How To Cut Airbnb Out Of Short-Term Rentals And Save Hundreds

Last summer I rented an Airbnb in a spot where hotels weren’t a viable option. It’s one of the two situations where I’ll consider using that platform. The other is when I’m looking for a whole house to rent due to size of the group.

During the stay the property manager included a link to their own website, which showed all of the units in the area that they manage. I was surprised that Airbnb’s systems didn’t block that, to be honest.

Looking over their listings,

  • They charge lower pricing when you book direct. They’re saving on Airbnb’s fees!
  • And you also save on Airbnb’s booking fees, too.

I could book much less expensively by booking direct, saving several hundred dollars over the course of the stay.

Airbnb doesn’t want you to know the specific property you are booking until it’s already reserved. They don’t show you the address. They don’t want you finding the exact place, communicating with the host, and cutting them out.

However I always want to know the exact location! The ‘real’ view may matter. Proximity to restaurants (maybe good) and bars (maybe bad, when traveling with a young child) may matter. I don’t want approximates or to leave my travel to chance. It’s usually not hard with a little bit of sleuthing.

Here’s actually the simplest way to identify the property you’re considering:

Find the property. Book direct. The host saves Airbnb fees, you save Airbnb fees. You lose out on Airbnb protections but those may not be worth much to the host or to the guest.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Decent hack, but for me I personally want the protections as a traveler.

    I had a recent trip where I utilized Airbnb and a friend went direct with the host. These were different properties with different hosts.

    A week prior to the trip, my friend was asked to pay an extra $50 per night. She ended up begrudgingly paying it because nothing else was readily available at that late point.

    Is the hack worth considering? Sure.

    Is it potentially problematic if the area becomes more popular? Yep.

    Would I ever do it? Maybe if I felt a very, very positive vibe on a seller or if I knew that Airbnb/hotel options would be ample during that time.

  2. I’ve done this – bypassed AirBnb – when I do a repeat stay in a property that I’ve dealt with the host personally, and we’ve maintained contact over the interim. Has always worked for me.

  3. In my experience, these listings include identifiers such as the local Short Term Rental permit number. For a recent rental, I used that to locate the property address and confirm details from the county and Zillow on the square footage and age of the house. The search also led me to find the local property management company handling the rental and search on their Yelp reviews. I saved enough money to buy the optional insurance vs going the Airbnb/Vacasa/VRBO route. Additionally, it felt better to deal with a local company.

  4. A lot of these properties also get directly tagged as hotels on Google Maps, so they come up in searches via that channel.

  5. Thank you, this is really helpful, as well as the great suggestions on the comments. Can’t believe how much Airbnb is skimming off this process for dubious benefits.

  6. Not a fan of AirBNB but have used VRBO to book vacation homes. Frankly I consider going around the service as stealing from AirBNB or VRBO and shocked you encourage it. What’s next – pay your driver outside Uber or Lyft? They all benefit from marketing and online presence so booking company is due their share.

    Gary – I haven’t always agreed with your position but always considered you ethical but frankly this really is making me question that!

  7. @AC it actually cuts both ways. There are certainly new hosts who have only come into the business of hosting due to the presence of these platforms, and that is what your argument is about. However, there are also lots of mom and pop local hosts, including small resorts, property management companies, etc. who have been in business for decades but have basically been forced onto the platforms out of fear of being left behind, and not really having a choice. It’s that latter camp that are more likely to be relevant to the action discussed in this article, as they will have their own website, etc. (whereas this wouldn’t really apply to someone renting out their basement). So I’d say that in many cases this is more about re-leveling the playing field to the days of the past than anything else.

  8. @AC this hack is worthwhile only and specifically because Airbnb chooses not to reliably honor the protection benefits it advertises, which seems a lot more like Airbnb stealing from consumers.

  9. One more thought here – I’d also add that in today’s world, visibility and scale aren’t really tangible benefits. Everything gets search engine indexed and products are cross-listed across many platforms. One can identify a product (e.g. a piece of clothing or household device) on one platform and then elect to buy it on another; this is done all the time and is no different than cross-shopping traditional brick and mortar stores. If a platform (or physical store) wishes to become the channel of choice, then they need to add value (e.g. a loyalty program, protection policies with real teeth, high-touch customer service. etc.). I think Gary’s (and the X poster’s) language about “hacks”, “cutting out” the platform, while good for clicks and starting discussion, is actually a bit more incendiary than it needs to be; at the end of the day this is no different than trying on a shirt in the store and then buying it cheaper from someone else online.

