6 Airbnb Tips to Make Your Next Trip A++

September 24, 2018

Foursomething years ago, my friend visited New York City from Singapore. We met up for pastrami sandwiches and somewhere along the way I asked what hotel she was staying in. But she wasn’t staying in a hotel. She was staying in someone’s home, she explained, arranged through some website. That’s insane, I remember thinking.

Fast-forward to today and I’m juggling multiple Airbnb bookings, myself: one this month for my honeymoon (please send me Lisbon recs) and another over the holidays for a getaway with my best friend (Mexico City recs, also welcome).

In the last few years alone, I’ve stayed in several Airbnbs from Portland to Charleston. My guess is: You have, too. Some were way better than any hotel. Some of them were way worse.

So, how do you avoid the duds? Here are six rules I swear by:

1. Book with a superhost.

Which is to say, a reliable host—someone who has hosted lots of other guests, and those guests had positive stays. Airbnb explains it as: “Superhosts are experienced hosts who provide a shining example for other hosts, and extraordinary experiences for their guests.” Who doesn’t want that?

2. Or, better yet, book Plus.

Airbnb Plus is “a new selection of only the highest quality homes with hosts known for great reviews and attention to detail. Every home is visited in person for a 100+ point quality inspection to ensure your comfort.” Think of Plus as the foot in the door if you’re hesitant to make the switch from hotels to Airbnbs, or as extra insurance that a special trip will be even more special.

3. The early bird gets the Airbnb.

I’ve had more than one trip where I waited too long to book my lodging (oops), then got stuck with bottom-of-the-barrel listings. One trip, I ended up booking with a first-time host—which, of course, every host has to be at some point—but I wouldn’t do this again any time soon (late check-in, messy house, no thanks). If you just need a place to sleep mid–road trip, this is probably fine. But if you’re planning a romantic weekend or special occasion, think ahead. Those super-hosted, dream-located, great-deal, Instagramable-interior apartments go first.

4. Read the cancellation policy—closely.

Not all Airbnb cancellation policies are created equal—they’re specific to each lodging. For instance, I just scanned a few options in Mexico. Here is what each said:

  • “This home has a strict (grace period) cancellation policy. Cancel within 48 hours of booking and at least 14 days prior to check-in to get a full refund.”
  • “Cancel within 48 hours of booking to get a full refund."
  • “Cancel up to 24 hours before check-in and get a full refund, minus the service fee.”

While no one wants to cancel their vacation, you-know-what happens. And it’s good to know what would happen if you had to in advance.

5. Look for number of beds, not number of guests.

Different! As our digital designer Megan Güntas noted, “Sometimes if you just enter the guest count, lots of places will appear to accommodate more people with pull out couches but not extra bedrooms.” If you’re staying with a big group, read the listing closely. It should tell you how many guests the space can accommodate, as well as how many bedrooms, how many beds, and what size those beds are. If there are certain couples who want to share a bed or people who want their own, figure that out before you book. Because sprinting around the house, jumping on beds to claim them is only fun on The Bachelor.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Is there something you need that’s not addressed in the description? Message the host about it! Unlike a hotel, where you could theoretically move to another room if there’s a problem, your host can’t materialize another house if there’s some sort of dealbreaker. For example: I have back issues and can only sleep on an ultra-firm mattress. One trip, my husband and I stayed at a lovely apartment—totally cute, looked just like the photos—but the mattress was squishy as a marshmallow. Which means I slept on the couch. This wasn’t the host’s fault; it was ours. Now before every booking, we message the host about the mattress firmness.


