How Does Airbnb Work?

The online platform can be used to book short-term vacation rentals, as well as in-person and online experiences.
Apr 28, 2022

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Odds are you’ve heard of Airbnb. This popular peer-to-peer vacation rental platform has expanded massively over the years and features properties all across the globe.

But if you’ve never used Airbnb, you may be wondering, “How does Airbnb work?” Sure, it lets you rent houses, but what does that actually mean? Let’s take a look.

About Airbnb

So what is an Airbnb and how does it work? Long story short: Airbnb is an online platform that allows you to book places to stay. While most famous for providing vacation homes, you can also book private rooms, shared rooms and even hotel rooms using Airbnb.

The properties available on Airbnb are mixed; some are owned by private individuals, while others are led by property management companies.

The Airbnb booking platform has many different filters so you can choose a property that suits your needs. This can include pet-friendly places, stays of longer than a month and the inclusion of a pool, among other options. You can also choose to filter your stay by nightly or monthly rates.

Nerdy tip: Many Airbnbs give weekly discounts, so it’s worth considering extending your reservation in order to lower your overall cost. 

Beyond vacation rentals, you can also use Airbnb to book in-person and online experiences in destinations around the world.

How do you book stays with Airbnb?

Airbnb has a website and an app, both of which are easy and intuitive to use. On the welcome page, you’ll use the search bar to input your desired location, dates of travel and number of guests. Airbnb will then pull up results featuring both an interactive map and a list.

You can easily see the price of each option, but keep in mind that service and cleaning fees can vary between units, which can mean a substantial price difference even between properties that charge the same nightly rate.

Once you’ve found a property that you like, you'll go through the booking process. You don’t have to have an account to search Airbnb, but you do need to have an account to book with Airbnb. If you don’t have one when you try to book, you’ll be prompted to create one.

Some properties allow you to make reservations instantly, similar to a hotel booking. Others require that you request permission from the unit owner. Either way, you’ll input your payment information and write a message to the host.

Nerdy tip: Through June 30, 2022, Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve® card holders can redeem their points toward Airbnb purchases using the Pay Yourself Back feature.

If it’s an automatic reservation, your dates will be immediately confirmed. If not, you’ll wait up to 24 hours for the host to respond to your request. A response will be visible both in your Airbnb account and in the inbox of whichever email you linked to the account.

Once they confirm your booking, your card will be charged. If they deny the reservation, it won’t cost you anything.

Finding good Airbnb properties

So now you know how to use Airbnb, but how do you figure out which ones are decent — and which ones you should skip?

Like we mentioned above, Airbnb has a variety of filters from which to choose. These can help you narrow down your list to nicer properties. The most common option you’ll find is the Superhost toggle.

In order to become a Superhost, an owner must have a 4.8+ overall rating, 10+ stays in the last year, less than a 1% cancellation rate and a 24-hour response rate at least 90% of the time.

Depending on the market, you can also find toggles for both Airbnb Plus and Airbnb Luxe services. These two options offer curated properties — so that you’ll only get the best of Airbnb when booking.

However, you don’t need to book a Superhost or Luxe property in order to find a good Airbnb rental. The most important thing to consider when searching is the property's review. These insights from past renters can give you important nuggets of information about the property itself — including details about communicating with the host, cleaning requests ahead of checkout, the property location and amenities.

Although it can be tempting to book cheaper homes with fewer reviews, be aware that you’re taking on some risk when doing so.

Earning rewards on Airbnb purchases

Airbnb codes as travel via Chase, which means you’ll earn 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards® points per dollar spent on the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card.

It also codes as hotels via Citi, which means you’ll earn 3 Citi ThankYou points per dollar spent on cards such as the Citi Premier® Card and the Citi Prestige® Card.

One downside to booking via Airbnb is the lack of a loyalty program. Unlike hotels, you’ll get no rewards or discounts for being a frequent Airbnb customer. You’ll also not see perks like free breakfast or reward nights on Airbnb’s platform.

Nerdy tip: Using a card with a purchase eraser feature, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, will allow you to redeem points against your stay and “wipe” the charges from your statement. 

You can also earn airline miles via British Airways, Delta Air Lines or Qantas Airlines when you book an Airbnb through their respective landing pages.

  • Earn 1 Delta Skymile per dollar spent (book via this link).

  • Earn 2 British Airways Avios per dollar spent (book via this link).

  • Earn 1 Qantas point per Australian dollar spent (book via this link).

Other vacation rental platforms

Now we know how Airbnb works, but what do you do if it’s not to your taste? Although there aren't any other vacation rental platforms out there that are quite as big as Airbnb, you still have options.

Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) works very similarly to Airbnb, with a wide range of properties around the world.

Vacasa is another vacation rental company, but it differs quite a lot from both Airbnb and VRBO. Unlike the other two, Vacasa bills itself as a professionally managed vacation rental company. Even better? You can use Wyndham points to book Vacasa rentals at a rate of 15,000 points per bedroom, per night — an extraordinary deal.

Finally, Homes and Villas by Marriott International offers vacation rentals that will earn Marriott Bonvoy points. You can also redeem your Marriott points for these properties, although you won’t get the same incredible value as Vacasa bookings.

Final thoughts on how Airbnb works

There’s no doubt that Airbnb can be a helpful and freeing platform for those looking to avoid hotels. Before booking, however, you’ll want to be certain that you’ve found a good property and you’re using a card that will help maximize your earnings.

Whether you want a nice spot for working away from the office or a place for an extended vacation, Airbnb is sure to have something to suit your needs.

Top photo courtesy of Airbnb.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.