How to find and book an Airbnb for your next road trip

May 19, 2020

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced many travelers to adjust their travel plans. Whether it’s a canceled cruise, closed attractions or an airline completely suspending operations, the disruption to existing trips has been massive — and will likely continue for some time. Even when the industry begins the long road to recovery, travel will almost certainly be very different from it was before the outbreak.

This evolving situation has many travelers looking to alternative trip arrangements that may be closer to home, and short-term rental platforms may offer a good option. Airbnb is the largest and most well-known site for securing alternative lodgings for your next trip — and even won the 2019 TPG Award in this category — so today, I’ll take you through everything you need to know to find the perfect house, condo or apartment for your next trip.

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What is Airbnb?

If you’re not familiar with Airbnb, it’s a site that essentially services as a marketplace for individuals to rent out accommodations to travelers. (You can book experiences and adventure trips through the platform as well, but this guide focuses on booking lodging.) According to Airbnb’s online newsroom, the company offers more than 7 million listings across 100,000+ cities spanning more than 220 countries and regions. In other words, if you’re traveling somewhere, there will almost certainly be an Airbnb property you can book — including some one-of-a-kind spots.

Note that there are a variety of different lodging types available through the site. While we’ll cover these in greater depth below, you may encounter some (or all) of the following in your search results:

  • Shared rooms: Individual rooms with common areas used by you and other guests, like shared bathrooms
  • Private rooms: Individual rooms with entirely private facilities
  • Hotel rooms: Individual shared or private rooms at boutique hotels or hostels
  • Entire apartments/condos/houses: Entirely private accommodations, most with full-service amenities like kitchens

As you can see, there are several different options, and prices will vary across them. Review each listing carefully so you know exactly what to expect.

Why should I use Airbnb?

The Airbnb platform provides an array of alternative accommodations that can be appealing for many different reasons. For starters, there may not be a traditional hotel or other lodging options in the area you want to stay — which I found to be the case during an incredible holiday trip to Colmar, France. In addition, you may want the more space or amenities that aren’t typically offered in standard accommodations — like multiple bedrooms (instead of connecting hotel rooms) or a full kitchen (rather than a micro-fridge or kitchenette).

Related: When Airbnb is better than a hotel for families

Finally, you may find that properties on Airbnb are more economical choices, especially for larger groups. For example, I attended a friend’s wedding in Maryland a couple of years ago, and the block rates at local lodging options started at roughly $150/night. Instead, my wife and I shared a three-bedroom house with two other couples for three nights — for a grand total of $732.77 (or $81.42 per couple per night).

How do I sign up for Airbnb?

If you’re not currently a member of Airbnb and are looking to book a stay, you can sign up at this link. Once the homepage loads, click on “Sign up” at the top right.

From there, you can enter your phone number or choose to sign up with your email address, Facebook profile, Google account or Apple ID. The latter three require you to sync the given account with Airbnb, while joining with your email will require you to manually enter your name, date of birth, email address and password.

Note that you do not need to be a member to search for properties. However, you will need to join before confirming a reservation.

If, on the other hand, you’re interested in joining as a host to begin welcoming guests to your property, use this link, then follow the on-screen prompts to complete the registration process.

How do I search with Airbnb?

To begin finding potential properties for your next trip, start on Airbnb.com. Make sure the “Places to stay” tab is selected at the top.

Then, start typing in your desired location, and the platform should offer suggested cities. Once your destination appears, select it.

Then enter your dates and number of guests. Note that it is possible to search with only the location entered — which could be good if you’re flexible on when to travel. However, you’ll get the most accurate view of availability and pricing by entering the dates of travel and how many travelers will be staying.

Once you’ve entered your criteria, click “Search.”

When the results load, you’ll see a page that looks like this (example search is for a weeklong, November stay in Asheville, North Carolina):

The platform displays both a list view as well as a map view. You can even set the map to update the available properties as you move the map, allowing you to zoom in on a particular town or area and see only those properties in that area. This gives you a variety of ways to find an Airbnb that suits your needs.

However, it’s worth noting that — unless you’re searching in a very sparsely populated area or zoom in on a narrow section of the map — you’ll almost always need to use the filter options.

Using Airbnb search filters

Once you’ve loaded the results for your potential stay, Airbnb offers several ways for you to filter the results to zero in on the best property. There are currently multiple different filter options that you can select from the search results.

Cancellation flexibility

The first filter is a new addition to the platform in light of COVID-19. There are several different cancellation policies that Airbnb hosts can implement, but the most popular are these three:

  • Flexible: Free cancellation until 14 days before check-in for a full refund. After that, cancel at least 24 hours before check-in to get a refund of the rate and cleaning fee but not the Airbnb service fee.
  • Moderate: Free cancellation until 14 days before check-in for a full refund. After that, cancel at least five days before check-in to get a refund of the rate and cleaning fee but not the Airbnb service fee.
  • Strict: Free cancellation for 48 hours after booking as long as this happens at least 14 days before check-in. After that time, cancel at least seven days before check-in to get a 50% refund of the rate and a refund of the cleaning fee but not the Airbnb service fee.

