Would You Rent Someone’s Couch Instead of a Hotel Room? Should the Government Let You?

I haven’t paid a ton of attention to Airbnb and similar services that let residents in a city rent out a portion of their home (or the entire thing) on a night-by-night basis to guests.

I like my privacy, I tend to like the impersonal nature of hotels even as I like being treated warmly as a guest. And I’m fairly ingrained in the elite status and points world.

No doubt there are great values to be had by paying a small amount of money to rent out someone’s apartment instead of a hotel. And no doubt it’s a great way for residents to make use of underutilized resources such as an extra room or their whole place when they aren’t going to be using it.

Have you used Airbnb or similar services? They’ve certainly ramped up their screening after controversies over people renting out space in their home and being robbed. Staying in a hotel is far from riskless, either, though you rarely hear the horror stories of crimes that go on in traditional lodging. (And homes are robbed by non-guests all the time as well of course.)

I found this video discussion of Airbnb-type services and the ways that municipalities are regulating them interesting.

It suggests that:

  • Portland, Oregon prohibits Airbnb in residential portions of the city, but allows it in industrial areas — as long as there is off-street parking available and a six foot paves sidewalk between the building and the street. (That would seem to prevent you from renting a room in your own apartment through Airbnb.)

  • Austin requires a home inspection, a $285 permit, and sets quotas for participation by neighborhood.

  • New York City requires homeowners to be present when guests are there, and guests to be given open access to the whole home.

  • There are instances in New York where landlords subject to rent control have withdrawn units from the rental market and listed properties for transient occupancy on Airbnb instead.

Would you use a service like this? What would have to happen for you to become comfortable with it? Should your neighbors be allowed to rent out their homes this way?


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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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Comments

  1. I will be using airbnb with a friend on the Big Island in Hawaii in a few weeks. I am really excited about it. Ours will be an entire home, and it looks very comfortable like any home. It looks like you can get a lot more unique, fun properties through this service, and I kind of like that.

    I have also considered using couchsurfing before, but I have not yet had the courage to take the plunge on that. And in a lot of cases, I prefer hostels over hotels for the fun, social aspect of it. Though, I concede I am quite the grey beard compared to the hostel crowds. I am fortunate in that I am just as comfortable in a hostel as I am in a 5-star hotel suite.

  2. Gary

    What I think a lot of people don’t realize is that there are a lot of folks who are basically functioning as hotel operators.

    In Venice we had our own private 1B apartment (~700 sq feet) overlooking St Marks for $150/night. The guy that rented it to us does this for a living. He runs background checks on his guests, has a cleaning service and stocks the refrigerator with more food and drinks than you’d find in a minibar.

    I think he has three or four of these apartments.

    Saved us a wad of cash and was way more secure and comfortable than most hotels

  3. Actually, what’s almost more interesting is that cities–in a sort of 1 by 1 fashion–seem to be giving up on the prospect of trying to regulate Uber. In seattle they are now operating Uber X–which competes with Taxi rates–and nobody seems to care much even though Taxi’s are still competing to stay licensed

  4. 100% agree with Gary. There are people renting couches but most of the Airbnb offers are from people that are “professional renters” and using their rental properties to rent by day rather than under a contract per year. I found an amazing apartment in Geneva overlooking the lake for a fraction of what a hotel room would cost. The problem is that sometimes you are dealing with individuals and the responsiveness is not always great (it is not a real time availability chart like in hotels.

  5. Just stayed 3 nights in an aptment in Rome. We got a 4 bed, 3 bath, 200 sq meter apt with working washer & dryer for those 3 days for $1100 bucks. Split that between 3-4 couples & it was amazing. We had a nice table & living room to hang out in when we were there, did a little laundry before we hopped on our cruise & had a great launching point into the city.

    I love my hotels for business but for personal travel, I’m looking more & more at these. Also, this gal was a professional renter as well.

  6. I use AirBNB all the time. I currently have stays booked in Miami, Doha, and Melbourne Australia.

    AirBNB is usually cheaper than the other alternatives, and I’ve met some great people hosting.

