Airbnb User’s Guide: The Booking Checklist

Paris Airbnb Booking
One of our Paris Airbnb bookings

David and I are Airbnb booking superusers.

We’ve booked over 23 Airbnb rentals, some a night or two and several for over a month. Three of those rentals haven’t worked out, the rest have received four or five-star reviews from us.

One of the biggest advantages of using Airbnb so often is we’ve learned what to look for and what to avoid. That being said, we still sometimes find ourselves with a bad rental or host.

Because we get so many questions from family and friends on our Airbnb usage, we decided to share what we’ve learned in a three-part series.

Why We Use Airbnb Instead of Hotels

Pisa, Airbnb booking
Our Pisa, Italy Airbnb booking came complete with an excellent hostess Tiziana and Winston the cat.

The biggest reason we use Airbnb instead of hotels is because it’s more authentic. We live with and meet the local people, shop at the local stores and eat at the local restaurants. We clean our “own” place, cook dinner at home and get a real feel for what it would be like to truly live in the location.

Another big reason is that we have a housing budget. By spending less on housing, we have more to spend on other things. Booking through Airbnb is often cheaper than a hotel, especially when you book for a month or more at a time.

We also like having options. With a hotel, you get a hotel room or suite. With Airbnb, you can book anything from a tent or a camper to a city-center flat or an 8-bedroom mansion on a private island, complete with staff.

The Checklist We Use to Choose Our Airbnb Booking

Our Trevi, Umbria, Italy Airbnb Booking
David unlocking our Airbnb booking in Trevi, Umbria, Italy.

Since we haven’t visited most of the places we go, a lot of research and a little luck go into finding the “right” place. We also have a laundry list of items we like to check off, before choosing a listing. This list is in no particular order. All the points are important for choosing a booking.

Here’s our checklist for choosing our Airbnb bookings:

1. Figure Out Where You Want to Stay

Where do you want to stay and why? Answering these questions helps you to find your perfect neighborhood. We prefer quiet nights, a decently central location and closeness to public transportation. As a result, we usually pick middle-class neighborhoods with families, on the outside of downtown areas. Once you answer the where and why go online and read up on the different neighborhoods in the city you are visiting. Look for honest reviews including both the pros and the cons of each area to help make an educated decision on what works for you.

2. Look at the Host’s Profile

You wouldn’t pick an internet date without a nice profile, so why would you choose an Airbnb host without a complete, informative profile? Better hosts offer more information about themselves. We only choose ones with all five forms of verified ids. A descriptive profile is reassuring because the host is willing to share about him/herself. This is especially helpful when a host doesn’t have any or many reviews.

3. Read Listing Reviews

Reviews are one of the easiest ways to pick an Airbnb booking. We prefer bookings with ratings of four stars or more. Unfortunately, this often rules out new listings for us. We understand that everyone has to start somewhere and some new places are fantastic, but most of our worst stays have come from places with little to no reviews.

Reading reviews from fellow travelers not only gives us insight on the booking but also to the neighborhood, such as noise, quality of the internet, safety and cleanliness.

Be open-minded when reading reviews. Every place is not for everyone. If it’s mostly good reviews, the place is probably okay to stay. But do read the bad ones because you might find something that makes the place not work for you. Also, notice how the host responses to a bad review. If they insult the person making the complaint, you probably don’t want to stay with this host. A polite explanation is always best.

4. Cost

While we wish we had an unlimited budget, we don’t. Using Airbnb gives us a list of places with a range of prices. Quite often our Airbnb bookings cost half or less than that of a hotel room. And the longer you stay, generally, more affordable it gets. We are usually able to book the monthly rate for less than a three-week rate. 4. Amenities

5. Amenities

Included amenities save you time, money, suitcase space and headaches. Choose a unit that offers the things you need and/or want for your stay. Our “Must Have List” is internet, kitchen, essentials, bath towels, sheets, cleaning supplies, a roll of toilet tissue to get us started and a washer. The “Would Like to Have List” includes hairdryer, hangers, an oven and a dryer.

6. Host Communication

We highly recommend contacting your potential host before you book. We’ve found that hosts who are willing to communicate and answer your questions before you have booked, tend to be excellent hosts. And notice if the host actually answers your questions not just replies to you. We refuse to book places where the host does not answer our questions because it’s a sign they aren’t paying attention to details.

Don’t be afraid to ask for more photos, details about the listing, even recommendations for restaurants or how to use the public transportation. Good hosts are there to help.

Also, notice if a host gives you multiple contact options, such as Whatsapp, Skype, Facetime, texting, email or phone calls. More is better.

When communicating with a host, please be polite. Give a host time to respond. Most will get back to you as quickly as possible, but they do have a life outside of you and can’t always respond immediately.

7. Photos and Description

Photos are very important for choosing a listing. We refuse to take listings without photos showing the entire place and preferably the outside. No photo of the bathroom? What is wrong with the bathroom? If you like what you see but something is not shown well enough, ask the host for more photos.

Pay attention to the description details. Don’t make assumptions about those details. If you aren’t clear about something, ask questions.

Once, we booked a listing in Lisbon, Portugal. The description said “three floor” and didn’t mention or show any stairs. The reviews didn’t mention any stairs. Since English was not his first language, we assumed he meant “on the third floor.” The unit actually was on three floors with narrow stairs, with the bedroom on the first floor and the bathroom on the top. We don’t blame the host at all. This is the common floor layout in Lisbon. It was our fault for assuming what we thought he meant and not asking for more clarification.

And that rounds up our whys and hows we choose our Airbnb bookings. Hopefully, this helps make choosing an Airbnb listing easier.

Oh, a quick disclaimer before we go. Airbnb did not ask us to write this post, nor are we receiving any compensation for writing this. We just enjoy using Airbnb and hope to help you have a great experience if you choose to use them. If you would like to help out our travels, you can signup for Airbnb using our referral link and we will receive a credit on our future reservations.

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