Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

Airbnb balcony view

The view from the balcony of my Airbnb accommodation (Photo: Airbnb)

During a recent business trip to Los Angeles, I stayed in an Airbnb apartment for the first time. When I made the booking, I was thrilled at the prospect of getting more for less—fabulous location, more space, free parking and (of course) free high-speed wi-fi. But as a first-timer, I also had a plenty of questions about using Airbnb for a business trip.

Regular TravelSkills readers may recall why I chose Airbnb for this trip…here’s a snippet from my previous post Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

I booked an Airbnb condo in Los Angeles because all the convention hotels near my conference were sold out—except one property 10 miles away. The thought of a 10-mile slog in LA traffic was unbearable. Through Airbnb, I booked a one-bedroom condo in a brand-new building across the street from the convention center. Like most business travelers, cost was not my primary motivation, but it made me smile to be saving $84 a night. Hip décor and free use of the building’s gym and pool didn’t hurt either.

Recently, Airbnb has made a play specifically for the business travel market with a new, focused portal and by partnering with Concur on its TripLink product.

But does Airbnb really make sense for business travelers? Let’s see…

Airbnb living room 2

The unit’s living room was a lovely place to hang out at the end of the day. (Photo: Airbnb)

Here’s how my Airbnb stay played out:

Right off the bat, I have to say that I missed the familiarity of checking in in a hotel lobby. “Checking-in” at my Airbnb proved to be confusing and time-consuming. I was thrilled to have free parking for my rental car. So when I drove in from the airport, I followed the instructions the host provided. Entry required punching a code into a garage keypad, identifying myself and waiting for someone on the other end to open the gate. There were some miscues, and that process took about 10 minutes. The iron gate finally swung open.

The unit’s keys were to be in a lockbox on a pillar by the parking space. Thankfully, opening the lockbox went without a hitch. But then, it was not clear how to get from the parking garage into the locked building. At this point I was thinking fond and nostalgic thoughts about hotel front desks—I wanted one! After 10 more minutes, two phone calls and a few texts, I was in. Hours later I realized the fob for building entry was on the key ring. Dumb. Still, at a hotel, I would have been unpacked by then.

Bedroom in my Airbnb accommodations. What happens when you need to call "housekeeping?" (Photo: Airbnb)

Bedroom in my Airbnb accommodation. But what happens when you need to call “housekeeping” for an extra towel? (Photo: Airbnb)

Luckily, it got better once inside. The apartment was lovely and as clean as any hotel room. The view of the Convention Center, Staples Center and L.A. Live was just as the listing promised. There was complimentary coffee (Keurig!), tea, and water bottles, and snacks were provided free of charge. And of course, free wi-fi is always a welcome amenity.

The primary reason I chose this Airbnb apartment was its super-handy location. I was only a three minute walk from the front door of the LA Convention Center and reveled in the convenience– I was closer than all those other attendees at my convention who were paying significantly more up the street at the JW Marriott, or Ritz-Carlton.

Related:  Best new biz-class hotels in L.A.  | 20 business class seats in one room

In the morning, it felt a little weird waiting for the building’s elevator with some “real” (non-Airbnb) residents. And I wondered…as an Airbnb guest, was I a persona non grata? Maybe. I smiled and looked down. The following days I would conceal my convention badge.

One day while at the convention, I realized I needed my laptop, which I’d left back at the apartment. I dashed across the street and back in the span of five minutes. If I’d chosen a hotel, this would likely not have been such an easy option. Big score for Airbnb.

The front door to my Airbnb apartment near the LA Convention Center (Photo: Nancy Branka)

The front door to my Airbnb apartment near the LA Convention Center (Photo: Nancy Branka)

When the sun went down, though, I wasn’t feeling the love. I attended a convention-sponsored party at a nearby venue. Easy—just a short walk, right? When I walked over to the event in the evening light with lots of fellow conventioneers around, I felt happy about the sunset stroll.

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However, when the event was over and I had to walk back to the apartment in the dark,  I wasn’t so sure about the neighborhood. There was no brightly lit and active hotel front door and lobby staffed by a doorman and a steady stream of cars, taxis and guests. And I wasn’t comfortable with the homeless man camped out by the building’s front door, something I’d less likely encounter at a business-class hotel.

