Airbnb implemented the instant book option to improve the user experience of it’s platform. Instead of having to inquire with the host first, listings that have instant book activated can be booked with a few mouse clicks.
There is one major reason why you should consider using instant book: you will get more bookings. Airbnb states on their website that hosts who use instant book can get up to double the amount of bookings. That's no guarantee of course, but Airbnb wouldn't make such a bold statement if there was no significant difference.
So how does the instant book feature bring in more bookings?
First of all, users viewing your listing will be more inclined to book if they don’t need to send you an inquiry first. That’s pretty obvious. But there's more to it than that.
Users browsing through the search results can select the “instant book filter.” Once selected, Airbnb only shows listings that can be booked instantly. These listings can be recognized by the little lightning icon displayed in the search snippet.
Users who use this filter won't even see your listing if you don't have instant booked activated. In other words, your listing could show up less in the search results and you'll have fewer bookings as a result.
Finally, there is reason to believe that Airbnb might bump the search rank of listings with instant book enabled. On their website, they state that one of the factors that determines the search rank is “easy of booking.” Although they don't specifically mention instant book, it could very well be a factor as Airbnb doesn't disclose all the factors that their search rank algorithm uses.
Looking at how many steps you have to go through to turn it off, it's clear that Airbnb really wants hosts to use it, another reason to believe it may be a search rank factor.
Allowing guests to book instantly raises two concerns. First of all, a lot of hosts don't feel comfortable allowing guests to book their place without the chance to review them. Secondly, some hosts worry that they won't have enough time to prepare the house in case when a last minute booking comes in.
Airbnb recognized this concern and provide hosts with a way to enable the instant book option without having to accept anyone who wants to book. Hosts can set certain conditions, such as that the guest must have been recommended by another host at least once and that the guest has provided a government ID.
I recommend selecting both additional conditions. That way you can take advantage of the bump in the search results without having to open up your space to anyone who creates an account on Airbnb.
In addition, Airbnb allows hosts who use instant book to cancel a reservation penalty free if the host feels uncomfortable with the guest or if the guest has broken a house rule.
Hosts can set how much time they need to prepare for a last minute booking. The options are same-day, in which case they can set a cut-off hour, or up to seven days in advance.
I personally chose the three day advance notice. This gives me enough time to review the hosts, message them to find out a bit more about what they plan to be doing during their visit and the composition of their group. If I feel uncomfortable hosting them, I can still cancel the booking penalty free.
There is one potential danger that is essential to understand when using instant book. You can only cancel penalty free if you don't feel comfortable with your guests. If you want to cancel because of other reasons, like you forgot to update your calendar for example, the normal cancelation penalties apply, including losing the superhost status.
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to always make sure to keep your calendar updated. I learned this the hard way when I received an instant booking for Christmas and New Year. The guest booked almost a year in advance and I hadn't updated my prices yet to reflect the higher demand during this period. I lost out on over 1000 Euros as a result. A painful mistake.
To avoid this mistake in the future, I initially updated my calendar settings and set the booking window to three months. Later on, I started using automated pricing app Beyond Pricing, which updates all my future prices automatically so I don't have to worry about it anymore.
Instant book isn't for all hosts. Some hosts prefer to have more control over who is allowed to book their place and who is not. Typically these hosts share their home with their guests. They want to make sure the guest is a good fit before they book.
Although you are allowed to cancel penalty-free if you feel uncomfortable with the guests (as long as your reason doesn't violate Airbnb's anti-discrimination policy), canceling too many bookings will hurt your performance in the long run.
Therefore, if you want to have that control, you're better off not using instant book.
Another reason not to use IB is if you have a strong preference for certain lenghts of stays. Some hosts prefer longer stays and having a two-day booking block a potential one-month booking may not seem attractive to them. However, calendar related reasons aren't valid reasons for canceling penalty-free.
Finally, for some hosts instant book causes logistical complications that they want to avoid. Having someone book last-minute or having back-to-back bookings for example. If you have a full-time job and you don't want to hire people to do the cleanings and check-ins for you, then this could be too much to handle.
I think enabling instant book is very beneficial as it will bring in more bookings. The potential risks involved can be mitigated by using the addition guest requirements and the option to cancel penalty free. Therefore, I recommend all Airbnb hosts who want to optimize their income to use this feature. It makes Airbnb a more user friendly platform and in the end we all benefit from that.
If maximizing your revenue isn't your main priority, you may opt not to use IB. You'll have more control over who gets to stay at your place and it makes managing your listing a bit easier.
See the Airbnb website for more information.