Reviews

Everyone Uses Airbnb. But Should They?

From beachside homes to tiny houses to castles, Airbnb offers a wide range of vacation rentals, plus an intuitive platform and easy booking process. But is it the best choice for guests to book accommodation?
Catherine Hiles Avatar
Airbnb Review
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Since getting its start in the late 2000s, Airbnb has quickly become a go-to for many travelers looking for a place to stay while they explore new places. Through the website or app, customers can search for listings in specific areas or browse by property type. There are listings for just about anyone, from single travelers to large families, and even pet owners. Airbnb has millions of hosts and users around the world, but does it live up to the hype?

To put Airbnb to the test, I booked a 4-night trip for myself and my family (two adults and two children). I found the entire process to be simple and efficient, from booking to check-in to host communication. Read on for a full review of Airbnb.

See more of the best rental listing sites and the best vacation rental sites.

At a Glance

Airbnb

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Specs

  • Types of rentals: Entire home, private room, shared room, hotel room
  • Listing categories: Type of place, price, accessibility, amenities, facilities, house rules
  • Number of listings: 5.6 million
  • Mobile app: iOS, Android
  • Cancellation policy: Determined by host
  • Customer support: Phone, in app

Pros

  • Over 5 million listings worldwide
  • Streamlined browsing
  • Ideal for short-term or vacation properties thanks to flexible booking dates
  • Guests can book experiences through the site

Cons

  • Occasionally confusing cancellation policy

Our Verdict: Airbnb is the go-to platform for unfussy vacation or short-term rental booking, and for a good reason: With millions of listings around the world, unique stays and experiences, and a seamless booking experience among many other features, Airbnb as a platform leaves little to be desired. Its monopoly in the short-term rental industry isn’t just justified, but is expected to continue thanks to innovative ways in encouraging guests to explore not just the accommodations, but also the world. SPECSPROSCONS

What Is Airbnb? What Does Airbnb Stand For?

Airbnb was founded by Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk, and Joe Gebbia—three friends from San Francisco who, one day in 2007, hosted three strangers on air mattresses in their apartment for a design conference. According to Blecharczyk, “Our guests arrived as strangers, but they left as our friends.” The experience sparked an idea for a new type of company that would offer travelers an alternative to traditional bed and breakfasts or hotels for short-term stays.

The name Airbnb stands for AirBedandBreakfast.com, which was the company’s original name when it was founded by the three friends a year later, in 2008. The name referred to the original idea of guests staying on air mattresses. The name was shortened to Airbnb in 2009 to move away from the air mattress reference, as many listings by then were for rooms or entire residences with permanent beds. Since then, Airbnb has grown to several million listings, including private homes, rooms, boutique hotels, and camping experiences. Additionally, guests can book unique experiences through Airbnb, such as food tours, boat trips, goat yoga, or cooking lessons, to make the most of their time away from home—and homebound customers can even book online experiences if they prefer. As of 2022, Airbnb is worth close to $72 billion, which shows how popular the service is with travelers around the world. In fact, it’s a household name and all but the go-to for many booking accommodations for their travels.

Airbnb Review OMG_ Category
Photo: airbnb.com / Catherine Hiles

Airbnb for Guests: How Does It Work?

Guests can use Airbnb to search for short-term rentals in a specific location. Alternatively, they can search by type of property to find options in the areas they are looking to travel to. Airbnb has the option to enter specific travel dates, either before searching or once the guest has found a place that fits their requirements. After entering the travel dates, guests will see the total price for their stay and have the ability to reserve the home for their preferred dates.

When searching for properties to book for a trip, guests can easily view each property’s location on a map. The exact location is not shared until after booking, but the guest can get an idea of the property’s approximate location to determine whether it’s in a convenient spot. Guests can simultaneously view photos of each property while looking at the map rather than needing to toggle back and forth, which makes for a more seamless experience.

Airbnb Review Homepage
Photo: airbnb.com / Catherine Hiles

While many customers use Airbnb for short-term rentals during their vacations, the company also has long-term rental options. Long-term rentals are required to have kitchens, washers, dryers, and work spaces, as well as a reliable Wi-Fi connection. Airbnb only lists its top inventory as long-term rentals, and it offers a discount of up to 20 percent for guests who stay in a long-term listing for 28 nights or more.

