How to Decode an Airbnb Review
Vacation rentals such as Airbnb can save you money on lodging and provide a comfortable home base at your vacation destination. But it can be a challenge to navigate Airbnb reviews when the average Airbnb rating is a whopping 4.7 out of 5 stars, according to a recent study by Georgios Zervas, an assistant professor of marketing at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. That’s a surprisingly high number when compared to hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, where the average rating is only 3.9 out of 5 stars for hotels with more than 100 reviews, a Cornell survey found.
Zervas suspects there’s a psychological component at play. “People might feel bad leaving a negative review because they know that many hosts are using Airbnb to supplement their income and help support their family,” says Zervas.
Some Airbnb customers might also be hesitant to write a negative review because they fear repercussions. “Hosts also review guests, and future hosts can see every review you leave,” says Emily McNutt, an editor at ThePointsGuy.com. Translation: “if you write a scathing review, a future host might be less inclined to let you stay at their place,” McNutt says.
Another reason why Airbnb ratings are so high? For many people, it’s difficult to be critical of someone they’ve met and gotten to know—even if they had a bad experience. “If you’re reviewing a restaurant on Yelp, you’re not talking about the owner directly, but on Airbnb you’re essentially rating the host just as much as you’re rating the property,” says McNutt.
To Airbnb’s credit, a recent Consumer Reports survey found that 92% of Americans that have booked a home-sharing service say they are likely or very likely to do it again, and fans said homestays make traveling more authentic and affordable.
If you’re planning to stay at an Airbnb, you’ll want to check out guest reviews before booking a trip. But since ratings on the website are so high, it’s important to have a critical eye when reading reviews.
Take these steps to accurately interpret guest reviews and find a great Airbnb.
1. READ THE PROPERTY DESCRIPTION
Before reading what guests have to say, look at the property description (under “about this listing”) to see what the host promised to provide. “If a guest complains about the noise level but the host said the home was located in a busy neighborhood, it’s not the host’s fault that the guest was unhappy,” says Evelyn Badia, a short-term vacation rental coach and founder of TheHostingJourney.com.
2. TAKE GLOWING REVIEWS WITH A GRAIN OF SALT
Reviews that simply lap praise on the property or the host aren’t very useful when evaluating where you should stay. In other words, you should be looking for reviews that talk about specific aspects of the property, like cleanliness, not gushing reviews that tout generic compliments, like “great place!” or “perfect apartment!”
3. FOCUS ON OBJECTIVE PROBLEMS
Some complaints from guests point out valid issues with a property, but some things just boil down to personal preference. For example, “if a guest says the Internet broke and the host was notified and didn’t try to fix it, that’s an issue,” says Badia. However, negative comments about the home’s décor, per say, shouldn’t matter all that much to you. (After all, you’re not buying the place.)
4. AVOID AGGRESSIVE HOSTS
Airbnb’s website enables hosts to post public replies to guest reviews, and how hosts communicate with guests is indicative of how the host might behave during your stay. You want to find a host that’s respectful—someone who thanks guests for writing suggestions instead of attacking the person for pointing out areas for improvement.
While checking out a 1-bedroom listing in Washington, D.C. with 4 stars, I found that the host wrote hostile replies when guests offered constructive criticism; that’s certainly not someone you’d want to rent from.
5. GIVE AN OWNER CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE
Problems can arise that are outside the host’s control; say, the power goes out in the building, the dishwasher breaks, or the dryer won’t start. In those instances, what really matters is how the owner handled the situation, says McNutt. For instance, if a guest says in a review that the Internet shut down but the landlord responded immediately and contacted the cable company to fix it, there’s no harm done; in fact, that’s the sign of a good host. So, when reading guest reviews, try to assess whether the host is accessible and responsive when issues crop up.
6. IF YOU SEE A SCATHING REVIEW, DIG DEEPER
Some guests are impossible to please, and many of these people will write negative reviews regardless of their experience. Therefore, if someone leaves an overly harsh review on a property that has relatively high ratings, click on the person’s profile to see what reviews the guest has received from hosts in the past. If someone has consistently bad reviews from hosts, it’s best to disregard that person’s opinion when deciding where you want to stay.
