Airbnb Review: An Honest Review From Two Backpackers

(Please note I was not paid by Airbnb to do this review. This is an honest review from our real experience using the site during a recent trip to Paris.)

AirBNB Review Introduction Image

On a recent visit to the wonderful city of Paris, we decided to book an apartment in Montmartre (sometimes it’s nice to be in Paris as a couple instead of in a 12 bed hostel dormitory) using the website Airbnb for the first time. This is a non-sponsored review of our experience using the service and a look into the sort of place we were able to book as users of the website.

Design & Usability
On-Site Reviews: Trustworthy?
Finding, Booking & Paying: Our Experience
Our Room In Paris
Final Thoughts

Airbnb is a site that’s been making a few big splashes in the short term rental travel industry. The basic premise is that a “host” can sign up with the website and then offer their room, apartment or house to other travellers for a fee that is generally a lot more reasonable than a hotel room.

The website acts as the directory for all of these rooms and apartments, and then becomes the middleman in the financial transaction. They are the ones that pay the host your money (and take their cut too of course), and they are also the ones you deal with if any problems arise with the place or the host.

Obviously this review is written from the perspective of a guest and not a host, so I can’t really comment on the host aspect of the site and the guidelines and functions surrounding that.

Design & Usability

The site has a relatively simple design, but I like that sort of thing so it appeals to me. Lots of white and gray so their logo and other important info pops out. Your screen doesn’t feel too ‘busy’ so it makes a good first impression when you visit the site for the first time.

There is an easy to use search box on the homepage so you can start looking for a place straight away, otherwise a ‘Popular Cities’ tab covers off most of the, well, popular cities.

Once you create an account, you’re allocated a number of account specific links such as a ‘Dashboard’ and a ‘Profile’ page.

The ‘Profile’ page, it seems to me, provides a lot more use to hosts then it does to guests. There is an area where you can upload photos and videos of yourself so people can ‘get to know you’ – and there is also a ‘Trust and Verification’ page where you can connect your social media such as facebook and twitter, as well as verify your mobile phone number.

As a paying guest, there’s not really much of an incentive to do all this (apart from maybe upload a quick bio photo), but I can see how it helps hosts attract more guests if they can see that it’s a real person and not the classic ‘faceless guy’…

See my bubbly personality shining through!

Although it is also possible some hosts may be picky in regards to new guest members who have no prior history with using Airbnb. Just don’t be faceless guy and you should be fine.

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On-Site Reviews: Trustworthy?

Even though, as guests, we know that reviews can sometimes be quite subjective – they still leave a remarkable impression and have massive influence over whether we decide to book a hostel/room/apartment/hotel or not.

So who decides if a review, say a negative one, remains up on the site or not? When is it deemed appropriate to remove? I decided to do a bit of research on Airbnb’s policy on this.

According to their website:

“…as a community that values honesty and transparency, a review will only be removed in the event that it violates our review guidelines. Reviews and review responses must follow these guidelines.”

Apart from the general policy and content guidelines of removing reviews that contain racism, profanity, endorsements of illegal activity and so on, they have also stated that they will remove a review if:

“The user leaving a review is suspended by Airbnb for behavior in violation of our Terms of Use or Airbnb policies, or whose account is terminated for other safety reasons.”

“Airbnb is provided with a valid court or appropriate law enforcement order requesting removal of a review.”

As with any website that has grown as quickly as they have, there has been a spate of naysayers who claim the review process is not as fair and transparent as claimed. I had a quick look through the room/apartment offerings in Paris and their reviews to see if I could I find a truthful and relatively negative review:

“Sarah’s flat is in a nice part of the city, as described. Unfortunately, my stay was marred by the flat not having been cleaned and stocked, but Sarah assures me that this was a one off misunderstanding. It is centrally located, and has lots of natural light.”