Guests can read reviews on Airbnb for each property to see what previous guests have had to say about their stays. Reviews written by previous guests can help guests identify any potential red flags that aren’t evident from the property description and photos, such as an unreliable Wi-Fi connection or an abundance of traffic noise from a nearby road. A few poor reviews out of hundreds is to be expected, but it can be reassuring for potential guests to see how the hosts of each property respond to negative feedback and whether they are willing to work with their guests to make things right. Guests will also be able to leave reviews for the property and the host after their trip, and hosts can review guests as well.

Every guest that books a stay through Airbnb will receive AirCover, which includes booking guarantee protection, a check-in guarantee, a “get-what-you-booked” guarantee, and access to a 24-hour safety line. This helps guests feel more confident that their stay will be a safe and positive one.

Airbnb Review AirCover
Photo: airbnb.com / Catherine Hiles

How Does Airbnb Work for Hosts?

Airbnb wouldn’t work without hosts, and the company tries to make it as simple as possible for people to list their homes on the website. Hosts are asked to meet certain requirements for each of their listings, including the following:

  • Responsiveness. Hosts are expected to respond to booking requests and inquiries within 24 hours.
  • Acceptance of bookings. Airbnb discourages hosts from declining booking requests unless their property is unavailable during the guest’s scheduled trip.
  • Low cancellation percentage. A host who cancels a trip is much more likely to receive negative reviews. Having a trip canceled, whether it’s with advance notice or last-minute, can be extremely frustrating and inconvenient for guests.
  • High review ratings. Because guests place such importance on the reviews of former guests, Airbnb wants to see hosts with an overall high rating.
Airbnb Review Hosting Resources
Photo: airbnb.com / Catherine Hiles

Airbnb provides numerous resources designed to help hosts meet these goals; those wondering “What is it like to be an Airbnb host?” also have the opportunity to ask questions from a Superhost (hosts that have at least a 4.8-star rating, 10 or more stays, a less than 1 percent cancellation rate, and a 90 percent or higher response rate). Top hosting preparation tips from Airbnb hosts include staying on top of communication with guests, clearly stating house rules in the listing, and offering suggestions to guests about places to visit in the area during their stay.

Depending on the host’s location, there may be legal or regulatory issues to take into account before listing their property on Airbnb. Some cities or municipalities require a permit or license in order for someone to list their property and host guests. Because Airbnb has listings all over the world, these legalities can vary wildly from place to place. Therefore, Airbnb strongly encourages potential hosts to review their local laws and regulations before listing their property on the website.

Once a host has listed their property on the site, they will need to add as much information about the property as possible, including plenty of photos, to entice potential guests to stay at their place over a nearby place. Airbnb provides hosts with AirCover insurance coverage, which includes $1 million in liability insurance, $1 million in damage protection, pet damage protection, deep cleaning protection, income loss protection, and a 14-day window in which hosts can report damage. This can be reassuring for those who are considering hosting guests in their home through Airbnb but are nervous about their property sustaining damage or about personally being sued by a guest.

Hosts can manage their bookings from the Airbnb website and use the messaging function to communicate with guests without providing their personal details. There are several ways for hosts to receive payments, including bank transfers, PayPal, Payoneer Prepaid Debit Cards, and Western Union; the exact methods can vary depending on the host’s location. Hosts will receive payment 24 hours after their guest’s scheduled check-in time.

Airbnb Fees and Booking Costs

What are Airbnb’s fees and costs? In addition to the per-night cost of the accommodation, guests will be required to pay a cleaning fee, a service fee, and taxes. Cleaning fees are designed to cover the cost of cleaning the property after the guest has left and will vary from host to host. Service fees are set by Airbnb and are either split between the host and guest or paid in full by the host. If split, guests will pay 14.2 percent or less of the total booking amount (less Airbnb fees and taxes), and hosts will pay around 3 percent. Host-only service fees tend to range between 14 and 16 percent of the booking subtotal. The total taxes paid will depend on the location of the property. Since Airbnb has hosts in more than 220 countries, it’s recommended that guests check the tax requirements before booking. Guests from some countries will be required to pay value added tax, or VAT, on their booking in addition to the local taxes in the host’s location.

Guests may encounter some additional fees, including an extra guest fee and a security deposit; however, not all hosts charge these fees. Extra guest fees may be added once the reservation exceeds a certain number of guests. Some hosts may charge a security deposit; these hosts are required to clearly communicate the terms and conditions of the deposit to the guest during the booking process. Hosts who do not have security deposit requirements will need to go through Airbnb’s Resolution Center to request reimbursement from a guest who causes damage during a stay.