9 Ways to Plan an Affordable (and Amazing) Honeymoon
Honeymoons are romantic, but they can also be expensive. On average, couples are shelling out $5,342 on their honeymoon, according to a recent report from The Knot, an online registry and wedding planning site. That’s on top of what they’re spending on their wedding, which costs, on average, $33,931 nationally. But, there are ways to trim your honeymoon budget without taking away from the romance of this special trip. Here are nine things you can do to plan a budget-friendly honeymoon. 1. Book Flights Early Do a Google search for “best time to book a flight” and you’ll find a seemingly endless number of studies claiming what the best day is to hit the “buy” button. Don’t fret, though—we’ve sifted through the research and found there’s a consensus: travelers typically get the best prices by booking flights at least three weeks in advance. Indeed, CheapAir.com recommends booking within a window of 21 to 105 days ahead, depending on the season, with a domestic-flight sweet spot of 54 days before departure. Supporting that is a 2018 report from Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), which examined billions of data points to identify travel patterns and found that bargain-minded economy travelers should book 30-plus days in advance. 2. Avoid Paying Foreign Transaction Fees Planning to honeymoon abroad? Some credit cards charge up to a 3% fee on foreign transactions. Though that may seem small, it can effectively negate whatever rewards points, dollars, or miles you’d earn using the card. That’s why Bill Hardekopf, a credit expert at LowCards.com, recommends international travelers always bring a credit card with no foreign transaction fees such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. One caveat: some destinations, such as Cuba, do not honor U.S.-based bank or credit cards—meaning you’ll have to arrive with cash if you’re heading to one of those locales. 3. Save Big on Lodging Good news:T are some simple, yet effective strategies to save on lodging. If you’re planning to stay at hotels, call the concierge to find out what the rate is—sometimes the over-the-phone price is cheaper than the online price—or use a bidding site like Priceline where hotels compete for your business. If you’re shopping for vacation rental, such as an Airbnb, don’t be afraid to haggle with the owner for a lower rate. (You’ll have more leverage if can request a multi-night stay.) 4. Choose a Destination Where Your Dollar Will Go Far One way to trim your trip’s expenses is by choosing a location with a strong exchange rate. On the extreme end of the exchange-rate spectrum, you may want to consider honeymooning in Argentina, Sweden, or Nigeria, where the exchange rate for the U.S. dollar is predicted to decrease by double digits in 2019, according to a forecast by Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a U.S.-based travel management company. But you can also opt for a more moderate exchange rate by doing your homework before choosing your destination. 5. Travel During the Shoulder Season Traveling during the “sweet spot” between high season and low season can help you nab a great honeymoon at a shockingly low price. Though shoulder seasons can vary when traveling abroad, most airfares and hotel rates in the U.S. drop in popular summer destinations as summer turns to fall, especially in beach towns, National Parks, and theme parks. 6. Want Fixed Costs? Book an All-inclusive Honeymoon For couples that have trouble sticking to a budget while traveling, staying at an all-inclusive resort may be the most cost-effective option. With an all-inclusive resort your room, meals, drinks, taxes, and airport transfers are paid for as one flat fee—meaning you’ll never feel tempted to whip out your wallet and make an impulsive splurge. Pro tip: Staying at an adults-only resort will up the romance—letting you enjoy candlelit dinners for two and couples’ massages without the hustle-bustle of families with children nearby. 7. Take Advantage of Free Entertainment When you’re on the ground you can curb expenses by going to free museums and events. Nearify, a free mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) that compiles happenings in hundreds of cities, can help you discover free events near your location. Also, a number of cities offer free walking tours, which you can find on Google and FreeToursByFoot.com. 8. Redeem Discounts for Premium Memberships Many hotels, rental car companies, and attractions offer reduced rates for members of frequent flier programs, credit card holders, and organizations like AAA and AARP. However, you may need to do a little digging to find these discounts, or inquire about them when booking reservations. 9. Need a Bigger Budget? Set Up a Honeymoon Registry Nowadays many couples are creating a honeymoon registry to supplement their travel expenses. Having this registry will make it easy for your family and friends to donate cash for your honeymoon. Most wedding registry websites, including WeddingWire and The Knot, let you set up a honeymoon registry alongside your gift registry.
