Skip to main content

Attractive People Charge More on Airbnb

In the short-term rental market, the key factors are location, location, and cheekbones.
Williamsburg Brooklyn apartments

Attractive people "are believed to possess more positive personality traits," the researchers write. They're also perceived as more healthy.

While it's hardly in the top tier of social justice concerns, Pacific Standard has periodically pointed out that good-looking people have many unearned advantages over everyone else. Attractive students get better grades; attractive waiters get bigger tips.

New research finds this bias has infected the new economy. It reports that, at least in New York City, comely people charge higher rates to rent their guest rooms on Airbnb.

The findings suggest that "consumers are willing to spend more on a night in an apartment if they are staying with a more attractive host," writes a research team led by psychologist Bastian Jaeger of Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

As the researchers note in the Journal of Economic Psychology, sites such as Airbnb, on which individuals offer goods or services for sale, are often accompanied by a photo of the person making the offer. The websites believe that these photos facilitate trust; while that may be true, it also activates unconscious biases.

"People spontaneously infer personality characteristics of individuals solely based on their facial appearance," the researchers write. Certain facial features have been reliably found to convey trustworthiness, and in a 2016 study, Stockholm residents who met that profile were able to charge more for their apartments on Airbnb.

To see if that held true in a bigger city, and to determine whether trustworthiness really trumps attractiveness, Jaeger and his colleagues examined 1,020 listings of apartments in New York City that were advertised on Airbnb in December of 2015. (The per-night price ranged from $25 to $1,500.) They recruited 1,300 workers from Amazon's Mechanical Turk website to rate hosts' photos in terms of both trustworthiness and attractiveness.

After taking into account the desirability of the lodging's location, they found that "more attractive hosts charge 2.78 percent higher prices for similar apartments." This, the researchers report, was due to not to an attractiveness surcharge per se, but rather to an "ugliness penalty," in which less attractive hosts charge lower prices.

Surprisingly, looks that conveyed trustworthiness did not influence price. But race did: African-Americans charged 10 percent less, on average, for their apartments than whites or Asians.

So why can beautiful people charge more, and get what they ask for? Well, attractive people "are believed to possess more positive personality traits," the researchers write. They're also perceived as more healthy—and if you're staying in a stranger's apartment, you presumably want to minimize the possibility of contracting a contagious disease.

Non-beautiful people looking to rent out rooms do have one option. The researchers found that people who have the biggest, most intense smiles in their online photographs are also able to charge more.

So when posing for that photo, don't stint on the smile. If you need motivation, think of all that extra cash you could make.