Ashton Kutcher wants you to stay with a stranger

May 27, 2011 at 12:52 PM ET


The online booking service known as Airbnb, which specializes in matching travelers with unique accommodations around the world, now has a celebrity backer.

The new star of the TV show "Two and a Half Men" recently invested in the three-year-old company, according to the New York Times.

Since its founding, Airbnb has gained a loyal group of customers who want more adventure and immersion than a run-of-the-mill hotel room offers. Another draw is the price: depending on the type of accommodation, rates can be much cheaper than what hotels in the area offer. Listings include rooms, apartments, houses, boats and even a castle or two in 8,000 locations around the world. The quality of the inventory ranges from chic lofts with top amenities to quaintly decorated rooms in a larger house.

If Kutcher’s endorsement has you curious to try the service, here are five things to know when booking accommodations:

  1. The service is a more sophisticated version of the couchsurfing-style networks that link travelers with locals willing to offer free accommodations and, often, a bit of camaraderie. That means you’ll likely be staying in someone's home and paying a nightly fee for the accommodations and a service fee to Airbnb.
  2. You can see photos and reviews of the 60,000 active listings in Airbnb’s inventory, along with a list of amenities. You can also send questions to your potential host. If there’s something you know you’ll need, such as an ironing board and iron, be sure to ask.
  3. Be sure to read the “house rules,” which list any deposits and cleaning fees that increase the nightly price of the accommodations. When these costs are included, some bookings are just as expensive as a regular hotel.  The house rules also address smoking, pets, extra guests and rules for using amenities and equipment. Some of the rules can be quirky. At the Mushroom Dome Cabin in Aptos, Calif., for example, the only pets allowed are those that won’t hassle the goats.
  4. Listing a space is free. Airbnb collects the rent and pays your host 24 hours after you arrive, minus a 3 percent fee. If you run into problems, speak up right away.
  5. You will be invited to post a review after your stay. Your host will also review you – so be neat, behave and follow the good guest rules as if you were staying at someone’s house. You are.


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Find more by Harriet Baskas on StuckatTheAirport.com and follow her on Twitter.