I’ve known about Airbnb for several years now, but haven’t gotten around to using it until my recent trip to Manila.
If you’re unfamiliar with the site, Airbnb is a place where private home owners can rent out their properties (usually apartments) to travellers. It gives hosts a platform to earn some short term rental income and travellers the chance to enjoy the comforts of a private home.
Manila is notorious for a lack of good, budget hotels (at least in comparison to the neighbouring Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia), so I decided it would be the perfect place to enjoy my first Airbnb experience. Here’s how it all went:
Finding a place
Airbnb has properties available in pretty much all major cities around the world. The search function is easy enough to use, and works basically the same as the popular hotel sites.
You can search by map or by list, and can filter by price, housing type and amenities. One thing I don’t like is you can’t filter by area/suburb, or at least I couldn’t figure out how to.
For this particular booking, I set the filters to apartments costing less than $40 a night with free wifi and a gym. There was a good number of results, and I used the wishlist function to bookmark around 5 or 6 places which looked good and were within my budget.
Securing a place
Once I had a shortlist I had to decide on one to book. My priorities here were safety, price and location, in that order.
Two of them did not have any reviews from previous guests, so from a safety perspective I disregarded them from the get-go. That left with me with around 4 properties to choose from.
Now, Airbnb has an “Instant Book” function, where you can simply book using the online reservation system and secure the place instantly at the listed price. However, if you plan on staying for more than a few nights, you probably have a bit of bargaining power. I’ve noticed a lot of places on AirBnB are not heavily booked, so, at least when I was looking, supply seemed to outweigh demand. Therefore I decided to get in touch with each of them, and see if anyone could offer me a better price.
To do that I simply used the “Contact host” option. You can find this option at the bottom of each listing.
My message was along the lines of, “Hi, I’m arriving in Manila tomorrow and need a place to stay. Could you possibly offer me a better rate if I stayed for 5 nights? My budget is around $30/night. I’m a great tenant, I promise!”
I got a response from one host literally within minutes. Her listed rate was $38, but was happy to give me $30 per night for the 5 nights. That’s a 21% discount just by asking! I accepted immediately and we arranged a check-in time that would suit us both. It really was that simple.
(As for the other hosts, one got back to me the next day and counter-offered, one said she couldn’t lower her rate and one didn’t reply at all).
Payments and fees
Airbnb allowed me to pay in NZD, and the rate was decent, however the fees they charge are a bit extravagant for my liking.
$21 for a $171 booking is 12%. I understand these guys need to take a cut somewhere, but 12% is getting rather hefty.
If you don’t mind being a little sneaky though, there is a way around it. Just tell the host you plan on staying for X nights but you’ll just book one night on Airbnb first so you can check the place out, and you can sort the rest out later on. This is good for three reasons:
- The host also gets charged a fee by Airbnb, so will probably be happy to take the booking offline. He/she will also be more likely to give you a discounted rate.
- You actually get to see the place before committing more nights to it.
- By booking one night on Airbnb, you’re technically making a legitimate booking, so you’re not blatantly breaking any rules. You also still have the leverage of posting a review on the host’s profile if he/she tries any funny business on you (as opposed to removing Airbnb from the process completely).
You should note however that you won’t totally avoid fees by doing this. I did this on a subsequent booking and got charged $5 in fees for just a one night stay, which was about 20% (yikes!).
In the end though, I’m quite happy to pay Airbnb a fee for their service, so for short bookings I just plan on booking through the site. If the time comes however that I need a longer term (2 weeks+) booking, I’ll probably try to take it offline.
My place was what I expected. The photos were accurate and the apartment was clean with all the amenities promised. Here’s what $30 a night gets you in Manila:
For some reason I forgot to take a photo of the kitchen, which was small but sufficient.
As for the process, the host simply gave me the address and a time to check-in, we met in the lobby at the scheduled time and within 15 minutes I was all settled. If I needed anything (like towels, sheets), I just sent her a quick text message or email and it was all taken care of. It’s all very fuss-free without any filling of forms or paperwork (as Airbnb keeps all that stuff on their system).
Once my stay was over the check-out was just as easy. The host came by the apartment to take the keys and I was on my way.
Airbnb definitely has my tick of approval and I plan on using it much more in future. It’s not exactly ideal for super budget travellers, as dorms and even private hostel rooms are likely to be cheaper, but for those who want a bit more privacy and flexibility it’s definitely a better option than hotels.
The fees for using the site are very high, and that’s probably because they’re one of the first sites of their kind. However I’ve noticed a few other sites have popped up (Wimdu, Roomorama) so hopefully with some added competition those fees will start to come down. We shall see!
A few tips and things you should know
- Always make sure you check the reviews of the host. I, personally, wouldn’t stay with anyone who does not have at least one positive review. Remember these places are not as secure as hotels, they are individuals and you need to be a little more cautious than usual.
- There’s no need to pay the listed price. As far as I can see, there are far more hosts than there are renters, so the bargaining power is in your favour. Moreover, on Airbnb you deal directly with the home owner, rather than a manager or receptionist, so the chance of negotiating a better rate are far higher.
- Be mindful that when you make a booking, Airbnb will pre-authorise your credit card and charge a security deposit. If anything happens to the apartment while you’re in there, like, say, you leave the shower on and flood the place, Airbnb will be able to charge it to you. Before you can make a booking they also will require a photo/scan of your ID to verify your identity/account, and I assume they do the same with hosts. It’s bit of a fuss but a good sign that they take security seriously.
Keen to try Airbnb?
If you’re interested to try Airbnb on your next trip, you can get a free $25 credit for your first booking by signing up through my referral link.
Have you tried Airbnb? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!