Cutting Costs: AirBnB
Last spring when Jave and I took a long weekend getaway to Puerto Rico, we decided to give AirBnB a shot as an accommodation option. We were desperate to escape L.A., yet we were working with a very limited budget, so we were exploring every possible angle for ways to cut costs.
We wanted to stay in or near Old San Juan, but the major hotels and boutique hotels in that area were out of our financial reach – especially since we were traveling over the Memorial Day weekend when costs were up. I was already well aware of AirBnB since I’d researched some of their listings for a previous trip, but we’d never actually completed a booking through them.
At first, I had some reservations – what if the owner doesn’t meet us as planned to deliver the keys? What if the pictures of our apartment rental are deceiving? What if the neighborhood isn’t safe? But the chance to have a comfortable home base from which to explore Puerto Rico and St. Thomas for a grand total of $304 for three nights was just too sweet of a deal to resist. Especially considering that comparable San Juan hotels nearby would’ve easily cost us upwards of $550. Plus, we wanted to have a kitchen so that we could make our own breakfasts in the mornings, thereby cutting our costs even more.
We arrived early on Saturday morning and drove to our apartment building, arriving about 45 minutes before we were supposed to meet up with the owner’s daughter, Margarita, to get the keys. About a 20 minute drive from the airport and a quick 5 minute drive from the heart of Old San Juan, our AirBnB digs were conveniently located just across the street from the Puerto Rico Convention Center, the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, and the San Juan Bay Marina.
Soon enough, Margarita arrived and escorted us up to the 10th floor for a look around our rental. And lo and behold…
We were relieved to find that the pictures and reviews didn’t lie.
We were also pleased to find a thank you gift from Margarita’s father on the dining room table – a nice bottle of red wine and a small piece of wall art colorfully depicting Old San Juan. What a nice touch!
And to my relief, the bathroom was nice too.
After pointing out the extra pillows and towels available for our use in the guest closet, Margarita showed us the trash shoot down the hall and introduced us to the security guard downstairs. Then, she took us on a quick tour around the neighborhood. Margarita pointed out local markets and nearby restaurants that we might want to try, she showed us the dividing line between the good part of the neighborhood where our rental was and the sketchy part a few blocks away, and she took us on a quick drive through Old San Juan. Sweet!
We totally weren’t expecting such warm hospitality, but Margarita’s helpfulness made a great impression and put to ease my previous reservations about booking through AirBnB.
Overall, our experience with AirBnB was very positive and we will definitely book through them for some of our future travels.
AirBnB Rental Tips:
1) Location, location, location: Choose a location that interests you and that provides a convenient base from which to explore your destination. For select locations, AirBnB now gives you the option to explore available rentals by neighborhood.
2) Pay attention to pictures and reviews: Unless you don’t mind staying in a dump, don’t downplay the importance of pictures and reviews. If a rental I’m interested in doesn’t have sufficient, quality pictures, or pictures of bathrooms (which are super important to me), then I immediately count it out as a possibility. Also, if a listing doesn’t have reviews, if it has negative reviews, or if it has decent reviews but not enough reviews, it’s a no-brainer to cross it off of my list of prospects.
3) Cancellation policy: Be sure to pay close attention to the owner’s cancellation policy which can range from being very lenient to being very strict. Awhile back, we booked an apartment in Copenhagen and ended up having to cancel the trip. Because we hadn’t carefully reviewed the cancellation policy prior to booking, we were only refunded 50% of the rental cost. We could’ve been given a full refund if we’d booked an accommodation that provided a more lenient cancellation policy.
4) Avoid the red tape: Jave and I recently considered booking a rental for a trip we’re planning to Italy. Although the apartment was gorgeous and the reviews were all positive, many of the reviewers mentioned that upon meeting the owner to pick up keys, the owner handed them a rental agreement to sign which was drafted in Italian. We changed our minds about that particular listing because we didn’t want to sign an agreement for such a short time and because we don’t read (or speak) Italian! Similarly, you should avoid renting if you’re uncomfortable with any of the rental terms and conditions or if the owner tries to make you jump through any unforeseen hoops.
5) Parking: If you plan on renting a car like we did, make sure that the cost of your rental includes the use of a parking space, or ensure that there’s affordable parking nearby.
These are just a few AirBnB rental tips, but in general, use your common sense, follow your gut, and you won’t go wrong!