Over the past 4 months I’ve been travelling through Europe and I’ve been doing it on a pretty strict budget. So far the main cost has been transport due to the quick nature of the travel I’ve been undertaking, but accommodation costs have come in a close second. For both Susan and I, I’ve been trying to keep accommodation costs for Western Europe at around $60 per night and slightly lower in some of the cheaper countries such as Spain, Hungary and Greece.
So far $60 has been achievable in almost all places I’ve been including Paris. In Luxembourg City, I ended up paying about $37 per person for a dorm room, but that was cheap compared to anything else available. The reason I’ve been able to keep costs down on accommodation is primarily due to AirBnB.
The first apartment I chose was in Paris and I got it for $52 per night. Small studio, washing machine, tiny kitchen, sofa bed, wifi. I thought it was a fantastic deal and meeting the owner was pretty simple even after a long flight from Indonesia.
The next place was a funky studio in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Fast wifi, washing machine, small kitchen, loft style bed and decent bathroom. The cost of that was just under $60 per night and again it was a great deal!
The best deal we got was in Budapest where we got a great studio for about $35 per night with all the amenities of the other places we’d stayed in. We were over the moon and by this stage could not say a bad word about AirBnB.
But as we moved further east, we started having more problems finding people who were willing to accept our bookings. “What do mean by accepting the bookings”, I hear you ask. Well, when you book on AirBnB, the owner of the apartment has to approve the booking before it is confirmed (unless it’s an Instant Book place which close to 0% are). This is usually not a problem, but as we moved into Greece, Turkey and Georgia, we found that the majority of places we booked were declined. That is, we reserved the room and some hours later (sometimes the next day) the host decided to tell us it was unavailable.
The AirBnB system has a calendar for each property listed. Apartment owners are supposed to manage this calendar carefully so that their rooms only appear on days that they are available. And herein lies the problem with AirBnB — owners are seemingly not managing their calendars properly OR screening their potential customers after they book. I actually think in my case the apartments were already full, but the owners just hadn’t bothered to update their calendars. I noticed a couple of bookings I made didn’t get a response at all until I enquired further with a direct email asking what was going on, despite the owner having logged into AirBnB to see my booking. They simply did not respond despite knowing I needed a room and there was no consequence for them doing that. For me the consequence in both instances was that it was too late by that stage to stuff around with AirBnB and I just had to go and get a hotel room from Booking.com
This is a big deal. When you are travelling like I do, you book your accommodation one maybe two days in advance meaning that when you make a booking, you need to be able to know that you have a room when you arrive in your next city. When I use Booking.com or Hostelworld.com, there are no ifs or buts. You plug your credit card details in and get instant confirmation. With AirBnB, you plug you credit card details in, they pre-authorise a few hundred bucks and then you wait for the owner to decide whether they want you or not — and they have 24 hours to decide.
Why? Why do owners have the ability to accept and reject clients? If I were a hotel and I rejected clients after they had booked, I’d receive all sorts of complaints but with AirBnB there is no recourse. There is no feedback mechanism such as Tripadvisor to air your grievances on. Owners can just fob you off and complicate your travel plans without a worry in the world. And that is bad for the customer and consequently bad for AirBnB.
AirBnB counters this by recommending that you contact multiple owners prior to booking and asking them if their place is available. I’ve done that and it feels like your begging for a place to stay.
I’m actually going to wind back my use of AirBnB for the rest of my trip as I just can’t be bothered with the hassle of the rejections. And when you’re staying in cheaper cities, the advantage of AirBnB sometimes dissipates anyway.
In my view, this is one area in which AirBnB is far inferior compared to sites like Booking.com. If they can fix this problem up, I’ll be back to booking with them again and raving about how great an alternative it is to booking a hotel room. What do you think about AirBnB? Great experiences? Any poor ones? I’d love to hear about them!