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Is Airbnb Safe? What to Know & Scams to Avoid

Airbnb is one of the most popular tourist and travel sites in the world. Allowing travelers to stay in someone else’s home for a set price and get a local experience, it’s now one of the main ways that a lot of people travel. But, as with any travel site, the question arises is Airbnb safe?

Is Airbnb Safe?

Whether Airbnb is safe or not completely depends on the listing and how you use the platform personally. In my opinion, Airbnb is safe. I have certain rules that I always follow when booking an Airbnb like not booking places without reviews and making sure the host has good reviews as well.

The basic premise is that anyone can list their house or spare room on Airbnb, upload some photos, a description, some open dates, and prices, and be open for business. Traveler and host reviews work to keep everyone host and prevent bad hosts or disrespectful travelers from becoming repeat offenders.

However, like anything that relies on user reviews, like Uber, Deliveroo, TripAdvisor, etc., listings aren’t always what they seem and these scammers can devastate your trip.

Now, like any scam, Airbnb scams are still in the minority. That being said, a couple of bad apples can really stain Airbnb’s reputation and put people off using it altogether!

How Reliable is Airbnb?

Airbnb itself as a platform is a legit and reliable website and app. It was set up in 2008 and was designed to link people with second homes, spare rooms, or nomadic people, with travelers who needed a place to crash. 

The site itself is largely reliable. It doesn’t go down due to technical problems, the payment side is secure, and there is plenty of support available on Airbnb’s corporate side. The reliability questions come when it comes to individual hosts, experienced vendors, or travelers themselves.

Like a lot of similar sites such as Vrbo, Homeaway, and the self-catering or home rental sections of Booking.com and Hotels.com, there are plenty of companies in this space, trying to copy Airbnb’s model and stay competitive. 

It’s been used for over a decade now for a reason. People who use it largely love it and the company has pivoted to provide more luxury experiences, accommodation, tours, and even remote working-oriented stays. 

Will I be Able to Trust My Host?

This is a huge question and one that doesn’t have a simple answer. Personally, I don’t book any Airbnb that doesn’t already have a good amount of reviews. This does make it difficult for new hosts to break through, even if they’re great hosts with amazing places.

Largely, you can trust hosts. Airbnb runs some basic background checks on both hosts and travelers to make sure people are who they say they are, but of course, scams do still happen.

Realistically, take everything with a pinch of salt and read between the lines. Being cynical can help you here. For instance, if the listing says it’s in a vibrant or lively area, read that as it’s noisy at night so light sleepers should avoid this place.

Similarly, if you’re looking for a decent-sized space beware of images with a fish-eye lens. Those ones look warped at the edges. The chances are that the place is tiny.

Message your host before you book if you can to try and minimize risk and gain some peace of mind. Airbnb does have some support protocols in place to help travelers and hosts who have been scammed, but it’s always best to do some due diligence. 

A lot of the time, hosts are reasonable people who understand the trust issues of travelers, especially if they’re new to the platform. Ask as many questions as you need, check out the reviews and carefully have a look through the listing to see if there are any red flags or things that look too good to be true. 

If you want to go one step further, you can filter any of your searches to only include Superhosts. That means that the listings shown are hosted by people who have reached Airbnb’s highest standards, so you’re in safe hands!

How Easy and Safe is it to Book?

Airbnb is pretty easy and safe to book through. Payment-wise, you should never be sending money directly to the host. All payments go through Airbnb, so your host will never have your card details.

Similarly. You create your profile and can choose how much personal information you want to be shared on the platform.

Your email won’t be shared with the host as Airbnb encourages you to chat through the messaging function in the app. Once you’ve booked, your phone number is sent, but in my experience, hosts rarely call or Whatsapp.

The use of a phone number is primarily for security reasons and in case you’ve got trouble checking in to the property, so it doesn’t really get used. 

That being said, there have been reports of some hosts inappropriately texting and messaging travelers after they’ve booked, even if their stay has passed or if it’s been canceled. Airbnb is taking steps to crack down on this and, again, this kind of behavior is in the minority.

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A quick browse of the reviews and messaging the host on Airbnb before you book should be able to give you a good indication of the kind of person who is hosting you. 

It’s super easy to book on Airbnb. Places will either have an instant book set up which means you can just go ahead and pay in full straight away or in installments (depending on how far in advance your trip is).

This is a great option if you’re on a budget and want to spread out the cost or if you’ve bought the flights that month and want to secure the accommodation without paying in full straight away.

If the host has selected the request to book option then you have to wait for a response which will come within 24 hours, letting you know if you’re free to book or not. This gives the host an opportunity to check out your traveler reviews and any messages that you want to send them.

What Can I Do if the Place Isn’t as Described?

So, as we all know, sometimes the camera lies. Places might not be as big as you thought, there might be more stairs to the apartment, and the place might not be darker than you thought.

