Unlike many people in the miles & points community, I am actually a huge advocate and user of Airbnb.
I have used Airbnb quite a few times around the world and have had a terrific experience every single time. My most recent stay was last year in San Francisco (which I wrote about here).
While I love hotel points, elite status, upgrades, tiny bottles of shampoo, etc, I don’t have any loyalty to a specific hotel chain because I have always found the entire hotel experience to be very impersonal. Regardless of your elite status, at the end of the day, you are still one of a hundred plus hotel guests that night.
Not to mention it is extremely frustrating when “luxury” hotels nickel and dime you for things like internet when “discount” chains like Holiday Inn give it away for free…
It is for those reasons that if I don’t have any hotel points or am running low, I typically opt to do Airbnb over paying to stay at a hotel.
Not only do you typically get an entire apartment for less money than the cost of a tiny hotel room but you can also stay outside of the touristy parts of town, get local recommendations from the hosts, and basic amenities like wi-fi are included!
FYI: Thanks to Vibhu for commenting below that you can actually get 2x UR Points if you use your Chase Sapphire Preferred to book on Airbnb!
Example Savings Using Airbnb
Many people I know don’t use Airbnb because they think it is like CouchSurfing or Craigslist and are creeped out to stay in someone’s apartment. Although sleeping in a hotel bed that literally thousands of people have slept in doesn’t seem to bother them…
So here is a quick example of potential savings using Airbnb and what you can expect to find on the site in terms of quality.
Say you want to take your significant other on a romantic getaway to NYC next weekend.
The cheapest 5 star hotel I could find on Kayak was The Conrad New York, which going for $294 a night or around $700 after tax for a 2 night weekend stay.
While the hotel certainly looks really nice, $700 is not a small chunk of change for a 2 night stay…
With Airbnb, I was able to find someone’s entire 2 bedroom apartment that looks fairly “comparable” in Murray Hill and has a 5 star review from 21 actual guests.
What is the price per a night for this 2 bedroom apartment?
Only a $165 a night or $330 for 2 nights…
“$165 A Night”
Now if you stack the coupons and credit below, this $330 rental could potentially only cost $224 total after all the discounts…
Of course some people will still disagree and would still rather pay $400 a night for the Conrad Hotel but in my opinion, if all you are doing is sleeping in the hotel then it is hard to beat $165 a night for a nice 2 bedroom apartment in a prime location.
20% Airbnb Coupon
Thanks to MilesToMemories who posted that now through November 1, 2014, you can get 20% off your first Airbnb stay (minimum $200 booking) by using the code 20off
If you are visiting site after 11/1/2014 and this 20% coupon is expired, you can still use the free credit below.
In my opinion, this is a FANTASTIC DEAL because Airbnb rarely offers coupons or discounts.
If you already have an Airbnb account, you can always let your significant other, friend, travel partner, alter ego, etc create a new Airbnb account to take advantage of this great offer.
$50 Airbnb Credit
If you have never used Airbnb before, you can use my link below and get $50 credit towards your first booking (depending on when you read this post, the credit may have gone up or down).
While this blog primarily covers frequent flying and earning miles and points via credit cards, the purpose of Frequent Flyer University has always been to teach others how to travel around the world as cheaply as possible.
Many times this takes the form of luxury hotels and business class flights, but other times it involves flying Southwest and staying in hostels. The underlining trait all those different experiences have is that they are either free or extremely cheap compared to the alternative of paying out of pocket.
While it is certainly odd to review staying in someone’s house, the reason I am writing about my latest Airbnb stay is to show that there are GREAT & CHEAP alternatives to hotels when you don’t have enough hotel points or hotel rates are too expensive.
For some reason, the majority of people find the idea of staying in a stranger’s house weird unless that stranger’s last name is Marriott or Hilton…
However if you can get pass that silly bias, it is fairly easy to see the idea of Airbnb is somewhat genius and can save / earn you a lot of money while traveling!
What Is Airbnb?
Airbnb (Wikipedia) is a website that allows people to rent out their extra bedrooms or entire house to travelers.
For example, if you have a spare bedroom, instead of letting it sit empty, you could potentially rent it out to fellow travelers and make some money off of it.
Airbnb has some 250,000 listings in 30,000 cities and 192 countries and has been covered extensively by every major news organization out there.
Similar to Trip Advisor, the majority of properties (unless they are newly listed) on Airbnb have been thoroughly reviewed by other travelers, so you know exactly what you are getting.
The primary benefit of using Airbnb over staying at a hotel, is the cost!
Since Homeowners and Renters don’t have the typical overhead a hotel might have (like cleaning staff or front desk), you can typically pay 30% – 90% less by staying at a Airbnb property.!
Airbnb San Francisco Stay
About 2 weeks before departing for San Francisco, as usual I was scrambling to find lodging.
As I talked about in an earlier post, I was able to redeem 2 free nights at Fairmont Sonoma and another severely discounted night at Radisson Fisherman’s Wharf.
That left me needing lodging for the night I was arriving in San Francisco.
The available hotel point options were too expensive for my taste and the out of pocket cost for a room was $300+.
