Why you should be considering Booking.com, key differences to Airbnb and how to avoid common pitfalls.

As an active member on short-term rental forums I’ve seen Booking.com questions, concerns and grievances show up on a weekly basis. Some hosts hate Booking.com, however, I think that much of the pain and fear experienced can be alleviated with a better understanding of how Booking.com works and how it’s different to Airbnb.

What we’re covering in this article

This guide is a start to finish ultimate beginners guide to hosting on Booking.com.

Alongside useful tips and helpful insights are "how to’s" designed to help you mimic Airbnb on Booking.com (as much as you can). Once you have the hang of things you can then utilise Booking.com’s advanced features and make the most out of the platform.

1. An introduction by numbers to Booking.com
1.1 Why you should consider Booking.com

2. Key differences between each platform and how to mimic your Airbnb settings on Booking.com
 2.1 Airbnb bills itself as a community driven platform
 2.2 Airbnb is easier to setup and get started
 2.3 Booking.com doesn’t charge guests — you do
 2.4 Cleaning fees and damage deposits are a little trickier to find and put in place
 2.5 Booking.com doesn’t take commission from your bookings automatically
 2.6 Guests don’t automatically provide their address and phone number
 2.7 Booking.com only accepts instant bookings

3. Common Booking.com pitfalls and how to avoid them
3.1 Double bookings (they are expensive!)
3.2 Booking.com charges higher commission so I earn less
3.3 Guests cancelling with short or no notice free of charge 🙅
3.4 Guests use false credit cards
3.5 Not getting compensated for no-shows
3.6 Prices offered on Booking.com don’t match what I have set

4. How to’s


1. An introduction by numbers to Booking.com

Booking.com is part of The Priceline Group and covers 228 countries and territories worldwide (compared to 191+ on Airbnb).

Booking.com is the most popular accommodation booking platform in the world. Booking.com’s zero transaction fee model, along with its instant booking option, makes it a big hit among travellers.

The platform offers 1.5m listings (inc hotels, b&b’s etc), of which 831,000 are short-term rentals. Booking.com deals only in entire properties, were Airbnb also lists shared and private rooms. Booking.com does now let you list homeshare private rooms.

Airbnb offers 3m+ listings. Approximately 50% of these listings are entire properties, or 1.5m in total. Airbnb offers roughly 1.8 times more short-term rental properties than Booking.com.

5m nights are booked daily on Booking.com. This translates to 547.5m in 2016 (according to Priceline, compared to 52 million nights booked on Airbnb in 2016. 10 times more nights are booked on Booking.com than Airbnb. Booking.com’s booked nights grew 27.4% in the first quarter of 2017, they’re on track to hit nearly 700m booked nights this year (by my calculations).

1.1 Why you should consider Booking.com

  1. Booking.com is the most popular accommodation booking platform in the world. It is incredibly popular with travellers and is growing at a rapid rate.
  2. Booking.com has nearly half as many short-term let listings as Airbnb.

Sound like an opportunity? Less competition and more traffic! 😲


2. Key differences between Airbnb and Booking.com

2.1 Airbnb bills itself as a community driven platform

Airbnb enables property owners and travellers to connect and encourages the host and guest to build a relationship. Both hosts (and their properties) and guests are reviewed and one or the other can decide not to continue with the transaction if they don’t wish to (assuming instant booking is disabled).

Booking.com is a booking service. There is no interaction between the guest and host prior to booking. There are no guest reviews for the host to evaluate, only host reviews.

It’s important to note that with Instant Booking, Airbnb loses that host and guest relationship (in my opinion). I’ve had just as personal a relationship with hosts via Booking.com as I have via Airbnb.

Airbnb need to promote Instant Booking to compete with the likes of Booking.com. Unresponsive hosts and rejected bookings damage their appeal to a wider market. This is one of the driving factors behind hosts being penalised and Instant Booking listings having priority on search results.

2.2 Airbnb is easier to setup and get started

Sign up as a host, add your listings, choose your booking policy, set your prices, add your payment preferences and off you go. You could have a guest in your property today and be paid into your bank account tomorrow.

Booking.com is not as simple. You need to:

  1. Create your listing and wait for approval from Booking.com
  2. Create your own booking policy
  3. Create a rate category and link it to your policy
  4. Set your rates
  5. Create an account with Stripe (or another payment processor) if you want to charge guests prior to arrival, or don’t want to accept cash.

Although there are a number of extra steps the process doesn’t need to be complicated or overly time consuming.

Keep on reading for instructions on how to set up your Booking.com account to mimic Airbnb (as much as possible!).

