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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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