AirBNB Reviews: Why Honesty and Expectations Matter

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I live and die by AirBNB reviews. Hands down, no argument, no discussion: Without AirBNB, I could not live the nomad life. Full stop.

But it took ages to learn to read reviews carefully, to read between the lines. Even now I am sometimes a bit disappointed in places.

Today, fellow traveler and writer Gigi Griffis lamented getting a bad review from an AirBNB host. She asked for the place to be re-cleaned after finding rotting food and such in the apartment. SO RUDE, GIGI. Honestly, though: It pisses me off that having expectations of a clean apartment is considered poor behaviour. We pay money for what we get. Especially people like Gigi and me, since we’re fussy and not cheaping it out, just getting better deals by staying long-term. (Oh, and Gigi is good reading. She’s here.)

So let’s talk about two things.

One, for guests, why are reviews so important, and what are your responsibilities as a reviewing guest, and why?

Two, if you’re a host, why do I feel entitled to complain about your apartment, and why are my expectations justified?

One: Guests: AirBNB Reviews, and the Responsibility of Honesty

I spend $12,000+ yearly now on AirBNB and my money matters. When you, as a guest, avoid rocking the boat by only leaving nice shiny reviews on mediocre places, you compromise my quality of life because you weren’t honest.

Here’s the thing: Hosts don’t see your reviews until after you have BOTH reviewed each other. This is to keep you honest. So be honest. They can’t do anything to you after you have posted an honest review. They can’t change their review out of spite. They can’t blackmark you or out you. They can’t attack you.

And prospective hosts can’t see what listings you’ve reviewed, only how you’re reviewed as a guest by other hosts, so don’t worry about bad AirBNB reviews tainting future stays. Even if they COULD see your honest-but-bad AirBNB reviews, good hosts would read it and see “rotting food left in fridge” or “unclean toilet” and know that, yeah, that complaint is totally warranted.

This isn’t high school.

We’re not all supposed to try to be friends. It’s independent business people providing customers with a service. Period.

The ratings should be like this:

  • Five stars = “Do I really have to leave?”
  • Four stars = “Pretty good”
  • Three stars = “Needs work”
  • Two stars = “I’m too old for this shit”
  • One star = “Omigod, I’m not staying here another night”

And be honest.

Stop being a nice guest and not saying what you really think. I promise, it won’t come back to bite you.

One “B”: What to Include In AirBNB Reviews

When reviewing an AirBNB experience, don’t just tell us how nice the host was and how close it was to the city.

Tell us how the arrival happened. Was it painless? Were you waiting in the dark of night outside in a seedy part of town because the host didn’t arrive for 20 minutes?

Focus on necessities others need to know about before booking:

  • Is the bathroom clean, in good shape, and functioning?
  • How’s the water in the shower?
  • Does the WiFi work consistently, and is it fast?
  • Does the kitchen have a decent supply of cookware?
  • Is there a rooster next door or a mosque that bellows its call to prayer at 3am?
  • Does the host answer inquiries quickly? Do they handle your needs well?
  • Is there anything at all left to cook with, like spices or leftover things from past guests, or should one show up well-stocked?
  • And the bed! Don’t just tell us it’s “comfy,” is it soft? Hard? Firm? Lumpy? Squeezed in between two walls so you have to climb out the bottom?
  • Does the place smell? Is there dust or mold?
  • What about the neighbourhood? Is there a lot of traffic? Stairs? Hills? How far to the nearest… anything?

AirBNB reviews are important, they’re a critical part of the booking experience. Beyond helping people like me, for whom this is our life, it helps people who’ve scrimped and saved for a vacation, and this means a lot to them. Why are they less important than the hosts’ feelings? They’ve got two weeks off in a year, and you inflating your AirBNB review might mean they book a mediocre apartment when better ones are out there.

Give other guests the vacations they’re longing to enjoy by being honest and helpful in writing a thorough AirBNB review.

Two: AirBNB Hosts: Why My Expectations Are Justified

There are hosts out there who think complaints about cleanliness and conditions are unjustified. They think you get what you pay for and you’re lucky that they even offer their place up for rent.

