The world of Airbnb is one of adventure and opportunity for the creature comforts of home, great rates, and a chance to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t.
As a Superhost, I had the pleasure of hosting over 150 visits for guests from as close as in town and as far away as Japan.
During that two-year period, I learned how to be a great host while also learning how to use that inside information to score better and better deals myself when globe trotting domestically and abroad (Italy!).
This article walks through some of the veiled opportunities most guests aren’t aware of, how to leverage them yourself, and the things you should absolutely never say when negotiating. Let’s review the right ways to ask for Airbnb discounts.
Hosts (and Superhosts) Are Not All Alike
There are many types of hosts and properties, with differing levels of hands-on involvement in the actual management of the listing and property. Some hosts can’t tolerate vacancies, and will discount seemingly no matter what rate reduction is required.
Smart hosts have a bottom line when it comes to their rates. Some hosts just set their rates there to begin with to bypass the potential headaches of negotiating with guests.
Many hosts are still people who rent out their personal property, like a spare bedroom.
Others are actually individual professionals functioning as third-party property managers on behalf of property owners (I have a friend who does this!), overseeing the listing, guest communications, cleaning, and so on for another private owner.
And, others still own properties as investments and do not have time to haggle over $100 because they are professionally managing a portfolio of Air BnB rental units (I’m staying at one of those in Michigan this fall).
When Guests Asked Me for Discounts
Over the course of my first year, my overall customer satisfaction scores and reliability led to being a Superhost* when they rolled out the program in 2016. I also put a lot of time and care into the experiences my guests were having and responding to areas I needed to improve. Not only did I get the badge for my host profile, my monthly vacancy average was just 3-5 nights.
Every month, I tracked and tested my pricing with spreadsheets. I also engaged in a lot of conversations before ever booking guests. I would guess I received a request for a discount about every six weeks, which was very low relative to the frequency of my bookings.
But, because of the flexibility I gave myself in booking rates, the location of my place, reviews from past guests, and the included amenities (such as free parking), I was able to maximize profit with an approach which did require a bigger investment of my time. I chose to leave wiggle room for negotiation.
*The requirements for Superhost status have changed, and will probably continue to change, but at that time, the requirements centered on responsiveness, average review scores, and not cancelling any reservations.
Be a Dream Guest, Get Better Discounts
More strongly positive reviews give you more negotiation leverage, just like more positive references about your character and skills as a hiring candidate will make it an easier decision to hire you. Obvious enough, right?
Here are some of the common characteristics I looked for in a guest when deciding if I wanted to take their reservation request (but especially when entertaining a discount request):
- The guest had complete profiles which showed who they were as three-dimensional humans. This includes things like where they live, a little about them, etc.
- Great reviews, which served as social proof they are decent (and real) people.
- Ease of communication; this includes being responsive to messages. This also includes introducing concerns before their arrival proactively, if they thought anything might not be a good fit.
- Respectful and understanding of the fact they’d be guests in my personal residence.
- They observed house rules, including check-in and check-out protocol.
- They left reviews and gave feedback for me after the stay to close the loop.
At the end of the day (especially for hosts who are sharing their personal residence with guests), it’s imperative to hosts to know you’re trustworthy, safe, and friendly.
Secrets Only Hosts Know
Behind the curtain, there are a few secrets, if you will, that hosts know and guests generally do not.
Secret #1 – Many Hosts Have the Will
Repeating a point from above, hosts are not all alike. Just as some luxury hotels will negotiate a rate of $93 for a five-star room faster than others, some Air BnB hosts are more open to negotiation than others.
→ PRO TIP: Read reviews about the hosts of the places you’re considering. If guests have left specific feedback about interacting personally with the hosts, it’s more likely they are hands-on and open to negotiation. The listing itself will also say what their level of guest involvement typically is. This is another big hint.
Secret #2 – All Hosts Have the Way
There’s a sneaky little thing in the host’s side of the transaction that allows them to offer a special rate. It’s called “Special Offer.” This means a host can, at any time, offer you a discounted rate or make a special adjustment. For example, if you ask to have two air mattresses set up but ask if you can get 50% off the second one, they can adjust the rate manually for your stay.
Secret #3 – All Hosts Have a Deadline
They really want hosts to respond to requests within 24 hours. Because of this, highly rated hosts are extremely responsive (usually within an hour, in my experience as both a guest and a host). This also means it is reasonable to follow up with a host within a day if you haven’t heard from them yet.
Tips for Leverage to Ask for Discounts
It’s your job to show why your offer meets the host’s needs and, by extension, why they should take the deal.
In other words, productive negotiations require the perception by both parties that they are gaining value. The right way to ask for a discount from an Air BnB host is no different. Thus, you need to prove you have value to add to the equation and are not looking to get something for nothing.
With that in mind, these are the sources of value you bring to a host to meet their needs. These points of value are what you can leverage in good faith negotiation when requesting a discount:
- Your glowing reviews or references, if you don’t have any reviews
- The timing of your trip (season, special events, weather, etc. can dictate surge/peak pricing versus off-season pricing)
- The amount of vacancies the host has surrounding your trip (viewable on the property calendar)
Language to Ask for Air BnB Discounts
These are a few key phrases I have had success with. I hope you’ll share what works for you!
- “I’m excited your place is available for May 1-4!”
- “I see your rate is fair and comparable to other properties in your area, although you don’t seem to be fully booked for July.”
- “I’m coming to town for a conference. The budget I set for this trip was $590. I see you still have most of that week available, but the trip is just 2 weeks from now and during a slower travel period for the area. I wonder if, in exchange for my confirmed booking as a highly reliable guest, you would accept $595.”
