When you want to book a vacation rental that’s right for you, having a large selection to choose from is a huge advantage. Airbnb is the most popular network for booking accommodation in people’s properties these days.
While there are several other sites offering a similar service, it appears that Airbnb has the largest selection.
If you want the room or house to fit your budget, your preferred part of the city and your aesthetic taste, among other things, you want to have as many options as possible.
On the other hand, the huge number of search results in some cities can be overwhelming and rather confusing. The process of sorting through so many options is seriously time consuming.
A couple of years ago, I was in London and had to book accommodation for the next part of my trip – Japan. It took me long hours to find the best place to stay that also fit my budget. While I was very happy with the room I booked, it felt like I should have spent my time enjoying London instead.
If you’re searching for accommodation on Airbnb for your next destination while you’re already on your trip, spending so much time on the internet instead of exploring your current destination isn’t much fun.
Since I like to have a lot of options to choose from, but I don’t like to spend so much time and energy on making the right decision, I made a checklist of the things to look for in an Airbnb search. Then I developed a nice workflow based on that checklist.
The idea is to narrow down the results systematically until you find the most suitable rentals for you. This post will guide you step by step on how to do that, and I’ll also tell you how to get a discount and travel credit for your Airbnb reservations. This is how it’s done:
Create an account
You want to create an account in order to make reservations, and also just to be able to save potential listings to your wish list.
Airbnb has a nice “refer a friend” program that gives new customers a discount, while referrers get travel credit. It’s not done with a coupon code, but simply by following a link to register. If you join Airbnb with this link, you’ll get a discount when you make a reservation. Later you can refer others and receive travel credit in your account to use for your future reservations.
In the registration process, which is pretty quick, Airbnb will ask you to verify your email address and phone number. This will be useful in future to make communications between you and your hosts as easy as possible.
Pick a nice profile photo, preferably of you smiling, and describe yourself in a few words, so that potential hosts will get an idea about you.
Search with and without dates
The first factor to consider when you search on Airbnb is of course the availability of rentals on the dates you intend to travel on. On the Airbnb homepage, you’ll be asked to enter your destination and then the dates and number of guests.
If you have set dates for your visit, enter them in the initial search, and you’ll only see the results available on the relevant dates. However, if you are more flexible and don’t have concrete plans yet – leave the date fields blank and just click “search”. You can search without specifying the dates, and you will get a larger variety of rentals.
Limit the price
The next step in narrowing down your search results is to decide on the highest price you are willing to pay for your accommodation. Click “Price Range” and Airbnb will tell you what the average nightly price is in your destination.
This will give you an indication of what to expect, but if this figure seems too high, don’t let that discourage you. The advantage of using a popular site with a lot of choice is that you are very likely to find a place that does match your budget.
Under “Price Range”, move the sliding scale to the maximal price you can afford per night and click “apply”. In some cases, this will decrease the number of available results drastically. However, sometimes it won’t change a thing and you’ll still have hundreds of results to choose from. It depends on the destination and on your budget, naturally.
If you set a price that is considerably lower than the average nightly price, you may see a message saying there are only very few rentals left that match your criteria. Again, do not let that discourage you, because you may still find a great place to stay within your budget among those.
Select the room type
Airbnb allows you to choose between renting an entire home, a private room or a shared room. I have stayed in private rooms in people’s apartments several times and found it great.
The hosts tend to respect your privacy, but are also there to help you out and answer your questions on the city, provide maps and guidebooks, recommend restaurants and tell you where to find the nearest supermarket.
You can also receive such advice from your host if you book an entire home. I have booked entire flats a few times, and my hosts gave me a lot of information when we met on the first day. You can also be in touch with them online during your stay if you have more questions.
When you click on “more filters” you can also select the number of bedrooms, the number of beds and the number of bathrooms. If these are not important, you can ignore these filters.
Once you select your room type (you can choose more than one) and number of bedrooms, beds and bathrooms, you’ll see fewer search results. In some cases there’ll be no results that match the combination of room type and price range you picked earlier, so you’ll have to modify either at this stage.
Use the filters for amenities, facilities and house rules
To narrow down your search further, and to make sure you have everything you need in the flat you are about to book, click “more filters” and under “Amenities” click “see all amenities”.
This opens up a list of optional things that may come with the flat, such as a TV, WiFi, shampoo, air conditioning and so on. Select whatever you think is important. For me it is usually WiFi and a washing machine. It’s nice to have shampoo provided, but I can bring my own and wouldn’t want to hide potential results because of trivial things. WiFi, on the other hand, is essential.
It’s worth noting that a kitchen is not always included in your booking. For example, some homeowners do not allow guests to use the kitchen, and in some properties the kitchen may be in a separate part of the house and you may not have access to it. If you absolutely need a kitchen, tick that box under Amenities.
Below the Amenities section, also have a look at the “Facilities” section. Here you can tick elevator and free parking, if these are essential to you.
Further down you’ll find the House Rules filters, where you can select “Pets allowed”, “Smoking allowed” and “Suitable for events”. A note about smoking: some listings indicate that smoking is allowed, but specify that it is only allowed on the balcony or in the garden etc., so you want to pay attention to that in the contents of the listing itself.
These filters will narrow down your search even further and show you rentals that are more suitable to your needs. Next, you may want to choose the optimal location.