  10. As a host I prefer going through Airbnb versus direct.
    For the 3% that Airbnb charges me I don’t have to worry about collecting, cancellations or damages since I am supposedly covered by Airbnb’s Air Cover host protection.

  11. For me, I am rarely interested in booking direct because I can usually get back more than Airbnb’s commission by stacking discounts (usually an Avios “cash back” and deeply discounted Airbnb gift cards, often from Amazon). It usually works similarly when I use other middlemen: rates are rarely cheaper for me when I book direct..

  12. Hi, I booked flat in Türkiye for one month ..I find out the guest sold the flat I’m supposed to rent ..he owns 2 flats the one I’m suppose to be in ..and on other one facing grave yard no view ..I tried hard to contact the guest ..he can’t help me since that one was sold ..Airbnb promise to help By contacting the host who never bother to respond …afyrt 72 hours They told me u deal with the host your case closed case closed ..I contacted them ..shegh was very rude and kind of playing fool …this was the second time I rented through Airbnb first time I paid 2300$ for 28 days that was rip off those flats going max for one month in Alanya that time max 1000$ ..the guest told me Airbnb raise the prices and commotion …plus cleaning …I rented my second month by my self better accommodation same complex for 900$ monthly …watch Airbnb offers. Rent one day then u can find better deals by your own ..many rental offices plus rent by owner ..no protection from Airbnb as they advertise once u in forget one …their commotion in their brocket from both the guest and the host

  13. This is stealing from a platform that spent billions to build a trusted system. I’m an Airbnb’s superhost and I never accepted guests requests to operate outside of the platform because I want the protections that Airbnb offers in terms of insurance. For a good reason, I don’t trust guests. And here I reading their bad faith clearly at all levels.

  14. Guess it depends how much you are saving. I’m in Zadar Croatia right now and my nice apartment is only $50/night on Airbnb.

  15. Nice tip. I strongly believe in using morals when travel hacking and have called out many bloggers on workarounds that are unethical but I disagree with @AC because you would do the same with a regular hotel, cruise, or airline tickets. You find it on a website and then shop to compare prices through hotels.com, expedia.com, etc. as well as the actual website of the hotel. Well VRBO or Airbnb is just a marketing site. They can choose to offer lower prices or comparable prices that offer additional benefits or cancellation policies. If I locate a property I want to rent on Google Maps (nearby hotels) I see many prices. The owner of such properties lists it through their own websites as well as third parties. One example is that I might want to book through VRBO instead of Airbnb or I might pay $200 on VRBO versus $190 direct if the cancellation fees or perks are worth it.

  16. Airbnb only charge Host a small percent which basically covers credit card processing fees – if you book direct then you will still have to pay. When people book off the site you are only saving the guest money (ABB fee) and Host lose some protection – even thou it’s mostly crap as ABB fights to not pay most claims. I’m a Host and have done both, guest always state how much it will save me if they book direct, I just silently chuckle and base my decision on my interaction with them.

  17. “You lose out on Airbnb protections…”

    Excuse me!!
    What imaginary protections are you talking about???
    Still hearing of AirBnB issues going unresolved.

  18. My wife and I have used Airbnb for many years in many countries. Always great. Even if it costs a bit more, which it often doesn’t because you can negotiate with the host, it is worth it. I agree with Nicola, “This is stealing from a platform that spent billions to build a trusted system. “

  19. As a superhost of two properties in Vermont and NYC I will only go outside airbnb for a booking if I know the guest, either through. Friend or from a previous booking experience. It’s very easy to be fcked over by a guest with no recourse if you go off platform. I have several recent experiences to back up that claim.

  20. AirBnb gets me a lot more bookings than my local property manager. Why would I undercut them? Sometimes, a repeat guest will inquire about booking directly with the property manager and I tell them to do their own comparison and book whichever they want, it’s all the same to me.

