Looking for Something to Complain About

There are some guests who check in and just start looking for something to complain about. There are some guests who want the experience of everything being perfect. They want a crisp new $1 bill. If they get a slightly worn $100 bill instead, they are going to complain, ask for money back, and leave a bad review.

My apartments were built in the 1960’s. I’ve updated them somewhat, dressed them up a bit, but if you look, you can find something to complain about.

I want to do everything possible to scare off that kind of guest. My new approach is to start the description with this:

I’m training new cleaners. There are bound to be some oversights. This is also an older apartment, and there are signs of age, wear and tear. If you aren’t focused on those kinds of details, this will be a great apartment for you.

Stole my Croissants!!!!

Hi Matthew… I wanted to reach out and let you know that it appears that someone has broken into our apartment last night. We had a box of croissants in our kitchen and when we got back from dinner last night it was missing. I’m not sure if anyone else has access to the apartment but my mother is pretty freaked out now and doesn’t want to stay in this apartment. Can we get refunded? We’d like to leave as soon as possible.

Flying Steak …

This just in from a guest …

I only damaged two of your houses hold items one of which was a wine glass which I kicked over not noticing and the latter would be a piece of steak went flying on your curtains

Exorcism?

A guest just wrote,

Everything is fine. There are red stains on the ceiling of the bedroom which look to be the blood of some animal. Just wanted to let you know.

Iguana!

This just in from a guest:

Theirs a iguana by the pool we can’t go out

I’m trying to dream up good responses. For example,

Actually that’s the baby alligator. Just wait around a bit and see if the parents come out.

I mentioned this to a neighbor, and he said, “I heard them screaming yesterday and thought someone was being murdered.”

The Dutch Auction Pricing Strategy

In these times of COVID-19 you need a different pricing strategy to maximize revenue. The key point is that you want a pricing strategy that strongly encourages last-minute bookings.

If the guest isn’t arriving in the next three days, you don’t want that booking. Why? Because too many things can change between now and the check-in date. And you can bet that Airbnb will give the guest a full refund. If you accept that four-night booking over the weekend with a check-in date six days from now, you have a good chance of sitting with that six-day period empty on your calendar. And then, the morning of check-in, the guest will call Airbnb and say, “Yesterday I was walking down the street and someone on the other side sneezed, and I think I have to self-quarantine for two weeks.” I’ll bet you a dollar against a nickel that Airbnb will give that guest a full refund.

If you’re used to filling up your calendar a month or two in advance, or even just two weeks in advance, you need a new strategy.

Part 1: The Dutch Auction

Do you know what a Dutch Auction is? The auctioneer starts with a high price and slowly lowers it. Everyone sits there looking at the each other to see who is going to make a move. As soon as someone jumps up and says, “I’ll take it”, the auction ends. The first person who jumps up gets it.

Let’s say you have a 1BR unit and your target price is around $60/night. Here’s how you set the prices:

Tonight:  $50
Tomorrow night:  $55
Tomorrow +1:  $60
Tomorrow +2:  $65
Tomorrow +3:  $70
Tomorrow +4:  $75
Tomorrow +5:  $80
Tomorrow +6:  $85
Tomorrow +7:  $90
Tomorrow +8:  $95
Tomorrow +9:  $100
All following nights:  $100

So a booking five-night booking checking in tonight would cost:

$50 + $55 + $60 + $65 + $70 = $300, or $60/night

But a three-night booking would be $165, or $55/night. That’s below the target, but it gets some revenue in the bank, and it’s a short booking. In just three days you’ll be able to take another booking, and hopefully it will be longer.

However, a five-night booking checking in tomorrow would be:

$55 + $60 + $65 + $70 + 75 = $325, or $65/night

You need to be compensated for leaving tonight vacant, and a bit of risk is creeping in. Tomorrow morning that guest might cancel and get a full refund.

For each night that you shift the booking into the future, the price goes up by $25 total, or $5/night. It’s not hard to imagine that guests aren’t going to book too far into the future.

Part 2: Drop Your Prices Daily

When tomorrow arrives, it’s no longer tomorrow. It’s today. So tomorrow’s price of $65 needs to become $60. $70 needs to become $65, etc. Every morning you have to drop the prices for the coming ten days.

