7 tips for using AirBNB

A tiny seaside Airbnb cottage by Kristen Sloan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For our trip to Iceland, I started by looking at hotels. Many were already sold out for the summer, or the rooms were too small. And getting two rooms would be prohibitively expensive.

Then I started looking for cottages and apartments to rent, and ended up at You can see my post about tips for using

But then I landed on, and ended up making more than half of my lodging reservations there. If you are traveling with kids, renting an entire house is very appealing. Here are some tips and tricks I learned along the way.

UPDATE June 2016: The Icelandic Government has passed a new law aimed at limiting Airbnb rentals. Homeowners in Iceland will only be able to rent out their properties for up to 90 days a year, unless they purchase a license. I believe this Icelandic article says the rules go into effect starting in 2017.

We’ll be watching to see how this impacts the market for home rentals. Presumably, though, if you find a place you like on Airbnb, you shouldn’t have any problems. But it may limit availability.

1. Don’t expect the same level of service with Airbnb.

First and foremost, remember that you are dealing with an individual person renting out their property to you. Property owners are referred to as “hosts.” Airbnb is just a platform that connects you to individuals who want to rent out rooms or houses to you.

Have you ever had a hotel cancel your reservation because they charged you the wrong price? This happened to me. First I saw a message from Airbnb:


Then I saw the comment from the owner:

canceled 2

Maybe this bullet point should be called “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” So what happens if the owner / host cancels on you? Airbnb offers you the option of a full refund, or they will give you a full credit PLUS about a 10% bonus to book somewhere else on their platform.

In some cases, there may be plenty of other options, and rebooking with a slight additional credit will be just fine. But what if you booked months ago, and there are limited options remaining? Anecdotally, you may be able to escalate a complaint to Airbnb and receive a much larger credit. Here is one such story.

There are some minor penalties for a host who cancels your reservation. Airbnb will automatically post a feedback entry on your behalf:

auto cancel

In addition, if a host cancels within 7 days of your reservation, they are charged $100.

Cancellations aren’t the only time the level of service is not up to that of a hotel. Here are some other issues I ran into:

  • I had host ask me to change my dates, because they had accidentally double booked.
  • I had a host decline my booking request without giving me a reason
  • I had a host decline my booking request because I wanted to stay on Thursday and Friday nights, and they wanted someone to stay the entire weekend.
  • I had a host simply not respond to my request (which expires in 24 hours.)

Now, I’m not listing all of this to steer you away from using Airbnb; I would definitely use the site again. But there are some extra hassles that come along with the benefit of a larger space at a potentially cheaper price.

2. Only some Airbnb reservations can be cancelled.

Airbnb lets the host choose from 3 main levels of cancellation policies; see them here.

If the cancellation policy is “flexible”, you can get all of your money back, possibly less the service fee, up to 24 hours before your check in time (default is 3 PM).

If the cancellation policy is “moderate”, you can get all of your money back, possibly less the service fee, up to 5 days before your check in time.

If the cancellation policy is “strict”, you CANNOT get all of your money back. You will only get a 50% refund if you cancel a week or more before your check-in date.

3. Airbnb service fees are not always refundable.

Updated May 2017: Some properties now offer a full refund if you cancel within the cancellation window. Look for this icon:

If you don’t see that icon, even the “Flexible” level above does not refund your service fee; this is a fee of about 10% that goes to Airbnb.

Guests are charged a service fee of between 6% and 12%; the more you spend, the lower the percentage gets. For example:

service fee

If your request to book is accepted, and you later cancel, you will not get the $53 back under any of the cancellation policy levels without the little piggy icon.

4. Essentials might not be included

Most listings will have an icon showing that essentials are included:


But, for example, at the Cabin in the Lava, essentials is crossed out and the details say:

bring towels

5. If your Airbnb request is accepted, the full amount of the reservation will be charged to your credit card.

There are two booking options hosts can select: Instant book or … not instant book.

Instant book listings don’t require approval from the host before you can book them. Instead, you can just choose your travel dates and discuss check-in plans with the host.”

If a listing does not offer instant book, the host first decides whether or not to accept your reservation. With an instant book reservation, your credit card is immediately charged the full amount of the reservation. Without instant book, your credit card is charged the full amount as soon as the host accepts your reservation.

The only good news in this is that you do get to lock in your exchange rate. So if the value of your local currency weakens before your trip, you won’t pay any extra.

6. The Airbnb cleaning fee can be tough for short rentals.

Some, but not all, rentals include a cleaning fee. This is a fee that is charged one time per rental, regardless of the length of your stay.

Take a cottage in Arnarstapi as an example. Here are fees for a single night:

cleaning fee

The fee per night is $227, but the cleaning fee plus the Airbnb service fee increases this to $358. The $93 cleaning fee would be much easier to stomach for a rental of a few days or more.

7. Airbnb is charging you a 3% exchange rate.

On this page, Airbnb says: “The adjusted exchange rate is the base exchange rate plus a 3% conversion fee. It’s applied if you’re browsing the site and paying in your native currency (according to the billing address on your payment method) and that currency differs from the host’s chosen currency.”

Nearly all of the hosts in Iceland are listing in Euros. You won’t see this as you browse listings; everything is listed in dollars (or your local currency).

But, as you go through the booking process, the fine print will tell you that Airbnb is adding a 3% fee:

conversion fee

The good news is that your credit card will be charged in dollars, and so you won’t pay a foreign exchange fee. And that foreign exchange fee can total 3% on many credit cards, so Airbnb is just taking this money instead.

Airbnb can be a great tool for a family visiting Iceland. In some cases, I was able to book an entire house for less than a cramped hotel room would cost. So go ahead and give Airbnb a try- just know what you are getting into!

I don't like subscribing to e-mail lists. Usually I just end up with a bunch of clutter in my inbox.

So I'm trying to change that. Here's what you'll get in exchange for your e-mail address:

  • AT LEAST 50 subscribers will receive a totally free review copy of our book, Iceland With Kids, when it is released later in 2018.
  • ALL other subscribers will receive an exclusive discount coupon to purchase the book.
  • You will receive occasional, curated content about Iceland- news stories you may not have seen.
  • We will not sell your address, or send out spam advertising e-mails.
We'll work hard to make this a valuable use of your valuable e-mail address. Thanks!


7 tips for using AirBNB was last modified: May 9th, 2017 by Eric