Using technology to get affordable travel accommodations

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I had an experience recently that I knew almost immediately would end up as a blog post and podcast episode. It’s another example of how someone came up with a great idea about yet another use for technology, and we can all benefit from it.

airbnb

 

When you go on vacation, what are the biggest expenses for which you have to plan? Airfare of course, if you’re flying. But the next biggest one could be where you’ll be staying. Obviously you need a place to store your stuff and a place to sleep every night. Typically for most people that means finding a hotel. The price for a week or two in a hotel can vary widely. You could stay in a very nice one and pay a few hundred dollars each night per room, or you could find a cheaper place for possibly less than $100 per night. Either way, it’s going to represent a pretty big part of your travel budget.

What’s really nice is if you’re traveling to visit family or friends, and they have extra rooms so you can just stay with them. Think about this: wouldn’t it be nice if you had some family or friends to stay with wherever you went? That’s kind of what we can do now. Kind of.

Let’s say you’re traveling to Clearwater Beach (one of the greatest beaches in the world, of course). You can obviously book a hotel room (or several) and stay right there on the beach. And you pay for that service and convenience. If it’s around Christmas, or Spring Break, you’ll pay even more.

But think about what else is in the area. There are some privately owned homes that are sitting empty. Either because the owner is traveling somewhere, or the property is no longer occupied because it’s for sale, or a variety of other reasons. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just contact the owner and stay there, at a lower rate than a hotel? It’s good for you because you’re saving money, and it’s good for the homeowner because he’s making some money from this house that would otherwise just be sitting there empty.

What’s been missing in the equation is how the property owners can be connected with the people that need a place to stay. That has now been solved, thanks to a service called AirBnB. You can access it at AirBnB.com.

airbnb

The basic premise is pretty simple. The website summarizes it in 3 steps:

airbnb step 1

Step 1 is to decide where you want to go, and what kind of place you want. There are actually hosts in 190 different countries, and TONS of them here in the US. You’ll find more options in highly populated areas of course, but even in rural locations you should have a few places to choose from. You can filter your choices based on location, price range, and whether you want a private room, an entire home, or even a shared room (sharing a room – that sounds like more of an adventure than I would probably want).

 

airbnb step 2

Step 2 is to book the reservation. This is where you actually send a request to the host and tell them what dates you want to reserve, how many people, those kinds of details. At this point, all of your communication is done through the AirBnB website. You don’t have any direct contact with the host until your reservation is accepted (hosts have the option on whether or not they will accept a reservation). Payment is also made through the website. AirBnB will charge you the advertised room rate. Added to this in some cases is a cleaning fee charged by the host. And, AirBnB will add their own “Guest Fee”, which ranges from 6% to 12% based on the room rate.

 

airbnb step 3

Step 3 is – go! Show up on your check-in date, meet your host, ask any final questions, and then enjoy your stay.

As I mentioned, I recently had my own first experience with this type of travel accommodations. I was scheduled to attend a writer’s conference about a month ago over in Delray Beach, Florida (about a 4 hour drive from where I live in the Tampa Bay area). Getting there was no problem of course, since it was a reasonable driving distance. However, the conference was Wednesday through Saturday so obviously I needed to find a place to stay for 3 nights.

The conference was at the Marriott right on Delray Beach. Beautiful facility, but at $200 per night plus tax, it was more than I wanted to spend. So I started looking around for alternatives. There were hotels that were less expensive, but they weren’t very close by. That meant I would be driving 30-45 minutes each way from the my hotel to the conference hotel. Not exactly ideal either.

That’s when a friendĀ told me about AirBnB and I started checking out the possibilities there. There were several hosts within just a few miles of the Marriott, and the prices were very reasonable. Since I was traveling alone, I only needed minimal space so I limited my search to private rooms rather than a whole house or apartment. I decided on a host that offered a private room with my own full bathroom – and it was only $60 per night.

The experience was wonderful. I had my own key so I could come and go as I needed to. I had full use of the kitchen (although I only really used the fridge to store some food). Before I showed up, I sent an email asking the host if there was a television in the room. She replied, “No, but you can always use the big TV out in the living room.” That was fine since I hardly watch television anyway. But then, when I arrived and she was showing me around, she said she went out and got a TV for the room anyway since I had asked about it. So there was a flat screen television, hooked up to cable, right there on the dresser in my room.

In my case, I got to know the host and we became friends. I’m sure not all situations are like that. In fact, you might never actually meet your host face to face if they have someone else in charge of handling the guests. Each scenario is a little different.

There is one big factor that is essential for something like this to work: trust. You have to have a sense of trust in the host, that they are going to provide a safe place to stay, and that their description and pictures are accurate. And the host has to be assured that you are not some psycho, scammer, or other manner of lowlife that they would not want to deal with.

AirBnB has safety mechanisms built into the process. As a guest, you are encouraged to provide as much information as possible. This includes linking to your social media accounts such as Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as providing your phone number, address and other direct contact information. Also, every time you travel and use AirBnB, the host has the opportunity to give you a rating and review as to what kind of guest you were. That gives future hosts a better idea of whether or not they want to accept your reservation.

Hosts are also encouraged to provide as much detail as possible in order to make potential guests more comfortable and likely to want to stay there. And the same rating/review system is in place for hosts. They want to build up a good collection of positive ratings in order to improve their reputation and increase the likelihood of future reservations.

airbnb trust

 

I know that this type of travel arrangement is not for everyone. There are those that would say, “Just go and stay at the home of a stranger? No way!” That’s fine, that’s why hotels are in business. But if you have a little flair for trying something new, I suggest giving it a shot. You might just like the experience.

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Carolyn Hardman
November 10th, 2014

A caveat from my experience about AirBnB. A friend and I tried it last winter on a trip to New York City. The woman who rented us a room in her West Side apartment was staying in a different apartment that she owned. At midnight every night her clock radio alarm started buzzing loudly and continued for hours. We couldn’t access her part of the apartment, and we couldn’t contact her. Eventually my friend thought of playing loud white noise on the radio in our room which blocked the annoying alarm enough so we could sleep. Lesson learned–make sure the host will be there.