Thursday, 22 January 2009

Save money: rent your room to travellers

"Get a lodger to help pay your mortgage," advised the Times at the weekend. It seems they've caught on to sites, such as Crashpadder and Airbed&breakfast, which allow users to rent out spare rooms and turn their place into a temporary B&B. They're peer-to-peer accommodation networks, like, but with the added twist of allowing cash to exchange hands and profits to be made.

Although I've had my reservations about such sites in the past, they certainly have potential. I think we could be looking at the next big thing here and we're sure to see more start-ups in the near future.

This week, I came across another one,, which runs under a motto of "rent your room to the world". Although it's new to me, it has been operating since 2007 and it looks like a good place for new hosts to start.

Until now, one of my concerns about these sites is they allow hosts to charge anything they want for their room and offer no pricing structure whatsoever. So, one thing I like about Roomft is its "value your room" function, which allows users to complete a very short survey about what they are offering and, as a result, suggests would be a reasonable per-night price. At least this adds some sort of scale to the process and gets hosts to think more realistically about what people need when travelling. Room size, location, transport links, internet facilities and local amenities should all be taken into account. charges the host a small booking fee, but doesn't take commission on the room price. By contrast, Airbed&Breakfast allows hosts to set any price they want, up to $3,000, with no guidance, other than pointing out the average charge is $90. The site also then takes 5-12% commission - meaning if you get overcharged, they still profit.

So, if you really are looking to boost your income through renting a spare room, RoomFt could be the most economical option. As part of a sign-up incentive, they are also giving every new host three free bookings. This means that hosts can rent out their rooms to travellers three times, at no charge whatsoever.

And, even when that booking fee does kick in, it's unlikely to break the bank. The site says the fee costs "one credit", which is "equivalent to £1 UK, $2 US dollars, €1.50 euro or 250 Yen". That seems highly reasonable, especially if these rates still stands for travelling Brits, for whom last year's £1 = $2 rate now seems like a distant memory.

Pictured: A special edition cereal made by Airbed&Breakfast and available through their site for $39 a box.