4 Things I Learned From My First (And Probably) Last Airbnb Stay

by Bill Shuman

This past summer, my family was fortunate enough to make a second trip back to the Big Island of Hawaii. During the last trip, in March 2018, we stayed on the west side of the island and made a quick day trip to Volcanoes National Park. After spending some time there, we realized our mistake — we didn’t allow for enough time to explore this unique national park.

I was not going to make the same mistake twice. Therefore on this trip, we decided to book some nights on the east side of the island. This led to deciding to use something that I had never booked before — Airbnb.

Related: How To Save On Your Next National Park Visit 

The amazing Volcanoes National Park

Many of my friends prefer using Airbnb to hotels, and their experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. I hear them rave about how much they love staying in unique places and immersing themselves within a local culture.

However, with the limited hotel options on the east side of the Big Island, especially close to the national park, it seemed like I should give Airbnb a shot with the family. Therefore, I booked a cute little cottage in the middle of the rain forest that had all 5 star reviews. Sure, I’m late to the game in 2019, but here are four things that I learned from my first Airbnb stay. 

Airbnb Makes Resort Fees Seem Small

The listing that I found was on the cheaper end, but as we were only going to be there to sleep, we didn’t feel like splurging on a very nice place was worth it.

What I wasn’t expecting though were the exorbitant fees attached with my booking! The fees added an additional 37% to my final price. These fees were higher than the resort fee I paid at the Bellagio in Las Vegas early this year that “only” added 25% to my bill! 

I know people have complained about this before, but I think the fact that Airbnb does not disclose these fees on the listings page is outright deceptive.

Airbnb fees vs Bellagio fees

The bill from my AirBnB stay. While the resort

Airbnb Gift Cards Are Complicated

Upon making the initial booking, Airbnb asks if you want to pay for the whole stay up front or if you would like to split the payments into two.

As I wasn’t 100% sure at the time that we’d be able to go on the trip, I elected to take the half upfront and half later option. A few weeks after making the booking I was able to grab two heavily discounted Airbnb gift cards on Amazon, using an AMEX offer on my American Express Gold Card.

I planned to use the gift card to pay the remaining 50% balance I owed on the booking. I loaded the cards into my account and went to pay the remaining balance. Only then did I find the limitations of Airbnb gift cards — if you are paying with a gift card, it can only be done at the time of the initial booking.

The gift cards I purchased could NOT be used to make the second payment, only cash. This meant on top of paying cash for this Airbnb booking, I also was out the cash for the gift cards that I couldn’t use this time. For someone who almost never pays cash for travel, I was annoyed.

Airbnb Accommodations Are Not What I Expected

I’m an Airbnb novice, that’s already been settled. I only stay at hotels, and every hotel I’ve stayed at has air conditioning. But this Airbnb did not. I take full responsibility for this, as apparently I didn’t read the listing carefully (not the first mistake I’ve made). However, in my defense, who doesn’t have air conditioning in the rain forest?

On our arrival date, we got to the Airbnb around 4:00pm in the afternoon and noticed immediately that the heat was going to be an issue. The temperature was over 90 degrees with pretty high humidity. My wife, who was six months pregnant at the time, was not amused by the one small fan provided. Things were even worse upstairs where my 5-year-old would be sleeping.

If it were just the heat, we could’ve dealt with it for a few nights. And again, that’s my fault, not the property’s.

Sadly, that was just the beginning. This Airbnb had the worst pillows I’ve ever experienced in my life. The drapes in the room were also transparent which let it full sun around 6:00am. The shower temperature was incredibly inconsistent. We later learned that there are no gas lines run to the houses due to the volcanoes.

In addition, the rainforest noises that previous guests stated were cute and relaxing were so loud that the hosts provided earplugs. Needless to say, my first time Airbnb experience (and the first night) was not the most pleasant.

This really wasn’t an issue with the property, but about expectations. 

Noise or singing? Either way the Coqui frogs sure made the experience unique!

Problems? Cross Your Fingers You Have None

In the morning, after a restless night of sleep, my wife and I compared notes.

When we both said we felt like we were going to fall out of bed, it piqued my curiosity. After a quick examination, we realized that while the mattress we had gotten was a queen as expected, the box spring under it was a double! There was a few inches on each side of the bed without support.

I was exhausted and a bit frustrated, so at this point, I contacted our host and Airbnb support to see what we could work out. No response.

An hour passed, then two. As we were losing valuable time in Volcanoes National Park, which was the whole purpose of this stay, I was becoming increasingly frustrated. Quite a bit different than what I am used to of just walking downstairs and speaking to someone at the front desk.

After a few more hours, we decided to make a choice: Tough it out one more night, or use one of my Free Night Award Certificates provided by my Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature Credit Card.

