If you're not a regular Airbnb user, it may take trial and error to interpret some of the language in the listings. You don't always know what you're getting, and listings sometimes fail to deliver what they advertise. But the possible benefits -- saving money and experiencing a destination like a local -- are worth the gamble for some travelers.
Here's how to prevent some Airbnb aches and pains, with tips from frequent guests to help you read between the lines of listings.
Reading descriptions for red flags
One way to get started is to search for listings with four- or five-star ratings and comprehensive reviews about not just the property, but also the host, the neighborhood, etc. It also doesn't hurt to look for experienced "superhosts," who earn five-star reviews 80 percent of the time. Other guests have vouched for these hosts, and the reviews can help you determine whether a rental meets your standards.
Apart from that, decoding the language of an Airbnb listing can still require some experience, such as knowing the kinds of phrases to watch for -- and that you might want to avoid based on your preferences.
"Keep to yourself"
Not all hosts have approval from their landlord or homeowners associations to rent out their homes, condos or apartments. Your tip-off about these listings might include a request for discretion or avoiding communication with building staff. If you miss these red flags, your stay could be an uncomfortable experience.
"I've straight up seen people say that you have to be very quiet because the building doesn't actually allow this," said Allison Bieller, travel blogger who runs The Endless Adventure with her husband. "They said, 'Don't talk to the doorman.'"
Regulations for short-term rentals vary widely, but per Airbnb's terms of service, the onus is on hosts to ensure they are complying with local laws that may "restrict their ability to host paying guests for short periods or provide certain host services." Still, guests who unwittingly walk into such a situation might find it awkward and difficult.
Regardless of the perks and amenities a listing may feature, think carefully about choosing an unauthorized rental for convenience, affordability or aesthetics. It could mean sacrificing peace of mind and the freedom to vacation on your own terms.
"Near restaurants or bars"
Places close to restaurants or bars are convenient and fun for the right traveler. For others, they may cause sleep deprivation.
"That might be a big attraction to, say, like a backpacker who is looking to party in the city," said Jake Littlefield, blogger and photographer at Jake and Dannie. "If you're traveling with a family, that just means that it's going to be too loud to put your kid to sleep at 8 p.m."
If the host provides earplugs or offers a rental in what they describe as an "energetic" neighborhood, that could indicate that the location is noisy.
"A quick Uber ride from the city"
You might save money by staying a little farther away from your destination, but transportation costs could eat up your travel budget -- especially if there isn't a good public transportation system. Even if the area does have transit options, they might not be available late at night, or they may be inconvenient in bad weather.
"I recently stayed in Montreal, and it was negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit," said Christian Lowery, a travel writer and filmmaker who runs the blog Beyond Your Bubble. "My criteria for this Airbnb was to be as central as humanly possible because I'm not going to be commuting and walking for 10 minutes outside."
Be on the lookout for language that says or suggests you might need a cab, a ride-share service or other means of transportation, and plan accordingly.
"The host was really friendly"
If most of a listing's reviews focus on tangential topics -- such as the host or the neighborhood -- instead of the property itself, that could be a clue that the rental might not be up to par, Littlefield said.
And it might be difficult for some guests to write honest reviews about a house where the owner lives, especially if the host was kind. Littlefield once found it difficult to write a negative review even though the wooden baskets in their very cold and damp Airbnb sprouted mold.
"They picked us up at the airport. They even had to make two trips because their car was small and we had a lot of luggage," Littlefield said. "Even we went out of our way to say how great the host was."
Searching for details in photos
Reading between the lines of reviews and listings can help steer you toward the right Airbnb rental, but the photos will reveal even more about a space. Knowing what to look for in the pictures can supply you with questions for your host.
Here are some suggestions offered by seasoned travelers:
If it's not in the photo, don't assume it's there. If you're not seeing chairs, a table, windows or other must-haves, they might not exist.
Amenities in photos aren't always accessible. Make sure the pool or gym isn't off-limits. Just because it's in the photo doesn't mean you can use it whenever you'd like.
Pictures of attractions and knickknacks might be a distraction. If a listing has more pictures of local attractions and close-ups of decor than photos of the rental itself, the space may be small or unsightly.
Wide-angle shots can be misleading. Taking pictures with a wide-angle lens can make spaces look larger. If a picture has stretched corners, or if it's taken from above the corner of a room, you may want to ask about the rental's size.
Asking the right questions
Make a list of your must-haves in a rental, then consider whether what's missing in the pictures, reviews or listing could potentially be a deal-breaker. Bridge that gap by coming up with a list of questions for your host.
"Message the owner about things you're booking that specific listing for," Lowery said. "If they're not willing and nice enough to answer a simple question before booking, then it might not be the best fit for you anyway."
The article "How to read between the lines of Airbnb listings" originally appeared on NerdWallet.
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