Did my real-life Airbnb experience meet my expectations?  Overall, it was a very positive stay because of location, location, location. So I’m glad to have Airbnb in my arsenal of travel resources. Now that I’m no longer an Airbnb newbie, I would feel more comfortable about doing it again, especially for a longer stay. 

But on the other hand, there were some hassles that would make me think twice about using Airbnb again for a business trip. Every Airbnb unit, every host and each location is different– careful scrutiny of both is essential to a successful stay. Luckily, the Airbnb site is very helpful when it comes to this with plenty of safeguards, user reviews, verified photos, maps and information. But booking a brand name, business class hotel room doesn’t require such scrutiny.

Have you ever used Airbnb for business travel? Would you feel comfortable using it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

– Nancy Branka 

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Big bonus. Little time….What’s the best card for United flyers who don’t spend or fly enough to have Premier status? For a limited time, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering an excellent 50,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending  just $2,000 in the first three months. The Explorer card also offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also, it offers double miles for United purchases. Act fast on this one because that 50K bonus is only good through September 2. Details here

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3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Ahh. Hotel windows that open at Kimpton's Hotel Wilshire in LA (Chris McGinnis)

Ahh. Hotel windows that open at Kimpton’s Hotel Wilshire in LA (Chris McGinnis)

At TravelSkills, we love new hotels. They smell better, work better, feel better, and are usually bigger, brighter and hipper than others. But new can also have its downside: Construction noise, service issues, and/or locations in sketchy or “upcoming” neighborhoods. Some are so new that TripAdvisor reviews are scant compared to more established hotels. In an ongoing feature, TravelSkills reports on the newest hotels in the world’s most important cities. When we say “newest” we have certain criteria around that: The hotels have to be brand new or deeply renovated within the last few years, 3+ stars and appropriate venues for business travel.

On a recent quick buzz through LA for the Global Business Travel Association Convention, I stayed overnight at the Kimpton Hotel Wilshire near The Grove and LACMA on a somewhat lifeless stretch of Wilshire Boulevard. While the Hotel Wilshire is not brand new (opened in 2011), it sure felt like it. Clean as a whistle, a super cool rooftop pool/bar/restaurant (see my Instagram!), decent rates and windows that actually open. (Hermetically sealed hotel rooms are a pet peeve!) But I digress. I promised 3 brand new hotels, so here ya go…

Here are three newbies worth a look:

Cement walls and big views from the new Line Hotel in LA (Photo: The Line)

Cement walls and big views from the new Line Hotel in LA (Photo: The Line)

K-POP IS HOT. Now that all things Korean are hot (thanks in part to Psy’s Gangnam Style), so is LA’s Koreatown, a densely populated, 24-hour neighborhood between Hollywood and downtown. Smack in the middle of that (on Wilshire Blvd) is the brand new 388-room The Line hotel, which opened in January 2014. The hotel comes with plenty of hip pedigrees—for example it is owned by the same group that created the hip NoMad and Ace hotels in NYC and the Saguaro in Palm Springs; Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Trucks fame is running the kitchen at the popular Pot restaurant (yes, they serve kim chi, but it’s the spicy pork bbq that’s most popular). The hotel is housed in a 12-story building that previously housed the Radisson Wilshire Plaza hotel, but there’s nothing remotely Radisson about The Line. Rooms are minimalist chic with exposed concrete walls, modern furnishings, pops of color, and expansive LA Basin views thru big floor- to-ceiling windows. Sadly, this is one of those hotels with windows that don’t open. Nice: There’s a metro stop across the street from the hotel, which makes it easy to go car-less if you have meetings downtown. Rates for late September are in the $200 per night range. There are also free wi-fi and free bikes for tooling around the neighborhood.