Choose a more specific location
Airbnb has a great feature that lets you search as you move on the map. You can turn this feature on or off. When it’s on, as you move around on the map or zoom in or out, you’ll see the rentals for the area shown on the map.
This can be useful in different ways. You may want a place close to the airport or to the central train station, or you may want to stay near a university or conference hall. Sometimes you may want to be close to the city centre and at other times you may prefer a residential neighbourhood which is quieter and lets you see what local life is like. This feature makes it easy to find a suitable rental if you have those kinds of specific needs and preferences.
I like to prepare a personal Google Map for each destination I’m going to visit, with attractions, restaurants and cafes, cool neighbourhoods to explore, the museums I want to go to and other information I gather while researching that destination.
It’s extremely useful to have a personal map when you walk around the city. If you make a map like that, you’ll be able to see clearly which parts of the city have the most interesting things for you, and search for an Airbnb rental in or near those parts of the city.
In each Airbnb listing, click the location tab and you’ll see the area on the map and the name of the street the property is on. On the map, if you click on “Public Transport” (top right) you’ll also see the transport lines nearby.
You can paste the street name into your personal Google Map of the city and see how far it is from the places you’d like to visit or to the city centre.
Some cities have no-go areas that are best avoided, or streets or parks that may be unpleasant to walk through at night. You want to do your homework about these. A simple web search will suffice. I normally mark those on my personal Google Map of the city.
The information on whether the area is safe is also likely to appear in the reviews section of the Airbnb listing, but not necessarily. As a female traveller, I look for reviews from other women, as they are more likely to tell you if the area feels safe. This leads us to the next step.
Look for useful info in the reviews
Once you’ve narrowed down your search results following the steps above, add some potential rentals to your wish list. I find that at this point the pictures determine what goes on my wish list. Then I read the descriptions carefully, but what’s most important in my opinion is to read the reviews.
When I write Airbnb reviews myself, I try to be as informative as possible, to help future guests. How long it takes to reach the nearest bus stop, for example, or how many restaurants and supermarkets are nearby. The things that visitors need to know.
Some reviews I’ve read were less informative, and it is quite common to find a review saying “The place is nice and the host is very friendly”. Skip those and look for the reviews that actually offer you useful bits of information that may be lacking in the listing itself.
- Is there a window in the room?
- Do you have to climb steep stairs to reach your bedroom?
- Does the air conditioning work?
- How clean is the bathroom?
- Is it noisy at night?
- How many people actually live in the house?
- Is the flat on the 7th floor without an elevator?
- Is the room as large as it appears in the photos?
- What’s the host like?
- How many reservations have been cancelled by the host?
What to check about the host
Apart from the info about the host that you can gather from the reviews, click on the host tab and you will see their profile. Some hosts write about themselves and some don’t. I wouldn’t rule out a host just because they didn’t describe themselves.
It’s important to look at the host’s response rate (100% would be nice!) and their response time (some respond within an hour, which is great).
You can filter your results to see only rentals by Superhots. These are hosts with a lot of experience, a high response rate, at least 80% five star reviews, and they rarely cancel reservations. You’ll find this under “more filters”.
More things to consider
Instant Booking: You can choose to see only listings that offer “Instant Booking”, meaning you do not need to wait for the host to approve your application. If you’re in a hurry, this can save time.
Cleaning fee and deposit: Some listings add a cleaning fee to your payment, while others don’t. The same goes for deposits. It’s up to you to decide whether you consider these payments reasonable.
Check-in and check-out times: There are different things to consider here. If you are going to stay at somebody’s house, the check-in time may be dependent on their schedule, especially their work hours. If your flight lands in the middle of the night, make sure you find a host who is flexible enough.
Some hosts will not meet you in person to give you the keys, but will make sure someone else is in the house to meet you. I once stayed at an Airbnb where I was given a code to a safe box which contained the keys. This should appear in the listing as “self check-in”.
As for check-out times, make sure they are convenient for you. You can also ask the host if you can leave your baggage in the house after check-out and pick it up later.
Host language: Under “more filters”, you can filter search results by the languages spoken by the host. This may be useful if it’s important to you to have a proper conversation with your host, or if you’re travelling to learn a language.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t let this limit my search, because the site uses automatic translation. The listings, the reviews and the communications between guests and hosts can be translated in one click. It’s machine translation (so sometimes funny), but it’s good enough.
How to make a booking on Airbnb
The booking process is easy and user friendly. On the page of your chosen rental, enter the dates and the number of guests in the boxes on the right. You’ll get a calculation of the rent, cleaning fee or deposit (if any) and the Airbnb service fee.
Click “book” and on the next page, send a short message to your host. Then the host has 24 hours to accept or decline your request. Listings that offer “Instant Booking” let you skip this approval process and simply book.
Once approved, your credit card will be charged and you can then contact your host through the messaging system on the Airbnb website to arrange the check-in or ask any questions.
It is recommended to communicate only through the website or app, so that in case something goes wrong and you may need to request a refund, Airbnb will have a record of all communications between you and your host.
All the above in ten steps:
- Create an account – join Airbnb with this link to get your Airbnb discount
- Search with and without dates
- Limit the price
- Select the room type and the number of rooms and beds
- Use the filters for amenities, facilities and house rules
- Choose the optimal location
- Look for useful info in the reviews
- Check details about the host
- Consider the host’s language, the instant booking option, cleaning fees and deposit and check-in and check-out times
- Make your booking 🙂
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