The One Killer Message to Get Big Discounts on Airbnb

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I spend a lot of my time in Airbnb apartments, so saving money on each rentals adds up for me. I’ve discussed tips to save money on Airbnb before including:

  1. Right now, if you sign up for Airbnb through my referral link, you’ll get $27 off your first stay, and I’ll get $27 off my next stay. Feel free to leave your referral link in the comments.
  2. Consummating the deal off of Airbnb to avoid 12%+ fees.
  3. Negotiating a lower price with the host.

In this post, I’ll share the exact message that I send to get the lowest price possible.

Timing of the Message

I send the following message as close to my intended stay as possible. This aligns with my goal of getting an adequate apartment in a great location (defined by where I want to spend my time in the area) for a great price. If your goal, instead, is to get the one perfect apartment, book as far in advance as possible.

For the last four Airbnb stays, I have emailed hosts three weeks, two weeks, four days, and one day before arrival. For my next two stays, I will email hosts two days in advance. I think 1-3 days before arrival is a sweet spot when the host is getting very nervous his apartment will be unoccupied (earning $0), but you still have time to get responses and make a decision.

How Many Messages to Send

I make my search, like the sample search below for an upcoming week in Sarajevo. Then I apply my filters. I only want to stay in an “Entire home/apt,” and I require internet. The rest is negotiable.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.21.40 PMThen I apply a map filter, so I only see properties in the part of town where I want to be.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.22.28 PM

Then I slide the price range to only show me the cheaper half of the available places.
Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.21.52 PMUsually a few days in advance, I am not left with many choices. In Sarajevo, four days from now, in the part of the map I checked, there are 24 listings left.
Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.22.44 PM

I probably only want to message 10-15 hosts, so at this point I can make the map smaller until I get down to 10-15.

Then I open each apartment listing, and scroll down to click Contact Host.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 8.41.24 AMThat’s right–I don’t bother looking at photos, reviews, or descriptions. There is time for that later if the owner comes down on price.

The Message

Here’s exactly what I sent to my host in Dubrovnik whose apartment was listed at 798 euros ($882) for a week.

Aloha,

I am a Hawaiian guy who is traveling for four months po bivšoj Jugoslaviji to learn hrvatski.

I will be in Dubrovnik one week, starting tomorrow (5 July) when my bus arrives around 18:30. Your place caught my eye since it’s in the old town.

Would you be willing to go 450 euros from 5 to 12 July since it’s last minute? If so, send me an offer, so I can accept it. 🙂 I’m a good guest: quiet, no smoking, clean.

Scott

Let’s break down why I wrote what I wrote:

First, it’s short and to the point. As someone who gets a lot of emails, I appreciate that, and I know she will.

Second, I state the exact reason I’m asking for a discount: it’s the last minute and her place is vacant.

Third, I tried to appear likable. Airbnb owners are people, and they are more likely to give you a discount if you seem likable, especially if they have to interact with you at check in. Everyone likes Hawaii, and everyone likes someone trying to learn their language, so I played that up in one sentence:

Aloha,

I am a Hawaiian guy who is traveling for four months po bivšoj Jugoslaviji [Scott: through ex-Yugoslavia] to learn hrvatski [Scott: Croatian].

Fourth, I gave the exact dates and even the time I’d arrive, to minimize follow up emails and make accepting me seem easy. I’m offering her an easy 450 euros, which might feel very different to her than having to offer me a 40% discount while going through huge hassles, even though both are the same amount of money.

Fifth, I play up that I’m a good and easy guest (“quiet, no smoking, clean”). Sometimes I point to my good feedback from hosts instead.

Sixth, I offer an exact amount. I usually offer about 60% of the quoted price.

Finally, I tell them what action to take: “send me an offer.” An offer is a price that is immediately bookable and valid for 24 hours. My goal is to collect several of these and then look through them.

I always send small variations of this message to all available hosts and wait. Some hosts reply within minutes. I usually wait a few hours until I have several options.

Further Negotiation/Picking a Place

Sometimes, I get an immediate offer that meets my requested price or is close. That’s how it went with my hostess in Prague.Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.42.09 PMSometimes I get a response like this, like I did from my hostess in Dubrovnik.

Aloha Scott,

Thank you for your request 🙂

I would be very happy to have you in my apt and would be able to correct the price, but going down for 200€ is little bit to much cos I have a lot of requests for next weekend.

What can I offer to you is a great price for your last minute reservation: 5-12 July for 570€ and help you finding other places to stay during your stay in Croatia.

I’ve highlighted the part that makes her look weak to me. At the last minute, there is always a buyers’ market because buyers have many options and any owner who doesn’t fill these dates gets nothing for his apartment. Sometimes owners bluff that they actually have other offers, but those protestations are laughable because you can be sure that if an owner has a better offer than yours, it already would have been accepted.

If I get a response like this, I’ll either double down on my original offer or come up a bit. In this case, I came up 50 euros for the week, but included another option I had to make me look even stronger:

If you have someone offering more you should take it. Otherwise I can go up to 500, but above that and I’ll just use hotel points for a free room at a hotel.

