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3 Easy Ways to Avoid Scams on Airbnb

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TPG Contributor Hao Tran, one of Airbnb’s Superhosts in San Francisco, shares his best tips for booking and what you should look out for the next time you’re planning a trip with this vacation rental site. 

Ever wonder about the legitimacy of the Airbnb listing you’re looking at? Are you getting the real deal or will it start and end in disappointment? Luckily, there are safeguards built into the platform to help you make an informed decision about where to stay, so be sure to give them a spin while you’re planning your next trip. Here are three easy ways to help you avoid scams when booking an Airbnb stay.

1. Search for the Superhost Badge

Keep an eye out for the Superhost badge on the host's profile picture. Here's mine.
Keep an eye out for the Superhost badge on the host’s profile picture. Here’s mine.

The Superhost badge is given to hosts who uphold high standards that are the key to a five-star listing. To receive this prestigious level of status, Superhosts must:

  1. Host at least 10 times within the past year
  2. Have a 90% response rate within 24 hours
  3. Never cancel on a guest
  4. Earn 80% (or more) 5-star reviews from guests

As a Superhost, I know the standards and expectations of the modern traveler. The Airbnb listing itself should be clean, easy to access and above all, accurate. Check-in, communication and commitment to service are also important factors. You’ll see the badge on someone’s profile, like the two shown below, if the person has been deemed a Superhost.

After you filter for the superhost setting, search results will appear for only those listings.
After you filter for the Superhost setting, search results will appear for only those listings.

Depending on the type of accommodations you book — an entire home or apartment, a private room or a shared room — you may also have the chance to interact with a host who knows the area well and can give insider tips to the city or neighborhood. I’ve been living in the Bay Area for a long time and know where to find just about every half-decent restaurant, coffee shop with free Wi-Fi and free parking in the city — important tips I love to share with my guests.

You can search for Superhost listings by filtering for the option in the search settings — when you do, it’ll automatically populate the search results with Superhosts and their listings. Like five-star hotels, Superhosts on Airbnb usually command a bit of a premium or usually tend to have a lack of availability. Do your research if you feel the amenities, service and reviews on the listing warrant the price.

2. Read Your Potential Host’s Profile — and all the User Reviews for that Listing

Always read through the user-generated reviews before booking.
Always read through the user-generated reviews before booking.

In other words, vet the listing with real people’s opinions before you book. Reviews are powerful on Airbnb because they are two-sided, meaning hosts and guests can leave reviews for one another. They can also be seen by the other party once both have left a review, so there’s no chance of leaving a retaliatory review, though technically hosts are given a chance to respond to it after the fact. Also, reviews can only be left on a listing if the person has stayed at that specific property and room using the Airbnb platform (meaning they have paid for the stay).

The host’s profile can also be one of the best sources of information about the person whose home you’re staying in. This is especially important if you’re staying in a shared or private room rather than renting out the entire home — will they be considerate, respectful and helpful during my stay?

Aside from being able to read their bio, you can also see if they have linked verifications through the website, which adds another layer of security for the traveler. All profiles are verified by Airbnb through email, phone number, social media platforms (like Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn), forms of ID such as a valid passport or by showing that they’re an American Express cardholder.

If the Airbnb host does not have any reviews, a written biography or verifications, I wouldn’t advise staying there unless you’ve communicated directly with the person via the website’s messaging system for more information.

By being able to read the person’s profile and past guest reviews, you can better decide if the host can provide the right local experience or element of privacy you’re looking for.

3. Use In-App Messaging to Communicate with Your Host and Set Expectations Beforehand

Use in-app messaging to get real-time responses from your host.
Use in-app messaging to get real-time responses from your host.

In-app messaging, available on Airbnb’s website and mobile app, lets you communicate in real-time and get answers to any of your burning questions straight from the actual host.

With hotels, you never know if the concierge or front desk person you spoke with will actually follow through with your request, but with Airbnb, that’s all documented by in-app messaging, adding another layer of accountability and convenience. Use it on your next trip to help set expectations so you can enjoy your stay without any miscommunication along the way.

Using in-app messaging is especially helpful in these situations:

  • You want to see if early check-in or late check-out would be available
  • You need directions to the listing, if they haven’t already been provided
  • You’re interested in local tips for nearby restaurants, bars or sightseeing options
  • If you need help or something goes wrong during your stay

Bottom Line

Overall, Airbnb can be a secure, fun and affordable alternative, especially in cities where hotels are too expensive or don’t quite provide the feel or fit some travelers are looking for. Also keep in mind that you can now redeem Amex Membership Rewards for your next Airbnb adventure, a nice option that’ll make your trip even more affordable.

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