Airbnb is great for budget holidays outside Singapore until the unexpected costs come creeping in.
Airbnb is a lifesaver when it comes to budget holidays. With hotels charging typically S$200+ per night or more in major cities, most of us can’t afford longer trips abroad if not for renting.
If you’re racking up miles, air miles credit cards like the Citi PremierMiles Visa Signature Card will give you points or discounts for making Airbnb bookings. Stay in an Airbnb apartment one or two weeks often enough, and those points might mean a free flight ticket to a whole other location. You can even use Airbnb credit card promotions to shave a couple of dollars off your booking.
All that aside, do watch out for some unexpected costs. Keep these under control and Airbnb will be an extraordinary budget tool for vacations:
Huge Transport Costs from Not Checking the Address
Even if the landlord doesn’t disclose the exact address, be sure to ask for a few local landmarks or the name of the neighbourhood. Remember that in large cities, you can rack up monstrous transport costs if you’re staying in a far-flung corner of the city.
If you’re staying in New York for example, there’s no point finding a cheap rental unit in the Bronx at S$90 a night, and then realising you need to waste an hour on a train ride or pay S$12+ for a cab to central Manhattan. Over a week, you’ll spend as much as you would on a more central apartment, and lose time besides.
A simple way around this is to ask the host how much it costs to get to different places from the residence you’re staying in.
If you’re on a working trip and you need the Internet to function, be sure to clarify that your host has wi-fi access.
Otherwise, you will be spending a lot of money at cafes with wi-fi (you need to buy endless cups of coffee to justify sitting there), or probably over S$100 to get a prepaid, unlimited data plan. That’s assuming such an option exists wherever you’re going.
Some landlords will set a cash deposit as a term. As far as possible, avoid these people. Find someone else to rent from, unless you are truly desperate and don’t mind the possibility of never seeing the deposit again.
Putting down a cash deposit means you have to leave when the landlord is around, to get your deposit back. If you leave and later try to get your deposit by mail or wire, good luck; you’re dependent on the good nature of the landlord.
Some landlords will also make up excuses to deduct from your deposit, by citing “damages” or “losses”. The amount of the deposit and the involvement of a foreign jurisdiction will make it hard for you to fight to get the money back.
An Absent Host
A lot of unexpected costs creep up when the host is absent. For example, what if you’re in London in December (i.e. in winter) and the heater system breaks? Or what if, due to theft or absent-mindedness, you misplace the keys and the host is far away in Hong Kong?
These little accidents can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, as they typically mean you will end up in a hotel. So if you can get used to the company, go for a hosted apartment.
Water, Toilet Paper, and Other Critical Amenities
Some Airbnb units come to you completely bare: no water (in some countries bottled water may be a necessity), no toilet paper, no food in the fridge, etc. If you are used to hotels, this may catch you off-guard; and your first night will be spent buying toiletries, stocking the fridge, and other essentials.
Factor the cost of these into your trip, when comparing prices. If you really hate wasting time and money on these things, and the price difference is not too great, a cheap hotel may be better.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.