Airbnb has taken the travel industry by storm over the past several years, and it’s easy to see why. Much like how Uber disrupted the taxi industry by providing better, more trustworthy service for a cheaper price, Airbnb has begun to do the same thing to hotels. Airbnb has really grown, and its standards have really elevated since we started using it several years ago.
Back then it was kind of rough and tumble sometimes, but now some of these apartments make 5-star hotels look bad, and for less than half the price. In many cases, there really is no better way to travel. I have stayed in over 100 Airbnbs all over the world, and in this post, I’ll give you my top 6 money-saving tips for finding a good Airbnb.
1. Prioritize the Filters on Airbnb
Airbnb lets you filter out what kind of accommodation you want, whether that is entire houses, apartments, shared spaces, private rooms, or boutique hotel rooms. While I almost always prefer to have a whole place to myself, I have used private rooms a few times – in the United States, Ireland, and England – and have only had positive experiences. It really just depends on your comfort levels and what you need for your trip!
My best piece of advice for finding the best possible Airbnb within your budget is to cycle through all of the filters and select every option that you think is ideal or important to you. If you’re using your phone to search, the filter button is in the main search bar along with the prompt for your destination and dates. Its looks like 3 lines with circles on it.
When you click that, you might be shocked by just how many filters there are! When you’re applying the filters, my biggest tip is to set your price filter first. The reason I suggest this is that you can watch the number of available options within your budget change as you select different filters. For example, if you say that you’re going to Cozumel from July 6-13 and that your budget is $80 per night, it might initially tell you there are 50 options available. Select “Entire Place” and that might drop to 40. No big deal. But, this is great for when you start getting into more niche filters.
If you put that you want a hot tub, for example, you might see that your options went from 40 to 3. If you hadn’t selected the price earlier, you’d see that there are 50 units available with a hot tub, but you’d be stuck scrolling through useless places that cost $300 per night. Basically, if you select your most important filters first and then filter through the less important things afterward, you’re more likely to find the Airbnb that you want.
2. Read the Reviews of Each Airbnb
This is the most applicable piece of advice that I can offer regarding booking a good Airbnb. The main way that Airbnb has been able to penetrate the hotel industry has been with its user-to-user platform. Individual hosts that may have little-to-no hospitality experience open up their properties to guests. Since Each Airbnb is a one-off unit, it would be very hard for Airbnb to vet the quality of every single unit on their platform around the world.
Instead of Airbnb doing that work, the guests do! Every time someone stays in an Airbnb, they are encouraged to leave a detailed review after their stay. Hosts also have the option to leave reviews about guests.
The review is filled with guided questions about the unit, like “Did the unit have free parking on the premises?” The guest taps the appropriate response to each of these questions, confirming to Airbnb that the listing was accurate. Then, the guest is led to the open-ended part of the review, which is most valuable to future guests. Here, the guest rates different aspects of the Airbnb on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, and then leaves a detailed written review about their whole experience.
This review can be positive or negative, and the host doesn’t see it until after the guest has left. In fact, a guest can’t even leave a review until roughly 12 hours after they check out. Airbnb is completely transparent and publishes every review, as you can see in the screenshot above. The first two guests had an incredible stay, but poor Marta didn’t feel the same way.
As someone looking to stay at an Airbnb, there is no better way to assess the unit than through reading the reviews. The vast majority of Airbnbs are between 4.5 and 5 stars based on guest reviews, and we try to stay as close to 5 stars as possible.
We only ever stayed in one Airbnb that had less than 4 stars, and it was the single worst experience we ever had.
You can read about that one in the tips section of our Tulum Travel Guide, if you feel like it, but get your popcorn ready. That place was so horrible that I gave the guy only 1 star, and I am a very generous reviewer.
Anyway, back to the review system. Reading the reviews from previous guests is a perfectly transparent and helpful way to assess which unit you want to stay at, and you should never book an Airbnb without reading a couple of the reviews. I have known of some people who have had absolutely awful experiences with Airbnb – me being one of them – but despite those very few bad experiences, I personally love Airbnb and would say that 99.5% of the time you will have an amazing place to stay, and reading the reviews only boosts that number higher.
3. Airbnb Location is not Important if You Have a Car
This might sound obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. If you drive to your destination, you’ll have your car. When you have a car, being centrally located doesn’t really matter, because you can very easily drive anywhere you want to go. We usually try to stay as centrally located as possible when we travel, but that’s because we don’t normally travel by car. If you do, you can save a ton of money by staying in a place right outside of the city a lot of the time.
