Angry with Airbnb.
Angry is the first word that comes to mind.
But considering that we used to travel full-time and stayed in Airbnb apartments 300+ nights a year…and considering all the nice hosts we met along the way over the years, the most appropriate word is probably ‘disappointment’. ‘Sad’ would be another word.
What set forth these emotions was a 2-month trip through Mexico where we stayed in 9 Airbnb apartments. All the Airbnb’s where we stayed were hosted by Superhosts (if that means anything anymore. I don’t think it does).
Let me give you a summary of our stays to explain. Then I’ll tell you about a few other issues I have with Airbnb.
We stayed in this apartment. It gets a 4.93 rating, it’s “one of the most loved homes on Airbnb according to guests”. Gabriela is a Superhost.
“A few steps from the historical center” was in fact down a hill in an industrial zone.
Gabriela was a charming woman and the apartment looked nice. It was about 10 minutes after she left and we were putting our stuff away that we saw it: a large cockroach slowly walking across the living room floor in broad daylight. It was the first of a handful of cockroaches we would see during our stay.
Walking to the historic center meant walking up the hill past prostitutes. They didn’t look like the drugged-out prostitutes you see in the movies, they looked like normal ladies wearing outfits that were maybe a bit too tight and too short. What gave it away were the high heels and the fact that they were just standing there on the sidewalk looking at their phones. But it does say something about the neighbourhood – although just a “few steps from the historical center”, a lot can happen within a few blocks in an undesirable neighbourhood.
The apartment had 2 bedrooms. The main bedroom had a bed so soft that the springs must have been broken. There’s no way that a working bed is that soft. The second bedroom had a bunk bed, but the space between the top bunk and bottom bunk was 2 feet at most. It was clearly for children.
We ended up sleeping on the bunk beds.
A cat meowed constantly all night, during both nights. We found out on the 2nd day that the next door neighbour locked their cat at night in an enclosed fence on the roof of the building, just above our heads (who does that? I’ve never heard of someone locking up a cat).
The above was the first of our Airbnb stays in Mexico. It certainly wasn’t worthy of a 4.93 rating. It left us shaking our heads.
It also made us rethink how/if we would review apartments on this trip (more on that later).
Querétaro, Querétaro State
We stayed in this apartment. 4.83 rating, it’s also “one of the most loved homes on Airbnb according to guests”. Casa M&G is also a Superhost.
Credit where credit is due: this was the best of our 9 Airbnbs in Mexico and one we would come back to. It was also the least expensive apartment we would have on the trip.
Nice location on a happening street full of restaurants and cafes, a nice 10-minute walk to the center, an incredibly comfortable bed, a basic but nicely furnished apartment. The highlight was the beautiful common space outside the apartment where we could sit and have the coffee that we bought next door. Lowlight was a filthy couch that we kept a good distance from (hosts should consider having a cover for couches that they wash/replace between stays).
For a short stay (we were there 3 nights), I would really recommend this apartment. We gave them a very good review.
Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato State
We stayed in this apartment. 4.91 rating. Another “one of the most loved homes on Airbnb according to guests”. Miguel Ángel is a Superhost.
On a large thoroughfare bordering the old town, the apartment was hard to find and shared an entrance with the owner’s mother’s business. Getting up to the 2nd floor apartment meant lifting our bags/suitcases over the counter she had, going through the back door of her business, going up some concrete stairs that didn’t have a handrail (god forbid you get home drunk).
The apartment was bare yet still managed to be dirty. Oily fingerprints on cabinets, hair on blankets, hair in the shower stall. Everything felt dirty. There were no garbage bags, there was 1 roll of toilet paper, the kitchen faucet was loose and tipping over…
After a long day trip to San Miguel de Allende, we looked forward to a shower. There was no hot water. We messaged the host. He called his mother. She came over. There was something wrong with the tank. They called a plumber. All that took a couple of hours.
When we finally had hot water, we found out that the water pressure was terrible.
Guanajuato City, Guanajuato State
We stayed in this apartment. Another 4.91 rating and guess what? Another “one of the most loved homes on Airbnb according to guests”. Another Superhost.
As we would find out, this wasn’t actually an apartment – it was a hotel more than anything. You walked in from the corridor to your room.