  7. I used it once. Last year I was travelling with two friends in Croatia, and we were renting places as we went. We needed to be sure we had a place to stay downtown in Split, so we went with airbnb.
    The girl was a professional renter, but there was notinha to complain about the apartment or the whole process. I’d recomend in a heartbeat.

  8. I live in NYC. There is an issue with people that split small hones into multiple units to rent out at a profit. This practice putss walls where they are unexpected and has led to firefighter deaths. This explains the mysterious rules for NYC rentals, such as ■New York City requires homeowners to be present when guests are there, and guests to be given open access to the whole home

  9. I am curious, when you are selling Starwood and Hyatt credit cards, are positive mentions of Airbnb discouraged? What are the rules here? This is the first mention of Airbnb I’ve seen on a major blog in years.

  10. To expand on my experiences, I’ve stayed in an assortment of guest rooms (half a dozen or so) in Seattle, Tucson, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo, Vancouver, Auckland, Wellington, etc. I’ve had a complete apartment twice, a gazebo in Hawaii, a whole house in Lillehammer. I’ve had hosts that were pretty much uninterested in their guests and hosts all the way to hosts with whom I spent an entire afternoon & evening making & eating dinner and talking about life until 3am three days in a row. I spent as much time with my AirBNB hosts as with the friend I was intending to visit in Tampere.

    As a traveler, particularly someone who travels by himself, AirBNB is great. It’s what Bed & Breakfasts used to be before they became small hotels and for me really much more fun than regular hotels. For business recently I stayed at a very nice Kimpton hotel in San Francisco and it felt soulless in comparison to an AirBNB stay that costs 25% or less.

  11. @MS no one has ever asked me not to mention Airbnb. As I explain at the top, it’s not how I travel, but I have no problem discussing them. It’s just not something I’m any sort of expert on.

    And to be clear I’ve been writing about the Hyatt Visa but explaining how to get the best offer by going to the Hyatt website where you can find the card with a statement credit, not earning any kind of a referral for myself.

  12. Long time reader Gary. I rent out my guest house on Airbnb and I’ve been listed #1 in the searches for the past 6 months in my city. I’ve also made almost $20k from it about a year. I recently read an article about Hilton having somewhere close to 600,000 rooms available worldwide..and at it’s busiest this summer Airbnb would fill 200,000 rooms. Hotels should be concerned about Airbnb and people like me.

  13. I recently booked an 8 night stay in an apartment in Hong Kong on airbnb. I’ve used vrbo in the past, but airbnb has a large presence in HK while vrbo doesn’t. I love staying in condos or apartments when traveling with my family because you can get a much larger place than would be affordable with a hotel, and you usually get laundry and kitchen facilities as well. Most hotel rooms in HK only allow 2-3 guests max, so airbnb is a steel compared to paying for 16 nights worth of hotel rooms.

  14. Used airbnb extensively on recent trip to Europe, about 8 diferent apartments. I actually felt the better places were the ones where someone lived but had moved out. No privacy issues, stayed in local areas rather than tourist areas (but still very close to town) which I absolutely loved, got about twice the room for half the price.

    Have never really understood the attraction of staying in a hotel chain that could be anywhere, if thats what you want why travel?

    They all also had cooking facilities which helpconsidrably for saving moneys and given the great markets in Europe its great to be able to pick things up and have the option of making meals yourslf.

    We did stay in a couple of hotels (on points) and enjoyed but overall thought airbnb trumped these.

  15. Used Airbnb once as a guest in Valencia, Spain. For about 80 euros we rented a beautiful loft apartment instead of a basic 2* hotel for the same price. Have also rented our apartment in Paris, but prefer to rent long term than having the wear and tear of short term tenants. OT In bali we used Luxury link instead of the major chains, since we didn’t really want to spend too much time in the South coast. Chain hotels can be a good deal with points and all, but there are many other affordable alternatives. It’s a pity to travel across the world to just end up in a generic corporate hotel lounge.