The ACE hotel is easy to spot due to this sign on its roof (Photo: Lauren Coleman)

The ACE hotel is easy to spot due to this sign on its roof (Photo: Lauren Coleman)

HIPSTER HEAVEN. The 182-room Ace Hotel Los Angeles opened in the downtown historic district in January 2014. It’s housed in the old United Artists Theatre building and attracts a hip and trendy crowd to its rooftop pool, bar and lounge. Rooms are industrial chic (exposed concrete, metal, marble). Bathrooms are (regrettably) the type that are open to the room—not the greatest set up for couples, but okay for single travelers. Thankfully, room windows open slightly. Wi-fi is free and fast for everyone—not just hotel guests. Enjoy curated mini-bar snacks (including local craft brews) and room service from the hotel restaurant LA Chapter (Most popular item is the Five Leaves Burger- grass fed beef patty, thin slices of beet and pineapple, topped with a fried egg. Try it you’ll like it!). The location is great if you are attending an event at the nearly LA Convention Center, Staples Center or LA Live. Lowest rates for late September are in the low $200 range. Having trouble finding it? Just look for the iconic (and ironic) JESUS SAVES beacon on the roof.

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Grab n go meals in the lobby of the combined Courtyard & Residence Inn at LA Live (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Grab n go meals in the lobby of the combined Courtyard & Residence Inn at LA Live (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

MORE MARRIOTT. Marriott has a huge presence in the fast growing (but still a bit gritty) area around LA Live. First, there’s a huge JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton that dominate the entertainment zone. Across the street Marriott just opened a massive and modern Residence Inn (218 rooms) and Courtyard (174 rooms) in the same building last month.The $172-million, 23-story high-rise hotel project is new-from-the-ground up which means there’s still that “new hotel smell” and modern amenities like fast, free wi-fi and windows that open to the great outdoors. There’s a complimentary breakfast buffet for Residence Inn guests; Courtyard guests get coffee only. Beware: Valet parking is $38 per day plus tip. (Advice: Self park in one of the many lots nearby.) Marriott’s not done with the area yet: A brand new Renaissance hotel will soon rise from a parking lot next to the hotel.

In LA, facelifts are popular so it’s important to mention these notable, recent lift and pull jobs! :)

Poolside at the recently revamped Sunset Marquis Hotel (Photo: Sara Emry)

Poolside at the recently revamped Sunset Marquis Hotel (Photo: Sara Emry)

>The popular Sunset Marquis hotel nestled into a quiet corner of West Hollywood has just opened the doors on a full renovation of its popular, big suites (averaging 529 square feet) with outside balconies or roomy patios. 

>Hyatt wants in on the action in downtown LA, too, so it has spent $25 million to update an this 420-room, ex-Marriott hotel and list it on the Hyatt website under the name The LA Hotel Downtown. The jury is still out on TripAdvisor on whether the hotel has reached Hyatt Regency standards.

>Last year Loews Hotels hung its name on the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel (next to the Dolby Theatre of Academy Award fame), renaming it The Loews Hollywood Hotel and has spent $26 million renovating the its 628 rooms– with windows that DO NOT open to the outside. 

What’s your favorite hotel in Los Angeles? Why? Please leave your recommendations below! 

–Chris McGinnis

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Big bonus. Little time….What’s the best card for United flyers who don’t spend or fly enough to have Premier status? For a limited time, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering an excellent 50,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending  just $2,000 in the first three months. The Explorer card also offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also, it offers double miles for United purchases. Act fast on this one because that 50K bonus is only good through September 2. Details here

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

Southwest pads schedules + 70K Marriott points + New airline for SFO + Chris at GBTA + Salt Lake makeover 

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

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Virgin America CEO David Cush: Why San Jose?

(Phoot: Drewski2112 / Flickr)

(Photo: Drewski 2112 / Flickr)

This morning, Virgin America announced that it will add four daily nonstops between San Jose International (SJC) and Los Angeles (LAX) starting May 1.

Virgin CEO David Cush told TravelSkills that he has been actively engaged in talks with San Jose airport and civic leaders for the last 18 months. He said that while San Jose was more interested in Virgin adding long haul flights to the east coast, he wanted to test the waters at SJC with new flights to LA first. “With high fuel costs, adding new flights from San Jose to east coast cities is just too risky for us right now,” he said.

Virgin will be entering the very crowded San Jose-LAX run, which is already served by four carriers: Low fare leader Southwest (which has pushed Virgin off routes such as SFO-Orange County), United (which dominates the Bay Area) as well as American and Alaska Airlines. Southwest flies a one-class 737 on the hour-or-so long route, United and American fly one-class regional jets, and Alaska uses a turbo-prop.