  21. Hmm ok, its a “hack”, years late to the party.
    Hack is a buzzword almost as old as farm to table.

  22. Many hosts are leaving direct clues in their property descriptions in the listing on the Airbnb or vrbo platform. The clue is usually the unique property name they use which can be googled leading to find their direct website and contact info.

  23. Great article Gary!

    Other tricks to know:

    Beating Airbnb Censorship
    Airbnb will CENSOR conversations before a booking is confirmed. After they have extracted their commission, hosts and guests can send phone numbers and links freely. NOTE: If the guest doesn’t record these numbers or links, airbnb will again censor the chat sometime after departure and the info will be inaccessible.
    Best to send a book direct links by text.

    Sometimes people suck at reading or typing and just want to talk over a rental before deciding. Airbnb makes it impossible to simply discuss details before booking. This is very reasonable and people would still often book on airbnb. How can you get around this?

    Phone numbers. Guests can sometimes get around phone number censorship by sending a nice poem.
    408 Donkeys smoked
    867 menthol cigs during
    5309 flying miles.

    (408) 867-5309

    Or this type of ridiculousness: Four 0h 8, eight six 7five, tree 0h nine.

    This is risky as hosts could get busted by the airbnb censorship police. But guests should learn to do it.

    Property Addresses and Unique Property Names
    Hosts can actually give guests the property address anytime in listings or chat.
    Most hosts don’t want to for security issues, robbery etc. This may be less of an issue now that video doorbells are the norm. Hosts should give out addresses so guests can search for the property directly.

    We are bookable on many places without fees
    John’s Salty Lake House 23
    555 Last Mile Road, Salt Lake City, UT, xxxxx

    Brand your STR rental on all rental sites the exact same.

    Guests can freely as and get addresses, so it is much easier than reverse photo lookup. But that is cool too. In fact. Many hosts don’t put frontage pics on their listings to avoid being targeted by thieves who might figure out when the house out in the boonies is empty.

    Airbnb Protections
    It is true that Airbnb has an army of phone support people (soon to be replaced by AI). But airbnb also encourages guests to buy insurance. BUT! Abb doesn’t tell hosts when guests have purchased the trip insurance. If a guest with insurance wants to cancel last minute, airbnb encourages the guest to message the host with a sob story and hopefully get the host to allow a free cancel. Now the Host is out all the rental money and the insurance (which may be owned by airbnb? kickbacks?) doesn’t have to pay out! Host must ask support and the guest if they have purchased travel insurance directly to find out.

    There is no reason except hassle that a book direct guest can’t purchase the same insurance.

    https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/3231

    Book Direct Savings
    Depending on the Host listing options, Airbnb might extract 18-21% on each booking. Guests who book a $4000 destination house could save $800 by booking direct. So as the totals get bigger the savings really adds up. If you have a relationship with the host and are a repeat guest, there is very little risk added by booking direct.

    Avoid Scams
    Scammers are out there. Never pay via direct transfer (Venmo, Paypal, Cash App, Zelle, etc) unless you have complete confidence in the host or are a repeat guest. Credit cards offer great protection against STR scams if you have any doubts.

    Check out Local Visitor Center websites
    Most major destinations have a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO). This is usually the local visitor center/bureau, chamber of commerce or other official website. Listings on these sites are vetted locally. If you get the address of a vacation rental from the host. You could call/email the official destination website and ask if that address has a direct listing.

    RE: Book Direct only saves guests so not worth it!
    Hosts can choose to charge a book direct reservation fee of 7%.
    In this case, the guest would save 7% and the host would make 7% more.
    This is a win/win and keeps money with the people in a circular economy instead of extracting money to the top 10% who own 90% of all stocks.

    AI to the Rescue!
    For those of us that DON’T like using abb or vrbo, AI assistance will surely help find book direct options in the future. “Hey AI, can you find me this rental house cheaper direct? “

    Google Travel Search to the Rescue!
    Google hotel search now includes vacation rentals. If you can find the rental you are interested in on Google Travel Vacation Rental Search it will give you links to all the sites where you can book. Except VRBO and Airbnb. Although there are OTA feeder sites that will dump you into VRBO. As Google VR search matures this should help finding the direct site.

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