Anytime you travel, you need to find a new place to stay each night. For the two most economical places to book a stay for multiple nights, you might try Airbnb or VRBO. After taking a few trips through these two booking services, I’m here to share my thoughts on which is better.
Both Airbnb and VRBO will save you money compared to staying at a hotel, but each site is better in different circumstances.
Affiliate Disclosure: I might earn a refer-a-friend credit if you book your first Airbnb trip using this link (you get $35 for your effort). However, I don’t earn any commission from VRBO. Both booking sites are good for finding cheap travel and I personally use both each year. I might earn affiliate commissions with other travel brands I mention on this page.
Note: This post is from June 2018 but receives regular updates.
Should You Travel in 2020?
This is a crazy time to travel. I personally think that vacation rental booking sites like Airbnb and VRBO are the best ways to find lodging for your road trip. My family usually stays in hotels and vacation homes when we travel.
We’re avoiding hotels in 2020 because we want more privacy and “health” peace of mind–I have a stack of hotel points to use for free nights so I’m choosing to pay to travel. Hotels, Airbnb, and VRBO all have extensive COVID-19 cleaning policies. But we still prefer renting our own place as its easier to maintain social distancing.
This article is an Airbnb and VRBO comparison, but I recommend two other resources to help you find good travel deals in 2020:
- RVShare –Rent an RV as many campgrounds are open to self-contained units. This platform is like an “Airbnb for renting RVs.”
- Scott’s Cheap Flights—A free weekly email of the best domestic and international flight deals. Serious jetsetters can get exclusive alerts when getting the “Premium” letter after a 14-day free trial.
I first heard of Airbnb in 2016. Since then, we have booked several trips with Airbnb across the United States.
Although there are plenty of properties where you can sleep in a spare bedroom or a tiny house with a compost toilet (why I was originally scared to use Airbnb), there are plenty of single-family homes that house the entire family.
With the newish Airbnb Plus service, you can stay in luxurious properties that might rival an upscale resort hotel.
So, Airbnb hosts offer anything from the basic experience to 5-star stays without paying the premium that hotels charge.
I Was Hesitant to Use Airbnb
My family has been using VRBO since the early 2000s in the early days of online vacation bookings. My first impression of Airbnb was sleeping on a person’s couch or in their spare bedroom–like CouchSurfing. To me, this shared experience was a great way to save money in college but not as a married adult.
Well…I’m glad my assumptions were incorrect. Airbnb hosts offer single homes and vacation villas so you have the entire place to yourself! In fact, the closest I have come to renting a shared space was the property host living in the basement. But, there was a one-way door leading to the basement. The host knocked on our back deck door to talk with us so it was no different than being on the second floor of a hotel.
Why I Like Airbnb
At first, I didn’t know what to expect with Airbnb. Right, wrong, or indifferent, I thought Airbnb was a booking site for single people and couples traveling without children. I’m glad I was proven wrong.
Here are a few quick reasons why I like Airbnb more than VRBO:
- More likely to deal with individual property owners (not rental agencies)
- Properties can be cheaper than VRBO becuase you can rent spare bedrooms, campers, tiny homes, etc.
- Houses are more unique and come with more amenities and perks–(hence the term Air bed and breakfast).
- Hosts might offer more flexible cancellation policies than VRBO
- Booking fees might be lower than VRBO
One of the biggest takeaways for me is that the places we stayed that had more “little things” like coffee, tea, and few other small items that you won’t get with a VRBO property. Although this is the exception to the rule, one host called us the day before and asked what we liked to eat so we had a full fridge when we arrived at no additional charge!
Most VRBO properties will provide you with cooking utensils and a coffee machine, but you have to bring the spices and coffee grounds. However, there are some Airbnb properties only offering “the bare essentials” too.
I describe Airbnb as the combination of a hotel and VRBO. You can get the privacy of having your own rental unit and the on-site amenities of a hotel without hotel prices. To me…Airbnb is what VRBO was two decades ago.
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Why I Dislike Airbnb
Possibly my biggest gripe with Airbnb is the “flex pricing.” You can check the price of the property three days in a row and get three slightly different prices. As I understand it, Airbnb uses an algorithm that combines the number of property views and the average booking price of similar properties in the area to charge the correct price. In our experience, prices seem to go up as vacancy drops.