There are three ways you can do this:

  • Manually
  • Using Airbnb’s last-minute discounts (available only on the multi-calendar, which is available only if you have 5+ listings)
  • Using pricing software like PriceLabs.

Part 3: Don’t Chicken Out

If you’re used to having your calendar full for the next few weeks or months, it’s going to be gut-wrenching to sit see that there are no future bookings. Sit tight. If the unit sits vacant for 2-3 nights in a row, then your prices are probably too high. Reduce them overall.

But if you have someone in the unit and you haven’t gotten a booking yet, sight tight. Just wait. For a given booking, every day the price will go down by $5/night. Maybe nobody took it for arrival in four days, but tomorrow the price will drop. Maybe someone will take it then.

Part 4: An Actual Example

The above is a bit of an extreme example. I don’t recommend dropping the price by $5/night on a $60 target price. Something closer to $2/night would be more appropriate. You do want to get bookings for arrival tomorrow or the day after. It’s okay to have a 1-2 night gap between bookings, especially if the bookings are longer.

Here’s an actual screenshot from my calendar, taken on August 3rd.

There are a couple of things to note:

  • The first unit (2014 #1) is a small 1BR with a private patio. It’s booked until the end of the month. I’m not worrying about it. The prices set for Aug 29th and following are high enough that nobody will book it. And I don’t want those bookings.
  • The next unit (2014 #3) is a large 1BR. If you compare the prices on the 10th and 11th, you’ll see that it’s priced a little higher. But it’s still too early to be taking bookings for the 10th and 11th. As we get closer to those dates, the prices drop, and eventually someone will take it.
  • The bottom unit (2014 #4) goes vacant tomorrow on Tuesday the 4th. It’s in the zone. The price is right for someone who wants to book it for arrival in the next 1-3 days. I’m hoping to get a booking for someone arriving Tuesday or Wednesday. Right now I would accept a booking request for arrival Thursday, but only for a longer booking. Today, if it were just 2-3 nights, I would hold out for something better for Thursday arrival.

Airbnb Pricing Strategy for Coronavirus

Immediate Occupancy Only

You only want bookings for guests who will arrive in the next three days. It doesn’t matter how long. One day, two days, three weeks, a month. I’ll take any booking as long as the guest is arriving today, tomorrow or the next day.

Why? Because any booking farther in the future is very likely to be cancelled. They’ll block your calendar for the guest who wants to arrive tomorrow and stay two weeks, and they they’ll cancel the day of arrival. And Airbnb will give them a full refund.

Screen, Screen, Screen

You do not want parties, not even a bunch of nuns reading the Bible together. Airbnb hosts already have a target painted on their backs, you do not want to draw any additional attention.

Easily said, harder to put into practice. Actually, it’s not hard, but there’s a limit to what you can actually accomplish. Nevertheless, make the effort. Here are questions to ask:

  • Who will occupy the unit? How many adults, how many children, and who are they?
  • Will there be anyone inside the unit other than those people, even briefly, even during they day?
  • What is the reason for your trip?

There are some guests who fully intend to hold a raging party and know what lies to tell, but you’d be surprised how many aren’t that perceptive. When you get the six high school seniors who are coming to Florida to celebrate their graduation, remember Nancy Reagan and just say ‘no’.

Raise or Drop Your Prices

These are strange times. If you’re in an urban market like me, you may have to discount quite a bit. For example, my apartments rent for about $1200/month unfurnished, no consumables, no utilities, no internet, and on an annual lease. On Airbnb I’m used to getting double that, but I provide more, too. Still, I was recently pretty happy to get bookings that paid me just under $1200/month. Heads in beds, some revenue is better than none.

If you have a country get-away and there is high demand, charge what the market will bear. If you are booked more than a few weeks in advance, you under-priced it.

Set a Progressive Last-Minute Discount

If you use pricing software like PriceLabs, Wheelhouse, or BeyondPricing, you can set sophisticated discounts. For example, I have a 40% last-minute discount that is phased in over 28 days. If my base price is $100, then tonight costs $60, and each following day costs a little more until you get to 28 days from now when you pay full price ($100) for each night.

My goal is not to charge someone $100/night. My goal is simply to make close-in bookings attractive in price, and bookings farther in the future unattractive. To get bookings longer than a few days you have to combine this with length-of-stay discounts. I’ll discuss the exact mechanics in a future post.