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How to Avoid Hidden Fees on Airbnb

By Tuesday, July 29, 2014 , ,

Since signing up for AirBnb, I've stayed in several apartments in Biarritz, London, Berlin, Amsterdam and Prague. While it's saved us a bundle over a hotel in London for example, airbnb has a way of nickel and dime-ing you that can really add up.

First off, the price advertised might not be applicable for the days you'll be traveling, especially if you're booking your June stay in February.  You'll see the correct price as soon as you inquire about the available dates, so this isn't really a hidden fee, but it's a bit of a sneaky trick to get you interested.

Right up front, Airbnb gets a chunk, something like 7%, that's right there on the top of the page. 
But there are a variety of standard and not-so-standard fees and costs that can sneak up on you, like:

  • Cleaning fee Sometimes this is listed as part of the service, but we've come across one posting that wanted 20 euro in cash, thereby dodging the Airbnb cut.
  • Fee for extra guests While it makes sense to pay a little extra to fit a fifth person into a single flat, it's a little sneaky to charge extra for the second person in an apartments that's advertised as sleeps two. Sometimes the extra person will have to sleep on a sofa rather than an actual bed so you end up paying more for the privilege of kipping out on an air mattress.
  • Kitchen completely empty -  When we were in London, we rented a great apartment, except no one was actually living in it and there were absolutely no cooking basics, like oil, so we had to go find a store and essentially stock the kitchen before we could cook a meal. Also, we ran out of toilet paper before our stay came to an end. 
  • Parking - Some garages in cities can be over 20 euros a night, and not everywhere has a designated parking space.
  • Extra on Transport - if you stay too far away from the center city or the area you're primarily interested in visiting, you might find yourself having to buy a transportation pass for everyone in your party, especially since you don't know for certain where the apartment is.. An amount which could make your cheaper Airbnb apartment cost more than a hotel closer to the center. 
  • We found the following three from a single apartment in France:
    • A Cash deposit (300 Euro for foreigners, which also means you have to leave when he's available or you'll never see it again)
    • Must pay for water (4-10 Euro)
    • Must pay extra for linens (10 Euro)
  • A few apartments in Rome all hosted by the same person were only available if you booked a tour with their company as well. This is against aribnb policy and the apartment postings were taken down shortly after.

A few other surprises to watch out for:

  • It can be tough to tell from photos whether you'll be in an apartment, or a one room efficiency. This doesn't always matter, but if you're traveling with a group it can be a bit of a shock to discover you're all sleeping in the same room, and it's the same one where you cook and watch TV at that.
  • Sometimes a space can be advertised as a 'Full Apartment' when they mean you get a room and full access to the rest of the apartment with the hosts living there, rather than the whole apartment to yourself. I think this is just a misunderstanding and/or language issue, but it's something to look out for.
  • Sometimes, airbnb will reutrn results very far from the city you listed. For example, we're interested in going to Copanhagen for a weekend, but when we search for apartments in Copenhagen, we get hits as far as Malmö.
  • Wifi isn't standard, and sometimes a kitchenette is just a microwave stacked on a fridge.
  • Some apartments allow smoking, a huge deal breaker for me.

Based on the last year or so of using airbnb, I've found that over all it's a great resource for travelers, but there can also be a lot of surprises hidden in the reviews. Often I'll find a bunch of cool looking apartments, excitedly send them all to my husband, who then goes through them, checks the dates, how far they are from the center and reads the fine print and reviews.  Out of the 8 or 9 I send him we're lucky if there are two decent options left, for example:

We were briefly considering an apartment in Rome until my husband checked the reviews and saw that someone wrote how dark the apartment was. Then we realized none of the photos had any windows in them. 

I got pretty excited when I found a reasonably priced boat to stay on in Barcelona, complete with a little kitchen! Luckily, my husband read through the fine print: There was no toilet on board.

So have you tried Airbnb before? any horror stories? tips? anecdotes? leave them in the comments and I'll add the best ones to the post (linking to you of course!)

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  1. I don't exactly have tips for AirBnB, although AirBnB once saved my rear: http://byov.blogspot.com/2013/02/fukuoka.html

    When we were going to be in Paris for a giant conference, my friend found a French-language rental site, and being mostly fluent, found that was a really good way to go when the AirBnB options were getting low.

