Saving Money with Airbnb

January 29th, 2017 / Casey Fleming

About a year ago, I listed my home on Airbnb to try to make a little extra money. For various reasons it hasn’t worked out yet, but I know it holds promise. So, on a recent trip to Albuquerque, where I knew I would be staying for at least two weeks, I decided to try out Airbnb as a guest, both to save money by using Airbnb, but also to see what the experience is like.
Here is my story.

Hotel rates in Albuquerque vary widely. It’s a funny town that way. Median household income in 2013 was just below $50,000, making it a relatively poor city by national standards. Median per capita income was a paltry $26,000. It is not a destination hub for high-wage tech companies, either, so the demand for hotel rooms is moderate at best.
Yet, a quick search on Hotels.com shows a range for hotel rooms for a week’s stay of $34 per night to $257. Quite a range. I decided to use Airbnb and stay in several different places over the course of my time there in order to get a good feel for how Airbnb works from a guest’s perspective.

Lesson 1: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, you get what you need.

Using Airbnb I found some good choices near where I needed to be. My first choice was very close by, and only $29 per night. I booked it, but the booking wasn’t accepted. The host merely said she couldn’t accept guests at this time. My second choice (for the first three days only) was $45 per night, and the booking was accepted.

Upon arriving I was met at the door by my lovely hostess. The first difference between hotels and staying in someone’s home: the host or hostess lives where you’re staying. It’s a little like visiting your aunt that you haven’t seen since you were a child. She was gracious and welcoming, but we were strangers. And it was palpably clear that it was her home.
As she showed me around it became obvious why she had such a high rating. She was indeed the perfect, professional hostess. She had set aside the second bath for my exclusive use, so she and her teenage son would be sharing the master bath. In “my” bath, she laid out towels and had various niceties available, such as bath soap, shampoo and conditioner, and a toothbrush holder and cup.
My room was on the small side, but nicely furnished with a double bed and a small writing desk. Other touches included an information folder with a list of nearby restaurants, bottled water, and even a clean robe for me to wear between the room and the bath. Very nice.
The bed was fairly comfortable. A little soft for my taste, but the bedding was good quality and warm. The house was incredibly quiet. I would have sworn most of the time that I was there alone, despite having two other people in the house. Good for working, but not as homey-feeling as I had expected. (Hoped for? Maybe.)

The house was impeccably clean, albeit sparsely furnished and with very little art on the walls. It almost didn’t look lived in. My hostess offered me breakfast and coffee in the morning, and we spent a little time chatting getting to know each other’s stories. Another difference – staying with an AirBNB host gives you an opportunity for social interaction and maybe even a relationship.
Finally, on my last night in my new-found gem, the hostess asked if I would join her and her son for dinner. What I haven’t told you so far is that she’s a Chinese woman who is studying culinary arts, and hopes to open her own gourmet Asian restaurant one day. Oh, yeah…
After a delicious dinner we had a chance to get to know each other a bit. She was gracious, curious about my life, and engaging. You just don’t get that at a hotel.

Lesson 2: You meet some really cool people using Airbnb

On to my second stay of the trip…
The next stay was a southwestern style home (which I happen to love) in a nice neighborhood in Uptown Albuquerque. The host was named Casey – a strong, elegant, manly name, if I do say so myself. Casey and his fiancé live in the home, and rent out a spare bedroom.
This is an older home that Casey has remodeled and – with the help of his girlfriend’s female perspective – nicely decorated with a southwestern feel. It feels like Albuquerque. It’s an older home with “older” charm. In particular, the bath (I had exclusive use of the hall bath) was very small, but nicely decorated and functional.

A nice bonus in this home was a dog – I miss mine terribly when I’m away, so having a little one to pet and play with was very nice.
The kitchen was remodeled and well-stocked, and I was given free rein to cook all I wished, as long as I cleaned up.