It happens. Apart from the Luxe and Plus listings, Airbnb does not visit and vet individual properties, so it means you have to rely on traveler reviews. 

By and large, the reviews will mention if the place isn’t as described or if certain features like WiFi or Air-Con listed on the facilities list aren’t up to standard. You can limit the chances of disappointment by going for highly-rated options or going with Luxe or Plus listings instead.

Another way to check this is to checklist the listed amenities against the photos. If there are a ton of amenities listed that you can’t see in the photos then that’s a red flag that’s worth paying attention to.

a view with table and chairs
Photo Credit: Unsplash

Especially if it’s a big amenity like a garden or a full working kitchen and there are no photos of it, that should set off alarm bells in your head. But again, the reviews should confirm this. 

If it’s not as described in a major way, you can take photos and complain to Airbnb, but it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to do anything about it instantly. You might get some money back after the fact, but it can be a lengthy dispute process.

What if my Host Stops Talking to me?

Once you book your stay, your host should send you more detailed check-in information. This includes stuff like the specific address and how to get into the address. The actual address should appear automatically on your booking confirmation from Airbnb. 

Check-in details are normally sent closer to the time to avoid any security issues. This is most commonly sent through the Airbnb messaging service and you’ll get an email notification for any new messages. 

If communication lapses with your host and you haven’t received any check-in details a couple of days before you’re due to arrive and they haven’t responded saying it’s too early for details, contact Airbnb.

They’ll be able to advise you accordingly. As always, reviews are a good indicator of how good a host is at communicating. This is actually a category that people can flag so it’ll be really obvious if the host is a poor communicator.

Can Reviews be Faked?

So, this is increasingly becoming a thing in the tourism and travel sphere. Sites like TripAdvisor, Viator, and Facebook make it easy to post fake reviews because they don’t vet their users. 

The only way you can post a review on Airbnb is if you’ve passed their traveler authentication process, booked a stay, paid for it, and the dates of the stay have passed.

This makes it pretty difficult to fake reviews. Now, I’m not saying it’s not possible, but it is highly unlikely.

Can I Get My Money Back if I Need to Cancel?

It depends on the individual property’s cancellation policy and how much notice you’re giving the hosts before you’re due to arrive. A lot of properties have generous cancellation policies where you can get the full amount back up to a week from your stay, dropping to 50% afterward, and losing your money entirely two to three days out.

The main thing with Airbnb’s cancellation policy is that they determine who is at fault for the cancellation, who actively cancels the booking, and reward refunds accordingly. This creates the loop for a common scam, but I’ll go into more detail about that below.

How Safe Am I at the Guest’s Property?

Whether your host is staying on the property with you or not, safety can be a concern for many travelers. You can opt for a private room in a house or the entire property, or you can select hotel rooms specifically to avoid any interaction with the host at all.

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There are rules in place around the conduct of hosts including the fact that they are not allowed to record guests. Security cameras are allowed in hallways and over the initial door facing outwards, but not inside the property for your peace of mind. 

If you are staying in a spare room and the host is going to be present, make sure you chat with them beforehand using the Airbnb messaging feature to ensure that boundaries and expectations are set, and you know what you’re getting yourself into before you arrive. Clarity and communication are clear. 

To cover bases, you can also share your location and the host details with a friend back home if you want a safety blanket. It’s a common thing to do, especially if you’re traveling solo. 

Are My Belongings Safe in an Airbnb?

Again, similarly to whether or not you’re safe at the property, the safety of your belongings largely depends on the place and the style of Airbnb you’re staying in. If you’re renting out a spare room, I’d keep yourself in a hostel dorm mindset of carrying all valuables with you just in case.

Although your host will likely have a spare key to the property for emergencies, it’s unlikely that they’ll let themselves in while you’re out. Of course like with any hotel, hostel, or accommodation, it’s not wise to leave valuables just hanging around in the property when you’re not there, so be sensible with your stuff!

How Does Check-in Work?

Check-in varies depending on the property. Sometimes the host will meet you in person to let you in and show you around the property, letting you know any quirks of the place. However, more often than not, check-in will probably be via a lockbox with a code.

A couple of days before you arrive, your host will message you the code for a key safe or the location of a hidden key and you’ll check yourself in. This is super handy if you’re getting into town at weird times.

Many decent Airbnb properties will have a small guide or pack in the property with information about the area, how to turn on the air-con or heating, and useful things like the WiFi password. These packs are awesome for helping you to get your bearings quickly.

a bedroom
Photo Credit: Unsplash

Each listing will say what the check-in situation is so if you prefer a hands-off approach, you can see that ahead of time. If you’re unsure, just ask the host via the Airbnb messaging system, and they’ll be able to advise you.

