October 16, 2010 3:20 PM   Subscribe

How reliable is Airbnb? The ridiculously low prices and other things make me suspicious. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who's used the site, especially in NYC.

I understand that the site is supposed to offer a cheap, easy, standardized way to stay at random people's homes as an alternative to hotels. But I'm still nervous about staying in a place for less than $100 a night (as low as $40) in NYC.

In addition to the prices, there's also the fact that most of the reviews are glowingly positive. This makes me wonder if the reviewers have a conflict of interest or maybe the site deletes/edits the reviews. There's something fishy to me about $40 hotels getting more positive reviews overall than the typical low-end NYC hotel on Yelp.

And why shouldn't I distrust the judgment of people who are willing to give the keys to their home to strangers on a regular basis?

If you do recommend it, any tips for finding reliable places? Anything to avoid?

I found this blog post on the New York Times site, but that just tells me that one reporter had a colorful enough experience to write about. (Also, I've read through all the comments on that post: comment #71 describes an Airbnb scam, and #81 says Airbnb deletes negative reviews. Not encouraging.)

I am generally averse to anything resembling "couchsurfing" (the website or the activity).

(For context: I'm traveling alone, and I usually stay at the Pod Hotel on the fairly frequent occasions when I've been going to NYC. That's been working fine so far, but I haven't had a job for a couple months and I'm looking for ways to save money.)
posted by John Cohen to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (15 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I used it to find a room to rent for one night in Brooklyn for cheap and had a fine experience. I had to request at a few different places before one accepted my reservation, so don't get your heart set on a certain place if you're looking to rent a room in an apartment. For hotels, I don't know. I think your experience varies based on where you end up staying, just like booking any accommodation. I definitely saw some negative reviews when I was browsing, and it seems weird that airbnb would delete them when the owner can rebut them on their page as well.
posted by elpea at 3:47 PM on October 16, 2010

I used it in Paris; I was equally skeptical and came out really, really impressed. The place was small but really clean and looked exactly like the photos. The guy who managed the place was honest and helpful (not "professional"-- because he wasn't. He was a bartender.) I left a glowing review. I'm sure each listing is different, but in my case, it turned out to be an incredible deal with no setbacks or ripoffs. Much better than any budget hotels I stayed in in Paris, which were more expensive, less nice, and shadier.
posted by threeants at 3:49 PM on October 16, 2010

Response by poster: it seems weird that airbnb would delete them when the owner can rebut them on their page as well.

Well, pleasing the owner isn't the only possible motive. Commenter #81 on the NYT blog claims that Airbnb deletes reviews to make the website itself more popular. Presumably, Airbnb is making money off the fact that people perceive its listing to represent good places to stay.
posted by John Cohen at 3:51 PM on October 16, 2010

If you want to keep it in the family, there's a MeFites' group on Couchsurfing.
posted by Alt F4 at 4:14 PM on October 16, 2010

I used it in NYC and got a one bedroom apartment for $125/night for two weeks (entire apartment, not just a room in someone's apartment). It worked out really well. The apartment looked better in person than the pictures, the owner was very helpful, and I had a great time staying there. It was much better value than a hotel or private room in a hostel.

I read the reviews carefully - some places sounded good but when you read the reviews, they did have some problems. To me, this seemed to particularly be the ones where the same person was renting out a few apartments - switching people into different apartments, apartment not as described, issues with picking up keys. This seemed to be with places that sounded a bit too good to be true in the owner's description. Also where they have so many places that they have numbered them in their descriptions (there is one person who has 27 places listed).

I contacted about four people who had good reviews and asked some questions (about availability, features of the apartment etc). Two people responded quite quickly and I felt they were quite genuine - both these people had filled out their personal profiles as well as their apartment profiles, and one had asked that anybody wanting to rent their apartment do the same.

I recommended AirBnB to a colleague, who used it to find a room in someone's apartment; she had a positive experience too.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:38 PM on October 16, 2010

I had a great experience staying in someone's spare bedroom in DC. I guess I would suggest having backup plans, just in case the renter is a psycho. And if you're averse to "couchsurfing," the whole thing might not be for you. But I liked it.
posted by Alaska Jack at 5:19 PM on October 16, 2010

I travel a fair bit on business, and I am getting tired of faceless hotels. After years of having plenty of wextra room I have downsized dramatically in the last year. I now a have pretty small place, with no real room for overnight guests, but friends come to visit often , so having potential accommodations nearby that are affordable and different intrigued me.