Look, hosts, you do me no favours. You provide a service. Anything above and beyond a clean and serviceable apartment is indeed a service and generosity, and I appreciate it. But a clean, functioning, liveable apartment is not negotiable. Broken chairs and malfunctioning appliance, blown bed springs, these are not “bare minimum standards.” These are you failing to provide a good experience.

If you put out a bare minimum experience, be honest about that. Say so. Don’t call it “cozy and rustic.” Say it’s a minimalist experience for a student looking for a budget stay. There is a MARKET for that and they appreciate honesty and are glad to just be able to stay in Edinburgh or Vancouver for a week, at that price. But don’t act like you’re all that when you’re barely better than a college dorm after a party weekend, okay?

This isn’t charity. You’re paid. Guests worked for that money.

If you say you have a great space and you provide a nice apartment, that’s terrific. Yay! Make sure it’s spotless. If you’re not a great housekeeper, pay someone who is. I will judge you hard on cleanliness.

If you think cutting corners is peachy because it’s “not a hotel” then get out of the AirBNB business. That’s not AirBNB’s slogan. It’s not “AirBNB: Not a hotel.” It’s “AirBNB: Live like a local” and “AirBNB: Belong Anywhere.”

And living like a local does indeed include all walks of life – casual spaces, dorm-like facilities, shared rooms, and more. But clean. CLEAN!

Cleanliness is non-negotiable at any level of AirBNB. End of statement. Cleanliness is non-negotiable.

If you’re not writing HONEST REVIEWS, you are part of the problem. Be kind but be honest. I’m lookin’ at you!

This isn’t Couchsurfing, This is a Billion-Dollar Business

I’m not some schmuck crashing on your couch and appreciating any generosity. I work hard for my dollars and pay you my money because I’m under the delusion that you understand that this is a business. You earn my money by providing a clean, safe space that lives up to all the adjectives and nouns you’ve cobbled together in your advertisement.

If you want to be charitable, go to church. Don’t open an AirBNB.

This is a business. Meet the terms of the agreement or get out of the business.

If you’re a customer leaving an AirBNB review, remember that. This was a business transaction and these people are making potentially tens of thousands of dollars a year off folks like you, and they owe you a great experience. Review them accordingly.

Thank you and goodnight.

PS: I pay for every stay at AirBNB. I’m never sponsored. I’ve used it in 16 countries and have no reason to stop. If you’ve never joined AirBNB and you want to try it out, I have some pointers here, and you can join with this link and receive a $50 travel credit (pretty sure that’s Canadian dollars).

Showing 11 comments
  • Avatar
    Kevin MacDonald

    I have just started ABNB ing it, and so far so good…but thank you for the tips on what to expect and how to review.

  • Avatar

    I completely get where you’re coming from with this. I’ve been location independent for four years and have used Airbnb for much of that time. The reviews are extremely frustrating as people clearly aren’t honest, I’m guessing because they found the host to be nice and they don’t want to mess with their business. I get that but as you say, it makes life difficult for the next person. Cleanliness is the biggest issue for me too. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to clean an apartment before I can get settled in. I’ve recently started going back to staying in hotels because I can’t deal with the dishonest reviews any longer. Having said that I’m in an Airbnb in Prague right now and it’s lovely. 🙂 So sometimes you really luck out.

  • Avatar

    Well said! Thanks.

  • Avatar
    Julie H. Ferguson

    This an excellent post in every way, Steffani.

    I’m both a host and guest with Airbnb. As a host, Airbnb expects you to deliver exactly what you’ve described your place to be. No misrepresentation. None. Cleanliness should mean sparkling throughout. I always provide that above all and that’s why I am a superhost. I’ve earned that and earned it deliberately.

    As a guest, I leave the unit as clean as I’m able. I strip the bed. I throw out the garbage and recycling. I lock up! (Don’t forget that.) I write honest reviews and if necessary make suggestions for improvement. Behave as if you’re staying with friends: you know “Do unto others….”

    It’s not hard.

  • Avatar

    I didn’t realize that the hosts couldn’t see my review before posting their own of me! This information is key in the honesty equation we’re all searching for. Thanks, for this nugget.

  • Avatar
    Lisa L

    I agrrr with you 100%. My one critique of your article, you don’t mention the guest responsibility to read and accept the cancellation terms like a proper business contract.

