When using Airbnb makes sense for business travel: 6 things to consider

In the age of the sharing economy, Airbnb provides an alternative way to travel-offering more flexibility and a better chance to learn about new cities and communities.

Image: iStockphotos.com/Graham Oliver

You may still think of Airbnb as that new tech startup with pop-up bed and breakfast options that millennials use to find spare rooms to crash in for weekend trips. But the company has made major strides in both the quantity and quality of available options, becoming not only a go-to place for personal travel, but a valid option for professional travel as well.

Whether you're organizing travel for your annual staff get-together or looking to book an out-of-town trip to attend a trade show, Airbnb can offer an alternative way to individualize business travel plans.

Airbnb is an online network of living spaces--rooms or full apartments or houses--rented by regular people and available for short-term stays. I have frequently used Airbnb for travel and have been an Airbnb host as well.

While Airbnb has definite perks, it can also requires a little more planning ahead than staying at the Marriott. Here are six points to keep in mind when thinking of booking through Airbnb instead of a normal hotel.

1. Company policy

Does your company reimburse for travel? Find out the travel policy and see if Airbnb is an option. No policy in place? Talk to your manager about including Airbnb as an option or joining the Airbnb Business Travel Program--there are more than 250 businesses signed up so far.

2. Cost savings

One way to make the case to the higher-ups is by highlighting potential cost savings. Often, Airbnb costs less than staying at a hotel. But beyond the sticker price, there are frequently hidden savings, as well--no parking fees, for example, or use of a kitchen to save money on food.

3. Better availability and flexibility

Are you trying to book rooms at the last minute? Are you attending a huge conference, or visiting a city during a big event? Have you just discovered all the hotels are already booked? Airbnb can be a great way to find places to stay when you've run out of other options. Another reason to use the service is that many places have flexible policies that allow cancellation at the last minute, in case your travel plans change. Make sure to check out the specifics before booking your room.

4. Hand-pick your location

Are you planning a company retreat, attending a conference, or taking photos at a wedding? For your specific destination, Airbnb listings often pop up closer to where you want to be than a hotel. You can stay in a neighborhood, a loft, or an apartment complex, and you get to experience the location from a local's perspective.

5. Get to know local markets

You could go anywhere from Austin, Texas, to Fargo, North Dakota, and you could still pretty much guess what the inside of your hotel room will look like if you're staying in a Hilton or a Courtyard by Marriott, for example. But what about spaces where people really live? When you stay in Airbnb, you get to learn more about the people who live in the place you're visiting. You see the books they read, the music they listen to, the art on the walls, the local style of architecture and decorating. All of this can also be useful for better understanding local markets so that your company can serve them better.

6. Consider transportation

You may have to be a bit more independent staying in an Airbnb than a hotel. There will be no valet, occasional street parking, and not necessarily cabs nearby. So do your research beforehand--make sure you check out maps and scope out the transportation scene in advance. Are cabs easy to come by? Will you need to pay cash for the cabs? Are Lyft or Uber readily available? Are you staying in an area that is walkable? What about the public transportation options? Or, can you rent a car and park it where you're staying?

So next time you're planning a work trip, or your manager suggests a weekend business retreat, consider Airbnb as an option--it could be a significant savings for the company, as well as a way to get a more immersive look at a different city or community.

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