Note that these policies also impact early departures, so it’s important to understand how these impact your ability to adjust your stay and get a full (or partial) refund. And depending on your situation, you might be eligible for some money back due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Related: How to cancel an Airbnb if your reservation is affected by coronavirus

To use the cancellation flexibility filter, simply click the Cancellation flexibility icon, toggle the switch on, then click “Save.”

If you turn this filter on, this will only show those properties that fall under Flexible and Moderate, ensuring that you’d be able to cancel your stay and get a refund close to your arrival.

Type of place

As noted above, Airbnb shows a variety of accommodations, and depending on where you’re searching, you can filter to show specific types. To use, simply click on the “Type of place” icon, check the boxes for which type(s) you want, then click “Save.”

This will update the list of properties to only show those types you select.

Price

When you open the price filter, you’ll see the average nightly rate for your search parameters. From there, you can set a range of nightly prices, using either the sliders or by typing in your minimum and maximum amounts.

When you click “Save,” the platform will only show properties that fall within the range you’ve set.

However, it’s worth noting that these prices are the base rates — much like many hotel booking platforms, they don’t include taxes and fees. You’ll always see an additional Airbnb service charge, and just about all properties impose a cleaning fee plus additional occupancy taxes and fees. To see the full price, you’ll need to select the individual listing and review the price breakdown.

More filters

The final option is labeled “More filters” — and it’s probably the one you’ll use most frequently. When you click the icon, it’ll show you an array of additional filters that can narrow down your list of potential properties in a variety of ways. This includes:

  • Number of beds, bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Amenities — like air conditioning, a washer/dryer and crib
  • Facilities — like a pool or hot tub
  • House rules — including whether pets are allowed

By selecting one or more of these filters, you can remove those properties that don’t have what you need to focus on the ones that do.

How do I book with Airbnb?

Once you’ve set up the filters that match your preferences and find a suitable property, you can start the booking process.

1. Click on the property from the search results. This should open the property in a new tab or window (depending on your browser settings).

2. Review the details on the property, including the amenities and reviews from prior guests.

3. Review the price breakdown and make sure your dates/number of guests are correct, then click “Reserve.”

4. Log in to your account (if you haven’t already done so).

5. Review the house rules, then click “Agree” and continue.

6. Enter a note to your host, then click “Continue.”

7. Enter your payment method. Note that you may see some additional options with this last step. Some reservations are eligible for Airbnb’s Pay Less Upfront booking option, allowing you to pay for your stay in two installments. In addition, the button to confirm your reservation will either say “Request to book” or “Confirm and pay.”

It’s critical to note that, in either case, you are committing to paying for the reservation. For a property with the request-to-book option, that simply means the host must approve your reservation before taking payment.

After your reservation has been confirmed, you can add additional guests (if necessary), which will give them access to the details of the property. However, you’re still the primary contact for the reservation, allowing you to message the host and see a receipt for your stay.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Airbnb is working toward the implementation of new cleaning protocols for its properties — including a recommended 24-hour waiting period between guests and enhanced sanitation procedures.

Important tips for using Airbnb

With several million properties to book around the world, it can be very challenging to narrow down the possibilities to one that will fit your needs. However, we have a full guide to picking the perfect Airbnb that can help. Here are some of the top suggestions from that article along with some of my tips from the 20+ Airbnbs I’ve booked over the years:

  • Pricing: Rates can vary significantly based on several factors — how far in advance you book, the number of guests and the fees charged by individual properties. Make sure all of your details are accurate during the search process, and carefully review the entire price breakdown so you know exactly how much your stay will cost.
  • Reviews: Previous guest experiences can be a great indicator of whether a property is worth booking. Look beyond the star rating, as a single bad review complaining about a problem the host has since fixed could drop the average. And after your stay, be sure to submit a full review of the property yourself. Including details that aren’t publicly available — like the comfort level of the bed or the items stocked in the kitchen — will help future guests decide whether the house or apartment is right for them.
  • Communication: Airbnb allows you to quickly and easily communicate with the host directly through the platform. You can inquire about a specific amenity or service before booking, and in some cases, you’ll need to provide details on guests or sign a separate rental agreement after booking.
  • Rewards: When you rent a property on Airbnb, it does code as travel on many popular cards, especially the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (earning you 3x and 2x Ultimate Rewards points, respectively). This would also unlock the many travel protections these cards offer. In addition, you can earn 3x British Airways Avios or 1x Delta SkyMiles per dollar spent on your Airbnb reservations — an additional 4.5% or 1.2% return (respectively) based on TPG’s most recent valuations.

Finally, be sure to consider what items you’d want to bring to your Airbnb. Many properties on the site provide everything you need, but that’s not always the case. When in doubt, ask the host before the start of your trip, and if a necessity is not included, be sure to pack it yourself.

Bottom line

Airbnb can offer a fantastic alternative to standard hotel rooms when traveling, whether you want a better location, larger space or unique accommodations. My very first Airbnb experience was during an unforgettable trip to Colmar, France — where big-name hotels were essentially nonexistent — and I’ve been a happy user of the site ever since.

Hopefully, this guide has shown you just how to book an Airbnb as you look ahead to travel plans this summer and fall.

Featured photo by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

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