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How to make and save money with Airbnb

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Not so long ago we stayed in a small New York apartment for $US145 a night, well below what you would pay for a reasonable hotel.

The classy apartment had all the mod cons and tasty delis and groceries were nearby, so we saved heaps eating out only now and then. The fold-out sofa bed was fine. We found the place on the net through Airbnb which by now lists thousands of apartments far and wide (including Australia).

You choose a place and they put you in touch with the owner. In our case opera singer Roberto needed the extra cash. We sealed the deal, handed over full payment and he moved out to his parents' place out of town.

The Airbnb model has been widely followed by such rivals as Berlin-based 9flatscom.

airbnb

But recently there was an almighty kerfuffle, mostly affecting those people who list their apartments. I was alerted by an excited email from Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky, "paralysed" by what happened to a San Francisco woman whose apartment was trashed by a guest.

The debate raged through the net. Some said the internet boom was spawning flawed systems; though 9flats' Stephan Uhrenbacher compared the system to Ebay: "Essentially you assume people are good but you have to prepare for the negatives."

The upshot from Airbnb was a $50,000 guarantee to hosts for theft and vandalism, an upgrading of "safety protocols", doubling of the customer support team and a 24-hour hotline. Germany's 9flats.com came up with a property protection plan covering up to $2500 in damage at a cost of $3.50 a night.

If you're considering making your home available to strangers that's good news. Incidentally, the three-year-old Airbnb was recently valued at $US1.3 billion.

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Jim Craigie is Money's travel writer.
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