The slightly sketchy room-sharing service Airbnb helps travellers find local accommodations, and it potentially endangers the lives and homes of the hosts offering up their apartments. It doesn't take much to be a good guest -- don't steal, don't vandalise and generally be decent. Now, being a great guest is a bit trickier. But it's worth the effort. You can earn a sterling review and improve your odds of landing hot Airbnb bookings on future travels. Here's an experienced host's guide to getting invited back.
Don't ask to see the place
A guest (or an in-town pal) can't come check out the digs before committing to stay. It's better not to ask. Airbnb discourages it -- as the online FAQ says: "We encourage all hosts and guests to complete their booking through our website before meeting in person to best ensure their safety and privacy." But more than that, the hosts are busy. You come across as a pain. It's easier to just move onto the next potential guest rather than deal with these scheduling shenanigans.
Don't ask to pay in cash
You don't want to pay Airbnb's booking fee. Fine. In an attempt to circumvent it, some guests ask to go outside the system and pay in cash. The answer is always no. Airbnb's system is the only reason most hosts feel comfortable renting out spare rooms and apartments -- the reviews on guests act as a surprisingly solid deterrent to bad behaviour, and Airbnb provides an insurance policy in the off chance a guest goes haywire. In addition, if you don't book through Airbnb, the host doesn't get a review or the accompanying search-rank juice. And to a regular host, that last one is huge.
Don't ask what it will cost
About a third of first-contact messages from Airbnb novices ask "what the total cost will be" for a given block of dates. The fact is: The host has no idea. The total cost, after Airbnb's modest booking fees, is known only to you and Airbnb. Just enter your dates in the site, and it will calculate the total cost before you book.
Don't ask questions the listing already answers
For the love of God, read the entire listing. You may find important details -- like, say, you're sharing a bathroom, or you're renting a room and not the whole house. These are significant, deal-breaking details. They will be in the listing. Look before asking. Answering the same questions over and over wastes a host's time. And, yes, the host provides towels. Airbnb basically enforces that one.
Airbnb is not a dating site. But one thing about Airbnb is that a host always has to reply -- the search rankings take a hit if a host doesn't respond to every single message. Writing back to everyone who wants to have a drink, talk about workor get a room (in the non-hotelier sense) is a drag.
Don't ignore your email
Last-minute changes to the host's schedule make it crucial to be in touch as soon as possible. So stay reachable in the days leading up to your stay. And, if at all possible, check your email when the plane lands or before you arrive. Some tenants view travelling as an excuse to shut off the phone and ignore email. If you're using Airbnb, please, at least glance at it.
Don't miss arrival and departure times
Hosts are not running hotels, and they don't have a reception desk. The host absolutely needs to know a firm check-in time as far in advance as possible. Sometimes separate guests leave and arrive on the same day. The place has to be cleaned and prepared for the next visitor. For extensions of check-out times (or the occasional 7am check-in), a host will try to accommodate. Guests can usually leave luggage behind during the last day or drop it off early if the room isn't ready yet. Just be sure to ask in advance.
DURING AND AFTER A STAY
Gifts aren't necessary (but they are appreciated!)
Some guests bring chocolate, wine or some trinket from their home country. Totally awesome. Totally unnecessary. Totally appreciated. Especially the wine and chocolate. Note to hosts serving a younger clientele: leaving an inexpensive bottle of wine in the guest's room is a great way to get things started on a friendly note.
Be considerate with company
If you book a room for one person, don't assume a friend can stay with you. A lot of hosts charge different rates for extra guests. As for having overnight guests, the short answer is that it depends. Some hosts could freak out over it. But there's some wiggle room. If you're staying for two weeks, and you and the host have gotten to know and trust each other, then inviting a responsible friend over may be fine. But if you're staying two nights and assume someone can join you for both of them -- well, hosts can feel like they're running a sleazy motel. And nobody likes that.
Ask about the bathroom schedule
Some arrangements include a shared bathroom. It rarely presents a problem, unless a guest is in there for an hour while a host is heading out to work. If you're sharing a bathroom, just ask your host when they tend to use it in the morning and try to be accommodating. It is appreciated.
Go out and have fun
In a shared apartment, the best tenants spend most of their time out enjoying the city. If you're looking to shut yourself in, look for a whole-apartment Airbnb rental.
Hotels have maids. Airbnb has hosts. As Airbnb put it in an email: "Consider stripping the beds or taking out the trash to go the extra mile." Well, that would be fantastic. Use the campsite rule -- leave no trace.
Communicate problems or questions
A host hates to read post-visit reviews complaining of not enough towels. You know what? If you want another towel, just ask. The host is not trying to hold out on you, but the host can't know you need something unless you speak up. All hosts want you to have a good stay, but it's up to you to say what to do to make that happen. By the same token, treat the host's belongings with respect -- if you're not sure if you can help yourself to that ketchup, ask.
Respect the review
Carefully consider all negative reviews. If the city cut train service one weekend or a freak snowstorm struck, please don't take it out on the host. Bad reviews can have a profound effect on these folks' livelihoods and should be divvied out with extreme discretion. Take into account whether the rental meets expectations -- was the listing honest, the price fair, the host accommodating? If you're paying $30 per night to stay in Queens, cheer the fact that you got a great deal rather than raging at the 40-minute train ride to Times Square.
Seth Porges has been an Airbnb host since 2010. Check out his sweet Brooklyn listing.