Travel is one of the most rewarding things you can do. It opens your eyes to the world around you, and allows you to experience new things. It’s something I find incredibly rewarding, and I’m always eager to cut costs, and where better to look than travel accommodation?
Hotels are expensive. Ludicrously so. You don’t get a lot for your money with basic necessities like breakfast, coffee, and WiFi often being optional (and pricey) extras.
So, what does the budget traveler do? Until recently, the answer to that question was a loud and resounding ‘no’, unless you fancied pitching a tent in some muddy field. But along came AirBnB and changed everything.
AirBnB is a popular worldwide accommodation service where you can rent rooms from actual people in their house. Simply choose your city from the 192 countries covered, your stay dates, and AirBnB will show you a list of private rental homes and rooms available.
Home-owners suddenly became empowered to rent out their spare rooms and properties without the worry of payment, whilst consumers found themselves a safe and easy alternative to hotels. But what makes AirBnB special?
I road-tested two AirBnB bookings and one regular hotel. Here’s what I found
Booking With AirBnB
Before we discuss my experiences, it’s worthwhile talking about booking with AirBnB.
The first noticeable difference from a hotel is that all bookings are speculative in nature. What does that mean? When you book a hotel room, the process is pretty straight-forward. You give them your credit card details and permission to debit a certain amount from your card. In return, they let you sleep in one of their rooms for a specified amount of time.
With AirBnB, you’re checking into someone’s home. As a result, you have to ask the homeowner for permission to stay over. This is done by messaging them through the AirBnB website, along with the dates you wish to stay over.
It’s possible that your booking might be refused. This happens. It could be that the homeowners were holding out for a longer stay from you (that’s happened to me), your profile isn’t complete, or you’ve received negative feedback in the past.
Once you’ve been given permission to stay in a property over certain dates, you can go ahead and pay. Some homeowners might want you to pay extra, depending on the length of your stay, and some may require that you pay a security surety. This gets refunded at the end of your stay, provided that you’ve not lost the keys or trashed the place.
Booking with AirBnB is slightly more difficult than booking a hotel room, but not enough to put most people off. Once you’ve made your booking, it’s time to travel!
Belfast is my favorite city in the UK. Despite having a past which has seen some of the worst sectarian conflicts, it has emerged a confident, vibrant, and optimistic city attracting millions of tourists each year. They flock to the city in droves, drawn by its fascinating history, a lively party scene and the stunning Giants causeway.
I always find myself drawn to this amazing city, and when an opportunity arose late last year to visit, I jumped at the chance.
Belfast has no shortage of affordable hotels, but I was certain of something better and cheaper for the price of a ropey Travellodge (as far as my budget could stretch). And boy, I wasn’t wrong.
I ended up staying with Adrian and Sheldon at their penthouse apartment in the sprawling Crumlin Road area of Belfast. Situated on the top floor of a modern apartment building, the room came with stunning views of Northern Ireland’s capital city, as well as access to a rooftop terrace hot tub.
Adrian and Sheldon were helpful to a point, offering ways in which I could avoid parking charges at the nearby Giants Causeway National Park, giving maps and directions when asked, and offering their wealth of knowledge when it came to getting the most out of my vacation.
The room was amazing, but the little things made my stay special. The room came with a little box of Thorntons (fancy) chocolate and a bottle of mineral water. Breakfast was provided, as was a selection of fruit juices, coffee, cereal and toast.
Total cost? £45 per night. I could have stayed in a Travelodge or a Premier Inn for that price, but would I have gotten the same level of attention and consideration? Perhaps not.
Sheffield is a city of 500,000 located in the former industrial county of South Yorkshire, where sloping green hills mingle with cobblestone factories and houses. It’s a beautiful city, and despite its diminutive size it boasts two of the largest (and best) universities in the UK; two soccer teams occupying the highest flights of the English leagues; and some of the greatest museums in the country.
I recently found myself attending the house party of someone who had recently moved to the outskirts of the city, and with crash space unavailable I needed somewhere to stay. To AirBnB I went!
I found a room that was at the perfect price point – £13 per night – and had some highly complimentary reviews. After exchanging emails with the proprietor, I made a booking.
The room was easily reached by bus; a product of being located near one of the main arterial roads in the city. Once I showed up to the house — a Victorian terrace lovingly decorated with oak-panel flooring and containing a DVD collection larger than Kim Jong Il’s — I was given a key to the property and shown around. I was free to come and go as I saw fit, and I was given plenty of space and privacy by Robert, the property owner.
In the morning, breakfast was provided; an offering of coffee, milk, butter, cereal and bread. This was pretty surprising, given that the room cost only £13 per night. I was left a note telling me to take my time leaving the property, and to push the key through the letter box if the owner wasn’t in.
I’ve really taken a shine to AirBnB, but when I went to London last month I plumped for a hotel. After searching for the best travel deals and ringing round hotels trying for cheaper rates, I found an incredible deal on a room in the Hilton London Docklands. When I say ‘incredible deal’, I’m not kidding. It was even cheaper than a bed in a shared dormitory in a nearby hostel.
Despite being hard to reach by the local tube network, I eventually made my way to the hotel. After going through the tedious process of checking in, I was provided with with a stack of documents including the key to my room, a password for the wireless internet hotspot located in the hotel restaurant, a timetable of all the scheduled ferry crossings to the nearby London financial district, as well as a ticket for free trips on the hotel ferry.
Yeah, funny that. The hotel provides access to a ferry for their guests, so that they can get to the nearby Docklands financial district in a matter of seconds. This ferry runs until late at night, and makes regular crossings.
And yet the most basic amenities were lacking. No free WiFi in my room? £16 for a breakfast? Pathetic. Being a hotel, checkout times were strictly enforced. Although, to their credit, checking out slightly late is permitted and free, though you only get one hours extra room time.
Despite this, there were advantages to the traditional model. I didn’t have to worry about tidying my room. My small tray of tea, coffee and biscuits was dutifully refilled daily and the staff were helpful, polite and conscientious. I can understand why — if money was no object — people would still choose to stay in a hotel.
And please don’t think I didn’t enjoy my time at the Hilton Docklands. My room gave stunning views of one of the most beautiful parts of the most beautiful city in the world. I had interesting conversations with both staff and guests, and I enjoyed being able to slink on down to the hotel restaurant at 1am and order a cheeseburger. I just felt that I got more for my money with AirBnB.
Hotels are running scared. Who can blame them? AirBnB has started to devour their market share, as travelers look for better deals at more compelling prices.
Despite this, AirBnB has a few hurdles to overcome. They’ve got to convince property owners to open their homes to strangers, and they have to convince travelers to avoid the relative safety of the hotels.
To do that, they’ve started offering hosts a $1,000,000 insurance deal, in addition to a 24/7 hotline. This comes in the wake of a number of high-profile cases of property owners having their homes vandalized or robbed.
Attempting to win the trust of consumers, they’ve started offering a 24/7 concierge line. Should you find yourself in trouble in a strange city (or just want to find the best Indian restaurant in town), just give them a call and they’ll do their best to help you out. I can’t vouch for this, as the number is a US geographic number and it costs almost £1 per minute to phone the United States from my cell phone. That said, it’s still a pretty nice gesture.
Personally? I’m going to keep on using AirBnB. But I’d love to hear what you think. Have you ever used AirBnB? Good experiences? Bad experiences? Are you addicted to collecting hotel loyalty points? Drop me a comment below.