Are Airbnbs Safe?

Safety is a legitimate concern while traveling, and especially for guests who are staying in the home of a stranger rather than in a hotel. Many people ask, “Is Airbnb safe for hosts and guests?” Airbnb recognizes this concern and takes it seriously through several safety measures.

The company uses predictive analytics and machine learning to evaluate each listing for risk before allowing the host to list the property on the website. Airbnb also runs background checks on hosts and guests in the U.S., and checks them against regulatory, terrorist, and sanctions watchlists globally. Guests can also report listings through the website and app if they are offensive, appear to be a scam, or are inaccurate or incorrect. Additionally, Airbnb’s AirCover protection includes a 24-hour safety line that guests can use to call specially trained agents if they ever feel unsafe during their stay.

To help promote safety within each host property, Airbnb offers safety workshops to hosts to encourage them to share important local information with guests. The company will also give a free smoke and carbon monoxide detector to any host who wants one. Guests can double-check the listing information to see whether the property has features such as a smoke alarm, fire extinguisher, or home security system.

Airbnb Review Safety
Photo: airbnb.com / Catherine Hiles

Airbnb Reviews

Airbnb generally receives mixed reviews for its platforms. The app has an overall rating of 4.8 out of 5 on the Apple App Store and 4.5 on Google Play. Reviewers liked the fact that the app is intuitive and easy to use, though some customers reported negative experiences with hosts and difficulty in reaching a customer service representative. Airbnb has a relatively low overall rating of 1.4 out of 5 on Trustpilot with customers reporting problems with hosts and last-minute cancellations; however, others reported positive experiences with hosts and customer service. The company has a rating of 3.1 out of 5 on Consumer Affairs, again with some customers reporting poor experiences with their hosts and Airbnb customer service and others reporting the opposite.

When reading reviews on these sites, it’s important for customers to remember that people are typically more likely to leave a review after a negative experience than a positive one, so they will want to take these reviews with a grain of salt rather than solely relying on them to make a decision. Furthermore, it’s important to make the distinction between reviews for individual hosts and Airbnb as a company, as they are not the same entity.

Putting Airbnb to the Test

I used Airbnb to book a 4-day trip to northern Michigan with my spouse and our two young children during our summer vacation. Having used Airbnb for past trips, I had a good understanding of how to use the platform to search for the perfect place for me and my family to stay during part of our summer vacation. I was looking for a 2-bedroom home with simple furnishings and no stairs or other hazards for my children to fall down or trip over. It would also need to have a fully equipped kitchen to allow us to cook our own meals to save money, and a bathroom with a tub since my son isn’t quite at shower age yet. Finally, I wanted a place located near Mackinac Island, since the main goal of our trip was to take the ferry over and spend a day on the island. Airbnb had several options that fit my needs; I was able to use the simple search function to find the perfect place, book it with a simple click, and communicate easily with the host through the app.

Searching for a Listing

There are two main ways to search for a listing on Airbnb. If you know the exact dates of your trip and the location where you want to stay, you can enter that information along with the number of guests and return dozens (or even hundreds) of listings that meet your basic criteria. If you’re flexible on date and location, you can browse categories such as “Lake,” “Cabins,” “Mansions,” and “Amazing Views.” There’s also the option to search by region or choose “I’m flexible” in the “Search destinations” text box. This is honestly a fun way to pass the time even if you’re not planning a trip—who doesn’t love looking at mansions or homes with phenomenal views in exotic locations? It also allows for a user to discover a new place—if the listing is enticing enough, who’s to say you wouldn’t plan a trip around staying at that place?

Since I knew our dates and location, I entered them in the search bar along with our number of guests and clicked “search.” The search results page showed 378 homes that matched my basic requirements. Airbnb organizes its search results by showing the listings on the left side of the screen and a map on the right side, so guests can see the approximate location of each property they’re considering. On the app, the map appears at the top of the screen and the listings on the bottom. From here, I used the filters to specify that I was looking for an entire place as opposed to a private or shared room, a minimum of two bedrooms, a kitchen, and Wi-Fi access. This narrowed down my results to 276 homes—still quite a few to sift through.

