Hotel or Airbnb? That is the question that I ask myself almost every time we travel, and you know what? I used to feel one way, then the other, and now I feel kind of neutral, so I thought I’d share some of the pros and cons I have experienced with Airbnbs to help you make your own decision when trying to decide what’s best for you and your family when you travel.
Also! A quick note – I’m specifically talking about renting out accomodations through the Airbnb website and my experience with those homes (I’ve stayed in 7 or 8 at the time of this writing and experienced the entire gamut of related experiences). I think a lot of the information would also apply to similar websites, like VRBO.
Hotel or Airbnb?
First up – what is an Airbnb?
Airbnb is a website where homeowners can rent out their houses (or condos, apartments, or even rooms) for short periods of time. We’ve stayed in Airbnbs for vacation and work trips.
They can be great for families or large groups as they can be less expensive than traditional hotels, and you can search for the features you need (like a backyard, a bathtub, pet-friendly,etc.). While you rent through the website, you will deal with the actual owner or property manager of the home while you’re traveling and for any communications leading up to your trip. Before booking, you can check reviews and comments from previous guests, although I have some opinions on that (see below).
What are the pros of staying at an Airbnb?
Here are the things I have loved about staying at an Airbnb:
First of all, cost! A couple years ago, I traveled to Seattle with a group of girls for a bachelorette party for my sister. We stayed in a big, awesome home with an incredible view of Puget Sound. The cost, split up between us, was much cheaper than a hotel stay would have been. I think we ended up paying about $100/night for the Airbnb, which was much less than a comparable hotel room would have been (also, it snowed when we were there and it was so awesome to step outside to this magical view).
The accomodations can be fantastic. Some of the homes are beautifully designed and in amazing locations. When you’re traveling with little kids, a backyard, room to run around, and a bathtub can really make a trip (it’s hard to stay in a little hotel room with kids!). Also, you generally have a lot more room to move around inside a house (including more bathroom space and the privacy of bedrooms) than you would in most hotels. It’s also really, really nice to have a kitchen if you have a family – you can save a bunch of money if you meal plan for your trip and cook at home.
You can see parts of town you might not see in a more touristy area. Many times, your hotels are downtown or located in a touristy part of town. In most larger cities, you can pretty much find an Airbnb in any neighborhood, which means you’re usually to restaurants and places frequented by locals. Hosts will often leave a list of local recommendations and favorites. In Austin, I stayed right across the street from Zilker Park and all of its awesome walking trails – like the one below.
You can find pet-friendly accomodations. I feel like it’s easier to find a pet-friendly Airbnb than hotel. Plus, they often come with a yard which makes all the difference if you have an active dog (or two).
You can have really unique Airbnb experiences. For example, we stayed at an historic home in Fredericksburg, TX, that had a pasture with sheep and a horse on the property. Every morning I woke up and got to feed the animals treats. It had a huge yard, was pet-friendly, and could accomodate 10 people – it was an amazing location. Some cool things I’ve experienced by staying in an Airbnb vs a hotel – one-of-a-kind design (like this fun record wall in San Antonio), really cool locations (like the foot of the Thunder Mountain Trail Head in Sedona!), and a pasture full of sheep in Fredericksburg!).
The hosts can go above and beyond. An amazing host will be quick to communicate, has a clean and well-stocked home where everything works, and provides local recommendations. I’ve really loved the experiences we’ve had in my favorite Airbnb stays.
What are the cons of staying at an Airbnb?
This is where I tell you that not all Airbnb experiences have been great. I’ve noticed some common themes when it comes to a “less than” experience, and I’ll share those here.
Communication can suck. Sorry, don’t know how else to put it – but I’ve had some crappy communication experiences. When you stay at a hotel, you can call the front desk and have your questions answered. When you are staying in an Airbnb, your point of contact is the owner or property manager…and they aren’t always available or quick to answer texts, emails, or calls. I had this experience recently…I wanted to know if I could check in early to a house and over the course of 36 hours I sent about 4 texts and as many emails and didn’t hear a peep during all that time. That can be frustrating. It can also be hard when the hot water doesn’t work in the middle of the night, when you’re finally getting around to a shower.
Sometimes the homes are not at all what is represented in the picture. Case in point: we stayed at a “luxury condo” in Atlanta for a work trip. We had three others staying with us. The “owner” wouldn’t give us the gate code until an hour before we were to check in. Turns out, he was renting an apartment (not a luxury condo AT ALL) and was sub-renting it as an Airbnb. The apartment was below average, with terrible beds, old linens, and a toilet that moved every time you sat on it.
I don’t believe the reviews are all accurate. The reason I feel this way is that I’ve stayed in places (like the luxury condo) that I chose based on reviews, only to be incomplete disbelief that they received even a single five star review, let alone tens of them! Yet the listing had five star review after five star review. I believe this is because the hosts get to review the guests. Nobody wants a host to leave a crappy review, as that could hinder your ability to rent locations in the future. So I think guests leave positive reviews in hopes that the host will return the favor. While I understand the concept – homeowners renting out their homes certainly want respectful and reliable guests – I think it really skews the true reviews many of these locations would be receiving were the guests not afraid of getting a bad review themselves in exchange for their truthful opinion of the place.
Your best bet is to get a reccomendation from someone you know.
Some of the homeowners have weird rules. I recently stayed at a place in Austin, TX. It was a fantastic location! But when I arrived there were really specific instructions about the air conditioning and how it was not to be set below 75 degrees or it might break, and if it did break I would be responsible for the costs to repair it. It was spring, so it was fine, but who needs that kind of pressure on vacation? You will also often need to do some cleaning before you leave (usually stripping the beds and loading the dishes), take out the trash, etc. – all totally reasonable requests but just something to keep in mind when you are planning the type of vacation you want.
So which is better – a hotel or an Airbnb?
My final conclusion is this: it depends on the trip you want and your expectations. I’ve learned to go into an Airbnb with a flexible mindset. The benefit an ideal location and lower cost provide will often help me overcome any minor inconveniences (like slow communication or a less than comfy bed – and of course, those are things we’ve experienced in plenty of hotels, too!). If you’re traveling in a group, an Airbnb can be a great way to keep everyone together under one roof as well as let you see the city from a different perspective.
If the cost is the same and I’m traveling for a conference or a work event, a hotel is often my preferred option because I know exactly what I am going to get and in that case, the location of the hotel is usually closer to the event. But again, cost really plays into my decision…the last conference I attended was in a fancy hotel and I saved hundreds of dollars by sharing an Airbnb with some friends. We had to drive to the event every day, but it was worth it for the amount of money we saved.
I used to be super pro-Airbnb…then after some subpar experiences I was back to hotel life…but the pendulum has swung back to center and I think that the most important thing is setting expectations and knowing exactly what I want out of my vacation.
Here are some travel-related posts I think you might also like:
- How to stick to your budget when traveling
- How to meal plan for a vacation
- Rover pet sitting service (if you have to leave the doggies at home)
If you’re staying at an Airbnb for the first time, this link will give you a $40 credit. This is just a personal referral link for an Airbnb promo that changes occasionally (so it might not always be $40) – I am not an Airbnb affiliate and was not compensated in any way for this post.