Written by: Mariette Williams 

An Airbnb is often a popular choice among budget-minded travelers who want a more immersive travel experience. Why stay in a sterile hotel room when you can book a rustic treehouse in the woods? Or a secluded bungalow on the beach?

Since 2008, Airbnb has won travelers over with its clean, modern site design and professional looking photos. The Airbnb app feels like its own social media platform with the ability to “like” or save properties and collaborate with friends with shared property lists. Compared to other sites, Airbnb just has an undeniable “cool” factor.

But there’s nothing “cool” about having a reservation canceled. Recently, TWO of my reservations were canceled within weeks of my trips, one in New York and one in Los Angeles. I have been using Airbnb for years, but the cancellations and subsequent panic that I endured made me think twice about using Airbnb again.

While some of the properties on Airbnb are corporately owned, most properties are privately owned, and we sometimes forget that we are staying in someone’s home. We are essentially guests, and at any moment, an Airbnb host can decide to cancel a reservation with very little consequence.

When my first reservation was canceled, I immediately turned to Google. I found that hosts can cancel up until the day before a reservation, and the penalty is a slap on the wrist.

There is no penalty if a host has had 10 consecutive bookings without canceling. If a reservation is more than 7 days away, a host will lose $50 on their next payout. If it’s fewer than 7 days, $100 is deducted from their next payout. Hosts will also be ineligible for Superhost status for a year. However inconvenient it is for travelers, the fact remains most Airbnb hosts are regular people opening up their homes to strangers. And life happens. Things change.

What should you do if your host cancels?

First, Airbnb will give you a 100% refund on a canceled booking. If you’re traveling with a large group AND your trip is in a popular location, you may be better off working something out with Airbnb.

My reservation in New York was for a group of eight people during high season. So, I went back to Airbnb and booked a comparable, but more expensive, property with the hopes that Airbnb would help cover the difference. Most properties have a 48-hour window to cancel, so check the property before rebooking. After booking, I immediately called Airbnb, asking them to cover the price difference, which they did. I ended up doing the same thing for my canceled reservation in Los Angeles.

The experience with two canceled Airbnb reservations left me on edge.

Airbnb properties are often less expensive than booking a hotel, but there is risk involved in booking a stay in someone’s home. Travelers may be exposed to unsafe properties, invasive hosts, or blatant racism. Airbnb made headlines recently when a group of five black men were kicked out of an Airbnb at 2 a.m. after racist remarks from their host. Last summer in Montreal, I stayed at a property where the host continually text me to ask if I (or anyone in my party) was smoking. His proof? He smelled smoke in the hallway, though we were one of several apartments on the floor. In some buildings where rentals are prohibited, guests are asked to lie and say they are friends of the owner. But with so much at risk for both hosts and guests, maybe it’s time to consider some alternatives.

RELATED: Airbnb’s Inaugural ‘Black Travel List’

Airbnb Alternatives

If you travel with a big group, you don’t have to give up home rentals entirely. Before Airbnb, I used sites like FlipKey, VRBO, or HomeAway. Most of these properties are dedicated vacation rentals and like Airbnb, properties are available worldwide.

Airbnb Booking Tips

If you are determined to use Airbnb, there are some ways to try and avoid disappointment. Look for a property with lots of reviews and book with a Superhost. Among other things, a Superhost must have an average 4.8 rating, at least 10 bookings in a row, and a 90% response rate.  Also make sure the property has a lot of pictures of the actual property, not just the common areas or surrounding streets or attractions. If you need a certain number of beds, make sure each bed advertised is an actual bed, not an air mattress or a pull-out couch. If you have any doubts, reach out to the owner before booking. But even with all of these precautions, there is still a chance that your reservation could be canceled, and like me, you’ll be back at square one.

In a few months, I’m traveling to Cartagena, Colombia, and this time, I booked a hotel for me and my friends. But before I booked, I browsed the Airbnb app, falling in love with the charming apartments. But then I thought about getting a cancelation email, or even worse, landing in Cartagena and finding out we didn’t have a place to stay. I ended up finding a beautiful boutique hotel with a rooftop pool and views of the city. I booked the hotel with confidence, knowing that outside of some natural disaster, our reservation would not be canceled.

While Airbnb wins points for affordability and unique properties, spending a few more dollars on a hotel may be worth the peace of mind.