More often than not, Middle Age Miles stays in hotels and uses hotel loyalty programs to score nice perks when we travel. Recently, though, we ran into a situation on our trip to Italy where booking an Airbnb apartment was the best option for us. Our place turned out to be a nice apartment overlooking the sea in the beautiful village of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. We could hardly have asked for a better place for our needs, and we certainly couldn’t have asked for a better view!
Going through this process on a fairly pricey rental caused us to research thoroughly the ins and outs of how to save money and earn points and miles on Airbnb. After all, we never want to spend more than we have to on living our travel dreams, and we don’t ever want to leave points and miles on the table!
In this article, we present the results of our research and experience as an organized guide – How to Save Money on Airbnb Plus Earn Points and Miles!
In this article, we identify several good opportunities to use Airbnb gift cards (GCs) for savings and points-and-miles earning. However, Airbnb GCs come with some pitfalls, and you need to be aware of them. For more information on Airbnb gift cards and how to successfully use them, please see our companion Resource article, Tips and Warnings About Airbnb Gift Cards.
To save money on your Airbnb rental plus earn points and miles, you’ll want to go through the following steps:
- If you’re a new Airbnb user, use a referral link to sign up, and Airbnb will give you a first-user credit
- Click through from the Delta-Airbnb portal to book your Airbnb
- Choose your best payment option
- Gift card strategies
- Credit card strategies
We’ll go through each of these steps in more detail below.
Step 1 – If you’re a new user, use a referral link to sign up and receive a first-user credit
Step 1 is both straightforward and surprisingly generous – if you’re a new user of Airbnb (or if you can create a new account to become a “new” user), use a referral link to sign up and you’ll receive a credit that can be used on your first Airbnb booking.
Currently, Airbnb’s first-time-user credit is as follows:
- Get $40 off a home booking of $75 or more; plus
- Get $15 off an “Airbnb experience” of $50 or more (these are things like guided tours or skip-the-line entry passes, which you might ordinarily purchase through Viator/Trip Advisor or Expedia)
Our first-time-user credit was automatically applied to our first Airbnb booking. However, the Airbnb terms and conditions say that you may have to enter a code at checkout to redeem the credit. These credits expire one year after they are issued.
In case you’re wondering, the referrer will get:
- $20 if the new user completes a home stay; and
- $10 if the new user purchases an “Airbnb experience”
We’d appreciate it if you use our Airbnb referral link, if you don’t already have a referral from a significant other or close friend:
You may be wondering if you can create a new Airbnb account to become a “new” user, even if you have an existing Airbnb account. We have not tried this, and it’s clearly against the spirit of the Airbnb rules. That said, you might find it helpful to know that when you create a new account, Airbnb asks for your email address, your first & last name, and your birthday (including the year).
Step 2 – Click through from the Delta-Airbnb portal to book your Airbnb
When you click through from the Delta-Airbnb portal to book your Airbnb, you will receive 1 Delta SkyMile per dollar on the base rate of your Airbnb booking. Once you click through the portal and enter your Delta SkyMiles number, you’ll then be on the regular Airbnb site where you can complete your Airbnb booking as usual.
Here’s a link to the Delta-Airbnb portal:
When you go to the Delta-Airbnb portal to make your booking, be sure to follow best practices for purchasing anything through a shopping portal – start with a completely fresh browser, go straight to the Delta-Airbnb portal and click through to Airbnb, then go straight into making your booking without opening other windows, while minimizing the number of clicks needed to complete your booking.
Step 3 – Choose the payment option that generates the best return of cashback, points and/or miles
A. Gift card strategies
Most often, your best play to get the most generous discount and return on Airbnb is to purchase gift cards (GCs), which you’ll then use to pay for your Airbnb rental.
The good news about Airbnb GCs is that you can load them into your Airbnb account, where all of your GCs will be combined into a single balance. You won’t run into any problems with limitations on how many GCs you can apply to a single transaction.
The bad news about Airbnb GCs is that there are some quirks in the Airbnb GC system and some limitations on how they can be used. For more information, see our companion Resource article, Tips and Warnings About Airbnb Gift Cards.
We’ll say that we wouldn’t leave a balance sitting in our Airbnb GC account. We think it’s better to buy the amount of GCs you need for your particular rental each time you’re booking a stay. We’d also recommend that you buy GCs in an amount that’s a little less than the total price of your booking, then pay the remaining balance with a credit card. For example, if you’re booking an Airbnb that costs $540, we’d suggest purchasing $500 in GCs and paying the remaining $40 with a credit card. This will help out by making sure you don’t leave an orphaned GC balance on your Airbnb account that may go unused.