2.3 Booking.com doesn’t charge guests — you do

Linked to 2.2 above, Booking.com doesn’t charge your guests (unless you’re in a territory where this is available).

You need to take payment directly from your guests

Assuming you want to take a pre-payment, or screen a guests payment method, you’ll need to have access to their credit card details and be able to make a transaction.

To do this you need to set up a couple of things:

  1. Only accept bookings from guests that provide their credit card details
  2. Setup and use a payment processor (such as Stripe)

Dealing with guest credit cards may seem daunting if you haven’t used a credit card processor before, however, it needn’t be. The majority of us don’t need anything more than a Stripe (or similar) account i.e. no need for a merchant account, or a physical credit card reader. >

2.3.1 How to only accept bookings from guests that provide their credit card details

To ensure Booking.com collect guest credit card details on your behalf, copy the settings I have in place (as shown on the image below). You can find these settings at: Property > Policies > Guest payment options

Only accept bookings from guests that provide their credit card detailsOnly accept bookings from guests that provide their credit card details

Ensure domestic guests are not allowed to book without credit card details. The alternative is that your guests can select to pay in cash and you have no recourse for cancelled bookings, no-shows etc.

Refer to your payment processor to determine which credit cards you can and should accept. American Express typically comes with higher transaction fees for example.

2.3.2 Setup and use a payment processor (such as Stripe)

Stripe is a payment processor widely used by small and large businessesStripe is a payment processor widely used by small and large businesses

You will need a payment processor to make credit card transactions. Fortunately payment processors have come a long way in recent years (depending on your location).

Countries where you can set up a Stripe accountCountries where you can set up a Stripe account

Most of us no longer need a merchant account, with their extortionate fees and extra admin.

Services such as Stripe and Square are simple to setup and use. 
It’s worth noting that Stripe has much wider coverage (shown in the image) than Square (Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK and the US).

These processors will charge a fee on each transaction which varies based on your location. As an example, Stripe transaction fees for Australia are shown in the image below.

Stripe transaction fees for AustraliaStripe transaction fees for Australia

Uplisting integrates with Stripe and automatically confirms a guests credit card is legitimate. You don't need to worry!

If you use an alternative payment processor please leave a comment and we’ll add it here for other hosts benefit

2.4 Cleaning fees and damage deposits are a little trickier to find and put in place — here’s how

Damage deposit and additional fees I use on my Booking.com listingsDamage deposit and additional fees I use on my Booking.com listings

Cleaning fees and damage deposits must be set here:

Property > Policies > Additional fees & charges

The good news is that you have much more flexibility around what additional fees and charges you add.

Setting additional fees and charges on Booking.comSetting additional fees and charges on Booking.com

2.5 Booking.com doesn’t take commission from your bookings automatically

Linked to 2.3 above, as Booking.com don’t charge the guest they have no way of taking their cut (commission). Booking.com will invoice you for the commission owed on a monthly basis. This will be taken out of your account by direct debit.

Note: if for whatever reason you don’t have enough money in your account to pay the commission, your listing will be blocked on the Booking.com site. No new bookings.

2.6 Guests don’t automatically provide their address and phone number — here’s how to ensure they do

Property > Policies > Guest informationProperty > Policies > Guest information

Tucked away under Property > Policies > Guest information are a few settings you most likely would like to change.

A couple of those being your guest address and phone number. The guest address is useful when charging the credit card and the phone number for contact. The Guest Information settings I use are shown on the image.

2.7 Booking.com only accepts instant booking

There is no such thing as booking enquiries on Booking.com, all bookings are instantly reserved. See 3.1 How to avoid double bookings (they are expensive!) below for details on how to avoid double bookings and make instant booking work for you.


3. Common pitfalls with Booking.com and how to avoid them

3.1 How to avoid double bookings (they are expensive!)

As mentioned above, all Booking.com bookings are instantly confirmed. There are no enquiries and once a guest has made a booking, you can’t cancel the reservation. It is imperative to have accurate availabilities and rates on Booking.com

When a guest makes a booking, their reservation is confirmed immediately (Booking.com help page).

It-is-imperative-to-have-accurate-availabilities-and-rates-on-Booking.com-1

If you don’t have accurate availabilities and rates and you get a double booking, you are responsible to provide alternative accommodation for the guest as well as any extra transport fees [$$$].

If you do get an overbooking, you’ll need to relocate your guest to accommodation that’s both close-by and of a similar (or higher) price. You’ll also need to cover the cost of any transport, phone calls and the price difference between your property and the new one.(Booking.com help page).