  2. We've used Airbnb 4 times now (just found out about it less than a year ago) and so far have had nothing but awesome experiences. We can be a little picky, though, so we read everything, generally go with places with a lot of good reviews, twice have chosen entire apartments and twice have chosen just a room in an apartment. But for us there always has to be a private bathroom and private room, that's the biggest deal, a kitchen is a bonus, and when we're in a city like Chicago, it definitely has to include free parking!

    1. When you got just the private room how was the host family? did it feel awkward? Did they try to show you around or just sort of leave you alone? I'd feel like I was intruding on strangers lives, but on the other hand it sounds sort of exciting, too!

  3. I almost tried Airb&b for a trip to Rome this coming winter, but I chickened out and went with a small hotel in a better location. I poured over all the fine print and every review, so I noticed all the hidden costs you mentioned. I think I found the same apartment in Rome you mentioned - the dark one without windows!

    I also read reviews about airb&b, and I read repeatedly that they remove or don't publish negative reviews. That was a big concern for me. Negative reviews don't necessarily scare me away - often people complain about really silly things - but I want to be able to see them and judge for myself. The hotel we're using in Rome had a balance of reviews, so I know it's not perfect. I really do want to try airb&b someday, and I'm happy to see discussions out there about it!

    1. Yeah, it took me quite a while to warm up to the idea of staying in someone else's home, there's something kinda intrusive about it, you know? But we've been to some hotels that were a little disappointing, and the lure of being able to cook our own food (especially when we were in London and Berlin with my Sister in Law who is vegan) is pretty hard to resist after seeing those London prices!

    2. I think I STAYED in that apartment! LOL
      Yes, it was dark and a death trap (fire). It was also freezing cold because no windows. Better yet, once upon a time, someone built an apartment over the front of the original. Yes, so you open the front door of the building and step into what used to be the sidewalk to the original building, now with walls, new apartments, and a roof. Still has streetlight, original street number, and a tree. Inside. THIS is why 1st world countries have zoning regulations! LOL No heat and the last day we had no hot water. Some of that you have to chalk it up to Europeans have much lower living standards than Americans and just get over it. None of the hotels (5 star), B&Bs, or other airbnbs in Europe were very nice. At best, they'd be 1 or 2 star in America but when in Rome...

  4. I have a bit of a love hate relationship with AirBnb. Traveling solo, I have no one to share accommodation costs with, and since I'm usually traveling minimum a month at a time I am always looking in the lower price range. I've stayed in 5 different properties, and only one resembled what was advertised. The cleaning fee is a joke. Again, in all but one, I have had to clean the bathroom, etc. before I felt comfortable staying in the places. Thankfully, all of the rooms have been clean, and with decent beds.

    1. I know what you mean, I've found that I usually prefer hotels just because I have a better idea of what I'm getting into. The star ratings here have been a bit of a joke, but at least someone independent has inspected the property and OKed it - plus you don't have to meet up with a stranger anywhere. Most of my experiences with Airbnb have been good, but last time we used it the guy we were meeting showed up hours later than we'd agreed to. I guess he didn't understand because when we managed to find some wifi he emailed us with "how about I come over now?", but the message just above it was him agreeing to meet us two hours earlier.

  5. We use Airbnb a lot and have no complaints. As you say you have to look for all the charges. The prices can vary with the season and when you look at the calendar you can see when they are cheapest. I have booked an apartment that asked for a security deposit but they never took it. If you look at all the photos you can see what there is. I ask for photos of (say) the toilet if they are not on the site. Like your husband I read all the reviews. If they end with "overall we had a good stay", it usually means there was something they did not like about their stay. By reading the reviews l pick up on the say "no windows" issue. I recently booked a place in rome for April 2015 and I must have looked at the same place your husband. One of the reviews pointed out there were no windows. That's the beauty of the reviews. That and the fact that you have to have stayed there to get the opportunity to review through the site, makes them real.

  6. thanks for sharing! I haven't used it yet, but am planning on doing so! excited to try and will be careful about these hidden fees!

  7. I host with Airbnb (as well as plenty of other sites and through my own website) and I'd say another trick is once you've read the reviews and decided you like the place see if you can find it directly. For instance my place I mention the name of my house many times and that's the name of my website (where I'm writing from now!) If you're internet savvy you can often find the place direct (try lookijg in the same town on TripAdvisor for example, particularly if it's a small town) and avoid fees (you say 7%...well it's gone up recently and can be as high as 20%!!!) As a host I'm keen for people to come direct because Airbnb also takes a cut from me too, so booking direct is a win-win situation for both guest and host. But obviously I don't advocate this all the time as I also need the reviews for people to keep coming! Also I realise not everywhere has their own website, nor wants the extra work of dealing direct. But it's certainly something I do when finding somewhere to stay myself.