Airbnb Review Search Results
Photo: airbnb.com / Catherine Hiles

As guests scroll through the available listings, they’ll notice designations like “Superhost” and “Rare find,” which can help give them a better idea of the listings they might be interested in. Clicking on a listing will load a page with more detailed information about that listing, including photos, available amenities, and the cost to stay there. This is also where guests can read reviews of each listing and host. From the listing page, guests have the option to share the listing on social media or through a message or email, or they can save the listing to a wish list. If saving to a wish list, guests can create a new one or save to an existing one. I saved several of the listings from my search to a new wish list so I could revisit them later. I also sent a few listings to my spouse via text message so he could check them out at his leisure and let me know what he thought.

Booking a Stay

After we’d reviewed each listing in more detail as a family, we settled on a house located on a lakeside bluff with an unimpeded view of Lake Huron. The host was designated as a Superhost, which means they are experienced and have high ratings that show they are committed to providing guests with a positive experience while they are staying in their home. There were fewer reviews than I had seen on other listings, but the information about the home and the fact that the host had Superhost status made me feel confident that this would be a good place to stay.

Airbnb Review Listing
Photo: airbnb.com / Catherine Hiles

To book, guests first need to have an Airbnb account. For this, they’ll need to provide some personal information including a government ID, which Airbnb will use to confirm their identity and perform any necessary background checks. Some hosts require guests to have a verified government ID before they will be allowed to stay in their home; in this case, Airbnb will provide the host with the guest’s first name and verification status, but all other information will remain private.

Since I already had an Airbnb account, I was able to simply double-check the dates for my stay and click “Reserve.” That directed me to a confirmation page where I could once again confirm the dates and the number of guests, see the total cost for my stay including taxes and fees, and choose how to pay (either in full, or part now and part later). I chose to pay in full, though I appreciated having two options since it was quite a large amount of money to pay at once.

Airbnb Review Booking and Payment
Photo: airbnb.com / Catherine Hiles

After booking, I received a confirmation email and a separate email with my receipt within minutes. I also received a message from the host the next day, thanking me for my booking, asking if I had any questions prior to arrival, and telling me that they would be in touch prior to our arrival date with an amenities list. This was a nice touch that I wasn’t expecting.

During and After the Stay

About a week before our arrival date, I received an email from Airbnb reminding me of our check-in date. The email also included basic information about the property, including the address, check-in details, a list of amenities, and a link to click to message the host with any questions. Getting this information ahead of time was appreciated since it allowed me to plan our trip in advance rather than rushing to plan a route a day or two before we were due to leave.

On the morning of our check-in date, I messaged our host to ask if there were any last-minute details to know. I received a response quickly with some more information on how to locate the property and how to use the security system and the smart lock on the door. This was very helpful and allowed check-in to go very smoothly. When we arrived, the property was exactly as we expected it to be from the listing information and the photos. We enjoyed exploring the property and ventured down to the lake to collect rocks and watch the boats go by.

We didn’t have any issues with our stay, so there was no need to communicate with our host, but I felt confident that I would be able to send a message quickly and easily via the app if needed. After checking out, I messaged the host to say thank you for a wonderful stay and to let them know that we had checked out, and again received a fast response thanking me for choosing their property.

The same day, Airbnb emailed me asking me to leave a review for our host. Since we were driving 7 hours home, I wasn’t able to leave a review immediately. Later that day, I received another email informing me that the host had written a review for me and again prompting me to write a review in kind. The email told me that once I had written a review, I would be able to read the host’s review of me (or, alternatively, I could read the review after 2 weeks). I left a positive review of our stay and received an email with the details of the review the host wrote for me. In all, the review process was easy, and my review appeared on the site quickly.

Airbnb Review Listing Reviews
Photo: airbnb.com / Catherine Hiles

My overall experience with Airbnb was positive, from searching for properties to booking and staying. Both the Airbnb website and app are easy to use, and I appreciated that I was able to save my favorite listings to a wish list to review later and share my favorite listings with my spouse. I also appreciated Airbnb’s commitment to safety—while it might seem a little extreme for guests to be required to submit their government ID when creating an account, this helps Airbnb protect guests and hosts and keep them safer. Safety is a huge concern when traveling with my family, and booking with Airbnb has always been reassuring when it comes to our safety.

