Three Hidden Costs of Choosing an AirBnB

If you have travelled anywhere in the last few years, you have probably heard of AirBnB–the enormously popular spare-room advertising service designed to give tourists cheaper and more ‘authentic’ accommodation. Anybody can search an area for listings, from spare bedrooms to entire houses, and book a short stay.

We have used AirBnB a bunch of times when travelling, for two main reasons. Firstly, it’s simply cheaper! A double bedroom on AirBnB can be as much as 50% cheaper than in a hotel – tempting more and more tourists to avoid the classic option altogether and opt instead for a short-stay in somebody’s home or spare room.

Secondly, with an AirBnB you’ll probably get the chance to meet your host – whether that’s the property owner, tenant, or manager. Because AirBnB relies on positive word of mouth – spread by leaving positive feedback in the form of reviews left for each listing – these hosts go out of their way to give you, the customer, a good experience. They will more often than not tell you anything you want to know about the local area, from offering local tourism expertise to answering your teething questions about daily life in the place you are visiting. You won’t get this experience with a hotel.

But you may find, as with many things in life, that the deal can sound too good to be true. AirBnB, being a disruptive yet popular platform in the tourist industry, will garner plenty of attention on Two Nimble Tourists. For a start, we thought we’d cover some of the unfortunate pitfalls to using the platform to book your holiday accommodation. AirBnB’s prices may be competitive, but there are a number of hidden costs which travellers should remember when hunting for the right listing.

1) Platform Fees

When booking through AirBnB, the platform charges a hefty booking fee of up to 15%. This is the money which passes to AirBnB itself, rather than the listing owner, or ‘host’. When booking a £50 spare bedroom in London, for example, you could actually be charged as much as £58. This figure is–predictably–not well-publicized on the platform website when searching listings. Although not unexpected, you won’t see the same fee on hotel websites–their headline sticker price is their actual price.

Many local governments have also recently imposed additional taxes on the renting of rooms through AirBnB, for various regulatory reasons. London, New York City, and Amsterdam have led the way–but, like the AirBnB fee, these costs are not well publicised on the AirBnB website, and will worsen the deal from the sticker price that first draws your eye.

2) Cleaning Fees

As well as platform fees, ‘hosts’ are free to charge an additional upfront fee to their guests to cover the cost of cleaning and servicing their space on offer. While this might be expected as a fair ask, there is no uniform standard for the size of this extra levy. Since beginning to use AirBnB in 2016, I have made bookings with cleaning fees ranging from £5 to £20–a hugely varying range–and enough to change my reaction from “it’s barely noticeable” territory to “let’s get a hotel instead” territory very rapidly. ‘Hosts’ know that guests place the greatest emphasis on the sticker price of their listings and not on the finer details, so many try to sneak in extra profits by charging high cleaning fees, even if their space on offer is very modest. Cleaning fees, like platforms fees, are announced to the user only after clicking onto a listing. Bookers beware.

3) Cancellation Policies

AirBnB’s cancellation policies are generally far less lenient than that of hotels. AirBnB offers ‘hosts’ the option to choose a cancellation policy – offering a choice of ‘strict’, ‘moderate’ and ‘flexible’. This in turn affects how easy it is to recover your payment if you choose to cancel your trip – depending on how far in advance you notified the host. This compares unfavourably with hotels, who both anticipate dealing with cancellations, and have to adhere to strict hospitality regulations governing reimbursement of customers.

You will also be at the mercy of your AirBnB ‘host’ to not cancel your booking, which they reserve the right to do–something which happened to me very recently, causing me inconvenience in having to find new accommodation for a couple of nights in Maastricht, Netherlands. AirBnB refunds your payment in full and even offers 10% additional credit to persuade you to book another listing from their website, but on this occasion, I chose to book a hotel instead.

AirBnB has nonetheless had enormous success over the past decade and demand is likely to keep growing as more and more people across the world gain the means to travel for leisure. When choosing to use AirBnB rather than traditional hotels, tourists should be aware of the risk of incurring unexpected hidden costs which may negate the cheaper prices found on the platform. If used correctly, you can save a hell of a load of cash.

Our top-floor apartment in Reykjavik, booked on AirBnB.

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