People often ask how does Airbnb work and should you use Airbnb vs. a hotel? For me, the answer is yes but only when renting the entire place. We prefer an apartment or house over a hotel, especially for long-haul trips so that we can do laundry, etc. That’s one of the advantages of using our timeshare. We like having space and the amenities of home.

We have had some fantastic experiences with Airbnb. Likewise, we’ve experienced one nightmare situation. The nightmare experience was resolved very quickly. Airbnb stepped in and did the right thing including paying for the hotel.

We have only ever rented the entire place. We will not consider a room in a private home with strangers under any circumstances. Staying with a criminal is not an issue for us.  Could we be renting from a criminal? Potentially, but how is this concept any different from renting a house to live in? You don’t know if the landlord is a criminal or not.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure and privacy policy for more information.

Before I tell you about my experiences with Airbnb, let’s be clear on how Airbnb works:

  • Hosts are verified but understand that verified does not always mean background check. Background checks only occur in the US; here is an overview of Airbnb’s policy.
  • I’ve had plenty of not so great experiences at hotels. And guess what, hotels can access your room at any time. The “host” can access the place concern is no different. It’s also no different from long-term landlord/tenant leases.
  • There is a lot of noise about the ethics of Airbnb. Is it right for people to earn a living from a residential place? Should residential homes be turned into short-term rentals? Should Airbnb be regulated? Can it be controlled and under which laws? You can be the judge of this for yourself.
  • There is a myth that Airbnb won’t assist you. Not the case at all, they do and will – at least that has been my experience.
  • You might encounter a douche bag or two along the way. I don’t think this is an Airbnb issue; it’s a human one. And, this is a two-way street! Many Airbnb hosts have plenty to complain about with guests.
  • You pick the locations folks. If you select a $20 a night place in the ghetto – then expect the ghetto. Do your research first about the area you are choosing.

I do think there are some things that Airbnb could improve:

  • Prepaying in full needs to be revisited. Today it’s one-sided in favor of the host.
  • In my opinion, the review system is flawed in favor of the host. You must provide feedback before they do. If something goes wrong and you leave a negative review, you are going to get one in return. Disputing this only results in both reviews (theirs and yours) being removed and doing nothing to warn others — another two-way street.
  • The concept of rooms for rent is a liability nightmare. It’s just a matter of time before this implodes. There has already been one death. Who’s at fault when it goes wrong? The broker (Airbnb), the host or the guest? In the long run, I think this side of Airbnb’s business will come under more and more scrutiny and decline.

There are several articles out there sharing horror stories galore, some with elements of data to substantiate the claims.  Few focus on the positive experiences or that share how Airbnb will support you if things go wrong.  I will share three of my experiences, one amazing, one alright and one horrendous:

Amazing Airbnb – Havana, Cuba

Airbnb

This stay was by far the best of all our experiences with Airbnb. It made Cuba for us. The apartment was terrific, exactly as described and in a great location. The host went above and beyond. She arranged transportation for us, gave us a local cell phone and provided us with numerous options for things to do. Read the reviews for this place – no criticism. Precisely what you should expect when booking Airbnb. Overall, this has been the norm for us and many of the frequent travelers I know that use Airbnb.

Here is the listing: Bright New Apartment

Alright Airbnb – Ozello, Florida

Airbnb

We booked a waterfront place that advertises as having a boat dock and slip. Both true but at the time of our booking it was not clear from the photos that the slip was essentially a dug-out ramp into a small river. We get there, the AC is not working, there are temp units in it, and they have been taped up through the windows with gaping holes. Think to melt away into oblivion. The location itself was not so great, sugar ants everywhere and an unclean fridge – not what we expected.  We cleaned the fridge, sprayed for the ants and contacted the host about the AC. The host was extremely responsive and did come and fix the temporary AC. They also offered to release us and refund us. The problem is there was nowhere else to go. It was scalloping season our choice would have been to go home.

We didn’t need to contact Airbnb. The host responded as expected. My only criticism here is that at the time of listing the place was not ready to be on Airbnb. They acknowledged this, have fixed the issues and have since updated their photos as well.

