An Airbnb scam or dud can ruin a vacation. But...

An Airbnb scam or dud can ruin a vacation. But some rental fails may be avoidable if you know what to watch out for. Credit: Getty Images/GoodLifeStudio

In the new Wild West of A.I.-generated hotel photos and fake reviews, travelers are being tested more than ever when searching for accommodations online. After all, an Airbnb scam or dud can ruin a vacation.

But some rental fails may be avoidable if you’re a little more discerning in your hunt. In my decade of travel writing, I have a pretty solid track record when it comes to Airbnb reservations - and I’ve also had my fair share of flops. Sometimes it was the fault of a dubious host. Other times it was my bad for missing the fine print. I’m confessing both kinds to you here, so that you can learn from my mistakes.

Here are six Airbnb red flags I’ve gathered from unfortunate experience.

1. It doesn’t have a bed.

Paris, 2018. I’d found a steal of an Airbnb apartment all to myself, around the corner from the famous Sacré-Cœur church, for just under $60 a night. I whooshed through the online listing, dazzled by the price, the big windows, the washing machine, the location - sold. I booked it for seven nights.

When I arrived at the address, I opened the door to a shock. It was a narrow sliver of a studio, and it was dark despite the sunny afternoon outside. The apartment was off a charming public stairway on a steep hill, so those big windows didn’t get much light.

The reporter's Paris apartment in March 2018, featuring no actual bed.  Credit: TWP

But, more importantly, it didn’t have a bed. In my hurried examination of the listing, I’d failed to notice that there was only a picture of a sofa. After a week, I learned the only thing my back enjoys less than a European mattress is a European pullout couch.

2. It’s above a strip of bars.

A very cool Airbnb above very loud bars in Beirut, in June.  Credit: TWP

Beirut is a legendary nightlife capital. I knew this when traveling for a wedding there last summer, but I didn’t factor it into my Airbnb selection. I reserved a beautiful, historic apartment in a fun part of town close to restaurants, shops, bars - maybe a little too close to the bars. They were right downstairs. Even if we stayed out late, the bars stayed open much later. Music throbbed through the walls, shaking the furniture of our third-floor apartment into the wee hours. Thank the heavens for earplugs.

3. It doesn’t have a window.

The price was too good to be true: $30 a night for a bright-looking hotel room in the heart of Hanoi. But the photos and reviews on the Airbnb listing were encouraging, so I took a chance and booked the place in spring last year.

It looked like the one I’d seen online, but it also didn’t. Namely, it was missing a window.

I’ve tried the no-window life a few times over the course of some cheap hostel stays in Bangkok and Malaysia, and one five-day windowless Airbnb in Lisbon nearly broke me. Windows are a nonnegotiable for me these days, and I’m usually good about checking for them before I book. What happened this time? It turns out the listing featured photos of multiple room types, one with a window and apparently one without.

Maybe I could have looked harder at the photos and spotted that they were featuring at least two different rooms, but in this case, I’m putting the blame on the Airbnb host, not me. Mostly, I think, I’ll be wary of $30 hotel rooms.

4. It doesn’t have air conditioning.

In May 2021, I paid almost $400 to rent a camper van for a few nights and test out #vanlife on the Hawaiian island of Maui. I checked to see whether there was enough space for me to sleep. I checked where I was allowed to park. What I did not check to see was whether the van had air conditioning, a critical misstep in a tropical rainforest biome.

It was fine driving with the windows down, but the minute I hit a red light or parked, the van turned into a sauna.

5. It doesn’t have a private toilet.

The reporter’s now-husband sits on a bed in their beachside Airbnb in June. What's that next to the bed? A toilet behind some glass.  Credit: TWP

The listing I booked last summer, a block away from a popular beach, promised a freshly remodeled interior with modern fixtures and a lovely balcony. It hid the fact - by way of misleading close-up photos - that only a few parts of the studio had been updated and the bathroom was not in its own sealed-off room but was, instead, an 8-foot-tall glass enclosure that didn’t reach the ceiling. It had just enough frosting on the glass to keep parts, but not all, of your body obscured while you were inside.

6. It’s above open-air meat markets.

The day after my wedding this month, my newly minted husband and I hopped on a red-eye to Paris for six days to celebrate. It wasn’t a big honeymoon blowout: We flew economy with a connection and had booked a reasonably priced Airbnb. The apartment seemed much nicer than our usual budget picks - with a quintessentially Parisian balcony and large living room - but somehow not much more expensive. There had to be a catch.

In Paris, the reporter's lodging was a fifth-floor walk-up, meaning that at least twice a day she had to ascend and descend 92 steps. Credit: TWP

And there was. For starters, it was a fifth-floor walk-up, meaning that at least twice a day we had to ascend and descend 92 steps. But we knew that when we booked it.

The real catch was the apartment’s location in a chaotically bustling neighborhood, right above a slew of meat and fish markets. Not petite, specialty charcuterie stores, but open-air stalls with bloody piles of pig hoofs by the dozen, Styrofoam towers of fish and liquids from all of the above flowing in front of our building’s front door. In the warmer part of the day, when the wind was hitting just so, musky meat odors would waft up to our Airbnb’s balcony. We kept the windows shut to stave off the flies.


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