How My First Time Using AirBnB Went from Good to Bad to Great
AirBnB offers travelers the chance to live like a local. While I usually stay at either hotels, hostels, with friends or mutual friends while traveling, I’m heading to Austin for SXSW this week and most hotel rooms have been booked up since July of last year. After consulting with my social networks, I discovered that no one in my network lives in Austin or had friends of friends in Austin. Plan C? AirBnB.
Searching for a Place to Stay
First you have to pick the location or neighborhood you’d like to stay in. On the site, there’s a handy map that you can filter by price and whether or not you want an entire place to yourself, a private room, or shared room. Once you’ve narrowed down your map, you can click through the photos of each listing and check out the aesthetics of different houses and apartments along with reviews for both the place and the host.
After you’ve found and saved the places you’re interested in, you have to contact the hosts. AirBnB makes it super easy to do this. Instead of contacting hosts one by one, if you’ve saved a bunch of places, you can click “Message Hosts” under your Wish List, and the site will let you compose a message that will be sent to all of the hosts at once. In this message you should include the length of your stay, additional guests, logistics, general plans, and a bit about yourself.
Once you’ve contacted hosts, the waiting begins. Some will respond with an hour, others may take longer. Some might immediately send back pre-approval, while others will ask for references or more information about you (if you haven’t used AirBnB before and have no recommendations). These booking requirements are up to each individual host. Not all hosts will respond, and sometimes the place may not be available for the dates you need, even though this might not have been reflected in AirBnB’s availability calendar. In my experience, for every 5 bids I sent out, 3 got back to me, and 1-2 pre-approved me even as a first-timer. (It helps to connect AirBnB to Facebook as this allows mutual friends and alumni connections to show up in the search menu, which can vouch for both you and the host).
Once I booked with my host in Austin, I thought I was all set. But a month before my departure date, my host notified me that she had to cancel my reservation. I didn’t even know canceling was a thing AirBnB hosts could do, and I’d never had that happen at a hotel or hostel.
A mild panic set in. Because of SXSW other rooms on AirBnB were either all booked up, hosts were only accepting week-long reservations, and other hosts had jacked up rates to $800 a night.
I consulted other networks and was presented with options far outside of Austin with people in places who didn’t have photos and wanted to charge just as much as AirBnB hosts. This made me feel more comfortable using AirBnB because at least there were pictures, reviews, and a system to protect both hosts and customers. Because of my host’s cancellation, AirBnB offered me either a refund or a $50 credit on top of what I’d already paid for my reservation. So I did a whole new search, emailed a bunch of new hosts, and decided to rebook my reservation.
Before I rebooked, I received an email from an AirBnB customer service representative. It was a long personalized letter addressing the situation, apologizing for the cancellation, and offering to help me rebook. I expressed my disappointment that as a first-timer my first experience was negative, but thanked her for personally reaching out to see how she could help.
A couple days later, AirBnB customer service upsold. Since I split up my rebooking between Austin Firehouse Hostel and AirBnB, they offered to cover my first night free if I booked with them instead of the hostel. Again, I thanked them for being so helpful. I thought the free night offer would be the extent of how far AirBnB went to make things right, but a few days later I received a pleasant surprise in my email. It was a $50 Giftly from AirBnB specifically for Austin + SXSW. The note read,
“Thanks for being AMAZING & rebooking yourself! Please use this to have some fun at SXSW! Some of our recommendations include: Waterloo Records, Franklin BBQ, Qui, & leighelena. Wishing you a fun & successful trip!”
AirBnB customer service just got better and better.
While I still haven’t completed my first AirBnB stay, they’ve definitely sold me on their customer service. I think there’s a good chance I’ll be a repeat customer in other cities.