Here is the listing: Ozello Cottage

Horrendous Airbnb – Auckland New Zealand:

Airbnb

We booked a 7-night stay at an apartment in downtown Auckland. Once reserved we advised the host that our flight will land at 7:30 pm. We were given instructions to pick the keys up from a friend’s letterbox and address provided. Sounds simple right?

The day of check in our flight was delayed, we did not land until 10:20 pm, and we advised the host.  The host replies verbatim “Hi there – they key will be in their letterbox as I think they will have already gone on their holidays too so all good with whatever time you get there.  Safe travels”.

Airbnb

When we arrive, there are no keys. We must drive to find Wi-Fi which took forever to find a McDonald’s. We immediately contacted the host. It is now approximately 1:30 am. On the phone, she states that the keys should be there. She does not know what’s going on and can’t get a hold of her friends. She books us into a hotel downtown for that night and promises to have the matter sorted out in the morning. Alas, we arrive at the hotel and guess who’s paying for the hotel? Us, or no check-in.  We get her on the phone again, and it’s simple. The hotel won’t accept her paying it has to be the person checking in. She promises she will pay for the hotel the next day which was NZD 472 or close to USD 300. We checked in.

What Happened Next

The next morning she reaches out to us wanting to know if we contacted her as soon as we got there and realized no keys. Of course, we did! Then, we sent her the bill. It all goes south from here. On the phone with Brian, she advises Brian that she’s not paying for the hotel because we were late checking in!

I take over the phone call. She thinks it’s unacceptable to expect the keys to be there at 1:30 am when we said we would be there are 10:20 pm. Wait, didn’t she say in writing that whatever time would be good?  Didn’t we say after 11? Fast forward to the punchline; she’s not going to pay for the hotel, at best she will pay half. I said that’s bloody ridiculous — her response. She’s not going to “argue” with me and does not appreciate being sworn at. She then advises me that stuff happens when you travel, oh well and cancels our reservation.

Don’t be fooled, folks.  Bloody is a common slang word in New Zealand – fact. It’s used to emphasize a point.  Slang this woman uses herself in interviews! I passed this information on to Airbnb as the word I used was bloody!  Lucky for her, because I could have launched some of my favorite verbiages at her.

We re-booked ourselves into a suite at the Holiday Inn. Problem sorted in like 10 minutes. Annoying and inconvenient but not a deal breaker, which means, this sure as heck did not affect our plans.

How Airbnb Works: The Refund Process

I immediately notified Airbnb. They were beyond responsive. Their first concern – did we have somewhere to stay and the answer was yes. I gave them all the information including all the texts exchanges, photo proof of all the phone calls, duration and times, the receipts from the hotel, etc. Long story short, they paid for the hotel minus the cost of one night that would have been spent at the Airbnb rental – in other words, what we would have paid.  The also refunded 100% of the prepaid reservation. We might have been inconvenienced, but we were not out-of-pocket.

My only criticism of Airbnb for this situation is this crazy cow is still allowed to list her apartment. On the surface, it looks great. But of course, we were not allowed to leave a review due to it being canceled and all the drama. And, I’ll bet you we are not the only ones that have had issues with this woman.

Here is the listing: Modern, Safe & Beautifully Central! Be sure to avoid this like the plague if you are visiting New Zealand.

Closing Thoughts:

Overall, I think Airbnb provides an excellent service for renting houses and apartments at a reasonable rate. Once regulation hits all the markets, it will be more expensive. Some will debate the merit of this demanding free markets. Others will campaign for more regulation, and I think we will see more and more emphasis on room rent.

I believe room renting is no different from an ad on Craigslist.  Many will continue to use room rentals on Airbnb yet assign full liability to Airbnb. To me this is baffling. Considering you are choosing to stay with a stranger.

For the most part, we have had great experiences minus New Zealand. We will continue to use Airbnb when we can’t use our timeshare or if it makes more sense to. We are using Airbnb for an upcoming stay in Sweden.  Do I think it’s safe? Absolutely.  My advice to you is using the service to rent the entire place. Do not use the service to rent a room, unless you are up for the challenges that may come with that.

Looking for more Travel Hacks? Start here:

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.