  16. We are not professional renters but just trying to make a little by renting out our spare bedroom on Airbnb. All of our guests have been lovely. We’ve used Airbnb as renters too, and had great experiences. We’ve been doing this kind of thing for years in Europe with vrbo type companies. We love the character, comfort, and non-touristy quality of these kind of rentals! Airbnb all the way!

  17. Tried Airbnb a couple times and never again. First time (this was a few years ago) rented from one of the Airbnb founders himself, and he wasn’t there at the appointed time to give me the keys. Kept calling customer service and hit voice mail. Not good, especially given that I needed to get to a meeting in SF. He did apologize and offered to comp taxi fare, but I was obviously not happy, and this would never happen in the same way at a hotel, where someone is at least staffing reception.

    The second time was with at the apt. of a nice group of guys, but they were just too loud for me to sleep properly. In a hotel you can ask to be moved to another room, but of course that doesn’t work with Airbnb–you’re stuck with whatever you rented. Plus, you don’t get back the service fee if you have to cancel for any reason. I’m very happy to stay in hotels from now on.

  18. I’ve rented twice through airbnb. One of the places was in a very sketchy neighborhood in Dublin, and I left for the dorms at DCU. Colleges and universities in summer also offer great prices and a good place to stay. The owner refunded most of my money; a fair deal.
    I couchsurfed in Ireland as well and hosted when I lived in CA; however, I found couchsurfers to be unreliable in communicating arrivals.
    I’ll use airbnb when I don’t want to pay so much for a hotel, use my points, and the airbnb place is closer to where I want to be.

  19. Yes, well I think there is a pretty strong distinction between couchsurfing and the apartment/house rental side of ainbnb or couchsurfing.com. Couchsurfing you normally are sharing with a bunch of other people, which is either cheap or (in some cases free). Given the money spent this is comparable with hostels not hotels.

    And yes the downside to this is you are at risk of noisy or unreliable hosts but some would say this about hostels too.

  20. Not for me either. Staying in an apartment? Cooking my own dinner? Doing my own laundry? I do those chores everyday at home – Whether I’m on Business or Holiday, I prefer the 5 Star treatment, where there is always someone around to take care of that stuff so I can relax.

    Give me that suite at one fo those “corporate” Conrad, JW Marriott, Park Hyatt or Sheraton Grande hotels any day of the week…

  21. I just returned from my fifth Airbnb rental (Providence, RI); previous ones in Paris, Prague, Amsterdam, and Venice. Every one has been excellent.

    What we look for in choosing a place:

    An apartment that is used for rental only, not one where the owner moves out when it is rented. We don’t want to share space with others (kitchens, baths, etc.).

    A good location — overseas, that means near public transportation, shopping, restaurants (so we don’t have to cook if we don’t want to), and (also overseas) laundry either on-site or nearby.

    Good reviews — unlike TripAdvisor, reviews of properties are written by people who actually have stayed there. Also, landlords review renters, so that other landlords will know if the renter has been a problem.

    Airbnb quotes the full price up front and their service fee is itemized, so there are no surprises. They hold the payment in escrow for 24 hours after the renter arrives to insure that there are no issues with the property.

    When I travel on business, I stay in a hotel — I don’t have time to shop, cook, and other domestic duties. When I’m on holiday, I’d rather save money — I stay in a comfortable apartment for the same amount that it would cost me for a 1- or 2-star dump.

  22. Wow, finally something I know more about than Gary!

    We’ve used apartment rentals on some of our travels and we also rent out an apartment on the garden floor of our Brownstone in Manhattan via HomeAway.com (which is under the same ownership as VRBO).

    There are at least three separate rental situations which might be appropriate for different people:

    1. Renting a spare bedroom in an inhabited apartment. I did this eons ago when it was quite common in (for instance) the communist countries of Eastern Europe, but it’s not something I’m particularly interested in doing now, or with my family.

