Airbnb is an online marketplace that connects people who want to rent out their homes with people who are looking for accommodations in that locale. It currently covers more than 81,000 cities and 191 countries worldwide. The company’s name comes from “air mattress B&B.”
For hosts, participating in Airbnb is a way to earn some income from their property, but with the risk that the guest might do damage to it. For guests, the advantage can be relatively inexpensive accommodations, but with the risk that the property won’t be as appealing as the listing made it seem.
Travelers can often book an Airbnb for less than the cost of a hotel room.
The main risk to the traveler is that the property may not live up to its listing.
The main risk to hosts is that guests might do serious damage to their property.
The global pandemic due to the novel coronavirus has resulted in significant changes to Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances cancellation policy.
The Advantages of Airbnb
Airbnb hosts list many different kinds of properties—single rooms, a suite of rooms, apartments, moored yachts, houseboats, entire houses, even a castle—on the Airbnb website.
Hosts don’t have to pay to list their properties. Listings can include written descriptions, photographs with captions, and a user profile where potential guests can get to know a bit about the hosts.
Hosts Can Set Their Own Price
It’s up to each host to decide how much to charge per night, per week, or per month.
Guests can search the Airbnb database—not only by date and location, but by price, type of property, amenities, and the language of the host. They can also add keywords (such as “close to the Louvre”) to further narrow their search.
In recent years Airbnb has expanded its offerings to include experiences and restaurants. Besides a listing of available accommodations for the dates they plan to travel, people searching by location will see a list of experiences, such as classes and sightseeing, offered by local Airbnb hosts. Restaurant listings also include reviews from Airbnb hosts.
Protections for Guests and Hosts
As a protection for guests, Airbnb holds the guest’s payment for 24 hours after check-in before releasing the funds to the host.
For hosts, Airbnb’s Host Guarantee program “provides protection for up to $1,000,000 in damages to covered property in the rare event of guest damage, in eligible countries.”
The Disadvantages of Airbnb
What You See May Not Be What You Get
Booking accommodations with Airbnb is not like booking a room with a major hotel chain, where you have a reasonable assurance that the property will be as advertised. Individual hosts create their own listings, and some may be more honest than others. However, previous guests often post comments about their experiences, which can provide a more objective view.
Check the comments of other guests who have stayed at that Airbnb property to make sure the listing is accurate.
Probably the biggest risk for hosts is that their property will be damaged. While most stays go without incident, there are stories of entire houses being trashed by dozens of partygoers when the Airbnb hosts thought they were renting to a quiet family. Airbnb’s Host Guarantee program, described above, provides some assurance, but it may not cover everything, such as cash, rare artwork, jewelry, and pets. Hosts whose homes are damaged may also experience considerable inconvenience.
Airbnb imposes a number of additional fees (as, of course, do hotels and other lodging providers). Guests pay a guest service fee of 0% to 20% on top of the reservation fee, to cover Airbnb’s customer support and other services. Prices display in the currency the user selects, provided Airbnb supports it. Banks or credit card issuers may add fees if applicable.
And while listings are free, Airbnb charges hosts a service fee of at least 3% for each reservation, to cover the cost of processing the transaction.
Both hosts and guests from the European Union, Switzerland, and Norway may be subject to a value-added tax (VAT).1 And depending on their location, hosts may be subject to rental income taxes. To assist with U.S. tax compliance, Airbnb collects taxpayer information from hosts so they can provide an account of their earnings each year via Form 1099 and Form 1042.2
It Isn’t Legal Everywhere
Before listing their properties on Airbnb, would-be hosts need to check their local zoning ordinances to make sure it’s legal to rent out their properties. Hosts may also be required to obtain special permits or licenses.
Cancellations Due to COVID-19
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic due to the novel coronavirus. In response, Airbnb adjusted its extenuating circumstances cancellation policy on March 14. The newest adjustment was made on March 31.3 Reservations booked on or before March 14 with a check-in between March 14 and May 31, 2020, are eligible for a full refund for coronavirus-related reasons. To facilitate this, Airbnb has set aside a fund of $250 million that will be used to help hosts impacted by the cancellations, paying them 25% of what they would have received for a normal cancellation.4
Reservations made after March 14 are not eligible for this policy and subject to standard cancellation procedures. Reservations made before March 14 but with a check-in date after May 31 will be revisited in “the coming weeks.”4 The new policy “doesn’t apply to Airbnb Luxe, Luxury Retreats, or domestic bookings in mainland China, which all have their own policies.” Airbnb has set aside a $10 million support fund to assist “our community in mainland China directly.”5