Airbnb Listing Reviews by Customers

How do Airbnb reviews work? Customers also have an opportunity to leave a review of a property after their stay. Those wondering how to leave a review on Airbnb will be glad to know that the company makes it extremely easy by sending email reminders once the stay has ended. These reviews can differ wildly depending on the property and the individual’s experience. It’s generally in the host’s best interest to provide the guest with a positive experience so they will leave a good review of their stay; the more positive reviews a property has, the more likely it is to get more bookings. Additionally, if a host’s overall score is 4.8 or above and they check some additional boxes, they can receive a Superhost designation, which means they have proven to be reliable, responsive, and trustworthy. Guest reviews can be a great way for potential future guests to gauge whether a property will fit their needs. Reading Airbnb host reviews and guest reviews can also help customers pinpoint potential pitfalls of a property that aren’t mentioned in the listing details, such as a lack of cell reception, limited cooking utensils, or an unhelpful or unresponsive host.

Hosts who receive a negative review from a guest can choose to respond to the review to thank the guest for their feedback and explain how they will or have addressed the guest’s concerns. This is a helpful way that hosts can show future guests that they take feedback seriously and care about their guests having a positive experience while staying at their property. Since there is no way for hosts to hide negative reviews on their listings, it’s in their best interest to respond in a friendly manner. Hosts may also choose to offer a full or partial refund if they think that is warranted.

If the host can prove that the guest violated a policy, such as revealing the exact location of the property, they may be able to get the review removed by contacting Airbnb customer service. Hosts can also report to Airbnb guests who were unruly, rude, or disrespectful of their property to help the company prevent future hosts from dealing with bad guests.

Hosts and guests who are wondering how to see their reviews on Airbnb simply need to log in to the website and go to the “Reviews” tab. Here, they’ll be able to see reviews they have received and written, as well as private feedback they have received from hosts or guests following a stay.

Sites Like Airbnb to Consider

Airbnb has somewhat of a monopoly on the vacation rental industry and is frequently named one of the best vacation rental sites, but there are some alternatives. One of the best known is Vrbo, which only offers private homes for rent with no options for shared or private rooms—this can be a pro or a con depending on the customer’s requirements. Similar to Airbnb’s wish list function, Vrbo offers trip boards where customers can save their favorite listings. Also like Airbnb, Vrbo customers can browse listings by categories, including beach homes, pet-friendly homes, and larger homes with three or more bedrooms. Because Vrbo only lists private homes, prices and fees may be higher than those on Airbnb.

Another option travelers might consider is to look at hotel-booking websites. Expedia and Booking.com reviews are generally positive, making these sites a good alternative to Airbnb or Vrbo. While hotels are very different from private vacation home rentals, they offer varied amenities that might suit some travelers’ needs better than those included in a private home stay, such as on-site restaurants and bars, exercise facilities, swimming pools, and concierge services. Staying at a hotel can be more full-service or partially inclusive than staying at an Airbnb property, which may be a better option depending on the traveler’s preferences.

Should You Book Through Airbnb?

With so many choices when it comes to vacation accommodations, why should someone choose Airbnb over one of its competitors? To start, Airbnb has a wide range of accommodation types, including private homes, shared or private rooms, campers or tents, bed and breakfasts, and boutique hotels. This means that there is a listing that will suit just about anyone, whether they’re looking to stay somewhere off the grid in a private cabin or in a shared home in the center of a big city.

The website and app’s functionality are also a positive feature, since customers can search for vacation homes in a variety of ways—or even just browse for fun if they have no intention of traveling.

Although reviews on third-party sites are mixed, customers can use Airbnb’s listing reviews to get a better idea of whether a home will suit their vacation requirements. Airbnb does not remove negative reviews unless the host can prove that the guest violated the website’s terms and conditions, so customers can feel confident that reviews are accurate and transparent when they’re browsing listings on Airbnb.

Overall, Airbnb offers an easy-to-use booking website and app with a humongous range of listings for customers to choose from. Although some guests may have negative experiences with hosts and properties, Airbnb does its best to make sure its listings are as accurate as possible and that guests and hosts are both treated with dignity and respect. In addition, the range of unique accommodations and experiences mean that guests can book a memorable vacation that they’ll be talking about for years to come.

We independently reviewed this service by weighing the company’s claims against first-hand experience with its professionals. However, due to factors such as franchising, human error, and more, please note that individual experiences with this company may vary.

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Catherine Hiles Avatar

Catherine Hiles

Senior Editor

Catherine Hiles is a senior editor for the Performance team at BobVila.com. She brings a decade of experience writing, editing, and publishing in a variety of different industries, from home and automotive to finance and travel.

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