Hotel Concierges Tell All: The Good, the Bad, and the Wacky
Hotel guests can be very particular, and nobody knows that better than a concierge. They are a cornerstone of any hotel's daily operation. If the check-in desk and administrative departments are the brain, keeping logistics and operations functioning, then concierges are the heart, minding the rhythm and energy of the lobby and, perhaps more importantly, infusing the property with the soul that comes from hands-on, face-to-face attention and care. Over the course of their career, a concierge can meet tens of thousands of individuals, if not more. Requests can range from eyebrow-raising (a concierge in North Carolina who asked to remain anonymous reported receiving a delivery of a 50-inch television screen for a guest who wanted to play the video game Fortnite during his one-night stay) to the all-out astonishing (a concierge at a luxury property in South Beach, who also asked to remain anonymous, spoke of a guest who checked in with a small dog and requested inordinate amounts of raw meat be sent to her room.) We checked in with a few seasoned veterans about their more memorable encounters, some of which might even make a superhero blanch. Concierge to the Rescue in Winston-Salem It was around 7:00 a.m. on a crisp spring morning last year. Things were normal enough as Mary Beth Wilhelm prepared for her shift at the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel in Winston-Salem. She greeted a regular guest, a business traveler, who was coming in from his habitual jog. But normalcy was upended when he approached her, clutching his chest. “My first reaction was to laugh because that’s how I feel after I take a jog,” she recalls, but within an instant it was clear that he wasn’t kidding and she immediately slipped into crisis-management mode. She called 911 and sat with him until the paramedics arrived and rushed him to Wake Forest Baptist Medical, a few minutes away. In that time, he had the wherewithal to give her his wife’s cell phone number. As he underwent bypass surgery, Mary Beth corresponded with his wife, who was making her way to North Carolina from the West Coast. The surgery was a success, and the couple stays with them regularly now. “He tells me, ‘You saved my life,’” Mary Beth says. “I just did what anyone else would do.” Going to Extremes in New Orleans As anyone who’s spent the bulk of his career at a hotel on Bourbon Street, Wayne Adams will be the first to tell you that alcohol does funny things to people. With 30 years in the New Orleans hotel industry under his belt, suffice it to say he's seen some things. Presently the guest services manager at the Royal Sonesta who regularly works the concierge desk, Wayne has borne witness to pretty much everything, including a career ice skater taking a 3:00 a.m. tumble into the hotel’s fountain while attempting to show off some new moves, a meeting organizer doing an impromptu late-night burlesque dance for the many, many meeting attendees, and the escapades of the attendees of a convention for swingers. Yes, swingers. (“Bourbon Street is pretty risqué. They’re really risqué,” he says.) With bars that hardly ever close, a large history and culture of voodoo practitioners, and laws that allow drinking in public, New Orleans errs on the side of eccentric and attracts many travelers who relish the vibe. One of Wayne’s more memorable requests was from a guest who asked him to make a Sunday brunch reservation for her and her guests at one of the city’s more formal restaurants. She wanted Champagne and all the fancy fixings, he recalls. Her guests? Her four cats. He’s lent a hand to more than a few guests who wanted elaborate setups to propose to their girlfriends, going so far as to round up clowns and track down a unicyclist for one couple. “I’ve seen people meet in the morning and marry in the evening,” he said. More than once. The extremes of his job swing both ways. During 9/11, there was a convention in the hotel with many people from New York. They had a command center set up in a music club, with many locals trying to reach the guests’ relatives and friends who worked in and around the towers. During Hurricane Katrina, they didn’t close. They played host to first-responders, cable news teams, and FEMA staff including Michael Brown, the Undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response who famously became known as "Brownie." A Lifelong Career with a James Bond-Caliber Thrill At a point in every concierge’s career, an extreme request will arrive—a request that will involve duties far beyond the everyday. In Gaby Delgado’s case, there was a James Bond quality to it. Gaby is presently the senior concierge at a Fairmont Washington D.C., Georgetown, but years ago while working at a luxury property in Hawaii, a guest wanted to propose to his girlfriend, so he bought her a diamond ring and had it specially made and cut. Just one sticky wicket: the diamond was on another island. Gaby was called upon to get on a private plane—accompanied by a security guard, of course—to obtain it. (“I’ve never been around so many diamonds,” she says, still sounding mystified.) With prize in hand, she made it back to the hotel in time for dinner, an extravagant affair involving roses, a violinist, and a harpist. The woman said yes. Whether they lived happily ever after, however, remains a mystery. Service Goes to the Dogs in Boston In the 14 years that he's worked as concierge at the landmark Fairmont Copley Plaza, located on Boston's bustling Copley Square, Joe Fallon has taken care of countless guests, from Hollywood luminaries to some of the world’s most illustrious performers—even if he doesn't always recognize them. (He's still a little sheepish about not recognizing a woman he later learned was the biggest opera star in Italy.) But arguably, his biggest responsibility over the years has been Catie Copley, the black lab that was, until she passed in 2017, as much of a fixture in the glitzy lobby as the crystal chandeliers and Italian marble columns. To hear him tell it, he’s just the personal assistant to a famous dog: "I know my place,” he says, only half-kidding. As such, he was responsible for taking care at Catie after-hours at his home, accompanying her to schools, libraries, and hospitals, and keeping her calendar clear for an annual appearance with the mayor for the tree-lighting ceremony. Catie, he says, was as big of a star as much more familiar household names. Joe has photos of her with Leonard Cohen as well as an Elvis Costello shot that she photo-bombed. But perhaps her biggest fan was Paul Newman, a regular who celebrated his 82nd birthday at the hotel and, Joe says, "one of the nicest gentlemen I’ve ever met." He was such a Catie fan that the hotel presented him with a framed photo of her, imprinted with her “pawgraph.” (That’s dog-speak for autograph.) He was very open and conversational, and, Joe recalls, he eventually came clean: “He didn’t want to be actor, he wanted to be a race car driver." Apparently some concierges field confessions along with the regular influx of requests.