I could have done a hostel for around $30 – $40 a night, but my last hostel experience in SF before the SMD4 was pretty bad, so I opted to try Airbnb.
With Airbnb, you have 3 options you can choose from:
Obviously to rent out an entire apartment is the most expensive option but probably makes sense if you are traveling with a family.
If you are a couple, you can easily share a private room.
If you are a solo traveler and don’t mind sleeping on an air mattress or someone’s couch, then you can easily find something for less than $35 a night for a shared room!
Since the rest of my San Francisco trip was basically free thanks to redeeming miles & points, I opted to “splurge” and get a Private Room.
To search for lodging options, I simply went to Airbnb.com and searched for San Francisco.
As you can see below, in San Francisco there are over 1,000+ listings!
You can filter by price range and room types.
The listings range from $35 for someone’s couch to $2,500 a night for someone’s mansion.
I was looking for something that had good reviews and was around $100 a night.
Ultimately I settled on Michael and Yessica’s place, which you can check out here.
It was a 3 bedroom condo in the Mission District of San Fran and the total for a Saturday night stay was $106, which is a pretty good price!
54 people had already stayed and reviewed the property, so I felt extremely comfortable staying there.
After booking it, Yessica sent me an email with all the info including her cell number. If for some reason they weren’t home when we arrived, there was a lock box with a key that would give us access to their house.
When we arrived Saturday evening, they were home and “checking in” was not a problem.
As you can see below, the property was really nice!
There was a full kitchen, bathroom, and even a small outdoor space to grill!
As for the bedroom, it looked exactly like described in the photos on their Airbnb listing.
There was even a chocolate on the bed when we arrived and just like a hotel, fresh linens and towels were provided!
In addition to us, there was also a French family of 3 renting the other bedroom.
All in all the entire stay was great and it was perfect for what we needed it for, which was mostly to sleep.
When we were ready to leave Sunday Morning, we simply left the keys on their kitchen table and left.
Pretty easy check out if you ask me!
Live Like A Local
The other neat thing about staying with someone on Airbnb (and this has been supported by Airbnb’s data), is that Airbnb renters typically stay outside the “normal” Hotel Districts in cities.
This is probably due to the fact that most normal people try to avoid living right next to the Times Squares of the World!
When I went to San Francisco 2 years ago, I burned Starwood Points and stayed at the Westin St. Francis which is located in the heart of Union Square. The location was great for doing touristy things like riding the cable cars and shopping at department stores, but any time we wanted to go to local SF restaurants that weren’t named California Pizza Kitchen, we always ended up going outside of the Union Square area.
By staying with locals, you get to explore neighborhoods that you might typically not see!
In my case, I had never been to the Mission District and it certainly is a little rough around the edges, but we ended up having some great late night burritos at El Farolito, Sunday Brunch at Wise Sons, and the most amazing mint mojito iced coffee at Philz.
If we had stayed at a hotel near Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf (which we did for 1 night), there is absolutely no way we would have gotten to try those local SF restaurants and experienced San Francisco from the eyes of a local.
Benefits Of Being An Airbnb Host
While it is certainly advantageous for travelers to use Airbnb, if you are reading this and have a spare bedroom or couch, I’d recommend renting it out on Airbnb!
Airbnb Renting = Serious $
After we stayed at Michael and Yessica’s place, based on the room availability information I found on their Airbnb listing, I was curious to see just how much money they were making from Airbnb.
While it seemed their rooms were rented for most nights, for the sake of this example, let’s just assume that both rooms are typically only rented for half the month.
With 2 rooms X $100 a night X 15 nights rented a month, that is an extra $3,000 a month!
Assuming their mortgage is around $3,000 – $5000 a month, at a minimum their Airbnb rentals cover at least half their monthly mortgage if not all of it!
Airbnb Has Got You Covered
If you are squeamish about letting random people stay with you for fear of theft, Airbnb has a $1,000,000 insurance policy for people who rent out their places.
In addition, you are free to add both a cleaning fee and security deposit per renter!
Airbnb puts their 5% – 10% service fee on top of the price you rent it for, so whatever you set your daily rate at, it is all yours!
Even if you don’t have an extra bedroom to rent out, there is still a way to use Airbnb to be a host and make some extra money!
In my case, I am going to be traveling around the world starting next week to the end of September. During my travels, my furnished room in Chicago is going to be sitting empty for the entire month even though I am still paying rent!
After using Airbnb in San Francisco, I decided to post my Chicago room and see if I could find anyone to rent it.
Not only was I able to rent it out to someone for my normal monthly rent but was also able to get an additional 50% premium on top of that! Basically that money will pay for my entire lodging while I am traveling!
While Airbnb won’t help you earn elite status, free nights, suite upgrades, and everything else that comes with staying a hotel, there certainly are some other reasons to choose Airbnb over a hotel!
While Airbnb is definitely cheaper than almost all hotels, the real benefit of staying with a local via Airbnb is that you get to tour new neighborhoods and get tips on things to do and see from people that actually live in the area!
I have had 2 experiences with Airbnb so far and both have been far better than any experience I have had staying in a hotel! Therefore I highly recommend everyone check out Airbnb on your next vacation.
I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how cheap and amazing some of the properties are!
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