A few weeks back, I wrote a PSA on hotels, and how they can be used as a sort of staging base on your con weekend. Many people, however, instead choose to use house-sharing services like AirBnB. It’s easy to see why it’s an attractive option! Many times one can get more space, not having to worry about parties in the lobby, better locations, and cheaper prices in comparison to surrounding hotels. For larger groups this works perfectly, as you can split the cost and all stay in one communal place.
But it’s not always so simple: Last year we tried to stay in an AirBnB just down the street from Dragon*Con, and we booked it almost a year in advance, when the price was ridiculously low. Seemed like the perfect situation, until we showed up. Our final “Can’t wait to be there” message was never responded to, and the building ended up being an apartment complex. When we stopped in to ask where the tenant was, we found out that not only does the building not allow AirBnB, but there was no tenant by that name in the complex. Calling the number for our host, the phone had been disconnected. We had been scammed, and were left homeless right as the con was beginning. Luckily, there was still a couple rooms open at a nearby hotel, but at a much greater cost.
It wasn't quite the first time either. During PAX East, we found ourselves in a basement apartment where a list of rules told us to only enter through the back door in an alley, talk to no one, and I was woken up early and shoo'ed out for 15 minutes so the tenant wouldn't be caught letting people stay there. Many people aren't allowed to have people at their place - or find a nice looking place they don't live in - use a burner phone or email, and then ghost. Anecdotes from friends included a time when the host cancelled a week before, so they could rent it out at an exponentially higher rate.
So, what can you do? Definitely do your research, and make sure the host is highly rated. Also follow up in the weeks leading up to the con, so that you confirm the reservation is still on. Nothing is guaranteed in the same way as a hotel, but it mitigates some of the risk. And ALWAYS make sure to have the company's contact information handy. Scammers like this make them look bad, and there may be a way to get your money refunded, even if you're left out in the cold (or sweltering heat, if it's Dragon*Con).