Hotels

4 important questions to ask before you rent that Airbnb

My story this week for CNBC offers advice for issues to consider, and questions to ask, before you hit “rent” on a Airbnb or other type of homeshare property.

Here’s the story:

The note taped to the TV in the Airbnb rental in what turned out to be a questionable apartment building in a sketchy neighborhood in New York City was the first clue.

“It said, ‘Anyone ask, you say you friend of Jay,’ remembers Washington, D.C.-based documentary producer Richard Paul, “We never met Jay.”

The note wasn’t the weirdest thing about the apartment.

“You couldn’t open the front door because it hit the ‘fridge,” said Paul, “The A/C didn’t work. The girl from the live sex show up the block smoked on the front steps. And we think a guy got pushed off the roof as we were leaving.”

Not the kind of vacation rental you want to end up in?

There’s always a chance the swank-looking, well-reviewed home, cabin, apartment or castle you book through a home-sharing site such as Airbnb or Vrbo (which includes HomeAway.com and a handful of other companies) will have some problems or not end up being as advertised.

Worse, you could end up booking an illegal short-term rental and, like some recent vacationers in Miami, having to vacate the property in the middle of the night.

Home-sharing companies post advice, rules and tips on their websites to help minimize problems for both renters and hosts. And they all encourage potential renters to be sure to read the reviews, rules and rental offerings carefully.

Millions of people have no problems with their home-share stays. But as the summer travel season comes around, CNBC asked a real estate lawyer to share some extra, ‘bonus’ questions to ask yourself and your host during the booking process and during your stay.

“Friend of Jay?”

If you worried about or unwilling to having to pose as a “friend of Jay,” ask the host directly if their landlord or the rule and regulations of their condo allow short-term rentals.

“If they lie and say in an email or a text that everything is good and it turns out not to be the case, that’s your legal basis for voiding that rental contract and possibly getting damages if you have to move out in the middle of the might and rental another property,” said Scott Reidenbach, the founding principal of Reidenbach & Associates, a Philadelphia law firm that concentrates on wide-variety of real estate-related issues.

If they say “Tell them you’re a friend of Jay,” and you go along with that, “Then you’re complicit,” said Reidenbach.

And while that happens all the time, the danger is you take the risk of being kicked out in the middle or your trip.  

Who you gonna’ call?

Be sure to get contact information for someone you can contact if you show up and something doesn’t work, the place is dirty or is otherwise not as advertised.

And – bonus question – ask if that contact person lives nearby.

“A lot of these Airbnb or Vrbo-type owners aren’t professional landlords and many don’t live close by,” said Reidenbach, “I’ve heard stories about people not being able to get anything fixed because the owner is a 1000 miles away,”

Read the fine print

A good vacation rental listing will not only include great photos and a list of property amenities, it will have some “house rules” that might include a curfew time for noise and/or parties, the number of overnight guests allowed and an age limit for children.

“You may have very young children, but the very fine print says a guest is not permitted to have children under 12 or 16. Or that the property is not safe for children under a certain age because of safety reasons such as being on a cliff, having an open fire pit or a pool that’s not safe for small kids,” said Reidenbach.

Ask yourself if you’re willing to flout the fine print. 

When in doubt, turn off the Wi-Fi

There have been recent reports of Airbnb guests discovering hidden cameras in bedrooms and bathrooms of the properties they’ve rented. 

Airbnb now requires hosts to disclose the presence of security – or other – cameras – in their listings, but in the spirit of “Say you’re a friend of Jay,” dishonest property listers may not always comply.

“Ask the question,” advises Reidenbach, “And to really protect yourself disable or unplug the Wi-Fi,” as many home security system and cameras are wireless and Wi-Fi-powered, “We’ve heard of people doing that and immediately getting a call from the owner asking if the Wi-Fi is down because the cameras stopped working.” 

Have you dealt with any of these issue in your homeshare rental? Tell us about it in the comments below.

World’s Best Airport Hotel: Crowne Plaza Changi Airport

Just like Singapore’s award-winning Changi Airport, there are plenty of reasons to love the award-winning Crowne Plaza Changi Airport.

For starters, it is attached to Changi Airport. That makes the hotel a convenient and very welcoming place to land after, or before, a very long flight.

