How Does Airbnb Work for Guests? 5 Things to Know Before You Book

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You’re probably aware that Airbnb offers alternatives to hotel rooms in private accommodations, but if you’ve never booked with them you may not know exactly how it works.

In this article, we’ll explain how Airbnb works and how to book the perfect lodging for your next trip. Team Clark has a ton of experience booking and staying in Airbnbs, so we’re here to show you the ropes.

What You Need to Know About Airbnb Before You Book a Stay

Table of Contents:

  1. What Is Airbnb and How Does Airbnb Work? 
  2. How Do You Sign Up for Airbnb?
  3. What Is a Renter Profile?
  4. How Do You Choose an Airbnb?
  5. What Is Airbnb Customer Support Like?
  6. Are There Coupons or Discounts for Airbnb?

1. What Is Airbnb and How Does Airbnb Work? 

Airbnb logo

Airbnb started in 2007 when its two co-founders advertised a night on an air mattress and breakfast in the morning (“Air Bed & Breakfast”) to attendees of a design conference in San Francisco.

Today, the company is estimated to be worth nearly $40 billion.

Airbnb connects millions of hosts with travelers all over the world looking for something other than a boring hotel room to stay in during their trips.

Very simply, people with anything from single room to an entire mansion can list their property for rent using the service. Airbnb’s website and app then allow people looking for a place to stay in a particular location to sort through those listings to find something that meets their needs. In many cases, you can stay at an Airbnb with more space and amenities than a hotel room at a significantly lower cost.

Airbnb boasts over seven million listings in more than 100,000 cities worldwide. They claim that on any given night there are two million-plus people staying in an Airbnb. The company recently introduced Experiences and Adventures, unique activities and multi-day trips led by local guides.

2. How Do You Sign Up for Airbnb?

First of all, it’s important to note that you can search and browse Airbnb listings without signing up for the service. You’ll only need to actually register if you decide you want to book.


Browse or book Airbnbs

If you find an Airbnb that suits your needs and want to sign up for the service, you have a few options. You can join using your Facebook or Google profile, but Clark doesn’t recommend that for reasons we outline here.

Instead, get started with your email address, a password you create and your date of birth. Note that you must be 18 or older to use Airbnb.

The next step is to upload a photo of yourself that your potential hosts will see. You should be sure not to include any personal or sensitive information in the photo.

After that, you’ll be asked to add your phone number and confirm your email address. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to be ready to book.

3. What Is a Renter Profile? 

If you do want to take things a step further, you can build out your profile a bit more. This can include adding information about:

  • Your general bio and interests
  • Your location
  • Languages you speak
  • What you do for work

Your profile page will also eventually host any reviews you leave for Airbnb properties where you’ve stayed.

Team Clark’s Sally, who has used Airbnb extensively, says that this is a step you probably shouldn’t skip.

“You’ll get more positive responses from better quality hosts if your profile is up-to-date, so it’s best to take care of it before you start your search.”

In addition, Airbnb may ask you to provide further proof of your identity before you book a stay. This is in order to make the process “as secure as possible for everyone.”

Some hosts even require guests to complete identity verification before booking. This is usually as simple as uploading a photo of your drivers license or passport.


You can proactively upload your ID by clicking on your avatar, then selecting “Account” and “Personal Info.”

Airbnb Account - ID Upload

Having your ID attached to your profile can be beneficial.

“Airbnb is based on a lot of trust between two strangers,” Sally says. “While some people might feel weird sharing their driver’s license, it’s really to help solidify that trust between you and the owner.”

4. How Do You Choose an Airbnb?

With more than seven million listings worldwide, finding the right Airbnb for you can be intimidating. However, if you keep these things in mind when you’re researching bookings, you’re much more likely to land in an Airbnb that could be a highlight of your trip.


As they say about real estate in general, it’s all about “location, location, location.” Ideally, you want to choose a rental that’s centrally located to the places and events you have on your itinerary. If the area you’re visiting has good public transportation, being close to that is also very helpful.

