Do’s and Don’ts of Airbnb

Our second stay and fourth Airbnb in Amsterdam

I’ve been using Airbnb for about two years now in over six different countries. I’ve learned a lot from my experiences using their service — both the good and bad. And so I felt it was appropriate to write about those experiences, what works/what doesn’t, and any lessons learned along the way.

Do: Get your profile set up

This is a big one. A few weeks ago, a co-worker was lamenting to me how each time he tried to create a reservation request with a potential host, he was declined each time. I asked him a few preliminary questions to find that he never verified his identity. Remember, Airbnb operates both ways for hosts and guests: Not only are you trying to find that perfect place but hosts are also looking for perfect guests. If they cannot easily confirm exactly who you say you are, they are less inclined to accept your reservation. (Cue the stranger danger warnings here.) When you set up your profile, you have the ability to verify who you are by uploading a government ID. (This includes a drivers license or passport.) Trust me, you want that green checkmark by your name in your profile. This also cuts out the need for hosts to confirm identity upon checkin, which is a violation of Airbnb’s policy.

You can also connect and verify your identity by linking your Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn accounts. Add a profile photograph and ask friends to write brief references on your behalf. Add your phone number and email address. (This information is not publicly shown on your profile and only shared once a reservation has been confirmed between host and guest.) Beef up your profile description and prove to hosts that you’re not a robot. Go one step further and add a short 30-second video explaining who you are and what you’re like IRL.

Basically, make viewing and confirming exactly who you are as easy and open for potential hosts to approve you. In the end, the more information, the better and the more successful you’ll be in obtaining a confirmed reservation.

Don’t: Book before researching neighborhoods

Take it from my last trip: Know the area before you go. Do your due diligence and run a quick Google search on the neighborhood. A few things to always keep in mind when researching neighborhoods:

  • Safety. Utilize general forums from sites like TripAdvisor and/or local blog posts for this. Always make sure that wherever you book, you are in a safe area. My rule of thumb is the night rule: You should be able to feel comfortable to walk the streets alone at night by yourself in any neighborhood you stay in.
  • Lifestyle. Initially I was going to stipulate noise but realized that people travel for all kinds of reasons. Know why you’re traveling and for what reasons. Find neighborhoods that fit those needs. For example, our recent trip to Europe was for leisure with just the two of us. We weren’t traveling for any specific event nor did we want to be near any local and noisy attraction. Our goal was to find well-established neighborhoods to get a good look and feel for what it could be like to live in each city we visited. On the contrary, I could have planned a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and booked an Airbnb on Bourbon St. I would be hard pressed to find a quiet space for meditation. Instead, I would find myself in the heart of a giant party — full of music, drinking and noise.
  • Mise-en-scène. This suggestion is for after the reservation has been made with your host. At the time of confirmation, your host should have provided an exact address to the location. Do yourself and your party a favor and practice some light internet stalking of your potential Airbnb location. Copy the address into Google Maps and access Street View. Locate your Airbnb location and get a feel for what surrounds it. Find where the nearest public transportation stop is, where groceries are found, and check the distances from regional airports.

Do: Review Airbnb’s cancellation policy and Guest Refund Policy.

This is from personal experience: Even with research and due diligence on my part to ensure a good reservation, we’ve come across a couple listings where we’ve had to cancel or modify on the spot. Knowing what kind of cancellation policy the host has set up will help you know which kind of action to take in order to make for a smooth cancellation and/or refund. Hosts must specify which kind of cancellation policy they follow. This will be found in the original post. If your plans are not as concrete, try and reserve with hosts that follow a Flexible cancellation policy. Any other policy and you will more than likely lose money if you cancel the reservation.

But alas, let us say that you are in a similar position as I was this past August: An incorrectly described listing that you want to cancel and receive a refund for. Be sure to read up on Airbnb’s Guest Refund Policy (I’ll conveniently refer to it now as GRP).

A couple of important things I learned from having to enable this policy:

  • Try and resolve with your host first. Contact your host ASAP if you are unhappy or unsatisfied with your reservation. Trust me, it’s less of a headache if you and your host can resolve any issue without having to involve Airbnb. (This would include potential refunds!)
  • Allow for at least 8 hours for your host to reply and try to resolve your issue. If they do not respond to your request by that time, contact Airbnb…pronto. Airbnb gives you up to the initial 24 hours of your reservation to report a problem in order to enact the GRP.
  • Document, document, document. List out exact and objective reasons for your dissatisfaction with your reservation. These are used to bring before Airbnb as to your reasons for the refund. Take photographs and video if possible to help supplement your request.

I learned through this process that you don’t actually receive a refund when you activate this policy initially. Airbnb will only change your reservation dates to reflect your new request. One must open a refund request with the host first. If the host declines your request, then and only then, may you request that Airbnb step in as a third party to oversee and make a final judgement as to the nature of the request between host and guest. Which I ended up having to do. And waited…

And waited…

And waited. Here’s a breakdown of that interaction:

  • I initially opened the GRP on August 28th and it was finally resolved on September 14th. With a total of 18 days.
  • I had three community experts try to assist me prior to speaking with a dedicated Airbnb Agent. (Airbnb uses this as a way to divert unsatisfied users from their core support team and reconciliation by basically highlighting their FAQs all over again.)
  • My case was transferred to a total of three separate case managers during it’s 18-day length. Only one of the three agents actually called me. She was surprisingly very helpful until the end of the call when, ironically, she told me that she was going on vacation and would transfer me to yet another case worker…😭
  • After waiting for one full week when I first opened the case and after not hearing back, I resorted to Twitter in order to inquire about the nature of my case.
  • After two weeks I had to follow up in email when my second case manager promised to call me and failed to do so in order to resolve my issue.

Looking back now, it was a terrible and annoying ordeal. I work in customer success and I was extremely shocked/disappointed to find how low Airbnb’s customer support is. My experience is that they place many hurdles in front of the user to jump over before speaking with a representative. This only fuels the well-established stress and angst in the meantime.

I’ve booked 9 reservations with Airbnb and I have had issues with 2 of them. This is a 78% success rate in booking which I consider high. But knowing that there’s a 22% chance of failure means a possible two and half week long and drawn out headache for a possible refund and resolution. This only serves to remind me the importance of making sure I am properly researching my listing, the area that it resides in, checking up on the hosts cancellation policy, and more importantly, learning from my past trials and tribulations.

Happy booking y’all…

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