I’ve booked myself several stays on airbnb, a website that lets you rent rooms, apartment, and houses from locals around the world. And using the three tips in this post, I’ve saved over $3,000 on airbnb.
I prefer airbnb to hotels because it is almost always cheaper, you have more options for neighborhood on airbnb, and apartments have more space and amenities than hotels (like kitchens.)
My brother and I loved our airbnb apartments in Hong Kong and Seoul last month. We averaged about $100 per night to stay in two of the most happening neighborhoods, far away from the sterile locations of the business hotels. Plus we had our own bedrooms, and the use of kitchens.
For people into the miles game, you can redeem Barclaycard Arrival miles for free airbnb stays. My brother knocked $500 off the price of our airbnb stay with his Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®.
- What three tips have saved me over $3,000 on airbnb?
You do not have to accept the price offered on airbnb. You can send the host a counter-offer and start a negotiation. The longer your intended stay, the bigger per-night discount you should request.
I’m in Atlanta right now, so let me give an example from Atlanta. This looks like a very nice apartment downtown, with a listed price of $125 per night.
If I were interested in the apartment, I would NOT click the red Request to Book button on the right side of the page. Doing so would require me to input my credit card information, and I’d be on my way to paying the list price.
Instead, I would scroll to the bottom of the listing and click Contact Host.
I send a quick message emphasizing how good of a guest I am (reference any positive reviews you have on the site), how much I like the place, how long I am staying, and then I request to pay a certain amount total for my stay.
Here’s a message I recently sent to a host in Bogota, Colombia:
I’m a Hawaiian guy [Scott: people like people from Hawaii and other places they’ve heard of, so I always include it] coming to Bogota for 15 days to meet up with a friend, and I want to stay in your apartment because it looks like a really comfortable and secure place.
I’m contacting you about a discount since I am coming for 15 days. I would like to pay $700 total. Maybe you’d be interested in such a deal because of the length of my stay and my positive reviews on airbnb.
Another owner offered me this price, but I prefer your apartment. [Scott: consider including whether true or not.]
Looking forward to hearing from you.
The place was listed for about $1,050 for 15 nights, and I offered $700. The host countered with an offer of $750, which shows up in your message history with a red Book It button. I accepted, knocking $300 off the price of my stay.
2. Slip the host your contact info
Even with the $750 offer from the host, I still paid $832 all in after the “service fees” that airbnb tacks on. That’s about 11% airbnb got from me, and I hear that hosts get about 3% less than the headline number ($750.)
That’s a big amount of fees that excluding airbnb from the transaction can save. There are reasons NOT to exclude airbnb:
- Protections: Airbnb has host and renter protections. I am not sure exactly what they are honestly. If I am renting a place with tons of positive reviews (scroll down to the bottom of the page), I am not too worried about these protections. Certainly they aren’t worth 14% to me.
- Ethics: Airbnb provided a service by aggregating many places for you to see or by showing your place to many potential renters, so cutting them out of their fees is unethical.
But if you want to exclude airbnb from the transaction, you can pass your contact details to a host.
Airbnb tries to stop you. Its computer can detect phone numbers, email addresses, and websites, and it will block them from messages between people on the site until after you strike a rental deal through airbnb.
If you’re clever, you can get around the block by adding your phone number, WhatsApp number, Skype, or email address to a message to a potential host. Here’s what I added to the end of my message when contacting someone on airbnb in Buenos Airest last year about a five-month rental:
You +18 can 08 contact 26 me 22 here 1 or 44 on WhatsApp. (My number is in that sentence.)
Now if they prefer to contact me and negotiate a fee-free deal, they can. In the end, an apartment that was listed at $1,800 per month, we got for $1,200 per month, which saved us $3,000 over the course of the stay.
3. Search for the Host’s Contact Info Online
Similarly you can search for your host’s contact info online on sites other than airbnb that might allow you to negotiate a deal without fees.
On my same Bogota search, I saw an apartment with the listed owner as “Colombia Cool Apartments” or something similar instead of a person. I googled that company name, and found they had listings on other sites that listed a phone number. I called up and negotiated a few hundred dollars off the price of their airbnb listing.
Even more useful is a tip that reader Brian gave me at Chicago Seminars this weekend. Google image search one of the images on any listing. (Here’s how.) This will show you if the photo is anywhere else on line, likely on another rental site or on a craigslist post with contact info.
Airbnb is amazing and a big part of my cheapskate lodging strategy. I plan to use it many times over the next 6-9 months for rentals ranging from a few weeks to a few months across South America and Europe.
But I don’t plan on paying full price.
Bonus 4th Way to Save: Pay Your Airbnb Stay in the Local Currency to Save