Here are several GC strategies, presented roughly in order of preference – that is, the most preferred/most valuable method comes first, followed by less valuable methods.
1. Purchase Airbnb gift cards using a 10%-off Amex Offer at Lowe’s or Staples
Lowe’s and Staples both carry Airbnb GCs in-store, and both of these merchants have current Amex Offers for 10% statement credit, up to a cap of $100 credit with Lowe’s and $50 with Staples. The current Offers are valid through 6/30/2019.
Similar Amex Offers have been available on Amex business cards dating back to Summer 2018, so hopefully we’ll continue to see them beyond the current Offers’ expiration date of 6/30/2019.
Ideally, you’d have the Offers loaded onto a Blue Business Plus card, so that you’d receive 2x Membership Rewards (MR) points on your purchase in addition to the 10% statement credit.
2. Purchase discounted Airbnb GCs through Raise, plus go through a shopping portal and/or apply a Raise promo discount code
This method involves a two-step process:
- Click through from a shopping portal to Raise; and then
- Purchase a discounted Airbnb GC from Raise
Alternatively, sometimes Raise has promotional discount codes. Recently, we’ve seen sporadic discount codes (often on Fridays) in the range of 3-7%, each time with a cap on the amount of the discount, such as $10. In this case, the two steps would be:
- Go to Raise and load a discounted Airbnb GC into your cart; and then
- Apply the Raise promotional discount code prior to checking out
We don’t believe you’ll be able to stack a portal payout with a promo code on Raise, although it might not hurt to try.
If you’re not familiar with Raise, it’s a marketplace that sells discounted gift cards provided by third-parties. Discounts for Airbnb GCs generally run in the range of 2-3% off face value.
Today, Airbnb GCs are selling at a discount of as much as 2.2% on Raise. That means, for example, that you could purchase a $500 Airbnb GC for about $489. Here are the top few listings for Airbnb GCs on Raise at this time:
If you don’t have an existing Raise account, as a new user you can get a $5 credit by signing up through a referral link. (The referrer also gets a $5 credit.) We’d appreciate it if you use our Raise referral link, if you don’t already have a referral from a significant other or close friend:
- Raise referral link from Middle Age Miles (Referral Code CTADLOCK2746)
As of today, the top offers are 5% cash back at Top Cashback or 5x Avios from the British Airways mall (US). (If you’re not familiar with shopping portals or need a refresher, please see our Resource article, Our Step-by-Step Guide – How to Use a Shopping Portal to Earn Miles or Cash Back.) The highest portal return we’ve seen for Raise over the past few months is 10% from Top Cashback on a couple of days in late January and late March 2019.
(Caveat on using Top Cashback (TCB) on Raise purchases: We have had a challenge with receiving the cash back on our Raise purchases through TCB. We made our purchases on one of the 10% cashback dates. Initially, it did not appear that our purchases tracked correctly. We went through the TCB customer service portal to request follow-up. Now, it looks like our cash back has tracked. It now shows as “pending” in our TCB account. However, it’s now almost 90 days since we made the purchase, and we still can’t cash out our portal rebate on this large purchase.)
In addition, if you’re using a shopping portal, be sure you’re aware of the lifetime limits imposed on each portal on payouts for Raise purchases.
We are not aware of any credit card where Raise purchases fall within a bonus category, so use whatever card is your everyday driver, or a card where you’re trying to hit a sign-up bonus or other bonus threshold.
If everything works correctly, this method can be a tool for major savings on Airbnb bookings.
3. Purchase Airbnb gift cards at an office supply store and pay with your Chase Ink Cash (or Ink Plus) card
As you probably know, Chase Ink Cash purchases at office supply stores earn 5x Ultimate Rewards (UR) points per dollar of spend. (The same goes for Chase Ink Plus, if you still hold that legacy card.) The largest office supply stores, Office Depot/Office Max and Staples, generally sell Airbnb physical GCs.
4. Purchase Airbnb gift cards through the United MileagePlus X app, and pay with a “bonus category” card
United’s MileagePlus X (MPX) app allows you to earn United miles when you purchase certain gift cards through the app, and Airbnb GCs are available on MPX. At the time of this article, the current earning rate is 2 United miles per dollar spent on Airbnb GCs.
In addition, Airbnb GC purchases through MPX qualify for bonus category earning on several credit cards. Right now, these purchases earn 3x UR points with the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) and the Chase Ink Preferred (CIP) (on these Chase cards, the category of the place the GC is from dictates earnings, and Airbnb codes as 3x for Travel). They also earn 3x ThankYou Points (TYPs) when you pay with a Citi AT&T Access More card (as on online purchase).
