on this website.
Through this experience, I also learned a lot more about how the system works.
Let me tell you how it happened.
My uncle (my dad’s younger brother) was going to a conference in an expensive city on the West coast.
He is an attorney and runs a law firm based in Vietnam. The conference is an annual event for the lawyers in his area of expertise.
Mr. FAF and I took advantage of this opportunity to invite him and his wife to DC for a 4-day weekend visit.
We wanted them to stay longer, but he was worried about his work back home and wanted to make the trip short.
They booked the flight ticket about one month before the event.
My uncle found out that during the time of the conference, all the less expensive hotels in the areas were already booked. The rest ranged from $400-$500/night.
My uncle has had a bad experience staying at a motel in DC where his credit card information was stolen, and $2,000 was spent without him knowing until he was notified by the bank.
He got the issue resolved, but it was an aggravating experience for him. He only used the credit card at the motel and paid cash for everything else, so he was sure someone from the motel must have stolen his information.
This time, he and his wife asked Mr. FAF and me to help them book a private room for five nights.
The booking process
AirBnB came to my mind. I instructed my aunt to set up an account. But she said that there was so much information to fill out, and that her English wasn’t that great. She told me to just book a room for them instead.
They had four main criteria for the room:
1. Less than $100/night
2. Within walking or driving distance to the convention center
3. Close to a bus stop (so that they can take the bus and explore the city)
4. Have a kitchen (so that they can cook and not eat out too much)
Up until this point and even now, I had never booked a room on AirBnB before although I’ve had an account for more than a year.
I know that I won’t know the address of a particular house until my reservation is confirmed. Since I don’t drive and have a bad sense of orientation, it was difficult for me to even know if a place was close the convention center.
Mr. FAF, on the other hand, had stayed at an AirBnB once and got a 5-star review. He’s also great at navigating the map, so I enlisted his help.
At first, we kept our minds open for anything that came up. However, most of the listings less than $100 near the conference were for only one person. If there are two guests, the price would exceed $100.
Moreover, those are usually studios or apartments where two or three beds are put together in one room, and the guests have to share that same room.
It means that my uncle and my aunt might end up sleeping on one bed in the same room with another couple sleeping on another bed.
I shared my findings with my aunt who insisted that they want to stay in a private room and were willing to stay further out of the city as long as there’s public transit.
We kept on looking and finally found a private room for $95/night for two guests. The total price was $620 after service, cleaning, and taxes were included.
After booking the place, I realized that access to the kitchen was limited. Guests could only use a mini-fridge and a kettle (not even a microwave!).
Mr. FAF canceled the booking and contacted the host to make sure about the kitchen. In the message, Mr. FAF accidentally shared that he was booking for someone else.
The host (a female) wrote back, saying that she was concerned about her safety since she had no information about my aunt and my uncle. It was also against AirBnB‘s policy to book for someone else.
She advised us to book another place. Mr. FAF cancelled the booking again.
By this time, we must have spent 2-3 hours on this website looking for a place that would meet all of my aunt and uncle’s criteria. We realized that we wouldn’t be able to use our accounts to book a room for them.
Desperate, I tried to set up an account on my aunt’s behalf. But AirBnB wouldn’t be so easily fooled either. They wanted a copy of my aunt’s passport or driver’s license. I felt like my patience was running out fast.
I turned to Google to look up hotels and motels around the convention center instead of trying to work around the AirBnB system.
I found a motel that was about a 12-minute drive or a 20-minute bus ride (8 minute walk to the bus stop) from the conference for $117/night.
The motel room only met two criteria out of four- close to the bus stop and the conference. But it came with a microwave and a fridge, so I considered that a win.
My aunt and uncle were also ok with the choice and said they would pay for the motel with cash to avoid credit card theft. Our rushed search for lodging was then completed. I was relieved.
I learned six main lessons about AirBnB through this experience:
1. We can’t use our account to book a room for someone else.
2. Read the description of the place carefully. Use the Filters function in advance to save time.
3. Check the reviews to see what other guests have said about the place.
4. It’s a good idea to contact the host with any questions you might have to avoid last minute surprises and cancellation.
5. It’s not recommended. But it’s ok to book and then cancel the booking up to 5 days before the actual stay. It’s one way to know the address of the apartment/house to see if it’s close to certain places you want to go to.
6. Book ahead as soon as you can to avoid rooms being filled up during a certain time.
One thing that caught us off guard about this experience is that we couldn’t book for someone else, and that the host politely turned down our booking. I felt like we were just chased away from someone’s house after being offered to stay.
Overall, however, I understand and respect AirBnB’s policy to keep both the host and the guest safe. If I were a host, I would NOT want a total stranger without an AirBnB account to stay together with me.
Would we consider staying at an AirBnB again? Certainly! Next time, I will keep in mind all of the lessons mentioned above to make sure that we can find the right place for our family.
Click this link and sign up to get a $40 credit for your AirBnB stay! 🙂