She immediately sent an offer that came to 480 euros ($530) including fees for the week, which was 40% off the listed price.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 10.47.07 PM

Once I have several offers pending for me, I have 24 hours to accept any of them. Only then, do I really take a look at each property. I inspect photos; I compare locations; I read reviews for subtext. Once I find the best value, I book one, and Airbnb emails the rest saying I have chosen a different property.

Bottom Line

If your goal is value on Airbnb, wait until a few days before you arrive in a city to message 10-15 hosts asking them to send you a pre-approved offer with a big discount. Once you have a few offers, negotiate further or select the best value and book.

Right now, if you sign up for Airbnb through my referral link, you’ll get $27 off your first stay, and I’ll get $27 off my next stay. Feel free to leave your referral link in the comments.


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32 COMMENTS

  1. Wonderful tips…especially about the timing of your bookings.

    Sometimes Airbnb owners have mulitple properties in the same area/city. Have you ever had a negative response from the same owner receiving a bunch of the same emails you send out?

    • No. Not sure why they would care if they got the message on multiple properties. If anything, I think it would strengthen my hand because they’d see that I really am sending out a lot of messages to get a great deal.

      And I am not worried about a “negative response.” This is a stranger that I will never meet, and to whom I am respectfully making a business proposition that he is free to reject.

  2. You’re still using airbnb for all the correspondence so you’re still paying commission, right? Your Point 2 in the intro implied that you had a strategy to close the deal privately to avoid the commissions.

    • Click on the links in this post to read more about that. These were done over Airbnb. Not worth going off of it for short stays. More worth it for several weeks plus.

  3. Interesting ideas, however, I think you are off base with your method. I am a property manager in likely the most competitive vacation rental market in the world (Orlando, Fl) and I have to tell you that during high season, at least, the only homes that we have still left 2 days before arrival are either the least desirable or the ones that we know are overpriced to begin with. So you are likely dealing with overpriced homes to start with. Offering 60% of asking price or even getting the home at 40% off tells you nothing about whether you got a good price or not. It is quite possible that you could have had a nicer home for the same or lower price 6 months earlier with no negotiation at all. Your chances of getting an adequate home at a great price in a great location that nobody has already booked 2 days before arrival seem slim indeed. In our experience, your only chances of this happening are late cancellations.

      • I am well aware of that, however, there are 24,000 licensed rentals in two counties here, as well as likely 12-15,000 unlicensed ones. I would suggest that this would make it the most competitive market in the world. That is the only claim that I make I regard to the world and I stand by it.

    • 1) What is you occupancy rate in high season? 95%? How many properties are there in desirable locations, 1,000? That implies 50 will be free.

      2) Your company is probably well-run. Many listings on Airbnb are not well run, so they don’t do well in search results, and are more likely to be free.

      3) If the place was overpriced and gives me 40% off, I might take a different place that only offered me 20% off of a lower price. You missed the part where I compare the properties holistically and pick one. I don’t just pick based on the discount from sticker price.

      Thanks for your insight, but I know this works because I have done it in cities in several countries.

      • occupancy in high season here is about 97% and the other 3% (1 day in a month) during high season is when bookings don’t fit together exactly, so a 1 or 2 day gap is left. Even if occupancy is only 90%, most of what is left is in small gaps like this, so the availability of one week stays would be orders of magnitude smaller than the vacancy rate.
        I obviously can’t speak to markets outside of ours, however, when I need to find space at the last minute (due to a property we manage becoming unavailable), the prices for the remaining properties are extraordinarily high, not because of scarcity or quality, but because all lower priced ones are gone.
        The process you have laid out here does not give me confidence that it has worked to get you a superior property at a superior price. If you get 20% off a lower priced property at the last minute, based on what you have said, you still have no idea whether you could have gotten a better price two or three months earlier. If you added a step, checking available prices 2-6 months earlier, then I would not disagree with the concept, but I think there are many markets where it would not. I am not trying to discourage people from trying for last minute discounts (after all, when I get a cancellation, I need those people), but people need to be aware that there is a downside to this strategy.

    • I agree. Scott would defend himself by saying that hosts can simply decline to negotiate if they don’t like what he’s offering, and that’s true. But it’s hard not to come away with the impression that he sees airbnb hosts, and perhaps people in general, as fair game for exploitation and manipulation to various degrees. I think I saw somewhere that he’s a semi-pro poker player, so perhaps that’s part of the mentality. Doesn’t speak very well of him in any case.

      • Exploitation and manipulation? Are Americans now so allergic to negotiation? I have no power over them. They can say NO if they’d like, and many do. Also, I’m not sure what a semi-pro poker player is, but I’m not one. I’m a pro blogger.

        • It is common knowledge between us Airbnb hosts that the hagglers are the worst customers, most needy, and have the most issues. Also, the ones that always end up destroying your house are the ones that say they won’t (truth).

          I recently had some send me a message offering me $100, which is weird because my nightly rate is $259. That is incredibly rude, and tacky. Especially since it was a one night stay. No way.

          I live in a very high volume tourist city. I did not need that lady’s $100 offer, and I only responded because Airbnb would penalize me if I didn’t. Haggling is not cute and most of the time it is rude.