On top of this, you’re still liable to pay commission on overbookings, except in these circumstances:

However, if you’ve only been on Booking.com for 30 days or less, or if you’ve had fewer than five overbookings in the last 12 months, we won’t charge you any commission (Booking.com help page).

So, what’s the best way to ensure accurate rates and availabilities on Booking.com?

The best way to ensure accurate rates and availabilities on Booking.com is to use a channel manager like Uplisting. Booking.com do offer iCAL syncing for some accounts, however, there is always a window of time where you are at risk of double bookings.

Uplisting syncs instantly with Booking.com and Airbnb and charges 0% commission. Prices are between $5 and $10 per month per listing (£4/£8 or €4.50/€9).

Note: when using multiple rates (on top of your standard rate) and using a channel manager you need to contact Booking.com to connect the availabilities of each. If not Booking.com will treat each rate with as having it’s own availability.

3.2 Booking.com charges higher commission so I earn less

The common misconception with Booking.com commission is that you as a host will earn less from a booking of equal guest price. This need not be the case and stems from the different commission structures on each platform.

Booking.com charge a commission (~15%) on the rate you set, whereas Airbnb splits their commission between the host (~3%) and the guest (6–12%), where the commission is added on top of the rate you set.

percentage-commission-difference-between-airbnb-and-booking.com*Airbnb and Booking.com commission structure in % terms

Airbnb-and-Booking.com-commission-structure-in---terms---150-booking-example-Airbnb and Booking.com commission structure in $ terms ($150 booking example)

3.2.1 How to ensure you always earn the same amount, no matter where a guest books

A few simple calculations with ensure you always earn the same amount, no matter which booking site your guest bookings with.

  1. Determine the amount you wish to earn — I call this the ‘Take Home’ rate (eg. $150 per night)

  2. Work out the commission to determine the rate to set on each booking site. Here’s the calculation to work this out:

Rate to set on booking site = Take home rate ÷ (1 — commission fee in decimal)

Calculation-of-rates-to-set-on-booking-sites-when-the-rate-you-want-to-earn--take-home-rate--is--150.-Note-numbers-are-rounded-as-Airbnb-doesn-t-support-decimals.Calculation of rates to set on booking sites when the rate you want to earn (take home rate) is $150. Note numbers are rounded as Airbnb doesn’t support decimals.

Obviously this can get extremely time consuming, especially when you have multiple properties. Luckily a property management system like Uplisting can do all the heavy lifting for you.

Uplisting’s Smart Rates feature automatically accounts for the commission charged to you as a host, so you don’t have to. The rates you enter on Uplisting are the rates you earn (exclusive of any taxes).

Top tip: some hosts also like to take the credit card transaction fee into account when working out the take home rate for Booking.com. You can add this charge on the Additional Fees and charges setting detailed above in 2.4 Cleaning fees and damage deposits.

3.3 Guests cancelling with short or no notice free of charge 🙅

Search for accommodation on Booking.com and you’ll be sure to see FREE cancellation, no prepayment needed , as shown on the image below. You may think that Booking.com forces this on hosts, it doesn’t.

Free-cancellation-with-no-prepayment.-A-common-result-on-Booking.com-listingsFree cancellation with no prepayment. A common result on Booking.com listings.

3.3.1 How to mimic Airbnb cancellation policies (and even make them stricter)

Free-cancellation-with-no-prepayment.-A-common-result-on-Booking.com-listings-1The Airbnb Flexible cancellation policy

Let’s remind ourselves of the Airbnb cancellation policies; Flexible, Moderate and Strict. We can use them as the benchmark (from a guest’s perspective).

Flexible

  • Full refund if cancelled at least 24 hours before check-in time
  • Full refund less first night if cancelled less than 24 hours before check-in time
  • Full refund less any nights already used if cancelled during stay

Moderate

  • Full refund if cancelled at 5 full days before check-in time
  • 50% refund less first night if cancelled less than 24 hours before check-in time
  • 50% refund less any nights already used if cancelled during stay

Strict

  • 50% refund if cancelled at 7 full days before check-in time
  • No refund if cancelled less than 7 full days before check-in time
  • No refund if cancelled during stay

Creating cancellation policies on Booking.com

Unlike the Airbnb set policy options, you need to create your own bespoke policies on Booking.com. You can set those policies to be exactly the same as the Airbnb options (or even stricter).

In the image below I’ve mimicked the Airbnb Strict cancellation policy on Booking.com.

Mimicking the Airbnb Strict Cancellation Policy on Booking.comMimicking the Airbnb Strict Cancellation Policy on Booking.com

As mentioned above, you can create even stricter cancellation policies, for example a non-refundable policy. You can even provide a discount (eg. 10%) on your rates to encourage guests to book with the non-refundable policy.