Cush told TravelSkills that Virgin is already competing well with those carriers on the SFO-LAX run, where it offers eight flights per day. “We will be the only carrier on the route to offer first class, wi-fi and satellite TV on a mainline, two-class jet (Airbus A320). Plus, we have a nice new lounge at LAX to attract business travelers.”

Virgin America CEO David Cush

Virgin America CEO David Cush

Another plus for business travelers: Virgin’s flights will depart from gates adjacent to the nice, new, $35-per-visit Club at SJC. Cush said that he would investigate how Virgin might team up with the lounge to offer special access elite-level members of the Elevate program.

Another reason frequent travelers might consider driving down to San Jose to catch a plane to LAX: weather. “For example, this morning our flights at SFO are delayed at least an hour due to low visibility, but flights are running on time in San Jose. I think that many of our customers in the indifferent zone around Palo Alto are likely to opt for San Jose on days like today,” said Cush.

He said that his market research shows that Virgin customers in the South Bay are willing to drive to SFO for its long haul flights to the east coast, but not so much for short hop flights to points along the west coast. For this reason, Cush decided it was time to “dip our toe into the market and see what happens.”

This marks the first time Virgin has ventured south to the San Jose International, which its leaders have said suffers from “the Virgin effect”—referring to the popularity of SFO compared to airports in San Jose or Oakland due Virgin’s low fares—and those of its competitors.

Current mid-week fares on the route are at about $178 round trip. Virgin will post its fares on the route tomorrow morning. Cush said he expected fares on SJC-LAX and SFO-LAX would end up on par with each other. Here’s the schedule:

Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 10.46.49 AM

To entice Virgin into this fray, San Jose is waiving landing fees at the airport for one year– a savings of about $490,000 according to airport officials. San Jose Airport spokesperson Rosemary Barnes said, “We will realize increased revenue from more passengers who park on-Airport, spend at restaurants and shops, and increased  passenger facilities charges (PFCs) which go back to reinvesting in our infrastructure.” San Jose offered similar enticements to ANA to snag its (currently mothballed) 787 Dreamliner flights to Tokyo.

“We are delighted to welcome Virgin America as our newest airline partner and I’m confident they will receive a very warm welcome in San Jose,” said SJC’s Director of Aviation Bill Sherry. “Silicon Valley includes the world’s most tech-savvy frequent fliers who we know will love and embrace Virgin America’s unique product and branding; this is a winning combination.”

What do YOU think will happen? If you live on the peninsula or in the South Bay, will you choose Virgin to fly to LA from San Jose? Please leave your comments below.

Virgin Press Release

–Chris McGinnis

Virgin America’s new lounge at LAX

Virgin America’s new Loft lounge at LAX (Photo: Virgin America)

At San Francisco International, Virgin America’s digs at the bright-n-sassy new Terminal 2 are so nice that the whole thing feels like an airport club.

However, those who have flown Virgin to Los Angeles know that’s not the case at LAX– despite upgrades, facilities at Terminal 3 are sub-par– and frequently crowded.

But if you have elite status with Virgin’s Elevate program,  or an extra $40, all that changed today with the opening of Virgin America’s new 4,500 sq ft Loft lounge. It’s located inside security on the second floor of Terminal 3– occupying the space previously used by Alaska Airlines.

Would you be interested in a private tour of Singapore Airlines’ giant Airbus A380 double-decker when it arrives in San Francisco this winter? Click here for details! 

The space was designed by Jesse McMillin, creative director at Virgin America, and from the video below, the mod furnishings and red, white and black color palette and mood lighting look very similar to… the inside of a Virgin A320, or our very on T2 at SFO. (TravelSkills profiled McMillin’s “Cool Travel Job”  last year.)

The Loft has a maximum capacity of 90. Elevate silver members get two free passes per year; Gold members get three. Once you have used those up, day passes are available for $40. It’s open from 6 am until 11:30 pm daily.

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Trip Report: The London West Hollywood Hotel

The rooftop pool and cabanas at the London West Hollywood hotel.

The rooftop pool and cabanas at the London West Hollywood hotel.