I noticed that the bed was on the soft side, and it occurs to me that maybe most people like their beds softer than me, and my first Airbnb guest when I finally have one will leave a review that my bed was too hard. Oh well, that’s why we have choices.
Casey (my host, not me) is a striving real estate investor currently picking up his third property, and was in the middle of getting a mortgage for the new property. We had a lot to talk about! One night he invited me to a monthly meeting of local real estate investors, an invitation I happily accepted.

My stay with Casey was fun and interesting, and just drives home the point that Airbnb is a totally different experience than staying in a hotel.

Lesson 3: Read (and pay attention to) the reviews!

For my third stay I looked for the least expensive place I could stay that still had reasonable reviews. I booked a place in a newer townhome in a gated community. There were one or two comments that were not entirely positive, but overall the host’s ratings were high.
My host Jack seems like a terrific guy. The location was a bit out of the way, which I assumed was the primary reason for the low price.
The place was as advertised – a new, decent quality townhouse home. The room was a reasonable size, but there was a massive desk and credenza that took up most of the space in the room. The bed was a fold-out couch sitting against a corner. The mattress was hard (yay!) but the sheets smelled like they had been left in the washing machine a little too long. Not good! There was also a rubber mattress protector under the sheets. What have folks been up to here?

The nasty odor of the sheets made the first night rather unpleasant. I washed them the next day and they were better after that. The towels in the bath and kitchen were similar. I suspect they had all been left in the washing machine for a long time after running a load.
The room did have a private bath, which was outstanding, and the kitchen had a modern, open-floorplan with a breakfast counter.
The biggest challenge was the gated community, which was a surprise. I wasn’t given a gate code. Instead, I needed to dial my host’s cell phone from the black box at the gate, and then he could remotely allow me in. This meant I could only get in if my host had access to his cell phone. Alternatively, I could follow other cars in, which is pretty much what I did. So much for security.

To make matters a bit worse, I had to park in guest parking which required a bit of a trek. Jack mentioned that parking just outside the gate next to his home would be closer, so I did that. But now I needed Jack to let me out, as well as in, after parking.
Overall, I would say that as a place to stay goes this particular spot was not that desirable. Pay attention to reviews!

Lesson 4: Location, location, location. And charm. And company!

The final stop of my trip was a Victorian Bed and Breakfast near downtown. Well, Victorian might be a stretch, but it was an interesting, old. (My own home is a 1926 Craftsman bungalow, so old is a good thing in my view.) The home had been freshened up here and there but never remodeled, so it was a tad funky. There were quite a few guest rooms, so there were other guests staying at the place. Fun!
I was given a private room in the back of the house, away from the other guests. Was it something I said? Anyway, the room was on the small side, but the bed was wonderful, not too hard and not too soft. Yay! I feel like Goldilocks. The bath was very small with a 30″ by 30″ square shower. (Really!) But I didn’t spend that much time in the bathroom. The kitchen and common room were well suited for socializing, so the guests had some good conversations getting to know each other.

The hostess was very gracious and welcoming, but I didn’t see much of her. Still, the price was excellent, it was centrally located, the bed was super comfortable and it was an old house, which I love. I would stay here again.

What did I learn?

You can save a lot of money using Airbnb instead of hotels, and have a much more enjoyable experience to boot. I also learned there are tricks to being a successful Airbnb host. You have to be good at marketing and think like the owner of a fine hotel, or maybe an Italian family restaurant – take care of the customer!

First impressions count – fresh flowers or chocolate on the nightstand are nice touches. An information sheet showing local restaurants or stores is very helpful. If there is anything unusual about the operation of anything a guest might use – a funky shower faucet, for example, which I encountered on my trip – it is very useful to have a laminated card nearby explaining how to operate it.
While it is certainly not necessary to feed your guests, if they are going to cook it’s very helpful to work out arrangements so that you are not getting in each other’s way in the kitchen.

Finally, quality bedding and clean, fresh towels are very much appreciated, and make a huge difference in the quality of the stay for your guests. And ditch the rubber sheets – they will NOT entice your guests back for another stay!