Amenities such as superb service, deep soaking tubs, an outdoor pool and some rooms with bonus views overlooking the runways are truly delightful.

I’ve just checked in for my second stay at the property. The welcoming vibe after a 17-hour journey is another reason why it is easy to understand how the hotel snags the Skytrax Best Airport Hotel in the World year after year.

Even better, the hotel’s USB press kit comes in the shape of an airplane! That garners the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport another award: Stuck at the Airport’s occasional award for “USB Press Kit of the Week.”

Visting the Bankside hotel in London

I’m in London this week for a few days to be part of the judging panel for the second annual Travel Retail Awards program for TRBusiness. 

My assignment: evaluate spirits, cosmetics, chocolates, small electronics and other products sold in airport shops.

Tought job, right? But I’m taking the testing and evaluating very seriously.

While in town, I did take the change to stop by the Bankside, a new very fun and “design-forward” hotel in a cool neighborhood on the the south bank of the River Thames. (Sea Containers London, another swank London hotel I’ve had the pleasure of staying in before, is just a few doors down the street.)

I wasn’t able to spend the night at 161-room Banskside (part of Marriott’s Autograph collection of properties), but I did get a tour around the art-filled lobby, a look at a room and a lovely (hosted, thank-you!) dinner in the Art Yard Bar & Kitchen.

While I couldn’t try everything on the menu, I can heartily recommend the dishes I tried, especially the Monkfish Catapanla, (a hearty fish stew for two with several types of seafood), as well as the Pear Parfait and Dark Chocolate Fondant desserts.

The Bankside has several ‘bonus’ amenities that seem unique and/or quite amusing.

Guests find marshmallows on their pillows at turndown. Bars with taps to dispense several types of water (sorry, not beer) are in each hall. And just outside the elevator on each floor is a vending machine where guests may purchase small bottles of pre-made cocktails, wine, liquor and other ‘necessities,’ such as an emergency engagement ring, and handmade sparkly pants.

Harriet’s hotel stay

A big Stuck At the Airport thank-you to the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel, which hosted me for a night recently while I was in town to tour Los Angeles International Airport for a story about the best places to eat in each terminal and a visit to the brand new United Airlines Polaris lounge.

I hadn’t stayed at this property for quite some time and was pleased to find upgraded rooms, strong WiFi and live music in the lobby, which is evidently a regular Wednesday evening feaute.

This hotel has a variety of dining options, but I tried out Andiamo, the onsite northern Italian restaurant, where the staff made a solo diner feel welcome and which has a great scallop dish on the menu.

This hotel may also have the hardest-working shuttle bus driver. He was driving when I arrived in the evening and there again the next morning and he was super-pleasant to every single rider, even though few of them gave him a tip for lifting their super heavy suitcases on and off of the bus.

Have a favorite place to stay near Los Angeles International Airport? Please share your recommendations.

Holiday hotel packages: quirky, cool and over the top

There’s no need to stay home over the holidays. Santa not only knows if you’ve been naughty or nice, and he will deliver your gifts even if you’re staying in one the many hotels around the country offering these fun holiday-themed packages and over-the-top Christmas experiences.

If you’ve been really good this year, Santa may even join you for breakfast or give you a surfing lesson.

Here’s a list I put together for CNBC:

Surfing lessons – from Santa

Courtesy Surfing Santa & Florida’s Space Coast

Santa is not only a sleigh rider, he’s also, evidently, a surfer.

The annual Surfing Santas event held in Florida’s Cocoa Beach celebrates St. Nick’s secret hobby every Christmas Eve morning with 300 surfing Santas and thousands of spectators. Travelers who want to join the fun can book a hotel package that includes a surfing lesson and a visit on the beach from one of the Surfing Santas.

“BIG” package, with shopping spree in New York City

Courtesy Arlo Hotel/Nikki Vanko

The Arlo Hotel in New York city is offering ‘The BIG Holiday Package’ in honor of the 30th anniversary of the classic film “Big,” starring Tom Hanks as a twelve-year old boy who wakes up in the body of a 30-year old man. Valid Dec. 1 through Dec. 31, the package includes a $500 shopping spree, a driver to take you shopping throughout the city, and a Chef’s dinner for 4 in the hotels’ heated “ice huts.” As a bonus, guests will get to play on oversize piano keys, just like the ones in the “BIG” movie, with a photographer available to document the adventure. Prices start at $3,600 per night.  

