AirBnB: First Impressions - Searching and Booking an Apartment in Seoul

With the flight to Seoul booked all that was left was to secure was the accommodation. Thinking that looking for a suitable accommodation would be as straightforward as it was for Taiwan, it actually proved to be a little more challenging instead. Either the hotel was in a very good location but it was too pricey with little value (e.g. no complimentary breakfast, wi-fi and/or minibar) or the price was just right, but with a few inconveniences (e.g. a little out of the way, dark alleys etc…) - something I was not willing to compromise for this trip.

Having been (somewhat) pampered during the time in Hotel Quote Taipei where the minibar, wi-fi and breakfast were complimentary, I felt that it was just not worth the amount of money spent on a hotel stay for this trip. The prices of some hotels were comparable to Hotel Quote Taipei’s rates, but the value seemed to be lacking:
  • Wi-fi and breakfast were either free or chargeable, but to find both that were offered complimentary was not that easy
  • If there was breakfast, further research showed that they either bordered between expensive and average in variety in taste or both
  • Not only were a toothbrush and toothpaste chargeable, but so was the mini-bar.
Not satisfied with what I found and not really a hostel/budget hotel sort of person, it was off to see if I could find an alternative. And an alternative I found. I stumbled upon AirBnB – a website that acts as an intermediary for those looking for alternative accommodation (e.g. Bed & Breakfasts, Apartments, Home Stays etc…) and those wanting to rent out their property. I think this is an ingenious idea, though the idea of the unknown is still very much in the open and it all boils down to research and intuition for both sides (the host and guest). But still, it is a pretty cool concept.

Unlike similar websites such as Onefinestay, Roomorama, Wimdu, AirBnB has quite a comprehensive listings and options (home stay, rooms, bed and breakfast to entire apartments) in Seoul. So I decided to give it a try.

As with all such websites, you would need to sign up. If you use a referral link, you are eligible for a discount off your first AirBnB stay. Unfortunately I did not know/use one so there was no discount for me. If If it is your first time using AirBnB and you want a discount off your first stay, please sign up here. You can read more about the website’s design and usability can be read here.

Below are some of the things liked and disliked about AirBnB:
  • Relatively easy to navigate and use; intuitive enough.
  • The search can be narrowed by room type (e.g. entire home/flat, shared room or private room), budget, amenities and keywords. 
  • There are some pretty good looking listings on the site which are cheaper than hotels. Though it is up to your discretion whether the photos are genuine or not. 
  • Contacting the hosts is easy and you can link it to your Facebook/Linkedin/Twitter account as well as a mobile number. 
  • The hosts that I contacted had fast response times. They were also nice and helpful. (This experience may vary from person to person)

  • There is currently no way to sort the search results by pricing (you can only filter to display accommodation for a certain budget) or location.
  • Having reviews about a place is good; however it would be a good idea to:
    • Actually display the date of all reviews rather than the latest date or so.
    • Include the actual rating per user review rather than just an overall consolidated rating that a place gets.
    • Allow users to upload their own photos and videos of the place to AirBnB (kind of like Trip Advisor) to show the updated/actual state of the accommodation, adding to its authenticity and credibility with more than just words and intuition.
    • Another thing to note about the reviews, they seem to be a tad too positive (not to say it is a bad thing but too much of a positive thing can be a little chary). I much prefer that there is some form of moderation where guests can leave a more honest review and the host can respond to that, rather than removing a negative review totally. After all, reviews are subjective to the writer, responder and reader.

AirBnB, as with all websites, may not be perfect, with most reviews online (not on the AirBnB site itself) being about accommodation located in Europe or US, and fewer (but exisiting) reviews for those in Asia (e.g. Seoul). Nonetheless, accommodation listed on AirBnB seemed to be a more viable alternative to hotels for this trip to Seoul. Hence, despite my (above mentioned) dislikes and other nuances of the website, the advantages outweighed the disadvantages (this time round).

So based on intuition, research and getting constructive input from Mmy and DramaQueen, there were a couple of places that were short-listed, but this one somehow stood out. It may be small, but the furnishings looked simple and modern (enough) and clean. The location seemed alright and quite accessible with the AREX and MRT/Subway station within walking distance, and conveniences such as food and shopping nearby. And for a price more affordable than a hotel, there’s TV, cable TV and Wi-fi, which I think is a nice touch and worth the money spent!

As this was the first time using AirBnB, the host had to endure quite a few questions from me and I thank her for her patience! Her response time was fast (within a few hours/day) and she was answered all questions I had. Now all that’s left is to get to Seoul and hope my intuition and research has paid off well! ^^

* Things to note about payment on AirBnB:  
  1. In addition to the rates stated by the host, AirBnB charges a fee (percentage depending on how much you actually spend, the bigger the amount the lesser the fee).
  2. Airbnb holds the money until AFTER your stay (the host does not receive it straight away) so there are avenues for a cancellation & refund prior to your reservation dates depending on the circumstances. Have a look at the listing you plan on booking, it should have a tab that will outline its cancellation policy.
  3. There is also the security deposit which is charged by Airbnb the day before arrival by authorizing your credit card for the listed amount. The authorization will be voided within 48 hours of checkout so long as the host does not report any problems. 
  4. Payment was easy enough.
    • 2 options for payment by
      1. credit card OR
      2. PayPal
    • there are also two types of currency 
      1. Euros€ for credit card
        1. USD$ for PayPal 
      With a small difference when conversion to Singapore dollars, so you decide which currency you want to pay in. A small issue really. However, the displayed currency was not consistent when it came to payment: at the time of confirmation it displayed €368 (inclusive of the AirBnB fee) but when the actual amount charged was €372, an extra €4 (I should have captured a screenshot)! So it might be wise to check twice what you thought you were paying for and what was charged.

        Overall thoughts:

        Since I have not yet stayed, I cannot comment on the overall AirBnB experience, but the reservation experience was straightforward enough (save for the discrepancy in the extra €4 that was charged). Signing up was an easy and painless process as well. Cost-wise, even with the security deposit, cleaning fee and AirBnB fee, I felt that it was reasonable and worth the money. It may not be a hotel (with room keeping and such), but you do get the experience of living like a local and being a little more responsible.

        Moreover, AirBnB’s social aspect is a nice feature and allows you to get to know new friends, as well as letting you exercise that intuition skill (choosing the right one). I am not a hostel/budget hotel type of person, so when the hotels don’t seem to be worth the money or I want to spend more on other things, I think (for now) that AirBnB is a good alternative. Looking forward to my first Seoul AirBnB experience!

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            When travel collides with a byte, a unit of information made up of bits, TravelBytez is formed: snippets of ramblings on travel, food, shopping, living and anything else that comes to mind.


            1. Thank you for the information. Learn a lot from you and from this experience.