For example, if you’re planning a trip to Washington, D.C. and most of the attractions you want to visit are around the National Mall, you want to stay within walking distance, if possible. You’d simply search “Washington, D.C. National Mall” on the site to pull up potential matches.

On the other hand, if you’re visiting our nation’s capital in order to check out various college campuses, you can be a little less picky. As long as you’re able to easily access public transportation, where your home base is becomes somewhat less important.

Get a good sense of the layout of your destination and the options for getting around. Let that guide you in selecting where you stay.



Knowing who you’re traveling with (if you’re not going solo) and what their requirements are should dictate what type of place you book.

A family of four, for example, might be perfectly fine staying in a one-bedroom apartment, but if there are teenagers involved it might be best to concentrate your search on places with two or more bedrooms.

If some travelers are bookworms but others spend much of their time binge-watching Netflix shows, you’ll probably want a spot with a separate living/entertainment area.

Think about the time you’ll be spending in your rental and how that would ideally look for everyone involved, then book accordingly.


The amenities included with your rental can make a huge difference in both your overall lodging experience and how much money you actually spend.

Perhaps the best example of this is choosing to book an Airbnb with or without a kitchen or kitchenette. If you like to cook, being able to hit a grocery store and prepare your own meals can save you literally hundreds of dollars over the course of a vacation. On the other hand, if you love eating out you can probably save some dough up front by opting for a rental that doesn’t include a kitchen.

Another great example of a money-saver — especially with kids involved — is the availability of a pool. Any hours spent splashing around at your own place can equal cash not spent on other entertainment options.

Again, take some time to consider things like this when weighing your Airbnb options.



If you’re a fan of money expert Clark Howard, this one should go without saying. Airbnbs tend to be cheaper overall than equivalent accommodations in hotels, but that’s not always the case.

Be sure to compare the price of the rental you’re considering to hotels in the vicinity to make sure you’re not missing out on a better deal elsewhere.


Last but certainly not least, one of the great things about Airbnb is the ready availability of reviews for each listing. These are especially helpful in choosing an Airbnb because you know that each reviewer has actually stayed in the property you’re considering.

Pay close attention to not just the overall sentiment of the reviews, but specifics that might pertain to you. If you’re traveling with children, look for reviews from other parents and see what they had to say about their own kids’ experience. Likewise, if you’re going to be on a business trip and doing some work in your rental, look for words like “quiet” and “peaceful.”

For more tips on booking the best Airbnb, see Sally’s tips here.

5. What Is Airbnb Customer Support Like?

If after you’ve arrived at your Airbnb you encounter some sort of problem, your first avenue should always be to contact your host to try to get it sorted out. You can either call them or send them a message directly through your Airbnb account booking if they’re not on site.

If you can’t work something out with your host, you can call, email or chat with an Airbnb representative anytime via their Help Center.

6. Are There Coupons or Discounts for Airbnb? 

After you select an Airbnb but before you book, be sure to look for any discounts or coupon codes that might be available. Certain properties will run specials for various dates. Be sure to keep an eye out for those when you’re perusing listings.


Coupon sites like RetailMeNot will also frequently have codes you can use at checkout to save money on your booking.

And, as always, be sure to check out Clark Deals for any current special offers. Recent Airbnb discounts have included:

  • $150 Airbnb gift card for $135 on eBay
  • $220 gift card for $200 through PayPal Digital Gifts
  • $25 off Airbnb Experiences when paying with a Mastercard

With a little diligence, you can almost be assured of never paying full price on your Airbnb rental!

Final Thought

Airbnb has changed the way many of us on Team Clark travel, and it could do the same for you. Just follow the pointers and tips above before you book lodging for your next trip or vacation. You might never stay in a boring old hotel room again!

If all of this has you intrigued about possibly becoming an Airbnb host yourself, please see our story about How Airbnb Works for Hosts: 5 Things to Consider Before You Sign Up.

Have you stayed in Airbnbs? Let us know about your experiences (good and bad!) in the comments below!


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