When it comes to vacation rentals, disappointments are rare: 65 percent of people who have tried homestay accommodations have not had a bad experience, according a recent nationally representative survey by Consumer Reports of more than 2,000 adults. Of those who did, the most common complaints involved the cleanliness, size, or quality of the rental.

1. Compare prices carefully. The per-night or per-week price you see in search results is only part of the total cost. Check the listing for the service fee, which can add up to 14.5 percent to the cost. Keep an eye out for an additional cleaning fee as well, which can vary as much as the properties themselves, depending on the size of the rental and the length of your stay. After you’ve narrowed down your choices to a few favorite properties, compare their total cost.

2. Read between the lines of the reviews. Because the average Airbnb rating is 4.7 out of 5 stars, it’s essential to read reviews with a critical eye. “Everybody feels socially pressured to write positive reviews, so if something is the slightest bit negative, pay attention to that,” says Leigh Gallagher, author of “The Airbnb Story” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). If someone says an apartment is “on the small side,” it could well be tiny; if they say that it’s “a little run-down,” it could be a dump.



3. Choose a property that has many reviews. Airbnb’s “Superhosts” have hosted at least 10 times in a year and received a 5-star review for at least 80 percent of stays, so listings with that status are a good bet. In general, look for a property that has at least eight to 10 reviews, Gallagher says. You’ll glean more helpful information from a reviewer with similar tastes and preferences to yours, which you can determine from other properties they’ve reviewed.

4. Leave nothing to chance. Manage your own expectations by double-checking everything from how many people can shower before the hot water runs out to whether or not the kitchen has a microwave and a coffee maker. Available amenities such as WiFi will be shown on the listing, but if you don’t see something, don’t assume it will be there. When in doubt, ask the host—before making a reservation.

5. Negotiate a discount. If your favorite option is a bit rich for your budget, try your luck at asking for a discount. “As a host, I’ll often negotiate on price if I’m not booked solid,” says an Airbnb host in Las Vegas who goes by the username Anand. She’s particularly persuadable if the guests write a nice note explaining who they are and why they like her house. “Yes, sucking up can work,” she says.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the June 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.