(We’re not sure about the Citi Premier card. Our educated guess is that it would earn 3x TYPs when purchasing an Airbnb GC on MPX, but we don’t have a confirming data point on this.)
Thus, for example, if you purchase an Airbnb GC through MPX and pay with your CSR card, you’ll currently earn 2 United miles + 3 UR points per dollar.
5. Purchase Airbnb gift cards at a grocery store and pay with your Amex Gold card
Many grocery stores carry Airbnb GCs, and your US supermarket purchases earn 4x MR points when you pay with your Amex Gold card.
(Also note that for this quarter (2Q19), grocery stores are a 5x category on the Chase Freedom card, so you could earn 5x UR points now by paying with your Freedom, subject to the $1,500/quarter spend cap.)
B. Credit Card Strategies
If you don’t want to bother with GCs, or if you’re not comfortable with the GC payment methods, the other option is simply pay with the credit card that earns you the best return on your Airbnb spend.
If you follow our recommendation to pay for most of your Airbnb purchase with GCs and then pay the remaining small balance with a credit card, these strategies also apply for the credit card portion of the payment.
One important note here is that you can’t split payment between 2 or more credit cards on Airbnb, and you can’t split payment between multiple people any longer. (Splitting payment between multiple people was permitted briefly in late 2017 & early 2018, but it’s no longer available.) So, keep in mind that you’ll only be able to use 1 credit card per Airbnb transaction.
1. Use a Chase Offer or BankAmeriDeal if available
Chase Offers and BankAmeriDeals seem to have regular targeted offers for Airbnb, typically 5% statement credit back on your purchase. In fact, we have these offers on our CSR card and B of A Alaska Airlines Visa card at the current time.
Note that each of these offers has a $28 cash back maximum. That means you’ll get 5% cash back on up to $560 of spend, but not on anything else beyond that amount.
With the Chase Offer on our CSR card, we’d get 5% back plus earn 3x UR points on our Airbnb spend. With the BankAmeriDeal on our B of A Alaska Airlines card, we’d be getting 5% back plus 1x Alaska miles.
2. Use the credit card with the best bonus category
Bonus categories for Airbnb spend include:
- 3x UR points if you pay with a CSR or CIP card
- 3x TYPs if you pay with a Citi Premier or AT&T Access More card
We’re not aware of any other cards with bonus category earning as good as or better than 3x for Airbnb spend. (Readers, please let us know in the Comments if you know of others with 3x or better earning.)
We’d add that it should also be possible to earn 3x US Bank points by using Apple Pay or Google Pay with the US Bank Altitude Reserve card. However, Apple Pay is only available as a payment method if you’re booking through the Airbnb iOS app, and Google Pay is only available through the Airbnb Android app. If you’re using one of those methods to book, you wouldn’t be able to go through the Delta-Airbnb portal to earn 1x Delta miles.
Middle Age Miles’ Recent Experience
For our recent Airbnb booking in Positano, we were first-time users with a referral link. The first-time-user credit at that time was $55. We purchased discounted Airbnb GCs from Raise to cover most of our charges, going through the TCB portal for 10% cash back and paying with Amex Blue Business Plus cards. Finally, we paid the remaining balance with our CSR card.
In the end, our accounting and earning looked like this:
- Total price of Airbnb booking: $1,945
- First-time-user credit = $55 (dropping total payment to $1,890)
- Purchased $1,800 in Airbnb GCs from Raise at roughly 3% discount
- Total cost = $1,746
- Savings = $54
- Cash back earnings at 10% through TCB = $174
- Note: TCB had a $1,000 limit, so buying GCs costing $1,746 required purchases through 2 separate TCB accounts
- Total savings/cashback = $55 + $54 + $174 = $283 (14.55%)
- Net cost of Airbnb = $1,945 – $283 = $1,662
- Plus, we earned miles and points as follows:
- Raise on Amex BB+ = 2x MR * $1,746 = 3,492 MR points
- Worth about $52 at our baseline value of 1.5 cents/MR point
- $90 balance on CSR = 3x MR * $90 = 270 UR points
- Worth about $4 at our baseline value of 1.5 cents/UR point
- Delta-Airbnb portal = 1x Delta mile * $1,710 base rate = 1,710 Delta miles
- Worth about $20 at our baseline value of 1.2 cents/Delta mile
- Raise on Amex BB+ = 2x MR * $1,746 = 3,492 MR points
- Total value of miles-and-points rebates = $52 + $4 + $20 = $76
We hope that everyone can use these methods and tricks to save lots of money on your upcoming Airbnb stays, to help you live your travel dreams!