- “Would you be open to waiving the cleaning fee?”
- “Do you anticipate booking the vacancy for those dates, or might you be open to the win-win of confirming a booking at a slightly reduced rate?”
There are no hard and fast rules for what you can ask to be discounted, by how much, nor how your ask should be worded. However, the common thread you’ll see in these phrases is that I am asking a question in a way that cracks the door open for conversation.
The Right Ways to Ask (Polite Negotiation)
Most of us suck at this because we usually don’t talk about money because it makes us uncomfortable. But, if you are living that frugal lifestyle, you’ve probably gotten over some of the fear of asking for discounts or just discussing financial habits or prices in everyday conversation.
So, let’s take it up a step with a few negotiation tips from professionals.
Tip #1 – Do Your Research
Before messaging the host to request a special offer (read: discount) for your stay, do your research on how many vacancies they have during or around the dates of your trip. Will a special event be happening in town? Is it the peak season? Or, does it look like they’re having a hard time filling up their calendar with guests? Are nearby places selling out?
All of these clues can help you formulate your request.
Tip #2 – Be Specific
Make your request specific so the host knows how or if they can offer you pricing flexibility, or perhaps a different type of benefit (such as free breakfast or an upgrade on something).
Tip #3 – Seek a Win-Win Arrangement
Offer something of value to the host to indicate you want a mutually-beneficial outcome. The majority of Air BnB properties are still owned and managed by individuals, so asking for a discount “just to ask” is lazy. See where they’re coming from as hosts trying to earn a living or save for an important financial goal, just like you might be at this very moment for your own family.
Tip #4 – Don’t Take it Personally
If you don’t get a response right away, don’t take it personally. (Honestly, even if you never get a response, you shouldn’t take it personally. As with all things in life, some Hosts are more on top of things than others.)
Send a polite follow-up note to the host. (Hosts are busy people, just like you, so sometimes things do slip past us!). After a 48 hour period and two or three messages, if you don’t hear back, it’s probably safe to assume you won’t.
Tip #5 – Have a Backup Option or Two
Always be prepared to walk away.
It’s difficult to know what the probability is that the first host you approach with a request will say yes or counter offer. So, you should have a few other options so you don’t get sucked into the sunk cost fallacy and think, “Well, we’re already this far into talking, I might as well book [even though I didn’t get the rate I aimed for].”
Things You Should NOT Say to Air BnB Hosts
Don’t #1 – Tell someone their rate is too high
That’s insulting as it either conveys you think they don’t know what they’re doing, or, you think their place isn’t what the host thinks its worth. There’s no winning argument to be made in that statement.
This should go without saying, but Air BnB hosts don’t owe you anything and hosts accept reservation requests at their discretion. Be a jerk at your own risk of being turned away. By way of example, here’s what not to do:
Guest: “I can’t believe you are charging $500 per night! That’s outrageous!”
Me: “I’m sorry, sir; that’s the market rate during that weekend [Kentucky Derby weekend]. I think you’ll find my place is fairly priced, actually, compared to other options so conveniently located.”
Guest: “I can’t believe anyone would charge someone that much – it isn’t worth that. I just want to come and have a good time at the track with my wife! Unbelievable.”
I had two thoughts in response to that conversation (paraphrased for clarity). My first thought was that this guy hadn’t done any research and wasn’t asking for something specific, nor reasonable given all other rates in the city for the weekend he wanted to book. And second, his being obnoxious was not going to help his case where my bent toward hospitality was concerned.
Don’t #2 – Be Unapologetically Cheap
What matters to the host is what they’re getting out of the transaction (a quality reservation), not what you’re getting out of it (savings)! Don’t expect a discount but offer no value in return.
Remember, there’s a difference between being cheap and being frugal.
Use the “tips for leverage” section above to offer your host peace of mind (that they have a confirmed reservation, tidy guests, whatever it may be) or a low-hassle transaction (if you’re a seasoned Air BnB guest with lots of reviews).
- Being a savvy, low-maintenance guest does not guarantee a host will entertain your request for a discount, because no two hosts are alike. But, for hosts who consider such requests, their rate flexibility may surprise you!
- There are behind-the-scenes tools (“Special Offer”) in the Air BnB system that allow hosts to offer those price changes when they so chose.
- The right way to ask for Air BnB discounts rests on having great reviews so hosts and communicating you’ll be as little work as possible for the host. Complete your profile, communicate clearly and quickly, be an awesome guest, and always leave reviews.
- Remember, all these things are points of leverage to help you score the discount you want. They are the value you can provide to the host in exchange for a discount.
- Do your homework. Make an informed and specific request.
- Rather than take a potential “No thanks” personally, know that it comes with the territory of the hunt for great accommodations at a great rate. Always be prepared to move on if a host isn’t open to offers; respect that as their prerogative.
- Don’t be cheap for the sake of being cheap. You aren’t talking to a hotel chain that can afford to offer free stays; you’re talking to an individual owner trying to put food on the table, same as you.
- And above all else, keep in mind the things you should never say to a host.
I loved being an Air BnB Superhost. The wonderful byproducts of learning about hospitality through that experience include: an expanded understanding of how I could be a better guest myself.
What I should never even think about asking of a host; and how to politely (but frugally) inquire with other hosts with an understanding of it all through a Superhost’s eyes.
I personally greeted guests from Japan (a guest came all the way to Louisville, KY as a solo traveler to see The Smashing Pumpkins in concert and I was blown away by that!), Germany (on travel for work; they stayed at my place for a month), Canada (driving from the New York area all the way to Texas), China (also on business), and all over the US.
Truly, it was a unique cultural experience y and I was privileged to be able to do it and learn so much through the experience.