  4. I am a full time Airbnb host in a pretty busy market, and I can tell you, making an offer like that is a complete slap in the face. I rent my property for $259/night on the weekends, and the other day somebody tried this method, offering me $100 for the night. – a single night- this is rude, tacky, and generally these type of people always have something to complain about (I have hosted thousands of people, so I would know). If you need a discount for the week, generally hosts have a weekly discount automatically applied to a week reservation/monthly reservation. This can range from 5% to 25%

    – every guest says they are quiet and clean(even the ones that trash the place)

    -did you know trying to consummate the transaction off of Airbnb potentially risks getting the host permanently banned from the service ?

    • I am perplexed why you think an offer is a slap in the face, rude, or tacky. Say no, and move on.

      This joker didn’t apply my method. He asked for over 60% off on a one night rental, which I can’t imagine any host would accept. That’s peanuts for a lot of hassle on the host’s part. I offered $500 for a weeklong rental.

      – Doesn’t surprise me. Leave them a bad review at the end of the review period.

      – Yes

  5. I rent my place out on Airbnb and I also stay at Airbnb properties when I travel. If I received an email from somebody asking for a 40% discount I don’t think I would even respond to their message. There comes a point where it’s not worth renting just because of the cleaning and other things that you have to do to rent the place out. Furthermore, your strategy is flawed. Nice places in a good location with a good price are booked weeks or months in advance, not at the last minute. The only places left over a few days before arrival are undesirable places.

    • Then don’t respond. Someone will. It’s nothing personal.

      I think it’s odd that you haven’t tried the strategy and are telling me, who has tried the strategy, that it is flawed. It works perfectly for my needs. I just had an AMAZING place for my needs (location, location, location) in Dubrovnik this week.

  6. Appreciative of you including your email. It’s a helpful template.

    Seems like lots of your audience is a different kind of traveler, less spontaneous, and more picky about their accommodations. This seems like a step above hostels, and a great strategy. Also, the experience of a property manager in Orlando is laughably out of place here.

    • I don’t understand why my comment would be laughably out of place here. Although Scott has booked dozens(?) of bookings, I have probably booked as many as he has from other hosts, and been on the other end of hundreds of times as many bookings. As a result, I thought my experience would be relevant. I thoroughly encourage people to try for last minute bookings, it helps me book out the overpriced properties under my management, but the chances of getting a real 40% (or even 20%) off the market rate in a competitive market during high season are slim indeed. I work with owners who post rates on Airbnb 10-15% below what we post their property at and they are generally full 2-6 months out, even with a fairly small discount to market. Those that market their properties with larger discounts have bookings going out two years.

  7. I wouldn’t recommend doing this anywhere you want to stay where there is any sort of market for Airbnb. Don’t try waiting until the last minute and asking for a discount in Los Angeles or New York unless you don’t want a decent place to stay.

    Chances are, you will either: (1) won’t hear from any Hosts in time, or (2) the hosts you do hear back from will say yes and then something will come up at the last minute causing them to cancel or you will be otherwise inconvenienced, or (3) you’re going to get some left over place with a brand new host, no reviews, and cockroaches. And you might not even save any money.

    • You’ve tried it there or not? It seems like everyone saying this won’t work hasn’t tried it.

      (1) won’t happen because hosts lose ground in search results for not responding. (2) won’t happen because hosts really lose ground for cancellations. And (3) a and b (new host and no reviews) don’t scare me much. They’re desperate to do everything right.

      So it comes down to cockroaches. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts my strategy doesn’t lead to cockroaches. 🙂

  8. Scott, what if you send out 15 emails and two renters say “OK, let’s due this at 40% discount, 450 Euros it is. I will reduce the price now”. You basically made a bid on a room and two renters said sold. As someone that buys and sells stocks for a living, that’s a trade/agreement in my eyes.

    You would have to back away from one of the properties. Could you begin to get negative reviews for backing out of verbal agreements?

    • No, they can’t review me unless we make a deal. And technically/legally, I don’t think there is an OFFER until they send the offer that I request them to send, so this strategy lets me pick between several actionable offers.

  9. I just used this strategy to get 6 weeks of entire apartment in Palermo in Buenos Aires for $21 USD per night.

    I copy and pasted the template, with some minor adjustments, and sent messages 4 days before check-in date.

    I sent 31 messages in total. Within a day, 4 hosts replied with negotiable discounts (others stuck to list price, said room was “unavailable,” or didn’t reply).

    2 of those hosts replied with a special offer immediately. One of which countered with a special offer for 65% list price and the other immediately sent the special offer for 60% list.

    I accepted the latter.

    Thanks Scott!

  10. Scott,

    It was a pleasure hearing your presentation at Chicago Seminars. It was definitely the most useful seminar for me. I will be traveling to Spain next week and don’t have an reservation made for one of my nights. I look forward to testing out your technique and reporting back.

    For me, at least, I think the optimal strategy is to have a reasonable hotel already booked that allows free cancellation and to be ready to cancel it once an AirBnB deal is made.

    Cheers!
    Austin

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