How to avoid problems using the 'new' Airbnb

A tiny home in Toulouse, a chalet in Charlotte Pass or a cabin under the Northern Lights. Whatever your taste or budget, there are ways to maximise your Airbnb experience.

With the May 2022 launch of a new Airbnb platform, billed as the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade, potential guests can now refine their search by the type of experience they want to have.

Featuring over 50 categories, the curated collection not only improves your chance of finding "the one" but it might bring up something you'd never thought about. A yellow submarine in a forest in New Zealand perhaps?

The redesigned website and app also offers Split Stays, an innovative feature that provides more options for longer stays by splitting your trip between two homes, and Air Cover, which includes protection from host cancellation, listing inaccuracies and other issues like trouble checking in. There are caveats, so read the fine print. And read it again.

Guarantees aside, the best way to avoid problems is to identify which features are critical to your stay. "Use the filters, it will save time and ensure your options are narrowed down to the most suitable," says Julie Jones, a regular Airbnb user and co-founder of Travel Without Limits magazine and the website Have Wheelchair Will Travel. With a wheelchair user in the family, step-free access is a key requirement for Julie.

Filters also allow you to identify dog-friendly properties, those with pools or cots, to find out if self check-in is available or if smoking is permitted. Julie suggests sending a message (you can click Contact Host even before booking) if you're unsure if the property will suit or if the photos are insufficient to give the information needed.

Be flexible with dates. Some properties offer discounts for weekly or monthly bookings, early bird or last-minute deals or pay-for-two stay-for-three packages during the off-season. "Check if the property is listed on other booking platforms," says Julie. "We once saved several hundred dollars by searching and finding another platform had a deal on the same listing."

Need to cancel? Some properties offer free cancellation for 48 hours, others right up to the day before the stay commences, some not at all. While you can find the cancellation details on the listing page, read the terms and policies before you pay.

Booking modifications are made directly between guests and hosts and may or may not be approved.

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"Ask for a late check out, the hosts might not always be able to give it, but you never know," says Lucy E. Cousins, Airbnb host of the Blackheath Artist Cottage in the NSW Blue Mountains. "Even an extra hour is holiday gold."

"If the Airbnb is in Australia, organise a Coles or Woolies delivery a few hours after you arrive. That way you won't need to pack any food, or shop when you get there."

Do some local research before you arrive. "Often guests don't realise how big the Blue Mountains area actually is," says Lucy. "Or they don't book the restaurants they want, and then can't get a table."

Finally, do an extra check before you leave.

"We have a lot of people who leave things behind - more than you'd expect," says Lucy. "We've had $200 coats left behind and expensive jewellery (and a black Amex!)."