What tips can you share from your experiences using Airbnb? Spill ’em in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Linda October 11, 2018
Read the reviews other people have written! You can tell which ones are left by thoughtful, reasonable people (as opposed to the extremely picky and unreasonable ones). They will mention things--both good and bad--that the owner may not. Example: neighbors' barking dogs in Oaxaca, Mexico. At least you can follow up with the owner if you'd like more of an explanation of some condition.
Jessica October 6, 2018
Ask your host if there is construction in the area. We stayed in a nice apt, but the construction of the high rise down the block woke us up at 7am every morning. The jackhammering throughout the day was not appreciated either.
Nancy B. September 30, 2018
If you're a frequent AirBnB guest you have to watch Ps and Qs so as not to get bad reviews yourself. That means not telegraphing with your look or words disappointment when you arrive, not bugging hosts too much (too-frequent texting about broken plumbing surprisingly got a reprimand in review from one host). Anyway, while in a hotel you can always call the front desk, think twice before complaining to owner!
Emma L. September 30, 2018
So true!
Sandy September 30, 2018
If you don't like the cancellation terms, contact the host before you book and ask to have it changed. We were booking about 11 months in advance for 3 weeks, but through several exchanged emails with the host, we convinced him of our sincerity and he changed the terms to allow us to cancel a week in advance rather than only during the first 24 hours. We had a lovely 3-week stay at his cottage this past summer.
Emma L. September 30, 2018
Wow! Thanks for sharing this, Sandy.
Harper Z. September 25, 2018
I cannot recommend this place enough. Nestled in the city so you don't feel like a tourist but close enough to everything that you can walk or take a trolley car or cab.

Emma L. September 30, 2018
Thanks for sharing this, Harper!
Linda September 25, 2018
Also, I have just discovered that their algorithm pulls up rentals in other cities before the city you are searching for so searching using the map is a good way to get a rental in a location you want. For instance, if I search for Pasadena, I will get some rentals in Hollywood before Pasadena in the list and yet there are rentals by superhosts available in Pasadena.
SophieL September 24, 2018
How timely to be reading your column today because tomorrow I'm heading to the Bay Area and staying at an Airbnb place that is super conveniently located and a great rate. However, I have yet to hear from the host, in spite of 4 messages. Her reviews are stellar so I'm optimistic that she will be on site when I arrive.
My Airbnb experience in England and Ireland ranged from a spectacular castle in Ireland to an ok flat in central London where I got a large bedroom with a not-so-great bathroom and kitchen use. However, unbeknownst to me, her roommate was still in the flat (separate bedroom) and one evening the roommate's BF stayed there. The host was difficult to contact and access on arrival day was uncertain, at best. But the location and rate made up for the initial anxiety.
Other Airbnb places were wonderful in Bath and on Aran Island, Ireland.
Emma L. September 30, 2018
A castle! In Ireland! Thanks for sharing about your experiences, Sophie—and hope you had a wonderful trip the Bay Area.
SophieL September 30, 2018
Our Airbnb stay was absolutely wonderful. Host did connect with key location and instructions and all went very well. We meet her and her husband later. Their place for our needs perfectly.
SophieL September 30, 2018
Our Airbnb stay was absolutely wonderful. Host did connect with key location and instructions and all went very well. We meet her and her husband later. Their place for our needs perfectly.
SoInconvenient September 24, 2018
I can't believe you aren't mentioning that you should check whether or not the listing is a legal in the city or place. The best places respect local laws, regulations and neighbors.
FrugalCat September 24, 2018
OMG yes! Once we stayed at a condo and halfway thru the trip I had code enforcement knocking at the door. They told me the owner was illegally subletting. I was allowed to finish out my stay, but then afterward, the owner tried to get me to say I had stayed there for free. I told him if he refunded my money, I would testify for him. Never heard from him again!
Emma L. September 30, 2018
Yikes. That's an awful story—so sorry to hear it. But thank you, both, for sharing this valuable tip.
Grace A. September 24, 2018
Not related to Airbnb but go to Sole e Pesca in Lisbon! It's a cute, super casual place to get great small plates of seafood (especially sardines) and a beer
Emma L. September 30, 2018
Thanks for sharing this rec, Grace!