We had already used another certificate provided by my American Express Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Visa Signature Credit Card to stay at the Courtyard King Kamehamehas Kona Beach Hotel on our first night on the island. My wife quickly said “pack up the car, we’re leaving.”

Our host finally responded about six hours later and Airbnb support contacted us 30 hours later. Totally unacceptable. The upside is that although I was prepared to forfeit the second night’s stay, the host offered to refund the money.

I’ve heard horror stories of people having it much worse with hosts and Airbnb taking days, or even not responding at all, so I am thankful for the outcome.

I Didn’t Feel Like Safety Was A Priority

Let me start by saying that unlike others who have been swindled or robbed while staying at an Airbnb (see this nationwide Airbnb scam uncovered by Vice), we had no actual problems. However this native Chicagoan, and current Memphis resident, has been the victim of enough crime to always be aware of his surrounding — particularly when I’m with my wife and son(s).

Upon entering the property, I realized the code we were given was generic and any previous Airbnb booking would have the code. There was also another entry door on the backside of the property that was missing a lock. In addition, one of the windows didn’t have a lock either.

These things made me quickly realize that I didn’t feel entirely safe and contributed to my lack of sleep.

One upside of this stay: getting to see Isaac Hale Beach Park & Pohoiki Black Sand Beach that was created during the 2018 lava flow.

The Upshot

And so that was our first time Airbnb experience. Ultimately the takeaway for us: We are hotel people. We enjoy the service, amenities, and safety standards provided by larger hotel chains. And for those of you that love Airbnbs, that’s okay too. It’s just not exactly for us.

The fact that we couldn’t get to a Marriott fast enough just a few weeks after a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience says a lot. While you probably won’t hear from me about using Airbnb anymore, I’ll chalk this up to a valuable lesson learned.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

27 comments
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27 comments

Kate November 22, 2019 - 2:22 pm

Interesting. I’ve also been reluctant to try Air BNB. Those safety issues would concern me also. Think my family also probably hotel people.

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Bill Shuman November 23, 2019 - 12:50 am

The safety thing was a big one for me. If I could get past that I think I’d probably give them another chance, especially since I have a GC to use!

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Nathan November 22, 2019 - 2:44 pm

Shout out to Memphis, long time reader here also an MEM guy. Yeah, I did an Airbnb in Hawaii this year too. One bed in the house was completely unusable. Overall not a horrible stay as there were many beds but still, I love the consistency of a corporation. Also I made the same mistake on Gift Cards.

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Bill Shuman November 23, 2019 - 12:49 am

Really glad to hear I’m not the only one that had problems in Hawaii. That “paradise” had me longing for Bluff City. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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Adam November 22, 2019 - 3:01 pm

I’ve had incredible experiences with AirBnB internationally in Amsterdam, Mexico City and Budapest and not talking about renting expensive apartments. The hosts even left us bottles of wine as welcome gifts. Great apartments exactly as described from the images and blurbs – if not better – and while i’m also a hotel person, with Airbnb I feel like you become part of the local scene even if somewhat simulated. I would have reacted the same way in your situation but I’d also chalk it up to lousy luck of the draw.

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Bill Shuman November 23, 2019 - 12:56 am

The local scene was what we were most hoping to experience and despite the lack of sleep due to the frogs. Not to mention we got to see the damage to Leilani Estates and the damage from the local roads. Those are something I will never forget so in a way mission accomplished!

Honestly though AirBnB seems super polarizing either you love it or you hate it and a lot has to do with the host you got.

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debit November 22, 2019 - 3:54 pm

Airbnb is shit. I am on the record multiple times. And before all the people starting to fall out of favor.

The millennial CEOs are probably type A assholes who don’t care for feedback and will do whatever it takes up make more money. Sone of these woke millennials are the biggest fraud.

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Bill Shuman November 23, 2019 - 1:03 am

*Putting down my avocado toast to respond*

At least we can agree on AirBnB needs to make some changes to the way they do business. No response for over 30 hours in any business when their is an issue is a problem and I hate that this has become acceptable.

Thanks for reading!

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Will November 22, 2019 - 4:24 pm

Ayyy always an interesting day when I agree with debit !! Haha Airbnb sucks !

Tried it 4 times had issues 3 of them.

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Bill Shuman November 23, 2019 - 1:09 am

Tomorrow’s news AirBnB launches a news slogan: “AirBnB, bringing all types of people together under one roof”

Thanks for responding and reading!

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Jimmy November 22, 2019 - 4:26 pm

Airbnb is a very good platform. If you stay somewhere that has lots of good reviews, it will go well, simple as that.

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Bill Shuman November 23, 2019 - 12:57 am

Thanks for responding. How many reviews is enough? The place we found had over 50 five star reviews.

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Billy Bob November 22, 2019 - 6:09 pm

DP: Nothing but good luck with AirBnB but I read reviews and check details.