8 Ways Travelers Waste Money
Sure, vacation is supposed to be your time to relax, to recharge your batteries. But there’s a big difference between going with the flow and allowing yourself to be ripped off simply because you’re not paying attention. From your choice of restaurant to the kind of bank card you carry, the way you pack your bags, and your willingness to do a little bit of homework before leaving home, here are some of the most common ways you may be wasting money when you travel - and, most importantly, how not to waste money next time. 1. EATING LIKE A TOURIST We would never suggest that every well-trod touristy restaurant serves sub-par, overpriced meals. But we will say that eating at the most obvious open-air establishment in, say, an Italian piazza or the eatery with the biggest neon sign in Times Square may increase your chances of paying top dollar for food you probably could have made better at home. The reason is good old supply and demand: The public spaces that attract the biggest crowds are often the most expensive places to open a restaurant, and the temptation to cut corners when you sense your clientele can't tell the difference is, well, y'know... Do this instead: Use guidebooks, local tourism boards, reliable travel media (yup, that’s us), and word of mouth to find authentic joints that cook local favorites with good quality ingredients. We’re also fond of our parent company Lonely Planet’s inspiring @LonelyPlanetFood account on Instagram, delivering a world of great food suggestions each day. 2. PAYING FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES If you don’t check with your bank or credit card company before heading overseas, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise: Foreign transaction fees whenever you use your U.S.-based card to make a purchase. And while 3 percent, a common transaction fee, may not sound like a lot while you’re living it up on vacation, it can sure add up by the time you get your next bank statement. Do this instead: Before you travel anywhere (even domestically), it’s a good idea to stop by the local branch of your bank and tell them where you’re headed. You’ll not only learn about foreign transaction fees (and how to avoid them), but also any concerns the bank may have about your using the card in your travel destination. If you plan to use a credit card overseas, make sure to get one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. 3. GETTING A BAD EXCHANGE RATE One of the biggest money-wasting mistakes travelers make is waiting to exchange dollars for foreign currency until they arrive at the airport or at their destination. Airport kiosks, hotel desks, street vendors, and shops make extra money by charging an undesirable rate of exchange. Do this instead: Before you leave the U.S., research exchange rates online and obtain currency from your bank or a currency exchange. If you don’t already have a debit card from your bank, get one so that you can withdraw cash from most foreign ATMs at a favorable exchange rate. (And remember that some destinations, including Cuba, do not honor U.S.-based bank or credit cards at all and you’ll have to arrive with cash.) 4. CHECKING TOO MUCH BAGGAGE This one’s an easy one to brush off a few weeks or even a few days before your trip: You’ll “pack light,” you swear. But in the heat of the moment, especially if you’ll be away from home for a week or more, it becomes easy to pack a rolling suitcase so that it exceeds the weight limit, incurring extra fees, or to decide that although your airline allows you one or two complementary checked bags (of course, not all airlines do), you’re going to have to check just one more. Do this instead: Truly “packing light” means carefully considering what you’ll really need on your trip, and taking into account the possibility of doing laundry while you’re away. (I personally had a super-convenient and affordable laundry experience at the Ventura Beach Marriott’s excellent laundry room last July, which allowed me and my family to pack light for a three-week trip and stay within Southwest’s two-bags-per-passenger complementary checking policy. Also consider mailing some clothing and souvenirs back home instead of trying to cram them into your already-groaning bags. 5. RACKING UP CREDIT CARD DEBT We mentioned above that traveling with a credit card is a smart choice - you’re prepared for unexpected expenses, and you can confidently make hotel and transportation reservations. But that doesn’t mean you should use your credit card to pay for a vacation (or a souvenir, or a meal, for that matter) you won’t be able to pay off with a month or so once you get home. Some credit card rates, not to mention penalties and late fees, can mean paying double for your dream trip over time. Do this instead: It’s simple to say it, harder to do it: If you wouldn’t borrow money from a friend or relative for your trip, don’t borrow it from a credit card company. 