The Airbnb system is not a hotel, but you do expect a clean space when you arrive. Our experience (which I’ll cover more in-depth in a moment) was awesome, except there was only one towel for the two of us, granted it was a big towel but it was still quite annoying. Although overall I would leave a positive review, this is something that I would mention as constructive feedback (but I feel a bit petty even bringing it up in this review – I’m not really a prima donna, promise).

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Finding, Booking & Paying: Our Experience

We wanted an apartment in a good location that was reasonably priced. We ended up finding a studio apartment right in the middle of Montmartre for only €60 a night.

Considering dorm beds in a hostel in Paris are around €25 – €30, and there are two of us, and hotels in a nice area of Paris will easily set you back way over €60, you can see why it makes so much more sense in a situation like this for us to book through a site like Airbnb.

The place we found promised excellent views in a studio apartment and had loads of fantastic reviews, so we thought, ‘Let’s do it!’

Booking and paying was easy and painless, we contacted the host to see if he would take us and if there was availability for the nights we wanted and he responded promptly that he could.

Once the reservation was confirmed, we paid the amount in full using our credit card. We only booked a few nights, so it wasn’t a massive amount. If you were booking a place long-term and doing this in advance, then it’s definitely something to keep in mind that a charge will be authorised on confirmation of the reservation.

Airbnb holds the money until AFTER your stay (the host does not receive it straight away) so there are avenues for a cancellation & refund prior to your reservation dates depending on the circumstances. Have a look at the listing you plan on booking, it should have a tab that will outline its cancellation policy.

Along with all of this, our host (Vincent) sent us a message with all the instructions on how to get there and we organised a time to meet at the address. We also swapped mobile numbers so we could contact each other if someone was going to be late.

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Our Room in Paris

We waited outside the front door of the address for about 10 minutes, and then Vincent our host strolled up with the keys.

He took us up six flights of winding stairs in this old feat of Parisian architecture, we reached the top (I may have been panting slightly since I was carrying our pack) and then entered a cosy studio apartment with incredible views.

Want to see exactly where we stayed? Click here to check it out!

Why write about it when I can just show you in pictures!

Standing out on the balcony of the apartment.

The little kitchen...

The lounge room.

The lounge again from a different angle.

The view of the Eiffel Tower from the balcony!

The Sacré Cœur...from the same balcony!

SQUASH! You can almost touch it...

As you can imagine, Trudy and I were pretty stoked with the apartment we booked through Airbnb, especially considering its location in Montmartre and the fact it was only €60!

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Final Thoughts

They had to deal with a negative PR storm mid last year (a host had their house trashed by a guest), which prompted a giant overhaul of their host safety features and guarantees, and a personal letter from Brian Chesky the CEO. I believe they’ve moved well past this situation now, although the internet is still sprinkled with articles about this event.

As guest users, Trudy and myself can both say we were absolutely delighted with our experience. The place was fantastic value for money and was extremely personable, homely and clean on arrival – and you saw the view and location we had! I would definitely use the service again without hesitation (and will in the future).

If I could summarise Airbnb in one sentence as a backpacker, I would probably say something like:

“It’s similar to CouchSurfing except you pay for it and don’t socialise with your host”

Maybe that doesn’t make it sound that appealing, but if you’re travelling as a couple and need a break from dorm rooms and CouchSurfing hosts (if you’re not socialising as part of your CouchSurfing experience you’re doing it wrong) – then something like Airbnb is perfect for this, and is often a MUCH better alternative to a cheap hotel.

38 Responses to “Airbnb Review: An Honest Review From Two Backpackers”

  1. Brenda says:

    I agree, using air BnB is painless and awesome – on a recent visit to the USA the two places we stayed in were excellent.

    My only complaint is to do with the payments – you say you paid a security deposit. We had the full amount of our stay withdrawn immediately on confirmation. For 5 nights at around $85 and 4 nights at $140 a night that’s quite a bit – particularly as we booked several months in advance. It was also not clear to me that this was going to happen.

    So if you can now pay just with a deposit – even better!

