What is Airbnb? If it's been a while since you've planned or taken a family vacation, you might not be familiar with this new option for finding accommodations in 192 countries and 34,000 citieis worldwide. As per the definition on their own website...
Airbnb is a community marketplace where guests can book spaces from hosts, connecting people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay.
When it says "book space" this can mean anything from couch surfing to a castle stay. It can mean renting an entire house or just a spare room in someone's apartment. The idea here is that families can save money on their travel plans.
Hosts looking to rent out their spaces get a free webpage to post descriptions, pictures and details about what they have to offer. Here you can also find reviews from previous guests too and validations to help prove the back ground of your host. You will also find all the details, terms and conditions offered by the host. It is very important to read these details closely and understand contracted rules like check in time, keys, access to the property etc. In some cases, you'll be staying in the host's home and they will be there to meet and greet you. In other cases, you will need to pick up keys or gain access via a neighbor.
Airbnb charges a service fee to the traveler/guest between 6-12% of the cost of their accommodations for maintaining the website. Consider it a finder's fee even though you are doing the work. They also charge a 3% fee to property owner hosts for processing payments.
As a business traveler I recently used Airbnb when I decided to attend a recent conference at the last minute and area hotels were already sold out. I needed a clean, comfortable place to stay in Boston for 2 nights and Airbnb came to my rescue. That said, a business travelver has completely different needs from parents and kids looking for a fun vacation.
Here are a few points to consider if you're deciding whether Airbnb is a good fit for your family....
How "Local" can you go? - Your enjoyment level may depend entirely on your travel personality.Some people like the idea of mingling with the locals, having an immersive experience and thrill at the idea of independence. If you and your kids are outgoing and gregarous, flexible and frugal then Airbnb might be a good fit for you. If you need more hand holding and security then you would probably feel much more comfortable in a traditional hotel.
Need Staff & Service - You are giving up ammenities like daily housekeeping, concierge and on site dining for a cheaper room price. You may need to have a chat with your host about morning bathroom rituals if you will be sharing faciltities. Remember, even if you have the whole place to yourself, if the air conditioner doesn't work or the toilet overflows you can't call the front desk and have it quickly fixed or change rooms fast.
Privacy - With Airbnb you are "somebody's guests". This can be even a greater challenge when traveling with children. Connect with your Airbnb host in advance, ask detailed questions and trust your gut if you don't think your personalities or lifestyles will jive. If you are sharing a space with your host they may not give out keys and you may be limited to certain times of the day or night when you have access to your room.
Time Travel - Speaking as a travel agent, doing proper diligence, research and homework finding my Boston Airbnb stay took me far more time than it would researching a typical hotel stay. Hotel chains had certain "standards" that must be maintained with their brand and there are far more online reviews available. Bottom line Airbnb pages are created by "people with a room to rent". If you are a fan of cable real estate shows like me, you'll know what I mean when I say "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". One person's idea of "shabby chic" may not be the same as someone elses.
Safety - Hotels must maintain health, fire, safety and local occupancy rules in order to be open to the public. Hotels also are held to a "brand" standard if they are part of a chain. This means guests can expect a certain level of care and comfort. Occupancy and safety rules differ with those of private residences.
Unless your family lives in a guarded bubble nothing is 100% safe. That said, most major hotel chains will do back ground checks on their employees, especially those working around children. Hotel staff are working out in public view of guests and management so it is easier to spot and correct any mis-hires. The verification process on Airbnb is certainly not as intense. Reviews from past guests do help but again, you are relying on the words of strangers.
More Space and Work - Sure it's great to have more space for your family, especially when it comes to having a kitchen. Do you really want to be grocery shopping, cooking and washing dishes while on vacation? Also you may need to factor in additional costs like transportation and/or parking when considering your overall budget.
The website Priceonomics estimates a family can save 21% with airbnb by renting an apartment over just a hotel room and up to 49% by sharing space in the home of an Airbnb host. At first glance this may seem like a significant way to save money on vacation.
When it comes to setting a vacation budget, novice travelers will often only consider their transportation (flights, car rental, train) and accommodations. Meals, drinks, activities all factor into the over all cost of your vacation and need to be considered when planning for vacation costs.
Check out this comparision from Carnival cruise line that compares the cost of a 7 day cruise to a 7 day hotel stay for a family of four.....
All Inclusive resorts are generally found in the Caribbean and Mexico so all guests would need valid passports. Still they include your hotel stay, airport transportation, all meals, drinks, (alcoholic and non alcoholic like smoothies and specialty coffees), kids clubs AND all of your gratuities. Here is a comparison from Apple vacations on a 7 nights all inclusive stay WITH FLIGHTS compared to renting a beach house for a week.
So in conclusion, Airbnb can be a great option for the right type of traveler under specific circumstances. When you consider all of the costs associated with creating a really fun filled and memorable family vacation, there are many other options available that can save you even more money with fewer hassles and worries.