It might be that they normally greet guests in person but you’re arriving either at unsociable hours or they’re out of the country themselves. I’ve seen properties where neighbors give the keys or they’re across the street with a local bar owner that the hosts trust.

It varies, but the process should be clear before you book.

Does Airbnb Vet its Hosts?

Airbnb does vet its hosts to a degree. There is an authentication process with a background check, similar to what it does for travelers, but Airbnb doesn’t personally go and check out every, single property.

If you see a listing that has a Superhost label, this means that the property adheres to higher standards so this might be a good filter to add to your search. Similarly, if you want to choose a place that Airbnb has actually vetted fully, opt for a Luxe or Plus listing.

They’re often more expensive but there is definitely a higher standard and more peace of mind.

Can a Host Kick Me Out of the Airbnb?

Yes, a host can kick you out of an Airbnb. This can only happen if you break the house rules which are clearly outlined on the listing. These are normally things like no parties, no noise after a certain time, or no smoking.

Some places have more specific or in-depth rules so make sure you read them thoroughly before you book your trip.

Does Airbnb Cover Damages?

Airbnb does have some protocols in place to sort out damages to the host property. There are deposits that can be taken and there are services that can help to cover damages to the property.

However, most of the time it’s done through the safety deposit and cleaning fees included in the overall price. You can normally see the breakdown of these on the booking page for each individual listing.

What are the Common Booking Scams?

Like any travel website, there are definitely some Airbnb scams that are more commonplace than others. That being said, these Airbnb scams are still in the minority, so as long as you do your due diligence and keep these scams in mind, you should have no problems on your next trip!

Let’s find out the five most common Airbnb booking scams.

Asks you to Pay Outside of Airbnb

This is a major red flag. Anyone who asks you to take payment outside of Airbnb to avoid fees or to go direct for a discounted rate is denying you payment protection and mitigation services on Airbnb.

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If something goes wrong, or you can’t get hold of your host after you’ve paid them, then there is nothing anyone can do. That money is gone and you don’t have any accommodation for your next vacation.

Pay through Airbnb and it’s good practice to buy on a credit card to get that extra level of payment protection.

The Host Asks you to Cancel

As we’ve outlined in this guide, Airbnb normally lays the blame on whoever cancels the booking. That means if your host asks you to cancel and rebook outside of the cancellation period, they are likely to get the refund, not you. 

If this happens, you can calmly ask them to cancel it on their side and then you’ll be more than happy to rebook when the refund hits your account. This is a reasonable request and if the host isn’t happy with this arrangement it’s time to take your business elsewhere!

The Host Asks you to Switch Rooms

This is a bit of a sneaky one and there are a couple of different reasons why this sometimes happens. If your host tells you either at check-in or at any time during your stay that you need to switch rooms because there’s a problem with your room, be a little bit skeptical.

Often, hosts will show images of their best room on the listing, you’ll book it based on that, and then they’ll switch you to a cheaper room citing an issue with plumbing or maintenance. Essentially you’re being downgraded and you won’t be compensated back the difference.

Another reason this can sometimes happen is that the host is trying to book out multiple rooms off one listing to avoid having to pay extra fees to Airbnb and bolster the number of reviews on one listing instead of across four or five. 

There’s a Fake Listing

This is probably the most common scam. Using false photos, claiming amenities that the property doesn’t actually have, or it seems to be too good to be true are all huge red flags to look out for when you’re checking out Airbnbs. As the adage goes – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

Checking out reviews and going for listings that have 4.8/5 ratings or higher is going to be the main way to get around this. Make sure you go through the photos and see if you can spot the different amenities that they’ve listed.

If it’s something big like a balcony or a full kitchen and you can’t see them in any of the photos, there’s a good chance that it doesn’t exist – or at least not to the standard that they’re saying.

Host Claims Damages

Another common scam is for the host to claim that there are damages in the property after you’ve left through doctored photos. This is so that they claim the safety deposit amount or go through reimbursement proceedings with Airbnb to cover the costs.

It also might be the case that they overestimate the amount it’ll take to fix the damage, therefore getting more money out of you and Airbnb. 

The main way to cover this off is to take photos before and after your stay and make sure they’re timestamped on your phone. You can even send the photos to the host once you check out to confirm that you’ve left the place in a good state. Having this kind of evidence will really help when dealing with Airbnb. 

I Recommend Traveling with Airbnb

So, is Airbnb safe? Largely, it is safe but like any website or travel accommodation service, you do need to be careful and do your homework. Logically, Airbnb wouldn’t be that popular or successful if it wasn’t safe or secure.

Of course, with any site where people can upload their own content, you can’t always believe what you see, which is why Airbnb uses reviews, and user authentication, and deal with the payments themselves to avoid as many scams as possible.

So, trust the reviews to a degree, opt for Superhost or Luxe/Plus properties, and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is…

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