In the screenshot above, you can see that the prices appear to vary regardless of location, but that is because I didn’t apply any filters. If you select that you want an entire place to yourself, everything under $175 near the nice areas of Los Angeles disappears, but the ones on the outskirts stay. By staying in one of those, you can save hundreds of dollars and still only be a 20-minute drive from everywhere you want to visit.
Because of this, I’d recommend putting a wide search radius. If you stay in a place that is 15 minutes away from the center of your destination and you have your car, the distance won’t be a huge issue and definitely is outweighed by the huge savings. Also, depending on where you’re going, staying outside of the central location may actually put you closer to excursions or activities that you plan to do, which can lead to a win-win situation.
4. Book Your Airbnb Early
This tip shows up all the time, and I think the reason why is pretty self-explanatory. Just like I mentioned in my post on finding cheap airfare, booking early can save you time and money in just about any situation. More specifically related to Airbnb, the need to book early is most closely tied to availability. Hotels have hundreds of rooms, but most private Airbnb’s only have one. This means that as soon as an Airbnb is booked, it’s no longer available for anyone else to book.
If you’re going to a smaller place, like Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico, there may not be many Airbnb’s to begin with, and booking early may be the only way to even get one. Or in the case of a big and expensive city like Abu Dhabi, there may be hundreds of Airbnb’s but only 20 within your budget.
As you can see in the screenshot in tip #3, the Airbnb’s literally range from $52 to $5,500. Booking early can guarantee that you’re able to stay in a place within your budget. On top of all of that, you may be looking for particular amenities, like I mentioned in the first tip, and booking early lets you decide from the whole gamut of Airbnb’s rather than just the few that are left over a month before your trip.
There is no need to book a year in advance, but booking as early as possible can definitely help you to get the best possible unit, whether you prioritize price, location, or a specific amenity like air conditioning. Last-minute bookings are possible, but you’ll have a lot less selection.
You can also save your favorite places to a list so that later you don’t need to go looking for the Airbnb’s that you loved when you searched earlier. The list will also remove units as they get booked, that way you always know what is still available for your selected dates.
5. Check Prices for a Full Week
This tip is beneficial for you in two ways. Firstly, most Airbnbs offer a weekly discount of anywhere from 5% to 20%. So, staying 7 days might actually be cheaper than staying 6. Even if you aren’t planning on staying the seventh night, booking the Airbnb for 7 nights might cost you less than 6!
This is something that most people aren’t aware of, and although it sounds a bit unconventional, staying 7 nights might be the same price as staying for 5 or 5 and a half nights, meaning your sixth night is either free or half off. While the screenshots below only reflect a 5% discount, that still equates to about 33% off of your 7th night.
The other reason that this is beneficial is that you might find some places that only accept bookings for at least 7 nights. For example, on our recent 5-day stay in Panama, we couldn’t find very many suitable Airbnb’s in Panama City. While we were only going for 5 days, expanding the dates to cover a 7-day timeframe brought up several more options. We wound up finding an Airbnb that was exactly what we wanted, and its weekly discount was 35%.
So, by expanding the search dates and booking for a week, even though we only stayed for 5 days, we actually saved a little bit of money and got to stay in a place that fit our needs. If you’re only looking to go somewhere for 5 or 6 days, I’d recommend searching for both date ranges – the actual dates you’re going to travel as well as those dates expanded to a week – and picking the best possible unit that comes up in either set of results.
6. Pick an Airbnb with a Kitchen
Staying in an Airbnb is the best way to maintain a budget while traveling because it grants you freedoms that hotels usually do not. One of those freedoms is having a kitchen and not needing to eat out three times per day. We find that eating at least one meal in the Airbnb per day, like breakfast, can save a significant amount of money – more than you’d think. Breakfast for a week at Starbucks adds up!
Most Airbnb’s come with a full or partial kitchen, so you can cook as many meals as you want – which, as I mentioned, is like 75% cheaper than eating out. Cooking a meal or two a day can save hundreds of dollars over the course of a week, and those hundreds of dollars can go towards a really cool experience on your trip that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to fit in your budget, like skydiving!
Thanks for reading our top 6 tips for finding the best Airbnb on a budget! Hopefully these tips help you to find a great place and to save money on your next trip. If you have any questions or thoughts, drop a comment below!