    I’m a host and agree….cleanliness and accuracy are key. Best not to sugar coat any listing. There’s a market for every price… be honest.

    But I’ve had many an Airbnb guest come back with the request for 100% refund for their unexpected trip snafus necessitating their trip cancellation. And want a waive of the contracted cancellation and fees refund policy. Where is the guest responsibility to buy trip cancellation insurance?

    It’s a business contract. Like you point out, the host isn’t a friend. I do not wish to accept loss of income, due to guest misfortune and lack of foresight.

    Contract with a regular hotel then, not an Airbnb host. Hotels have buffers built into their business model and budgets for such guest changes.

    What do you think?

    • Steffani Cameron
      Steffani Cameron

      At the end of the article, I link to another article on tips for AirBNB and I dealt with contracts and terms there, so it didn’t occur to me here.

      But yeah, not a lot of sympathy for people who don’t actually investigate the terms. Important!

      But just because I book longterm with anyone doesn’t mean my standard for my lodging declines. I expect cleanliness, etc, to be a met standard.

      Personally, I avoid strict listings. But I understand. Getting customers is critical for you.

  • Avatar

    For starters, I check the reviews you leave other hosts. I do this by clicking on the profile of the review you left and then scanning it for your corresponding review. If i see a whole bunch of highly critical reviews then you are less likely to be getting accepted.

    Airbnb’s come in a wide range of standards, some priced at $60 a night, some at $1000. The only things you should be reviewing are communication levels of the host, cleanliness, and Accuracy of the listing. Choosing a specific location and then reviewing a host badly because you did not research the location or it failed to meet your specific wants is unfair to the host. If the one bed you booked was a tight squeeze for 4 people then that is your fault, not the hosts. Judging the $200 Vancouver Bedsit because it was not as nice as the $200 Arizona house with a pool is a factor of the market.

    Second, I think if the same standards were applied to guests they would be outraged. Indeed many guests are outraged at any critical points whatsoever and seek revenge for the slight threatening IRS or HOA reports and anything else they can think of.

    Corresponding standards may be

    Communicative, friendly, ran the laundry, dishes and took out garbage – 5 stars.
    Communicative, Friendly, tidied up to a minimum standard – 4 stars
    Slow to provide arrival time, didn’t clean up afterwards, requested late check out at last minute – 3 stars
    Turned up early without notice, multiple requests for information clearly specified in Manual, Asked Concierge to hold their bags- 2 stars
    Broke a house rule (Noise, extra guests) – 1 star.

    • Steffani Cameron
      Steffani Cameron

      Ooh. Thanks for that summary. Good to know. I didn’t realize hosts could see all our place reviews. That’s good to know.

      I believe I’m really fair in my reviews. I realize I’m staying at a budget price so I don’t expect what I would get from, say, Four Seasons. Communication, cleanliness, and accuracy are the big ones for me.

      I think some of my big issues are when someone claims their place is luxe but there are a lot of issues. Like in Albania, I had a place like that — broken toilet handle, etc — but once I explored the city, I realized unfixed things seemed to be almost cultural. (Don’t fix it if it still works, only fix it if it doesn’t.) so I ignored those shortcomings and didn’t mention them.

      But thanks a lot for these notes. Gives me some perspective in how hosts might rate us. I try to be very communicative. I make it very clear that Internet and cleanliness and a workstation are most important to me. Like, I can work at a kitchen table and such. But I make sure it’s in my pre-booking emails so I have more ground to stand on if any of them are not satisfactory.

      I don’t clean the apartment to the standards I received it in. I figure I’m paying for that privilege. But I don’t leave a mess, either, and take out the garbage and such during my stay. I’ll usually tidy up the kitchen and bathroom.

      Anyhow. Yeah, thanks for weighing in.

  • Avatar

    Nice piece – I agree people could do with being more honest in their reviews. But technically prospective hosts can see the reviews you gave to previous hosts (if they wanted to) provided the host reviewed them too. It’s as easy as clicking on the profile of the host that reviewed them and pressing Control + F and search the first name of the guest. I don’t think many go out of their way to do this. But it is possible to do.

    • Steffani Cameron
      Steffani Cameron

      Yeah! Just learned this. That’s great to know. Thank goodness I’m always pretty fair in my reviews.

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