In March I was in Los Angeles on business and extended my stay over the weekend at the London Hotel in West Hollywood which opened in 2009. I loved it. (So do a lot of others…it is currently ranked #1 among hotels in the area on TripAdvisor.)

In my mind, this hotel has all the elegance, class and comfort of LA’s well-known (and enormously expensive) west side grande dames combined with a hip design-forward factor you would expect at the W or the Standard. For example, all hotel hallways are sheathed in a voluptuous pale gray suede-like fabric that is “brushed” every day. (See photo below)

Rates run in the $300 range per night, but if you are staying longer than one night, you’ll want to pay a bit more for a room with one of those sweeping twinkling south-facing views of LA. (Disclosure: I was a guest of the hotel one night, and paid $300 for one night, during my two-day stay.)

The 200-room hotel, once known as the Bel Age, is located a block downhill from Sunset Boulevard (at San Vicente) in West Hollywood. It shares a parking lot with the infamous Viper Room. It’s got a sexy rooftop, cabana-ringed, glassed-in, pool area with a stunning 360-degree view that adds a fun, SoCal glam edge. There’s also a buzzy Gordon Ramsay restaurant on-site.

Three top features frequent travelers will appreciate: This is a luxury hotel that offers free high-speed Internet connections. It also serves up one of the most elaborate and varied complimentary breakfast buffets (including items like scones, smoked salmon, fresh fruit salads, quiche…see below) I’ve ever torn into. And all rooms are big, bright and over-sized…as a matter of fact, the hotel refers to all rooms as “suites.”

Come on along for the show and see all the pretty pictures! [Read more...]

Trip Report: The London West Hollywood Hotel

The rooftop pool and cabanas at the London West Hollywood hotel.

The rooftop pool and cabanas at the London West Hollywood hotel.

In March I was in Los Angeles on business and extended my stay over the weekend at the London Hotel in West Hollywood which opened in 2009. I loved it. (So do a lot of others…it is currently ranked #1 among hotels in the area on TripAdvisor.)

In my mind, this hotel has all the elegance, class and comfort of LA’s well-known (and enormously expensive) west side grande dames combined with a hip design-forward factor you would expect at the W or the Standard. For example, all hotel hallways are sheathed in a voluptuous pale gray suede-like fabric that is “brushed” every day. (See photo below)

Rates run in the $300 range per night, but if you are staying longer than one night, you’ll want to pay a bit more for a room with one of those sweeping twinkling south-facing views of LA. (Disclosure: I was a guest of the hotel one night, and paid $300 for one night, during my two-day stay.)

The 200-room hotel, once known as the Bel Age, is located a block downhill from Sunset Boulevard (at San Vicente) in West Hollywood. It shares a parking lot with the infamous Viper Room. It’s got a sexy rooftop, cabana-ringed, glassed-in, pool area with a stunning 360-degree view that adds a fun, SoCal glam edge. There’s also a buzzy Gordon Ramsay restaurant on-site.

Three top features frequent travelers will appreciate: This is a luxury hotel that offers free high-speed Internet connections. It also serves up one of the most elaborate and varied complimentary breakfast buffets (including items like scones, smoked salmon, fresh fruit salads, quiche…see below) I’ve ever torn into. And all rooms are big, bright and over-sized…as a matter of fact, the hotel refers to all rooms as “suites.”

Come on along for the show:

Elegant entryway off San Vicente Blvd

Elegant entryway off San Vicente Blvd

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My roomy

My roomy “Vista Suite” with a view of West LA and Century City.

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All rooms have

All rooms have “floating beds” placed in the center of the room. All are pale green accented with unusual marble and bleached wood.

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Suede-like walls in every corridor-- note the vertical brushed grain and the fingerprints above the chair rail.

Suede-like walls in every corridor– note the vertical brushed grain and the fingerprints above the chair rail.

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The sumptuous breakfast buffet that's included in your room rate (along with free Wi-Fi)

The sumptuous breakfast buffet that’s included in your room rate (along with free Wi-Fi)

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Terrine of foie gras and toasted brioche with yuzu marmalade at Gordon Ramsay LA-- onsite at the London Hotel

Terrine of foie gras and toasted brioche with yuzu marmalade at Gordon Ramsay LA– onsite at the London Hotel

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