How to Spot a FAKE 5-Star Rated Airbnb

in #travel3 years ago (edited)


When we came to Puerto Vallarta after a long day of driving, we found ourselves in the middle of one giant Airbnb disaster. We’re sharing this how-to guide so you can avoid an experience like this.

The Essential Details

In the past five weeks, we (@sharingeverybite and @shenanigator) have stayed in 10 different Airbnb rentals in 9 cities during our @TangerineTravels. In almost all of these occasions, we’d never even been to the city before. Choosing an Airbnb was a combined effort of:

  • Searching on Google Maps;
  • LOTS of Googling;
  • Doing research on TripAdvisor;
  • Sorting through dozens of Airbnb listings; and
  • Thoroughly reading traveler reviews to make a final decision.


The biggest lesson we’ve learned? Not all high-rated Airbnb rentals are all they’re chalked up to be.

The Worst “5-Star” Airbnb Of Our Lives

The first important detail is that we were paying $17 USD for the night in this rental. We may have perceived things completely differently if it was only $5 USD.

Here's how it all went down...

It took over two hours to find the Airbnb due to an extremely unhelpful and unresponsive host who provided the address to a soccer field. When we finally found the place, she was nowhere to be found. The keys were left under a wine bottle outside the door of an alley-adjacent apartment complex. There to greet us was her 1/2 pound rodent…I mean chihuahua…that shrieked and yipped nonstop as soon as we walked in the door.

Upon further inspection...

Every detail of the apartment was cringe-worthy, misrepresented by the pictures, or falsely described in the listing details. To accompany a stained toilet bowl and lyme-garnished sink, there was mold and rust in the shower. Our room had no lock and the mattress was on the floor. The fluorescent light bulb on the wall and bars over the window gave it a strong resemblance to a prison cell. Our host only left only one pillow, though we noted (and paid extra for) two people to stay there. And finally, the throw blanket on top of the mattress was obviously unwashed with pencil shavings all over it.


All we could think was…

If we stay here, this would be the dreaded moment where our car would get stolen in the middle of the night and we’d leave with a fungal infection and bed bugs. HAHHHHLLP!

An hour with Airbnb support was fruitless. They were convinced the host tried to help us and ultimately refused to do anything for us. We were truly scared.

Are you ready avoid Airbnb like the plague? DON’T! Looking back, we noticed a few details that could have clued us into what was about to unfold.

3 Ways To Spot a BOGUS 5-Star Rated Airbnb

1. Look for duplicate reviews.

Seeing two back-to-back positive reviews from the same person seemed odd at the time, but not so much that it alerted us they might be fake. Now, it’s clear that duplicate reviews are likely friends of the host colluding to boost their ratings.

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2. Check the profiles of the reviewers.

When did they join? How many reviews have they left? Have other hosts (besides the one of the rental you’re looking at) left them a review? A few reviewers of this scary Airbnb listed their location as Puerto Vallarta had only left one review…for this rental. Coincidence? Probably not.

3. See if the pictures are hiding anything.

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Fuzzy, blown-out image...that's not suspicious!

The pictures she listed gave no indication that the mattress was on the ground, nor did they show what the bathroom looked like. Now, we can see that she has updated the listing to explain the bed/mattress situation, but still has no images of the grungy bathroom. Not sure about you, but taking a shower is my first priority after a long day of traveling but I would have felt safer bathing in a nearby river than step into this…



On a few occasions, we chose a brand new Airbnb listing (no reviews yet) with our fingers crossed, belongings close, and krav maga skills ready. From our experience, new hots are just as good, if not BETTER than existing ones because they are relying on your review to help them get going. They’ll do whatever possible to make your stay comfortable and memorable. Perhaps we’ve gotten lucky, but it stands to reason that if they have no reviews, the first one could make or break their ability to earn money through renting on Airbnb in the future.

New to Airbnb? Get a $40 travel credit when you sign up!

If you enjoyed this post, follow me @sharingeverybite & @TangerineTravels for more!

We hope our mishaps and crazy adventures help you avoid them in your life.


very interesting and extremely useful! thanks for the tips!

Wow that place really looked horrible! Did you stay there for the night after all?
We've used AirBnb many times but never had a negative experience (not yet at least), so I'm sorry this happened to you.

Thankfully the host of our next night's Airbnb let us come to her house a day early! It was an absolute miracle and we were so grateful. I'm sure this experience is a "one in a hundred" kinda thing, but I definitely wanted to pass along these tips so other people can hopefully avoid it entirely!

Thank you for the tips @sharingeverybite