    • Tom says:

      Hey Brenda, thanks for taking the time to share your experience. Actually, now that I think about it I believe the whole amount was authorised on confirmation of the reservation (I’m going to edit my post to reflect this). We only stayed a few nights so it wasn’t a biggie and it came straight off the credit card. I haven’t even paid it off yet 😉

      But you’re right, if you are staying long term, like more than 7 nights then it could definitely add up to a reasonable sum that you have to pay for upfront. I suppose it’s in place to protect the hosts and to stop people booking and then just not showing up. Still though, it would be nice if you could instead make a down payment of 30% and pay the rest on arrival or something like that.

      • Houman says:

        I would like to share my experience booking a place through Airbnb in Paris recently. We have not taken the trip, yet. But, as it is mentioned above, Airbnb charges the guest the Full amount at the time of booking. This is very unusual in hospitality business as they are just a middle man.

        They additionally charge their not-so-small fees. The host doesn’t get paid until the time of arrival (or after). So, I demanded my interest charges on my credit card to be paid by them, but as you can imagine I got a rude awakening.

        This part of their business practice is very unfair. Their customer service has claimed that they do not collect any interest on these pre-payments. But I highly doubt the authenticity of this claim!

        The website is trendy and has a bit of social media trends to it (the reviews, connecting to friends, etc.). However, for the reason stated above, I would never book with them again.

  2. Great overview – the best part was the boy I spent my time with in our apartment 😉

  3. Chantal says:

    I used Airbnb for my family when the five of us were staying in New York city. A hotel would have obviously been unbelieveably expensive, but I managed to find a place for all of us. It was tiny and old with signs of bad maintainance, but we had breakfast in our kitchen and the subway was around the corner. It wasn’t the greatest place to stay but for the money it worked. Besides, when you’re in NY for a few days, you want to spend most of your time out anyway. And the host was prompt with the keys and such.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for adding a real experience to the review, Chantal 🙂 The thing to remember I reckon, is that it’s NOT a hotel so there is certainly room for both amazing AND negative experiences depending on your host and their place. Airbnb obviously have a brand to protect so have things in place like reviews, maps and all sorts of policies but the fact still remains that you’re dealing with other people and not an acommodation chain or something like that. This normally works extremely well in its favour (like our experience!), but everyone now and then I’m sure it doesn’t and that’s where I guess you rely on Airbnb to be cutting the mustard in terms of follow up service.

  4. Louise says:

    This is really interesting Tom…I wasn’t sure if it was something I would use but after reading this maybe it could be!

  5. Jaka says:

    The concept is combining couchsurfing + craigslist. Not new but innovative.

  6. Laurence says:

    I did the Roomorama thing in Barcelona and thought it was awesome, so would imagine Airbnb would be similar. Maybe I should try them too and find out 😀

  7. paola dagnino says:

    hi there..can you send me the link for this room? I really want to stay here when I go to Paris… thank u!:)

    • Tom says:

      Hi Paola,

      Certainly, this is the room we stayed in and that is featured in this review. The only things to note about the room specifically is that there is no wi-fi, no oven (but there is a stove top so no biggie) and there are six flights of stairs to walk up. All things that didn’t really bother me much as everything else was perfect. Hope you have a blast in Paris!

      • paola dagnino says:

        Hi Tom! thank u so much for your prompt reply! I tried to open the link but it doesnt work :(… also, was this apt close to a train station?? thanks! 🙂

        • Tom says:

          Hey Paola, it looks like the Airbnb site is down which is weird – I had a look on twitter and their official twitter account reads:

          “Site’s having a bit of technical difficulties, but we’ll AirBRB!”

          The apt is in Montmartre and is very close to the Gare du Nord train station (like 2 metro stops away or 15-20 mins walking). It’s EXTREMELY close to the Abbesses Metro stop in Montmartre. Give the link another go when Airbnb itself is back up and running (shouldn’t be to long). If you need any more help, just give me a shout!