    1. This is an amazing tip! Thank you so much for sharing! I'd noticed a couple of places we'd looked at showed up on booking.com, but I didn't think to look for their own website.

      I'm actually working on a follow up post with a few more ideas, and an experience I had where airbnb refunded our service fee, would it be alright if I featured your comment?

  8. I've enjoyed all of the AirBnb places I've stayed. It's always nice getting the chance to talk to the owners and get their advice on places to go and what to see when you are visiting at particular locations.

  9. GUESTS BEWARE: We booked a reservation from the US for a stay in Canada and before we agreed to the price, asked the host if the price quoted was in Canadian funds. He said it was. Then airbnb overcharged us by nearly 20% on the exchange rate. This is either bad math or deceptive business practices. We have tried to resolve it with airbnb, but all we get is the runaround. Our credit card company does not charge a conversion fee, so this money is all from airbnb. It is now with our cc's dispute dept. BEWARE!

    1. My money is on deceptive business practices, as I was also over charged on a cleaning fee!

  10. Thanks for this guide. I'll be going to Seattle next spring and am considering using Airbnb. This is something I'll have to print out for future reference.

  11. I've had an interesting couple of experiences with AirBnB. I've stayed in two places with them and the actual apartments were fine however as I have seen mentioned AirBnB has a good way of giving you the run around if there is a problem.

    The first booking was fine. It was for two weeks. Paid the minute the booking was accepted so all was well and good the second was fine until somewhat recently.
    I am very tight with money as my job pays well all things considered but it's Paris so rent prices are high. Anyway I always made sure I had enough in my account for the monthly rent and I also have a secret amount elsewhere just in case. I had no problems from August to November but then in December Airbnb didn't take the full amount out they took a smaller amount and then proceeded to say they couldn't take the full amount. This is when I phoned my bank and they told me that no other attempt had been made to take the normal amount out prior to the smaller amount (which was like 200eur out of about a 900+eur monthly amount)

    The worst bit comes later on when they said they had split it and gave me an confusing email saying when each amount was to come out (apparently this is normal). That date came and went and nothing came out of my account I then get an email saying I haven't done anything to sort the issue (You actually can't do anything anyway it's all automatic) and then claimed that again the bank wouldn't allow them to take the amount despite the fact that it was now the same amount as the smaller 200eur they managed to take last time. Again I phoned the bank and was told no attempt was made. Then a couple of days later I get an email saying the booking was cancelled and that very same day on my mobile statement it said that the whole 900+eur rent had been taken and this was on top of the extra 200eur that had already been taken out.

    So anyway I'm now irritated because the host is stuck because I've actually paid for all of December and as the 200 came out as well pretty much the last little bit for January too (I was due to move in January) however that money didn't go to the host and the apartment was put up as available causing the host to have to decline other requests.

    I messaged AirBnB showing all the evidence and heard nothing despite various emails so I ask the host to do it for me. I then get a message about a week later. I responded to it with the same thing as before and I have heard nothing nor has the host.

    Now, for some reason they seemed to have been acting on my behalf without consent or even a cursory email first.

    As I've been messed around so much I am not only trying to get the 1100+eur back I'm trying to get compensation for other costs as I have had to endure as I have had to find another place and I have had to pay a very expensive phone bill as I had to talk to my banks main help desk and that really wasn't cheap

    Conveniently AirBnB don't accept Credit Cards (Or at least it allow me saying that it was debit cards only) I wonder why.... Because if they did I could have easily had it charged back. My bank is now also working on recovering the money as they agreed that the amounts taken way exceed the monthly figure that I have a document detailing and also as the reservation was cancelled before the amount came out the contract I had with the company had ended and therefore no money should have ever have been taken. This is in fact a legal matter.

    Either way I'm not sure what to think. As I said the first one was fine as it was a one off payment. Up until November I had no problems either so not sure what has actually happened here. Have they fallen off the rails or have they had some sort of major processing error and are trying to cover it up. I do wonder if this has happened before but I have not found anything yet.

    I will re-alliterate that the apartments I stayed in were absolutely fine no problems there at all.

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