    2. Renting an apartment that is not normally used for vacation rentals. This is a bit sketchy (it’s what was recently made illegal in New York City, for instance). These are the cases you hear about in which people rent condos or coops without permission and without the knowledge of their neighbors.

    3. Renting an apartment that is dedicated to vacation rental (which is what we’ve done, and what we do with our own apartment).

    The biggest advantage of apartment rental is cost, especially for families or groups. For instance, our two bedroom apartment (in Harlem, upper Manhattan) rents for $200 a night and easily sleeps four, or six using the sofa bed in the living room. This allows a family of six to stay in 1100 square feet of space for 20 to 30% of what they would pay in a hotel.

    The second advantage is convenience. You have full cooking facilities which you can use for meals, or just breakfast and snacks. This was big for us when we visited Barcelona with young children — one of the main features of interest there are the fantastic food markets. Also, Internet and cable is generally provided. In our case we provide a washing machine and dryer (for those who need it), children and baby equipment for folks who aren’t carrying their own, and a private outdoor patio.

    The service you get can either be better than you would at a hotel, or worse. Our guests get heaps of material before they arrive, with information about the neighborhood, maps, etc. Our current guests arrived with a car, which they couldn’t park one night so, after driving around they neighborhood with them looking for a spot I took them the garage where we keep our car and talked the guy into taking theirs for one night. On the other hand, the cable went on the fritz on Friday and we can’t get someone there to fix it until Monday.

    In general, we find that although we make profuse (and heartfelt) representations that our guests should feel free to call us at any time with any issue or question at all (directions, restaurant recommendations) we never hear from anyone from the time they check in to the time they leave.

    While everyone has their own preferences, on the whole I think apartment rental should be one arrow in the quiver of every serious traveller. If your main interest is in experiencing “hotel products”, club rooms, and bathroom amenities, it’s probably not for you. Everyone else should at least ask themselves, if they’re going to an expensive destination for more than a few nights, whether apartment rental might work for them.

  23. I’ve been an Airbnb host and sometimes guest for a few years, I started after my divorce and the income has been invaluable. Read the reviews carefully, and ask questions of potential hosts before booking to make sure you’re getting what you want. Most of my guests have been between pleasant and delightful, I’ve had very few negative experiences and nothing that was worth than somewhat annoying.

    I’ve stayed in places that ranged between having incredible experiences a hotel could not match (a world-travelling veterinarian’s farm in wine country with a private room and hot tub) to someone who used polyester sheets. Unconscionable!

  24. Just a note of caution to those renting thru AirBNB: We rented a large home in South Beach, paid the full amount by credit card. Only then did we know the actual address of the home-it was only a general area beforehand.

    One of the members of my party is a real estate attorney. He did a search of the address and found the owners and spoke to them. Turns out, not only did the AirBnb renter not own the home, but the home had been demolished a month ago in preparation for new construction. Not only that, but apparently the construction workers were paid a visit by another family that had rented the house also-from Tennessee.

    It took about a week before AirBnb would credit my card with a full refund.

    They do absolutely NO background check or ownership verification for the properties that are listed on their site. And, read the fine print- basically, they are responsible for nothing at all other than collecting your money.

    Be careful.

  25. I’ve used AirBnb before and rented apartments in Europe. To be truthful, I’m usually in the same camp of wanting the privacy that anonymity provides and you don’t usually get that in anything but a large hotel.

    That said, I’ve found AirBnb to be useful in places where the hotels, if there are any, are either very expensive or inconveniently located.

    This last ski season, I rented a couch from a young couple near Breckenridge. I only needed the one night and it was perfect. It cost me all of $45, which included breakfast. Now, if $45 sounds like a lot for a couch, then consider my alternatives were a hotel that wasn’t walking distance to the lifts for $200 a night or a condo that was, but which required another night and was $375 a night. I thought $45 was a deal!

    But, in full disclosure, if I’d gotten there and found a vacant lot or cloud of pot smoke, I could have just driven the 120 miles home.

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