With VRBO, the prices are fixed based on the time of year you visit. So it’s always at least worth checking out VRBO to establish a base rate. Then you can see if the Airbnb properties are cheaper.
Another reason why I sometimes avoid Airbnb is the lack of family-friendly properties in certain areas. One example is our perennial beach destination, Hilton Head Island. There are on-island properties, but many were either for childless travelers or were outside our price range.
Why I Like VRBO
It’s because of VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) that many families can rent an entire house for the fraction of the cost of a hotel room. After all, you can spend $100 at VRBO for a whole house or $100 for a tiny hotel room with two queen beds. Take your pick.
If you’re looking for a timeshare alternative, VRBO is a good reason too. You can rent similar houses without signing away your life.
With that said, VRBO holds a special place in our hearts because it was our first way to book a place to stay online without having to pay exorbitant hotel prices.
Another reason why I like VRBO is that there are plenty of options in nearly every city. For the most part, you know you are going to be renting family-friendly houses, so it can be easier to filter the search results too (if you have small children or don’t want to stay in somebody’s basement or spare bedroom).
In a nutshell, here are the reasons why I like VRBO:
- Flat-rate pricing based on peak season or off-peak
- You might be able to haggle with the owner for a lower price (not so much with Airbnb in our experience)
- Can be easier to find family-friendly dwellings compared to Airbnb
Why I Dislike VRBO
I have three small gripes with VRBO, but they shouldn’t scare you away.
VRBO is Getting Crowded with Agencies
My biggest gripe with VRBO is that many of the listings are now operated by agencies that “pose” as individual owners. You usually don’t find out until you start to book the property and see the additional agency fees that independent owners don’t charge.
With Airbnb, you get an instant quote that includes all your fees without all the smoke and mirrors.
To be honest, VRBO has also introduced an instant book feature similar to Airbnb. For the two vacations we’ve booked in the last year, we’ve used the instant book tool and liked it.
Airbnb is starting to get rental agencies who list their properties too. Normally, you can’t haggle with agencies as much and they tend to charge more fees than individual owners.
To be honest, Airbnb has these mysterious and vague booking fees as well. As more people travel, VRBO and Airbnb both can increase their “pricing power” through these fees.
Whether you book a property owned by an agency or independent owner, VRBO’s booking fees have increased in recent years. Maybe the economy is too good or they’re trying to mimic the airlines. It’s a nuisance either way and VRBO isn’t as much of a bargain as before.
But VRBO is oftentimes cheaper than a hotel.
I’ll be honest, we’ve been spoiled at the few Airbnb properties we’ve stayed at. Although the little amenities are mere creature comforts, it’s nice to get little things for about the same price as VRBO that make you feel more at your own home instead of renting a furnished apartment.
What you see with VRBO properties is what you get. Some owners might include coffee, coffee filters, or other small amenities like laundry soap, but usually, most houses are usually a furnished house with a stocked kitchen. You have all the kitchen gadgets and home furnishings to have a comfortable stay, but you need to bring your own supplies.
This experience is still better than a hotel (minus the continental breakfast), but it lacks the personal touch that you can get at many Airbnb places.
Another travel trend I have noticed in 2020 is that property hosts list their properties on Airbnb and VRBO. It’s a smart move as you can reach more potential guests. But as a traveler, you should look for potential properties on Airbnb and VRBO.
Oftentimes, you see the same property on both sites. It’s not uncommon to see it cheaper on one site than the other.
Homes might be cheaper to rent on VRBO when Airbnb’s dynamic pricing is high. Airbnb might be cheaper as VRBO charges its hosts (and guests) more fees than Airbnb–in many instances.
Either option is cheaper and more comfortable than a hotel room in many cases, but one booking site might be better than another depending on your travel destination. For us, Airbnb is a better option if you want to stay in regular neighborhoods or unconventional locales like desert yurts. VRBO is better if you want to stay in resort areas, gated communities, or you want a more professional environment.
We’ve never had a bad VRBO experience, but it’s “vanilla” compared to the Airbnb “spice.” But, that’s just my opinion.
What’s your preference? Airbnb or VRBO?