Over the past eight months, we’ve traveled across six countries outside of the US while staying in nine different AirBnB properties, seven hotels, and one independently rented house.
I like to use hotels instead of AirBnB for short stays of one or two nights. Mostly because I feel less of a need to clean up carefully before leaving a hotel than I do when I stay in an AirBnB. Since an AirBnB is often someone else’s home, it is responsible to clean up carefully which takes time. I’m not saying that I trash a hotel, but I usually don’t take out the garbage or vacuum and wipe down all of the services before leaving a hotel room. Throughout the last eight months, my family and I have stayed at seven different hotels in three different countries.
We made our bookings using either Hotels.com, Orbitz, or Hotwire depending on which option gave us the best price. I usually make a point of checking the hotel’s own website to see if they offer a better price, or even the same price, but that seldom happens. I know that lately a lot of hotel chains have tried to incentivize booking direct by not counting third party bookings towards the benefits of their membership programs. However, I’ve personally never had one of those chain specific membership programs lead to an actual financial savings. I’ve pretty much always come out ahead by booking the cheapest option—and taking the immediate benefits—when compared to hoping for future benefit. Third party booking can sometimes help here as I can accumulate benefits with that third party website, regardless of which property I stay with.
Of the three third party booking sites I mentioned above, Orbitz is the only one which has resulted in actual savings while on the trip. You earn Orbucks with each reservation which can be used directly on the next booking. Additionally, we have more commonly been able to find coupon codes for Orbitz than for other sites. However, in many cases the savings is only a few dollars. Hotels.com uses a buy 10 nights, get one free system, so of course it takes longer to realize any actual benefit. On Hotwire, the financial benefit comes in the form of their Hot Rates deals where you don’t know specifically which hotel you are booking until you’ve booked it. Of course, since the website provides a general idea of location and rating, it is pretty easy to figure out what the hotel will be in advance. The major downside of the Hot Rates option is that, I think, every booking is nonrefundable.
That brings me to my next point. Because we found ourselves traveling in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak in addition to having an unexpected hospitalization which both resulted in lots of cancelled plans, we’ve had the chance to see how some of these options handled cancellations and changes in plans.
First, we had a three day hospitalization in France that meant having to cancel two hotel reservations (and a train). Both of these reservations were made through Hotels.com. Given the uncertain nature of what we were going through at the time, I tried calling both hotels to explain what was happening and see if they would allow us to cancel. The first didn’t have any record of our reservation and referred us back to Hotels.com. Hotels.com referred said the hotel had to handle it, so I gave up instead of chasing the loop back and forth. The second hotel placed me on hold for probably 20-30 minutes (this was before COVID-19 got going) and then hung up. We’ll try to use our travel insurance to reimburse these cancellations and just hope for the best there.
The coronavirus outbreak has also resulted in changed plans. We still had a month left in our travel itinerary when things started going sideways. This caused us to rush to rearrange and try to get home as quickly as possible. Luckily, we only had one hotel reservation that we won’t be able to keep. Our other lodging arrangement was through AirBnB, which we were able to cancel. The remaining hotel reservation is for a Paris hotel at the beginning of April. The reservation was made through Hotwire, who hasn’t exactly provided any help and instead defers to the provider. The hotel is owned by Accor Live Limitless, who is currently not keeping up with travel restrictions as new limits are put in place. This one I’ll keep monitoring and hope that we can do something because the hotel was rather expensive and it would be a lot of money to lose.
Prior to this trip, I didn’t have any experience using AirBnB as my university doesn’t allow us to use it for work travel and we personally were somewhat resistant to it due to the uncertainty of what you’ll encounter with each reservation. On this trip, we decided to try it out, mostly for the cost savings for long-term stays, and we’ve now stayed at nine different AirBnB properties in seven different countries. Our stays have ranged from three nights to four weeks. So far we’ve been lucky in that none of our reservations has been cancelled by the host before we arrived and we’ve only had to cancel one of our reservations, again due to the coronavirus, where we benefited by having booked a property with a generous cancellation policy.
What we’ve learned through our AirBnB experience is that the majority of hosts are generous, kind people who’ve made our stays very positive experiences. We’ve done our best to avoid properties that are owned by corporations and have tried to avoid the riskier options by only using properties with good ratings and some decent rental history. Though one caveat to this is that you can sometimes find a good deal by looking for new properties without rental history, which often come at a discount, but are owned by superhosts, a status that provides some level of protection because they are unlikely to cancel your reservation as it jeopardizes their status.
Our favorite stay on this trip was the four weeks we spent in Jard-sur-Mer, in a cozy property that was very well setup for long stays and for families. This property became the comparison point against which we measured all of our other stays.
There were a couple of things we found almost frequently true across the AirBnBs that we stayed in that could be rather easily improved by hosts. 1) Spend about a week living in your rental property and preparing meals. Use this time to identify the missing cooking implements and then purchase them to provide for your guests. It was often simple things like having enough spoons. Also, oddly, I don’t think any of the properties we stayed in supplied a pizza cutter. When something so universal and frequently utilized is missing, it is quickly noticed. 2) Make the wifi password something that is ready to type. Replace the router’s default password, which commonly looks like HG6JgjHFh4YG#5yHN, with something like correcthorsebatterystaple. This will accomplish the same thing but is much easier for me to enter because I can read it once and remember it while I’m typing it in on each device I’d like to connect.
Aside from hotels and AirBnB properties, we did stay in one normal rental house. This was for our extended 5 month stay in Perú and we find the property using a Facebook group specifically for housing in the Sacred Valley. We did it this way rather than using AirBnB as we were able to get a better mostly rate by finding property owners who were not using AirBnB and thus not operating within that fee structure.
I think that overall we were quite lucky with our housing choices and were fortunate to have safe accommodations everywhere we went.