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Tech Fix: Booking With Airbnb? Here’s Your Survival Guide

Tech Fix

Booking With Airbnb? Here’s Your Survival Guide

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A room rented through Airbnb in a San Francisco home. To get a handle on a listing’s pricing fluctuations, click on high-demand dates in its calendar and use those peaks to gauge what a modest price would be. Then look for dates with that pricing.CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

Summer travelers who are planning vacations face a modern dilemma: Splurge on a traditional hotel, or potentially save a few bucks by renting someone’s home on Airbnb?

By now, you have probably heard the horror stories about Airbnb, the tech start-up that connects travelers with complete strangers who are making some extra cash by renting out their homes. Scores of guests have groaned about hosts who have canceled reservations at the last minute. Some even say hosts falsely accused them of property damage, demanding compensation. And in rare cases, poorly maintained property has led to deaths.

Yet Airbnb is proving an irresistible hotel alternative for travelers. Two million people worldwide stay at an Airbnb rental each night, according to the San Francisco-based company. The perks are enticing: Beyond savings, some homes are more spacious or in a better location than a hotel. But those benefits come with higher risk: You are at the mercy of a host who has less at stake than a commercial business.

Fret not, frugal traveler. In a past life, I was a Superhost on Airbnb, meaning I hosted many groups that left me flawless reviews — and I am well aware of the shortcuts and loopholes that some dishonest hosts take to maximize their profit at the expense of guests. So here’s my advice for ensuring you have a smooth stay at an Airbnb, along with some tips on becoming a well-reviewed guest.

Read Listings Carefully

This may sound obvious, but bear with me: Read — don’t skim — an Airbnb listing. Airbnb hosts and their homes vary widely in quality, and you can learn a great deal just from closely reading the listing and its reviews.

Don’t automatically assume that an Airbnb offering will have all the perks of a hotel, because, well, it’s someone’s house. Many hosts will be transparent in their listing and mention a lack of air-conditioning or a driveway that is difficult to find at night. Other hosts say they have strict house rules — for example, no loud parties after 10 p.m. Sometimes, hosts will say up front that the night life on the street outside their home is noisy.

Hosts, too, have imperfections, so read guest reviews to learn about them. Perhaps the sheets were dirty or the house was low on toilet paper. I recommend booking only listings with reviews that are at least 90 percent positive.

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Numbered rooms in the San Francisco home. Hosts and their lodgings vary widely in quality, so read the listing and its reviews closely.CreditJason Henry for The New York Times

If you can live with an Airbnb lodging’s flaws, go ahead and book the reservation. But if you can’t, move on to the next listing or consider booking a hotel. Doing research and setting your expectations go a long way to having a good time at an Airbnb.

Be Wary of Price Fluctuations

There’s something that many Airbnb hosts have in common with hotels: They may raise prices during peak travel seasons. The savviest hosts use dynamic pricing tools that automatically hike prices when demand is likely to be high, similar to Uber’s surge pricing.

In some cases, Airbnb may be even pricier than a comparable hotel. If you find a listing you love and you are looking to save some cash, there are methods to determine when prices will be lower.

By default, an Airbnb listing shows a base price. The simplest way to look at a listing’s fluctuations is to open its calendar and click on dates that will probably be in high demand, like the Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve. Weekend prices are also generally higher than weekday prices. From there, you can calculate a modest price for that listing and look for dates with that pricing.

Protect Yourself

A big trade-off with an Airbnb is there’s no security personnel or hotel manager to help when something goes wrong. The onus is on you to protect yourself.

For starters, try to keep all your conversations inside Airbnb’s messaging app. This is a helpful safeguard in case something goes awry. For example, if a host said in the messaging app that the house is handicapped accessible but you find that it is not, send a photo to the host to complain. Likewise, if something appears to be broken, like the dishwasher, message the host with a photo to document the damage so you aren’t blamed for it later.

If you fail to reach a resolution with the host, you can ask Airbnb’s dispute-resolution staff to mediate — and all your communications with the host will be visible to Airbnb.

Airbnb has some other recommendations: Do a safety check after you enter the house and make sure there is a first-aid kit and a fire extinguisher. If something seems odd, contact the host and then, if necessary, call Airbnb’s customer service line.

Nick Shapiro, who oversees Airbnb’s trust and risk management, said the company takes additional safety measures like performing background checks on American hosts and guests, and all reservations are scored for risk.

“We work hard to ensure that our guests have a positive and safe experience when traveling with us,” he said.

To play it extra safe, always have a backup plan. Jot down some attractive hotels near your reservation in case your Airbnb stay falls through. Hosts may cancel reservations for a variety of reasons. I once had to cancel a reservation for a family during the winter when a frozen pipe burst and flooded the house.

Be a Good Guest

All of those tips are irrelevant if you can’t book on Airbnb in the first place because hosts don’t like you. Fortunately, being a superb guest is relatively easy.

Jasper Ribbers, a co-author of “Get Paid for Your Pad,” a book about his experience as an Airbnb Superhost, recommends that guests fill out their profiles with as much detail as possible, including completing verifications of their identity. This helps give a host confidence that you are a real person with nothing to hide.

The rest is common sense: Be communicative and polite, follow the house rules and treat the rental as you would a friend’s home. That’s usually enough to earn you a perfect review from a host.

Mr. Ribbers noted that guests sharing a home with the host face more of a challenge. If you are visiting a foreign country, carefully research that country’s religious beliefs or traditions. In Thailand, for example, where people are accustomed to taking off their shoes in the home, it’s impolite to point your toes at somebody.

“So make sure your feet are pointing somewhere else,” Mr. Ribbers said. “Make sure that you understand what the preferences of the host are to make the experience for you and the host good.”

Brian X. Chen, our lead consumer technology reporter, writes Tech Fix, a column about solving tech-related problems like sluggish Wi-Fi, poor smartphone battery life and the complexity of taking your smartphone abroad. What confuses you or makes you angry about your tech? Send your suggestions for future Tech Fix columns to brian.chen@nytimes.com.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page B7 of the New York edition with the headline: Booking With Airbnb? Here’s Your Survival Guide. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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