6. MISUNDERSTANDING TRAVEL INSURANCE There are two ways of misunderstanding travel insurance: One is to assume you don’t need it, the other is to assume you do. It’s way more nuanced than that. Misunderstandings of this kind can lead to travelers handing over tons of money unnecessarily to car rental companies and tour operators for insurance they already have thanks to their debit or credit card or auto or home insurance policies. On the other hand, misunderstanding travel insurance can also lead to travelers being stuck in a medical emergency in which they unexpectedly have to hand over hundreds or even thousands of dollars because they did not obtain an appropriate medical insurance policy for travel overseas. Do this instead: Learn what kinds of insurance your bank card or credit card covers, and review what your auto, home, and health insurance policies cover when you’re traveling. Chances are, this will reduce the amount you have to pay to car rental companies, and it will clarify whether you need something like medical evacuation travel insurance, which can save you a bundle in the event of a health crisis. 7. MISSING OUT ON DISCOUNTED ADMISSION Most major cities will have a handful of must-see museums, some guided tours, restaurants you’ve been looking forward to trying, etc., and every one of those experiences is going to cost you something, of course. If you're a savvy traveler, it’s easy to turn up your nose at passes and discounts that require a fee - the more experienced you are, the more you may assume that offers like that are just another rip-off. Think again. Do this instead: Programs like CityPASS and similar offers in Europe may seem pricey, but if you spend some time comparing the discounts offered at the attractions you most want to visit against the price of the pass, you may discover that ponying up for the pass may actually save you big in the long run. 8. BOOKING HOTEL & AIRFARE TOO SOON "Booking a vacation is a well-researched, steely-eyed, analytical affair," said no passionate traveler ever. We know it's all about dreams, aspirations, and a bit of denial. You want booking to be easy, and especially when you find a decent hotel rate or airfare on a trip you’re really looking forward to, it’s easy to convince yourself to hit that “purchase” button. But we've seen over and over again, and now more than ever, that sticking with the tried-and-true domestic U.S. travel booking sites can mean you’re overlooking potential savings elsewhere. Do this instead: Repeat after us: Take a deep breath and shop around. Sure, use Expedia, Kayak, and others sites to start your research. But branch out to Skyscanner, Hopper, and others to see what else is out there. Be flexible: Being open to a range of departure and return dates, a range of airports, a range of hotels and neighborhoods, can yield big savings.
While we can’t do anything about the seatmate who takes over your shared armrest, or the drink cart that bumps your elbow with every trip down the aisle, or the lack of legroom in coach, we’ve put our frequent-flier miles to good use and collected the gear to make your time in transit as enjoyable as possible. From pillows and earplugs to blankets and socks, here’s what you should stash in your carry-on for a smooth, no-friction travel day. 1. Charge Up Yes, most planes have in-seat outlets these days, but if you’re on a short hopper flight, your aircraft probably won’t have a plug. Avoid outages with Anker’s tiny power bank—at just four inches long and weighing less than five ounces, it’ll keep your devices humming along until you’re back on the ground. Anker PowerCore 5000, $22; amazon.com. TES TO DISPLAY A TEXT 2. Get Some Rest When it comes to long-haul travel, catching those Zs is critical, and Travelrest’s memory-foam neck pillow is one of our most highly rated nap-time tools. Between the under-chin support that keeps your head from dropping, an angled back that cradles your neck just-so, and a velour cover that feels extra-cozy against your cheeks, you’ll be nodding off in no time. Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam Travel Pillow, $40; amazon.com. SHOP CARD HERE 3. Avoid the Noise Whether you’re blocking out your seatmate’s snoring or trying to catch every last word of your favorite podcast, a solid set of headphones is non-negotiable. These Bluetooth earbuds from ISOtunes come with a noise-reduction rating of 27 dB and a selection of foam tips—much more comfortable than, say, Apple’s hard-plastic AirPods. Plus, with 10 hours of playback time, they’ll take you from check-in to deplaning in one go.ISOtunes Audio Professional Noise Isolating Earbuds, $90; thegrommet.com.