How to Save a Bundle on Travel Therapy Housing by Negotiating on Airbnb
If you’ve read our Ultimate Guide on Travel Therapy Housing, you’ve learned some different methods for finding short-term housing as a travel therapist. With this article, I wanted to go more in depth into one of my favorite travel therapist housing options: Airbnb.
Before I became a travel therapist, I was already quite familiar with Airbnb since it was the primary service I used for vacations. I also had some experience with using Airbnb for longer term stays when I was completing out-of-state fieldwork for occupational therapy school.
For leisure travel, I love Airbnb because the places I end up booking are generally nicer than a hotel, furnished more like a home, and are located in fun, walkable areas. This is even more true if I’m going to be staying somewhere for 2-6 months!
I’ve also found that I really appreciate the human element of it. I’ve had some great hosts who’ve cooked me breakfast, given me great local recommendations, and even invited me to tag along to events.
While the platform has changed a lot in the five years I’ve been using it, there are some consistent strategies that anyone can use to find a great deal! While I’m most familiar with Airbnb, these techniques could also be used on VRBO, HomeAway, or other similar vacation rental sites.
Is Negotiating Worth It?
Short answer: yes!
But I know some people are uncomfortable with the concept of negotiating or haggling in general. If this is you, try to think of it like this: you are two people with the same goal of completing a transaction where both parties are happy at the end. The aim of haggling should never be to trick or disadvantage the other person. And while you may run into hosts who don’t want to negotiate no matter what, the vast majority are at least willing to entertain the idea.
You may be wondering, “Why would an Airbnb host give me a discount?” You actually have great leverage in this scenario! First of all, since Airbnb is primarily a vacation rental website hosts usually have their prices listed by the day. However, unless a listing is very popular, it’s unlikely it will be booked every night. The guaranteed income of a monthly stay is almost always a safer financial bet for hosts.
Secondly, the nature of a longer term stay means certain costs, such as cleaning and laundering, happen much less frequently than if the home was booked by the day.
Lastly, perhaps most importantly, just being a traveling occupational therapist already earns you some points. Many hosts and landlords rent to travel nurses, therapists, and other medical professionals exclusively because they make such great tenants.
Think about it: we’re typically responsible, quiet renters who just need a comfortable place to retreat to after work. There are always exceptions to the rule, but most of the traveling therapists I know aren’t throwing wild parties with all their friends while on assignment.
All of these factors can lend you a great deal of bargaining power.
How to Search Effectively to Find Your Perfect Place
If you haven’t used Airbnb before, I suggest playing around with it for a bit before you begin messaging any hosts. There are a lot of great filters that allow you to narrow down listings by location, type (private bedroom or entire place?), amenities like washers/dryers, and pet friendliness. Once you familiarize yourself with this, go ahead and begin a search with your preferred location and the start date of your assignment.
I’d recommend starting out with a duration of just one month, regardless of the actual length of your assignment. The reason for this is twofold: I typically only recommend booking one month at a time (more on this later), and some hosts may not have their calendar opened more than a month or so in advance.
Don’t worry about using the price filter to exclude listings at this point, but do keep an eye on daily rates to give you a benchmark. Once you have your search perfected, you should hopefully have a great list of apartments to pick from!
If not, you may need to revise your search and be a little more flexible if you’ve chosen restrictive filters. When narrowing down your list, keep an eye on reviews (another thing I love about Airbnb!). I always try to stay somewhere that has at least 4.5 stars and 10+ recent reviews, though I have made exceptions for rural areas or hosts who I can tell are just starting out. Eventually, try to come up with a shortlist of about 3-5 places.
Making Contact with Hosts
This is the fun part!
On Airbnb, there are two options to interact with a listing: buttons labeled “Contact Host” and “Request to Book.” We want to use the “Contact Host” option. For this part, it may be tempting to copy paste the same message, but I suggest instead sending a similar, but personal message to each host.