          • paola dagnino says:

            YAY! it worked! thank u so much Tom! and thank u so much for giving us so much information as well! 🙂

          • Tom says:

            Woo! My pleasure Paola, I hope you have an awesome time in Paris. Any questions, just ask =)

  8. Gen says:

    Hi

    A good and balanced recount I think.

    I would just like to mention that some properties advertised on Airbnb (like our rooms for rent in our chalet in Chamonix France) are in people’s homes, rather than independent apartments, so it works as a B&B with a real host in certain cases. In that way you can socialize with some of the hosts in properties in various countries. Others are independent apartments – so it depends on who advertises and which one you choose.

    You do have the chance to ask more questions of the owner before you book as well if you need internet or etc. (I also think that each property has a “features” list where if it has internet, this will be mentioned).

    I know as an owner we are paid 24-48 hours after the guest arrives. I think that pre-authorising a card during booking is reasonable and important as imagine what would happen if a guest booked, yet could not pay due to credit card refusal, but stayed in the apartment – how would anyone collect ? In such a case, AirBnB would be out of money as the middle man …

    • Tom says:

      Hi Gen,

      Thanks for adding your real experience as a host on Airbnb – always good to have some viewpoints from the other side of things!

      I certainly see WHY they would want to pre-authorise the card, it’s just that if you’re booking in advance a place for 1 – 2 months that is a fair bit of money to be not accessible all of a sudden. Of course guests just need to be aware of this before the booking process so there are no surprises! For most, it won’t be an issue as it will be 2 – 5 nights at most.

  9. Anna says:

    Unfortunately Airbnb does not protect their hosts. I know of 5 incidents, including my own, where a home was robbed or trashed and Airbnb makes it impossible to get compensation, either through their “guarantee” or from the security deposit. It is a shame only EJ’s story got picked up my the media last year, because there are plenty more.

  10. anna says:

    the only guarantee Airbnb offers to hosts is that if something bad happens, they will guarantee to find a way they are not libel. Unfortunately all people are not honest and the site does nothing for hosts when they are robbed/vandalized

    • Tom says:

      Hi Anna,

      It’s a shame to hear that you’ve had a bad experience as a host on Airbnb.

      As guest users, we certainly felt like we were staying a loved home & apartment. This added a real charm to our stay and I can imagine most people wouldn’t dream of trashing or vandalising a space like that.

      However the select few can often ruin it for the rest. I suppose going off my article above, THAT’S a good reason for guests themselves to fill out the profile section w/ photos & facebook etc so hosts have a good idea of who they are.

  11. Eric says:

    Nice to see some positive feedback on Airbnb. I’ll give it a try in our next few locations and see what comes of it.

  12. Rob says:

    Our first Airbnb experience was in Paris too, and it was similarly fantastic. In fact, we’re now spending a year travelling and using only Airbnb for our accommodation! We work while we travel, so it’s good to have our own space and all the home comforts (especially wi-fi) in place.

    In our experience, the ‘profile’ section can be quite important for guests – if you at least add a picture and connect your social media profiles it’ll give hosts confidence that you’re legit. We also give hosts some background information about ourselves when we contact them ahead of booking.

    Reviews are obviously crucial for hosts, so we always accentuate the positives while still being honest. There’s also the opportunity to leave private feedback for the host, and they’re usually grateful if you point out things they could improve for future guests (like the towel, in your case).

    It’s more effort than booking a hotel for sure, but such a great way to travel for those of us who’re too old and boring for hostels and couchsurfing 🙂

    • Tom says:

      Hey Rob,

      All great tips there – thanks for sharing. You’ve obviously used Airbnb a lot more than us, so it’s nice to hear the whole experience has been positive overall!

      No-one is too old for hostels and couchsurfing though 😛

  13. Amber says:

    Tom – how do you feel about the new AirBnB website design? This is a great review!