Bedtime Butlers

Coutesy Kimpton Riverplace Hotel Portland

In Portland, OR, the Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel on the banks of the Willamette River, has a year-round Bedtime butler who makes the rounds a few nights a week, delivering a cart of traditional nightcaps and a selection of other treats to guests. During the holidays the cart is decorated with lights and Christmas stockings and is stocked with books, house-made cookies, and hot cocoa for kids, as well as al bourbon, wine, hot tea, toiletries and slippers for adults. Guests can’t schedule the BedtimeButler; her or she visits rooms at random, so guests are advised to keep an ear out for a knock at their door.

Decadent dining

Chicago Athletic Association Hotel

 The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, located in a historic property on Michigan Avenue that was once a men’s only private club, is offering an onsite progressive dining experience as part of its Sip, Savor, Stay package. The evening starts with champagne by the fireplace, appetizers on the glass-enclosed rooftop restaurant, dinner in the hotel’s Cherry Circle Room, dessert in the Milk Room microbar, and a nightcap in the Game Room, with a privately reserved bocce court. Breakfast the next day is included and as a bonus guests get to take home two of the hotel’s bathrobes (which mimic boxing robes) and two branded glasses. Price: $3,600 for a two-night stay.

Inspired by Dior in Denver

Ramble Hotel Denver

To coincide with the holiday shopping season and the Denver Art Museum’s exhibit “Dior: From Paris to the World,” Denver’s Ramble Hotel is offering the ”Chauffeur to Dior: From Paris to the World” package.

In addition to a night at the hotel, guests will be able to shop for vintage Dior jewelry from their room, drink specialty “Ginette” cocktails named for Christian Dior’s sister, tour the museum’s Dior exhibit with VIP tickets and be driven to and from the museum’s Dior exhibit in a vintage Roll Royce car. Package starts at $1,300 and is available through March 3, 2019.

Decorated suite and holiday treats

Mandirn Hotel NY/David Lewis-Taylor

As part of the Holiday Winter Wonderland Suite Escape package at the Mandarin Oriental, New York guests will stay in a suite outfitted with an ornately- decorated 9-

tree( and a second 3-foot decorated artificial tree), nutcrackers, live wreath, hanging stockings and other festive holiday touches. Holiday-themed food and beverages, including hot chocolate with Grand Marnier, a gingerbread house, cake lollipops and other treats are included. Available through December 31, 2018. Rates begin at $5,775 per night with a two-night minimum stay.

Christmas in a vintage trailer

The Vintages

 The Vintages trailer resort in Oregon’s Willamette Valey has 33 trailers in 21 different styles and during the holiday offers two $50 holiday add-on packages. One includes candy cane lawn decorations and a champagne cocktail kit, complete with bottle of local champagne; the other is a campfire-themed package that includes a s’mores kit, Moonstruck gourmet hot cocoa, a bottle of The Vintages Pinot Noir, and a “Little Red Campfire” fire pit.

Sugar plum fairies and elf tuck-ins

Mission Inn Festival of Lights

Fun holiday packages are available during the six-week Festival of at the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, CA.

The two-night Sugar Plum Fairy Suite Package (Rates start at $1,419) includes a stay in the decorated themed suite with holiday trimmings, a holiday tree, stockings, holiday lights and candy décor. Included is a cupcake turndown amenity for four with hot cocoa and a $200 dining credit. To sweeten the experience, for $50 per child, guests can add on the hotel’s signature elf tuck-in” amenity, which features a resident elf that delivers small, present-filled stockings to children and tucks them into bed with a bedtime story.

Ultimate Christmas Package

Ritz- Carlton Fort. Lauderdale

The Fully Wrapped: Ultimate Christmas Experience package is available for one family December 24-26 at The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale. (Price starts at $12,999) The experience includes lodging in an ocean view 3-bedroom suite, gift wrapping services, a spa package and champagne. On Christmas morning, there will be breakfast with Santa, who will arrive bearing wrapped gifts that will include a pair of custom Adidas Sneakers, an American Girl Doll, a Pandora bracelet with charm, a bottle of Island Company Run and a voucher for a private rum room experience with a mixologist. The package includes use of a pool cabana for the day, complete with cabana attire and, a photographer to document all the special moments.