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Bill Shuman November 23, 2019 - 1:12 am

BB: Thanks for reading and providing your feedback. If I ever try them again I will be sure to be more selective in my choice. Glad to hear you’ve only experienced the upside.

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Billy Bob November 22, 2019 - 6:10 pm

Should mention that all of my AirBnBs have been in Europe.

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Waverley November 22, 2019 - 6:18 pm

Tip: sometimes the host list their b&b name on the airbnb listing. That’s how you can book through their very own site directly (if you can google them). Saved me more than $100 once on a 4 night stay in Barcelona. Airbnb discourage dealing with host directly BUT if they have a ton of good reviews and can pay with credit card I think it’s worth the risk.

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Bill Shuman November 23, 2019 - 12:59 am

I know family that have done that with vacations rentals the second time around. Personally after this experience I’d be less inclined to to do that unless I knew the host (or stayed their previously), but if you can do it. More power to you as saving some $ is always a good thing. Thanks for the tip and for reading.

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Pet November 22, 2019 - 8:27 pm

You are not or will not be able to write a bad review because the host gets to read the reviews before they are posted, for the host does not like your review no one gets to see it, they only put up the good ones. That’s the the fair or proper to a paying customer

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Bill Shuman November 23, 2019 - 12:52 am

Thanks for reading. I noticed the same thing as I tried to leave a review but as I didn’t stay the entire time I didn’t get an option.

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Rich G November 23, 2019 - 8:01 am

We use AirBnB as one of the platforms to advertise our vacation home. I can’t recall ever being given the choice of a review going up or not – I am sent the guests’ review before I write one about the guest (which I find odd, and a bad practice imho).

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Ty Miller November 23, 2019 - 4:56 am

This is patently false. The host doesn’t see the review until after they’ve already left their own. Under no circumstances can a host simply screen out bad reviews.

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Larry Wong November 23, 2019 - 12:56 am

Visiting our new born grandson in Brooklyn & to help out babysitting, we decided to stay for our first time in an Airbnb which is one block away.
The bed was not made & there were leftover trash in the kitchen trash bin. Found the bed linens on somewhat folded in a cabinet & made our own bed. That night was restless, the sheets did not felt clean. We brought the sheets (& towels) over to my daughter-in-law’s place for laundering. I was glad that my wife booked 2 nights in Manhattan to end our 12-day trip.

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Bill Shuman November 23, 2019 - 1:19 am

Larry, congrats on the grandson! We had grandparents in about 4 of the last 6 weeks helping out with our newest addition and we’re so thankful. I’m sure your son and daughter in law were thrilled with your assistance.

This sounds horrific and inconvenient. Was this your only AirBnB experience or have you given them another chance?

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Larry November 23, 2019 - 9:18 am

Congratulations on your little bundle of joy!!

This was only first & only & last Air BnB experience. My wife enjoys hotel and belongs to several loyalty clubs.

We are headed back to Brooklyn in early Spring next year for the first birthday and my wife had booked us a hotel 1.2 miles away. Close enough for brisk walk.

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lks November 23, 2019 - 7:31 am

Our first Air B & B experiences were throughout New Zealand (we are from USA). It came about because some remote areas did not have hotels, and also being in high season it seemed a good way to cut our expenses. We read reviews meticulously, scrutinized pictures, and emailed every host before booking to see response time and get a feel for how helpful they might be. Maybe we just got lucky, but every place was as described and it worked out great. I don’t think I’d be comfortable using Air B&B in the US though – we have a different mentality here that I think would not meet my expectations in a rental. My other issue was that while renting a small house or apartment gives you more space, sometimes extra amenities like washer/dryer ect., in a hotel you just pack up and walk out. In an AIR B & B we had to make sure everything was left in a way that would be acceptable to the host – hung up towels, loosely made the bed, wiped the counters and so on which took more time than I like to spend on a trip.

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Rich G November 23, 2019 - 8:07 am

We have a Florida vacation home that we advertise on AirBnB, among other platforms. As hosts, we share several of the same frustrations as you do as guest, trust me. NOT the most responsive to problems, for sure. Also fees are pretty exorbitant that we pay from our end. Pretty amazing that the problems you shared from your short stay weren’t mentioned in any of the reviews – mattress that doesn’t fit, no AC in HI? Ridiculous.

Sadly there are no “requirements” from AirBnB for hosts to provide things like one time codes for doors, clear descriptions of amenities, etc. I personally have had good luck when renting via AirBnB, but am always nervous going in to a place the first time.

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monopod November 27, 2019 - 9:03 am

Just a quick note that it’s very common for homes and even some hotels on the Hilo side of the big island to not have AC, so that’s some local taste for you.

Sure, the service is not going to be on the same level as a hotel, and I have had my fair share of bad experiences. But Airbnb allowed me to stay in some incredible places with either no or very expensive hotel.

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