There’s no denying that Paris has amazing hotels – more than 2,000 of them, and they cover all the bases: romantic, historic, stylish, luxurious, palatial. But a nice, well-located Paris hotel can be pricey. And location matters: If you’re not staying in the heart of the city, you could spend half your visit riding the Metro and buses.
Instead of paying a pile of euros for a hotel room, consider renting a privately owned room from a Paris resident through Airbnb, the online service that launched in 2008. (See How Airbnb Makes Money.)
Log on to Airbnb.com to view more than a thousand listings for Paris, searching by type of accommodation (shared, private room or entire place), location and price (conveniently listed in U.S. dollars). You can view photos and read descriptions and user reviews. After creating a profile, you book through the site and wait for the host to confirm your reservation. Your payment goes to Airbnb (via a major credit card or PayPal) and is forwarded to the owner (minus a service fee) 24 hours after you check in.
Most of the time, an Airbnb rental costs far less than a hotel room. However, it means you’re staying in somebody else’s apartment. Whether the owner is home or you’re taking over the whole place, there are pluses and minuses, and we’ll get to that. But first, let’s consider some options.
The following examples compare rooms in three Paris hotels with Airbnb rentals in the same neighborhoods. We looked at a three-night weekend stay in a private room for two from May 15 to 18, 2015. (These properties book up fast; our dates may no longer be available.)
[Prices are current as of March 2015, at an exchange rate of one euro to US$1.08.]
ON THE SEINE
HOTEL: Hotel Notre Dame Saint-Michel A glamorous hotel in the Latin Quarter, housed in a 400-year-old building beside the Seine near Notre Dame Cathedral. The 26 rooms were recently redone by fashion designer Christian Lacroix.
What you’ll pay: $290 per night for a river view.
AIRBNB: “Houseboat/péniche Eiffel Tower” In this case we really mean “on the Seine.” The room is in a 100-year-old houseboat moored just minutes from the Eiffel Tower. It’s cramped but romantic; guests have a private entrance, deck and bathroom.
What you’ll pay: $124 per night, plus a $44 service fee for the minimum three-night stay.
IN THE MARAIS
HOTEL: Hôtel Caron de Beaumarchais An intimate 19-room hotel named for the 18th-century author of “The Marriage of Figaro.” Antique furnishings, rich fabrics and floral wallpaper will make you feel as if you’ve entered the life of a French nobleman.
What you’ll pay: $215 for a courtyard view
AIRBNB: “Large bedroom in the Marais” This spacious and sunny room has a stunning view of the Hotel de Soubise, the historic mansion museum next door. A recent guest reported, “I felt very welcome; Marie offered me a delicious lunch when I arrived.”
What you’ll pay: $105 per night, plus $23 cleaning fee and $40 service fee
HOTEL: Hotel Baume Enjoy the chic art-deco design of this new 35-room hotel. It’s an easy walk to the Louvre, and there are dozens of restaurants nearby.
What you’ll pay: From $248, for a “double room classic with shower”
AIRBNB: “Trendy flat in St-Germain-des-Prés" A recently renovated studio, with exposed beams, Parisian-chic styling and a modern kitchen. It’s a mere two blocks from Luxembourg Gardens with a welcoming host who speaks English and French.
What you’ll pay: $126 per night, plus a $45 cleaning fee and a $50 service fee
Hotels Vs. Airbnb: Pros and Cons
Saving money isn’t the only reason to consider Airbnb. Here are some other points to keep in mind.
Space: Most Paris hotel rooms are small, so you’re not giving up that much by choosing Airbnb. In fact, you may end up with more room than you’d get in a hotel, at a lower rate.
Personal contact: Airbnb offers the chance to meet a real Parisian. But even if your host isn’t a local, he or she will likely be happy to steer you to the nearest Metro stop and recommend favorite museums, bars and restaurants.
Less flexibility: Many Paris Airbnb hosts require a minimum stay of two or three nights. Check-in times might be inconvenient for late arrivals, unlike at a typical hotel, but that can be negotiated with your host.
Fewer – or more – amenities: Business travelers tend to prefer speedy check-in, and may need a business center, hotel bar or restaurant. But Airbnb renters are often invited to use the kitchen, which may be stocked with coffee and breakfast croissants. And Wi-Fi is usually free. However, make sure you check the details: For example, our houseboat’s listing reads: “Please note that towels are NOT provided, so be sure you bring your own!”
Is trust an issue? According to Airbnb, “Guests and hosts verify their IDs by connecting to their social networks and scanning their official ID.” Both hosts and renters establish an online reputation, since everyone can see how others rate them. And you can use the site’s messaging system to get more info, from hosts or other guests.
The Airbnb business: In Paris as in New York City (see Hotels Vs. Airbnb For New York City Visitors) there are concerns that the Airbnb boom is cutting into the number of low-cost residential properties available. Also, locals complain that their buildings are being turned into hotels – and they’re losing their sense of community. While those renting out space are required to use their apartments as their primary residence, such laws are tough to enforce. The host of one Paris listing cheerfully admits: “Hello! Myself, together with my friend Stefano, we manage apartments in Paris on behalf of some other friends who are not living in this wonderful city.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
While a stay in a Paris hotel is not to be missed, Airbnb offers many temptations in prime locations at affordable prices. Browse for a half hour and you may find yourself checking airfares to get your trip underway. (Read When Is It Cheaper To Fly To Europe? Heading to Vegas instead? See Hotels Vs. Airbnb For Vegas Visitors.)