So I picked some of the local accommodations from the site, hopped on my pedal bike for a ride on this beautiful fall day, and then went and visited them. In two cases, I introduced myself to the owners who were out in their yards enjoying the sun, and was enthusiastically given a tour! Based on this random assessment of 4 of the local listings, this looks like a fabulous service to me, and I'll give it a whirl on my next out of town trip.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:23 PM on October 16, 2010

It really doesn't sound like it's for you, but I've had positive experiences in DC with it, as well. Everything was exactly as described, and it was somewhat cheaper over a summer weekend than a hotel in the same area would've been, and I had an apartment to myself. (It was definitely much nicer than a hotel in the same price range, so good reviews for cheap places don't surprise me at all. Hotels in tourist areas are obviously priced high due to demand, whereas the owners of these places don't want to price too high or they won't get any guests.) I'm not a big fan of staying with other people, but the "whole apartment" option worked well for me.
posted by wending my way at 5:55 PM on October 16, 2010

I had a positive experience with Airbnb this summer in Chicago. The place was as nice as it was described, and the owner was very nice.
posted by studioaudience at 6:39 PM on October 16, 2010

We're entertaining our 5th AirBandB guest at this instant in central Vermont. From a provider standpoint, it rocks, so far. I think the guests have liked it, too.

(We've hosted folks from Berlin, Barcelona, Hong Kong, LA, NYC so far.) I plan on using it when I travel in the future.
posted by FauxScot at 7:00 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding what wending my way said above. I have just spent the last hour on this site, planning my next trip. I also am not a huge fan of shared accommodation. So , what I have managed to accomplish using this service is to upgrade myself from a basic hotel room to; a stand-alone lakeside cottage, an oceanfront condo with a walk-on beach, a log-house on an acreage, and 600 sq. ft. downtown loft, with a sunset harbour view. All of these places were less than $100.

There is no comparing this to hotels in the same areas, actually. In each case, I am saving about $30 to $40 a night, (plus breakfast in 3 cases) and I am substantially upgrading my living-space, quality of aesthetics, and even my privacy into the bargain.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:10 PM on October 16, 2010

As far as I'm concerned, the site exists to bring individuals together: an individual looking for a place to crash, and another individual looking to make a few quick bucks on their space's vacancy while they're out of town. It's just another social network, and every social network has a few bad users that haven't been found out yet.

For me, it's worked out great - as a matter of fact, I ended up becoming long-distance online buddies with the person whose apartment I stayed at.
posted by theraflu at 7:52 PM on October 16, 2010

My co-worker here in NYC travels a fair amount for business, and when he's gone, he rents his place out on AirBnB. He says he's had nothing but positive experiences while making a fair bit of extra cash.
posted by novalis_dt at 8:33 PM on October 16, 2010

I've used it both for a place to stay [in Indianapolis] and I have friends who make some decent money renting out a room in their house out here [in Vermont].

I feel like if you read all the reviews and they seem decent and you can figure out "gee how are they able to rent out this place for this much money?" and then you think "hmmm maybe it's really a big closet with a room in it..." The big deal is that people can really decide how much they want to pay tax and how much they want to clean and/or advertise and the places are usually some sort of balance. The place I stayed in Indianapolis, for example, was nice, but it was sort of clear that I was staying in the host's bedroom and he slept in his office. Not a huge deal but definitely on the weirder side of things. That said it was $55 a night for a place with breakfast included and was otherwise pretty terrific.

I find the things to look out for is more like "what would these sorts of people not mind that I might mind?" Stuff like noisy locations, people up at all hours [less of a problem in hotels], somewhat random cleanliness, rooms in closets or places with lots of other people in and out.

I've been happy to few times I've used it [i have another place lined up a few months from now, another downside is that you pay when the reservation is accepted, so making the reservation way in advance ties up your cash, this is quite different from hotels] and my local friends [who commented above] have really enjoyed having people come stay at their place and making a little extra money and not having to deal with credit cards or other nonsense and just hosting and not much else.
posted by jessamyn at 8:42 PM on October 16, 2010

I used AirBnb when I went to NYC with my band this summer. We rented out an entire 4-bedroom brownstone apartment in Park Slope for ~$200/night. Free wi-fi, full kitchen, the works. I highly recommend it.
posted by chara at 6:11 AM on October 17, 2010

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