Introduce yourself, briefly explain your job as a travel therapist, and give the dates of your assignment. It’s also good to go ahead and include any other relevant info, like “I have a dog,” or “My husband plans to visit me from xx to xx.” I also like to include a few personal details about myself and at least one thing I loved about the listing.
I tend to close this first message without mentioning money at all, instead asking “Would this stay be something you’d be interested in hosting?” While most hosts I’ve found appreciate renting to the same person for a few months, there are some that would prefer to just cater to vacationers, and that’s okay! Leaving the first message like this gives them an out, and ensures you don’t start negotiations with someone who isn’t interested in the first place.
Once you’ve sent your first message, I recommend going ahead and sending messages to the rest of your shortlist as well. Though if you really like the first place on your list and have the luxury of time you can wait to hear back from them.
Ask for Their Best Rate
Once you start receiving responses (usually within 24 hours, and typically much less) follow up with the hosts who respond positively. Thank them for responding, and let them know where you’re at in the booking process. This is where I actually start talking money. I typically say something like “I appreciate your response! I’m comparing a few different places and I do have a housing stipend I need to stay under, so could you please let me know your best price for a stay of this duration? Thank you!” It’s that simple!
Once again, it’s always possible you may encounter a host who is offended by the idea of haggling at all, but as long as you are polite and kind, don’t sweat it. It should go without saying that if a host says that they can’t discount the rate anymore, don’t push back or argue. Just move on to the next listing!
It’s also important to keep in mind that while you do have a lot of advantages in the negotiation process, there may be other factors that your potential host has going for them as well, such as an apartment in a popular city, or during a heavy tourism season, or if they have one of the only listings in a rural area.
Tips for Booking
Once you find a place that you like at a great price point, it’s time to book!
Regardless of the length of your assignment, I always recommend booking only one month at a time. While you should let your host know that you plan to stay the duration of your assignment, booking only one month protects you in case your assignment gets cancelled. It also prevents you from having to pay all of your lodging costs upfront (though Airbnb has recently released more payment options that allow you to stagger this).
Lastly, it means that you have time to see if the booking is a good fit for both you and the host once you’re actually there in person. Most hosts I’ve found have been flexible about allowing me to book just a month, but closing their calendars off to other potential stays for several months following.
The other thing I definitely recommend is reading the specific cancellation policy of the listing and asking specifically about it before you book. Explain that while it’s unlikely, your assignment can get cancelled at anytime and you’d appreciate a flexible policy if possible. Always do this communication through Airbnb. If a dispute ever does arise, their customer service team will be able to read this and support you.
It goes without saying that once you’re staying, be a great tenant!
Many landlords and hosts really value renting to travel nurses and therapists, so don’t be the exception to this rule… especially if they offered you a discount.
Follow all house rules, especially if you’re just renting a bedroom and sharing common space with your host. One little thing I like to do if I’ve developed a good rapport with my host is getting them a card or small gift as a thank you for a great stay.
And always write a review on Airbnb to help your host and the next guests!
Worst Case Scenario…
If your assignment gets cancelled and you have to leave your housing early, give as much notice to your host as possible. Hopefully you’ve cultivated a good relationship and you’ve already familiarized yourself with the cancellation policy. You may be out a little money, but if you’ve protected yourself by only booking a month at a time it shouldn’t be too much.
And in the event you do have to pay for some time you can’t use – try to empathize with your host and come to a deal you both find fair. While having an assignment cancelled sucks, your host may be going through something similar – Airbnb may be their livelihood or at least the difference between paying down their mortgage in 15 years vs 20. Unless their listing is very popular, it may take them some time to have it booked again.
I hope you’ve learned how to negotiate and make the most of your money as a travel therapist on Airbnb. Once you get over the hurdle of asking, you might find yourself negotiating at other times too!
I’ve also used these techniques successfully when driving cross country for an assignment. Since I was booking places the day of, most hosts were willing to book a room at a discount rather than not at all.