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Getting scammed is a terrible feeling and it’s even worse when you’re traveling on vacation. A lot of people prefer hotels over Airbnbs since there is generally an expectation of quality that comes with an established hotel or inn. Though it often makes more sense to reserve an Airbnb when you’re traveling in a big group or want to get a more local experience. In this video/post, I want to review how you can improve the odds of avoiding a bad Airbnb experience. I’m going to cover three main topics. I’ll focus on what “red flags” to look for before arriving, what to do if you experience an issue, and some general Airbnb tips to keep in mind.

Growth of Airbnb

One of the biggest changes in the travel landscape has been the growth of Airbnb and other property rental services. Like ride-sharing, these services have changed the way we book travel. In many situations, they’ve made it more accessible to travel further and more affordably. Sadly, there’s also no shortage of stories where travelers have been victims of scams. Though many of the issues may have been avoided through an awareness of certain “red flags.”

Staying at an Airbnb is a great way to lower the cost of travel and get a more local lodging experience

Airbnb “red flags”

Below are some red flags that you’ll want to look for prior to your trip.

1. Listings that are “too good to be true”:

As the old saying goes, “if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.” If you’re looking through the site and notice a listing that looks incredible for a price that seems unreasonably low, then it should be a red flag.

Also, watch out for lavish amenities. While it’s possible that your Airbnb has a private hot tub or pool in New York, it’s more likely to be a shared community pool or hot tub. If you have an address or an idea of the location, it’s worth doing a search on Google Maps to investigate the area and building. It’s not foolproof, but getting a street-level view can give you an idea of the overall building and look of the neighborhood.

2. Short or undescriptive listings:

Another red flag to watch out for are listings without a lot of information. This also applies to listings without many photos. There have been cases where scammers use staged open house pictures and post them in fake listings. If you’re left wondering what’s provided or not shown key parts of the property, then it might be worth listening to your suspicion.

3. Unresponsive hosts:

A common behavior found with scammers is being unresponsive. Most hosts will reach out to you before your arrival to work out any logistical questions or procedures. Most important is knowing how you will enter the property. If don’t get any information prior to your arrival, then I recommend reaching out to your host. If your host doesn’t respond or gives vague answers, you may want to consider reporting it to Airbnb.

4. Hosts that ask for your personal contact information:

One big red flag is being asked to communicate outside of the Airbnb platform. While it may seem harmless, Airbnb wants you to keep all your communications on its platform. This gives them a record of your conversations in case an issue arises.

Also, shady hosts will sometimes ask you to respond to urgent messages via email. As with any email, you’ll want to be careful clicking on any links and providing specific information (such as your login details). You could be directed to a spoofed Airbnb site that is meant to steal your information. You’re better off keeping all your communications on the platform so you can reference them if there’s an issue.

5. Inconsistent reviews and excessive cancellations:

Reviews are probably the best way to gauge the credibility of your host. You’ll want to spend time reading the reviews for any trends. For example, we stayed at an Airbnb a few months ago, and were surprised by the lack of instructions provided by the host. When we revisited the reviews, it was clear that others had the same issue. We were frustrated that we couldn’t connect to the wifi or operate some of the features in the house. Even though the property had a high rating, it was clear that others shared our frustration. In retrospect, we should have read the reviews more closely to look for potential trends and issues.

Another thing to be cautious of are cancellation notifications. If the host cancels a booking, it’s recorded in the host’s history and reviews. While this doesn’t mean that the host is a scammer, it can identify hosts that may be unreliable. The last thing you want is for your host to cancel at the last minute leaving you without any lodging.

What to do if you’ve been scammed or dealing with a bad host?

You’ll definitely want to report your issue immediately to Airbnb. Airbnb typically processes and posts your payment to the host twenty-four hours after you check-in. This means that reporting issues in a timely manner can be critical. Waiting too long could result in a delay in refunds, especially if they’ve processed your payment and released it to the host.

If you encounter serious issues, you’ll want to document as much of the situation as possible

Another thing is to document as much as you can. As I mentioned earlier, keeping all your communications on the platform is key for record-keeping purposes. I also recommend capturing photos and videos that you can provide to Airbnb if needed.

Additional tips and considerations

1. Check local laws:

One risk when booking Airbnb stays is that laws regarding the use of property rentals can change. Many communities have advocated to restrict Airbnb rentals due to a variety of reasons. Some don’t like the presence of strangers in the neighborhood, while others have concerns with how it affects the availability of housing. For example, in cities like Los Angeles, there have been laws put into place for hosts to register their property. Hosts that use a secondary residence for home-sharing can only offer rentals that are over 30 nights. It’s important to research the laws affecting your rental and verifying with your host if necessary. You don’t want to be in a situation where you arrived only to find out that your booking was cancelled due to a violation.

2. Give hosts an opportunity to resolve issues:

While we talked about reporting serious issues to Airbnb, if the issue is minor, I recommend giving the host an opportunity to solve the problem. For example, when we went to Boston a few years ago, we stayed in an old and historic Airbnb property. When I went to the bathroom during the middle of the night, I noticed that there were several centipedes in the room. I sent a message to our host to report the issue, and she responded immediately and sent someone over first thing in the morning to resolve it. It turned out that housekeeping hadn’t fully closed the bathroom window, which was on a subterranean level. This had let the bugs in. Our host not only resolved the issue, but left us a bottle of champagne and a dessert when we got back to the Airbnb. It was a very nice gesture, and we appreciated her responsiveness and generosity.

The moral of the story is that issues do arise. If it’s something that your host can resolve, then it’s worth giving them the opportunity to fix it. Like with most customer service situations, the response is often more important than the issue itself.

3. Use a credit card to make a booking:

We’ve explored why you should always use a credit card instead of a debit card when traveling. This is yet another situation where using your credit card can help in the event that there is a serious issue and you need to request a refund or dispute a charge.

Capital One Venture Rewards credit card
Using a credit card like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards while traveling is a much better option than a debit card. Learn how to apply.

4. Build a stash of flexible points:

You all know that I love to collect credit card points to help offset the cost of traveling. Having points is also a great insurance policy. In the event that you need to find another lodging option, points can be a lifesaver.

We actually encountered a situation a few years ago when we visited Mexico and had an issue with our room. When the hotel refused to resolve the issue, we decided to check out and spend the remainder of our trip at the Andaz Mayakoba. We transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt to make the booking, and it ended up being an incredible place to visit. Though the key takeaway is that having a stash of flexible points gave us options, which can save the day or trip if you encounter a problem.

Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred earns Ultimate Rewards points that can be used to book hotels, flights, and much more

Final thoughts

I hope I haven’t discouraged anyone from using Airbnb. It is a great service, and we’ve had so many memorable Airbnb stays. I still recommend using Airbnb for stays, but just being mindful of the tips that we shared. Plus, while I love hotel stays too, we’ve had issues with hotels and resorts as well. You should consider both hotels and Airbnbs when booking trips to see what works best for you. 

Have you ever experienced an Airbnb issue? Do you have any other tips for staying at an Airbnb?

If you haven’t tried Airbnb but are looking to book a stay on your next trip, you can get $40 off your first stay when using our link or code.

If you’re interested in applying for any of the cards in this post, we encourage you to compare credit offers. We do get a commission if you use our link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it helps us to continue building content for our site and channel.

Trip Astute has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Trip Astute and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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