  14. janie says:

    Used airbnb in London with disastrous results. when things go wrong there is no support from airbnb and it is impossible to get your money refunded if you arrive and find things are not as promised. I arrived with my family to find my boys were to be sleeping in a shed with no electricity or water and foldaway beds, not a “self contained guest unit” we ended up in a hotel and so paid for accommodation twice. Airbnb were breathtaking in their disinterest and made no attempt to compensate/reimburse me nor did they ask the hosts to modify/take down their posting. The final insult was that they did not post my review.
    Avoid!

    • Tom says:

      Hi Janie! Sucks to hear you had such a bad experience, it’s a shame because we’ve used it multiple times with fantastic results. I highly recommend it to friends & family. My pointer would be to stay at a place that has been positively reviewed multiple times and that people seem to be happy with when booking for the first time. With the photos, reviews from other guests and the description I’ve always found it to be as described!

  15. Franz says:

    Airbnb hosts are like using any apartment agency or any other agency for a short-term rental. You look at their on-line reputation. If hosts have a lot of positive reviews, they will mostly deliver what they promise.

    Always look closely at the photos. Are things omitted or just not right? It takes a bit of Sherlock Holmes-ing, but you can get there. Example: Where is the balcony with a view in the photos? It’s a french balcony? Well, guess what that is not a balcony.

    I am a bit discerning of a rental I am looking at now in a major city. Great location, lots of sunlight, but furnishings look spartan and the bed appears to be on the floor. Some reviewers in a mildly sarcastic tone mention the lack of furnishings, no stove, pots, pans or plates. On the surface, it looks like someone bought it to rent it out at a premium due to its prime location. However, it’s clear they made the barest investment in the apartment.

    Other hosts really seem to truly care about their units even if they have multiple units. One bad experience can ruin their small business. I too am a bit suspicious that really bad reviews do not get posted. They appear to be very rare. It’s possible that one very bad review without many positive reviews can hurt a host and they voluntarily leave AirBnB to post elsewhere on the internet.

    • Tom says:

      Heya Franz, thanks for weighing in – you provide some great advice here. Airbnb is simply human beings, you’ll have some excellent experiences and some not so-excellent experiences (although we’ve had excellent across the board thus far). If people follow your advice as above then that will mitigate any bad experiences extensively. Look at the photos, read the reviews and go from there 🙂

  16. Shawnee says:

    I just used Airbnb for the first time to rent an apartment for week Paris. I was a little nervous about it, but it turned out to be a great experience. Everything went smoothly. The hosts were friendly and helpful and the apartment was just as described. My apartment was in the Republique area which was great, but the views from your place in Montmarte look amazing! Thanks for your post with such useful info!

    • Tom says:

      That’s awesome Shawnee! Yep, we’ve always had great experiences using Airbnb, and it’s fantastic to hear that you did as well. Hope you had an awesome time in Paris!

  17. Conard says:

    Awesome! Great review! So how do I get to stay for free in a nice little parisian apartment only in exchange of a lavishing review on Airbnb? Do you explain this in your E book? If so, I would certainly buy it.

    • Tom says:

      Hi Conard, we actually paid for this parisian apartment ourselves and it wasn’t given to us for free from Airbnb.. was totally worth it though 🙂

  18. Carolyn says:

    Avid AirBNBer here! Just roadtripped across Ireland and used AirBNB almost exclusively, with stellar results – not a single dud. Each host was friendly and helpful, each room was clean and comfortable, and each experience was interesting and unique. I also rent out my place when I’m out of town and every guest I’ve had has exceeded my expectations – most have been impeccably neat and considerate, and a few have even left gifts. I think instinct is key – read reviews and feel people out before making a move – either as a traveller or a host. Weirdos generally make themselves known early on.

  19. BRGomez says:

    Thank you for easing my worries. My son is planning on going to Paris in a month and he is looking into Airbnb apt for a 2 month stay. My worries are a bit less now after your review. Any suggestions of areas to look into for rentals?

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