The main things going for it were a central location, free coffee in the lobby, and a comfortable and clean room. The negatives: INCREDIBLY LOUD. The Balcony door is an old-style wooden door with shutters and glass. It doesn’t stop sound from blaring in from the street below.
Terrible stay, we actually thought of just leaving early but in the end decided to tough it out…
Aguascalientes, State of Aguascalientes
We stayed in this apartment. A 4.94 rating, “one of the most loved homes on Airbnb according to guests”. Another Superhost.
Dirty: Hair on the soap dispenser, a fan that looks like never been cleaned, fingerprints on cabinet. Nothing felt or smelled clean.
The water pressure was almost non-existent.
Beneath the cover, the bed had 2 flat sheets. In the cupboard were some thicker blankets with hair on them.
It’s a nice space and there’s large kitchen table where we could work. This could be a great Airbnb if the hosts cared at least a bit. Really, that’s what angers me the most with many of these apartments.
Zacatecas, Zacatecas State
We stayed in this apartment. A 4.98 rating and another “one of the most loved homes on Airbnb according to guests”. Another Superhost.
The apartment is tastefully furnished, the location is great, there’s a huge TV, the bed is very comfortable. I actually liked it.
But Lissette and I don’t always agree on the degree of cleanliness we expect. She pointed out all the dust (all the photo frames above the bed had a thick film of dust), she found a used condom behind the bed and then showed me the mold in the shower. The bathroom had a pervasive sewer smell.
We stayed 4 nights and it was comfortable….but the dirtiness creeped her out.
Oaxaca, Oaxaca State
We stayed in this apartment. A 4.86 rating, another “one of the most loved homes on Airbnb according to guests”, another Superhost.
The host wasn’t there but someone else helped us with information: he was very helpful and gave us lots of information on Oaxaca.
The apartment was well located near the center and had lots of restaurants and cafes nearby. Spacy and comfortable with a very basic kitchen (the weak point of the apartment). A lavanderia down the street if you need to get your laundry done.
I’m not going to tell you that it was fantastic but we had reevaluated our standards by then. This apartment was definitely better than most of what we had experienced and we’d recommend it to anyone coming to Oaxaca.
Puebla, Puebla State
We stayed in this apartment. A 4.90 rating, another “one of the most loved homes on Airbnb according to guests”, another Superhost.
It’s actually a gorgeous space and the Francisco is a good host. The apartment was clean and it was well equipped. This was our 2nd favorite apartment on our Mexico trip.
We had a couple of unlucky events. On our 2nd day the front door no longer wanted to open. Francisco called a locksmith. In the end, they had to break one of the slots of the glass door in order to open it. On our 3rd day there was no hot water and Francisco had to come and fiddle around with the tank. He did something wrong because when we checked on the hot water an hour later we noticed a strong odor of gas and a melted plastic knob on the super-heated tank. We turned everything off. Gas always scares the heck out of us.
But these were unlucky events. This is a very nice apartment close to the center that we would recommend if in Puebla.
Cholula, Puebla State
Our last Airbnb apartment on this trip. A 4.86 rating, another “one of the most loved homes on Airbnb according to guests”, another Superhost.
This is another example of a place that could be a great apartment but isn’t. No hot water and even after trying to follow the host’s complicated instructions on setting it we couldn’t make it work. Mold in both bedrooms as well as the bathroom, a washer and dryer that we couldn’t get to work, a door lock that we constantly had to jimmy with to open (and that would have been easy to break into), a neighbour’s dogs that barked non-stop.
The place looks beautiful. But again, it just hasn’t been maintained and there seems to be no care in anything.
What’s the standard of quality on Airbnb these days?
As mentioned up top: we travelled full-time for 6 years (2014 – 2020) and stayed in a huge number of Airbnb apartments. We had some bad stays but most were good. And if we did have a bad stay, it would usually be because we hadn’t booked an apartment with a Superhost. That actually used to mean something.
It doesn’t anymore. Those Superhost labels seem to be handed out like candy these days. What does that even mean anymore?
