What to look for in an Airbnb, according to frequent users

Five things to know before you book.

The Airbnb Caleb Owens stayed at in Montreal.
The Airbnb Caleb Owens, of Raymond, N.H., stayed at in Montreal. –Courtesy of Caleb Owens

If you’ve yet to book an overnight stay with Airbnb, veteran users say it’s a great way to experience a variety of accommodations and feel like a local.

“The whole point is to feel like you’re living someplace,” said Jacqueline Ly, a 26-year-old grad student from Westwood, who has stayed at dozens of Airbnbs in places like London, Rome, Budapest, and Tokyo over the past five years.

You can book an apartment, cabin, houseboat, or even an entire house, pretty much anywhere in the world. Here, local users offer tips for getting the most out of your Airbnb experience.

Book with a superhost

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Filters on Airbnb allow for narrowing down the considerable inventory based on your preferences for price, type of dwelling, and amenities. One filter many Airbnb users seem to agree on is booking with a superhost.

“If you are having a hard time filtering down and you’re between a few places, a nice tiebreaker is ‘superhost,'” said Evan Kendall, 26, of Westwood, who works in investment management in Boston and travels with Ly, his girlfriend of seven years. “We’ve had really good experiences with people who are listed as superhosts. They have consistently high standards and they’re friendly and helpful.”

Criteria for being a “superhost” includes having hosted at least 10 trips or three long-term reservations totaling at least 100 nights in the last year, maintaining a 50 percent or higher review rate and a 90 percent or more response rate, have had zero cancellations (except under extenuating circumstances), and have maintained a 4.8 out of 5.0 overall rating. Airbnb assesses hosts on a quarterly basis and declares them a “superhost” if they meet the standards.

“One of the first filters I pick is ‘entire place’ because I don’t want to share with anyone,” said Caleb Owens, 40, of Raymond, N.H., a manager at Market Basket and father of two who has stayed in Airbnbs in Florida, New Hampshire, and Montreal over the past two years. “The next thing I check off is ‘superhost.'”

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Ly recommends booking about three months in advance because inventory dwindles as you get closer to your travel date.

Use a crime map

Part of the charm of using Airbnb is living like a local, away from the big hotels and touristy spots, Ly said. However, that can sometimes backfire if you don’t do your homework.

For example, when Ly and Kendall booked a penthouse in an apartment building in Athens, Greece, Ly said the Airbnb was “amazing,” but the neighborhood was “pretty sketchy.” She said she spotted broken-down autos, stray cats in the streets, and trash on the second floor of the building. While they didn’t experience any trouble, Ly said the area was “grittier” than she was used to and she wished they’d stayed closer to the hotels.

“We searched a crime map and realized we were on the wrong side of it,” Ly said. “If you haven’t been to a city before and don’t have friends who have been to the city, I would look up a crime map.”

Ly used the site safearound.com, which assesses risk levels in more than 100 countries and cities worldwide, to look up crime in that particular neighborhood of Athens.

Ask your host where to go, and if the kitchen is stocked

“Airbnb hosts are generally just really friendly and want to share and be ambassadors of their city for you,” said Ly. “They are the best resources I’ve found when it comes to where to eat, what to do.”

When Ly and Kendall stayed at an Airbnb in Tokyo, the hosts went so far as to personally take them out when they asked for restaurant recommendations.

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“They went out to dinner with us and they took us out for drinks and we had a blast,” Kendall said.

When it comes to your creature comforts inside the Airbnb, asking what’s in the kitchen will save you time and money, Owens said.

“Some of these homes have the basics,” said Owens. “We didn’t realize that the first time, so we thought we needed salt and pepper and bought the shakers.”

“It’s good to kind of message them and double check,” said Garrett Bernstein, 30, a Ph.D. student from Northampton who has been using Airbnb for eight years and has stayed in locations such as Miami, Montreal, Vermont, New Orleans, and Istanbul. “If there’s a charcoal grill, ask, ‘Do we need to bring charcoal?’ Just so you’re not scrambling when you’re there.”

And if there’s an item you can’t live without, Bernstein said, bring it.

“I’ve brought a big cast iron pan I have,” Bernstein said. “[So] I just know that I have a good pan to cook there with. I bring my own spatula. If they don’t have a good spatula, I can’t flip my eggs.”

Remember you are being critiqued

After a trip is complete, you can write a review of the accommodations and rate it up to five stars. The host can also write a review of you.

“It changes the mentality for the better,” Kendall said. “You are forced, and rightfully so, to be empathetic. You are staying in someone’s home and you want to put it together the way you found it.”

Your reputation as a guest will follow you, said Kendall.

“They’re sort of looking at your profile and seeing if you have good ratings,” Kendall said.

Ly said she likes to read the reviews previous guests write about a space.

“In terms of ratings, I definitely read at least two pages of reviews to see what everyone is saying,” Ly said.

Ly pays particular attention to comments about cleanliness, she said.

“I know I’m a very clean, OCD-type person and you don’t want to turn up and there’s a moldy bathroom or something,” she said.

Take advantage of Airbnb Experiences

Airbnb introduced Airbnb Experiences in 2016, a marketplace of activities created and hosted by local community members.

Owens used Airbnb Experiences to book an adventure for his 15th wedding anniversary during a trip to Canada.

“It was a photo shoot through Montreal,” said Owens. “I hooked up with a photographer. We walked around in different areas where she thought it would make for good pictures. It was a big hit with my wife.”

The photographer, a local, even took photos of them atop a Montreal building, where her friend gave them access to the roof, he said.

“It’s a neat feature on Airbnb,” said Owens about the Airbnb Experiences. “It was well priced and it kind of hooked you up with something I would not have found on my own.”

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