The case for living out of Airbnbs full time

Nov 4, 2020

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When most people think of Airbnbs, they focus on short-term vacation rentals. From ski vacation homes to beach houses, to RVs and everything in between, Airbnb offers it all. However, Airbnb can also be a great solution for long term housing.

Over the past few months, Airbnb has introduced a number of features aimed at pushing the platform toward more monthly and longer-term stays. And it seems to be working. Over 80% of Airbnb hosts now accept longer-term stays and there’s been a significant uptick in these types of bookings — even pre-COVID.

Contrary to common belief, living out of Airbnb full-time can actually work out cheaper than a traditional lease. Plus, there are lots of perks that come with it. You can earn thousands of points and miles from your “rent” each month and enjoy the flexibility of moving whenever you wish.

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Save money

When you crunch the numbers and factor in expenses like utilities and furniture, you can indeed save money by living out of Airbnbs.

Let’s pretend that we’re looking to move to a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in a modern building (community gym, in-unit laundry, etc.) in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood. There’s a unit that matches our criteria hosted by a professional management company available for $3,100 per month, including all fees.

(Photo by Airbnb)

After doing some research, I was able to figure out the exact address of this listing and found that comparable units in the same building start around $2,400 per month (when signing a year-long lease). However, in reality, the true cost of renting this home is much higher.

Let’s start with the broker’s fee. This is often equivalent to one month’s rent on a 12-month lease, which in this case works out to about $200 per month. Sometimes, there are also application fees on top of that. Airbnb charges its own service fee, but it’s already factored into the total and is lower for longer-term stays than standard short-term stays. In the example above, the host decided to cover the service fee for guests. Factor in utilities (including Wi-Fi), all of which are included with the Airbnb, and your monthly cost is closer to $2,800.

You don’t need to worry about any bills or paperwork when living out of Airbnbs. (Photo by ljubaphoto/Getty Images)

We’re now at a $300 difference between renting this home through Airbnb versus directly through the building. Now, consider that the Airbnb is fully furnished and doesn’t require a 12-month commitment and you’re already coming out ahead. You also won’t need to worry about any move-in fees or hiring a moving company.

Obviously, prices vary by market and there are cheaper apartments available in Chicago. But as you can see, you don’t necessarily need to pay a premium for living out of Airbnbs. Additionally, keep in mind that you can often negotiate with hosts. Although the majority of Airbnb listings already offer guests automatic discounts on monthly stays, you may still be able to negotiate a lower rate by reaching out.

Related: Everything you need to know about staying at an Airbnb right now

Earn points on your rent

While your options for earning points on traditional rentals are limited, there are some terrific opportunities to maximize Airbnb stays and stretch your savings even further.

To start, you can go through Delta or British Airways’ Airbnb portals to earn 1 Delta SkyMile (a 1.2% return based on TPG valuations) or 2 British Airways Avios (a 3% return) per dollar spent. You can then pay with a card that earns bonus points on travel purchases, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which earns 3x Ultimate Rewards points (a 6% return) on travel. Between the airline miles and credit card points, you’ll get rewards equal to 9% return on your stay.

Going back to the Chicago example above, by going through British Airways’ portal, paying with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and transferring the Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways, we can walk away with about 15,500 Avios each month. That’s almost enough for a domestic business class flight of up to 1,151 miles (i.e., New York to Miami).

Related: How to earn points or cash back at Airbnbs, hostels, campgrounds and more

You can fly American Airlines business class using the miles you’ll earn for living out of Airbnbs full time. (Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy)

If you were to pay traditional rent with a credit card, you’d likely incur 2.5% to 3% in fees, negating the value of any points earned.

If you’re willing to put in some effort, you may be able to earn even more points than that. For instance, you can purchase an Airbnb gift card at an office supply store like Staples or Office Max and pay with the Ink Business Cash Credit Card to earn 5% cash back (5x points) (a 10% return when paired with a full-fledged transferable Ultimate Rewards card) on the first $25,000 spent on combined purchases per account anniversary year. Alternatively, you can earn more than 3x points by purchasing Airbnb gift cards at a U.S. supermarket using a card like the American Express® Gold Card or the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Card from American Express.

The information for the Amex EveryDay Preferred card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Another option would be to purchase Airbnb gift cards through the United MileagePlus X app to earn an extra two miles per dollar spent. Just note that for stays 28 nights or more, gift cards may only be applied to the initial payment, a.k.a. your first month’s rent. Long-term stays are billed monthly, so you won’t be able to apply gift cards to subsequent payments if you’re spending an extended period of time in one home. One workaround to this would be making new reservations each month, as opposed to one very long one.

Related: Best credit cards for booking an Airbnb

Live freely

Living out of Airbnbs comes with an unparalleled level of flexibility. And as we all know, flexibility is more important now than ever. Since you’re not signing a year-long lease, you can move whenever and wherever you wish — whether that be to another home in the same city, across the country or to the other side of the world. At the same time, you don’t have to be constantly moving if you choose to live out of Airbnbs full time.

You can move as often as you wish when living out of Airbnbs. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Although cancellation terms vary for short-term Airbnb stays, all reservations of 28 nights or more follow the same cancellation policy. Long term reservations are always fully refundable for 48 hours after the booking is confirmed, as long as the cancellation occurs at least 28 days before check-in. If you want to move out in the middle of a stay, you can do so with a 30-day notice.

Breaking a traditional lease, on the other hand, is nowhere near as easy. Likewise, entering a lease isn’t as easy. Unlike traditional leases, you can book Airbnbs the same day you wish to move in and can do so instantly with no credit checks or nightmarish paperwork.

Related: How I spent 3 years as a global digital nomad

24-hour support

While response times can be slow at times, I cannot stress how valuable having access to Airbnb’s customer service team is. In case something ever goes wrong and you can’t reach your host, you have Airbnb’s support as a back-up.

Airbnb’s Guest Refund Policy covers all stays. This means that if there’s an eligible issue that severely impacts or prevents you from completing your stay, Airbnb promises to give you a refund or rebook you to an equal or better stay. And as I’ve experienced first-hand, having this extra level of protection pays off. Meanwhile, if you have an unresponsive landlord, you may be out of luck.

Related: What to do if you show up to a wrecked Airbnb

Living out of Airbnbs comes with unexpected perks. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Airbnbs are good for more than just booking weekend getaways. After crunching the numbers, living out of Airbnbs full time can indeed come out cheaper than traditional leases. It also comes with many unexpected perks, such as earning a free flight each month. Plus, doing so gives you the flexibility to pack your bags and move cities whenever you wish.

Featured image by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.

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