Non-refundable Booking.com policyNon-refundable Booking.com policy

Important: connect your cancellation policy to your rate category

An important note here is you need to connect your policy to your rate category. This is done automatically on Airbnb as you only have the option of one rate. Just look at Booking.com as having greater flexibility.

To connect your cancellation policy to your rate category copy the setting on the image below.

Rates & Availability > Rate categories > edit rate

Airbnb-Strict-policy-to-our-rates-on-Booking.comAttaching our copy of the Airbnb Strict policy to our rates on Booking.com

3.4 Guests use false credit cards

This is not so much a misconception as there are problems with guests using false credit cards. Whether this is done maliciously or slightly more innocently (hoping to avoid cancellation charges if the guest needs to cancel), you need to solve the problem.

Solution: charge a pre-payment/deposit

The best way to protect yourself is to charge a deposit or pre-payment up-front. This will deter any fake bookings or non-committed guests.

Booking.com recommends adding ‘fine print’ to your listing description to inform guests that you take a pre-payment (as shown in the image below). Click here for the Booking.com help page.

Property > Request changes to your description

Adding pre-payment information to fine print on a Booking.com listingAdding pre-payment information to fine print on a Booking.com listing

Solution 2: verify credit card details

If you’d prefer not to take a pre-payment, you can still use a short-term rental payment processor like Stripe to verify the credit card details are legitimate.

Again, this is more involved than Airbnb but it need not be daunting.

Requirements: Payment processor

You need a payment processor for both of these solutions. A ‘how to’ on payment processors is provided above in 2.3.2 Setup and use a payment processor (such as Stripe).

3.5 If guests don’t show hosts still get charged commission

Below is a quote from a host I noticed on one of the Facebook Airbnb groups. This is another example of misunderstanding of the differences between Airbnb and Booking.com.

We shut ours (Booking.com account) down. They said we owed 700 in commission for guests that never stayed with us.

Booking.com will not charge you commission for no shows so long as you notify them.

Guest no shows are more of a pain on Booking.com than Airbnb. On Airbnb the onus is on the guest to cancel a booking, this is not the case on Booking.com. It’s up to you the host to mark the guest as a no show.

Fortunately this is a very simple process. Use the ‘no show’ button on the Booking.com booking admin page after 6pm on the day of supposed check-in and you won’t be charged commission.

A Booking.com channel manager like Uplisting will let you mark as no-show directly from the platform. Easy peasy.

3.6 Prices offered on Booking.com don’t match what I have set

This is something we’ve come across regularly. My first experience with Booking.com was helping my parents manage their 16 bedroom guesthouse 5 or 6 years ago. They were getting loads of bookings at prices well below their determined rate.

3.6.1 Potential cause #1: third party software

After many hours of comparing rates and talking to Booking.com support it was discovered that they had created special offers on their property management system that weren’t clearly defined and hidden deeply in the software. Removing these offers, and switching their channel manager solved the problem.

3.6.2 Potential cause #2: multiple rate categories

With Booking.com you have the option to have multiple rate categories. These can get very confusing as to knowing which one is active, when and under what conditions and policies. Review your rate categories and policies.

I believe that setting rates on booking.com should be simple and easy to understand. I have a standard rate on Booking.com that I use to set my base rates with. I then layer rates on top of that (carefully! using the ‘Automatically, by basing this rate on an existing rate category‘ setting) so I always know what each property should sell for at any given time.

Note: when layering rates and using a channel manager you need to contact Booking.com to connect the availabilities of each.

3.6.3 How to offer a non-refundable rate on Booking.com

I’m happy to give a 5% discount if a guest books and pays immediately with no-refund. I layer that on my standard base rate so that I know when my base rates is $100, a booking at $95 isn’t a surprise. It’s a positive!

Non-refundable rate based on my standard rateNon-refundable rate based on my standard rate

Whatever % or $ addition/discount you layer on top of your standard base rate, you’ll always be confident in it’s range. There will be no nasty surprises.

Potential cause #3: genius freebies

Booking Genius is a loyalty programme Booking.com offer to their most frequent bookers. These customers receive 10% off the best-selling and/or cheapest available rates offered by properties taking part in the programme.

Personally I don’t recommend the genius programme. It’ expensive and doesn’t drive any loyalty to your properties.


Special thanks to AirManaged and the other property managers I’ve spoken to on Uplisting who’ve shared their experiences and expertise working with Booking.com.

Check out Uplisting if you’d like!(http://www.uplisting.io)