And who are these people rating these apartments? The 4.93 rating for the apartment in Morelia (roaches, prostitutes, soft bed) and the 4.91 rating for Dolores Hidalgo (no hot water, no water pressure, dirty) – who’s giving out those ratings? I just can’t believe it. Or have standards dropped so low that these are actually the best of a whole bunch of shitty apartments?
I used to tell people to book with a Superhost if they want to play it safe. I don’t know anymore. I don’t have any confidence in whatever measures or labels that Airbnb is using these days. Of the apartments above, there are five (maybe six) that I would never stay in again or recommend to anyone…despite them being “Superhosts” and being “one of the most loved homes on Airbnb according to guests”.
Here’s another thing that bothers me: self-check in. I know it’s easier and you don’t have to have a long conversation with your guest/host. But it’s taken all accountability out of the system: if you don’t have to meet your guest, you probably don’t feel the same responsibility you would if you saw them face-to-face. On this trip, 8 of the 9 apartments had self-check in.
It just makes me sad. We met so many great Airbnb hosts over the years. Some would show us around town. We had one in Spain who invited us out for tapas. We’ve kept in touch with quite a few hosts over the years. That probably doesn’t happen anymore.
Reviewing apartments – our new policy
When we travelled full-time, we used to review each and every apartment. We’d write long comments if the host was particularly good. Good hosts have to be applauded. If the apartment was lacking, we’d give constructive criticism (sometimes we’d do that just in the personal review so as not to embarrass the host). If the host was really bad, we’d be honest about it in our public reviews. For me there’s nothing worse than a host who just doesn’t care – and if he /she doesn’t care then other prospective customers should know.
We changed our review policy on this trip.
We now only review the good experiences. We don’t bother reviewing the bad. The reasons are twofold: 1) Airbnb isn’t a new thing anymore, hosts these days should know the basics of hospitality and it shouldn’t be up to us to give them constructive criticism (which, as I’ve found out, usually isn’t appreciated anyway). 2) We don’t want to get a reputation of being difficult guests by being negative. So we’ll just tow the line.
In the end, we’re part of the problem if we aren’t leaving a review and being honest. But we used to have faith in the system. The truth is we don’t anymore. So it’s on you Airbnb.
On the subject of reviews: never before have we been hounded so much from Airbnb about leaving a review. Now, for each review we don’t write, we receive 3 emails from Airbnb reminding us to leave a review. I even had one of the hosts write me asking for a review.
Alternatives to Airbnb
As I mentioned, we used to be full-time travellers and Airbnb was the way to go.
We’re looking to maybe get back to that again in the not-so-distant future. Which made me consider what alternatives there are out there.
Here are a few:
It’s not for the longer-term traveller who’s looking for that weekly or monthly discount. But we’ve increasingly used Booking.com when looking for a short-term apartment.
Note: on our Mexico trip, we stayed in this place for 4 nights in Mexico City. It even had a functioning washer and dryer, something none of our Airbnb stays offered. It was actually our best stay on this trip.
We’ve never used Vrbo. The main difference with Airbnb is that on Vrbo you can only rent whole-home rentals (vs Airbnb where you can also rent a room in someone’s house).
Vrbo and Airbnb have about the same total percentage of commission (which add up to about 20% between the customer and host). People say Vrbo has better customer service. But Airbnb has about 3 times the number of listings (about 6.6 million world-wide vs just over 2 million on Vrbo).
Vrbo is owed by Expedia and I’m told they have a loyalty program called One Key and you can earn and redeem rewards for travels booked through Hotels.com, Expedia and Vrbo. Airbnb doesn’t offer anything like that.
We’ll be looking into Vrbo.
It’s the opposite from Vrbo – Homestay only does hosted stays, meaning you’re renting a room in someone’s house. Good if you’re a solo traveller and want to meet locals. As some have mentioned, it’s what Airbnb used to be when it started out.
Another company that’s new to me. Homelike rents fully furnished apartments and only do stays of a month or more.
It’s exactly how we used to travel and a company that I’d like to try out in the future.
There are many more options out there depending on how you travel: whether you want a fully-furnished apartment or a room in someone’s home, long term or short term, if you want to house sit etc.
Do you have a favorite alternative to Airbnb?
How do you feel about Airbnb these days?
Related: Airbnb or Hotel?
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