Traveling takes a lot of preparation. Before you can plan fun activities though, you have to take care of the basics: the transportation, what you'll eat, and of course, where you'll sleep.
Airbnb or VRBO are two of the most economical platforms for booking a multi-night stay. 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 up to $50 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 2022
This is a crazy time to travel. I think vacation rental booking sites like Airbnb and VRBO are the best ways to find lodging for your road trip, as you can secure more privacy for the price of a hotel. My family usually stays vacation homes when we travel.
We're avoiding hotels in 2022 because we want more privacy and peace of mind – I have a stack of hotel points to use for free nights, so I'm choosing to pay to travel.
This article is an Airbnb and VRBO comparison, but I recommend two other resources to help you find good travel deals in 2022:
- 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.
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 once 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 (you'll have the entire place to yourself!)
Why I Like Airbnb
At first, I didn't know what to expect from Airbnb. 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)
- Cheaper than VRBO if you rent spare bedrooms, campers, tiny homes, etc.
- Fewer hidden fees than VRBO
- More amenities and perks–(hence “Air bed and breakfast“)
- Hosts might offer more flexible cancellation policies than VRBO
- Booking fees might be lower than VRBO
Airbnb Has More Amenities
One of the biggest takeaways for me is that the places we stay in have more “little things” like coffee, tea, and a few other small items that you won't get with a VRBO property.
But it's becoming more common for property owners to list on both Airbnb and VRBO. These properties don't have the unique amenities that make Airbnbs “boutique,” but still give you a clean and spacious place to sleep and relax.
Although this is the exception to the rule, one host called us the day before and asked what we liked to eat. We had a full fridge when we arrived at no additional charge!
Most VRBO properties will provide cooking utensils and a coffee machine (but you must bring 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.
Get Up to $50 off Your First Airbnb Stay
Use this special link to get up to $50 off your first Airbnb stay. I might get a $20 Airbnb credit myself. (Note: Promotion amounts vary by month.)
Why I Dislike Airbnb
Possibly my biggest gripe with Airbnb is “flex pricing.” You can check the property's price 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 adjust the 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.
VRBO is a good timeshare alternative too. You can rent similar houses without signing your life away.
That said, VRBO holds a special place in our hearts because it was our first way to book a place to stay online without paying 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
- Option to haggle with the owner for a lower price
- Easier to find family-friendly dwellings compared to Airbnb
VRBO displays the property prices for the entire travel season upfront. If you want to compare prices but not book today, the prices will likely be the same today or three months from now for your travel dates.
With Airbnb, the price fluctuates by current demand and other factors. The variable pricing might pressure you to book today as you're unsure if prices will go up. It's like booking an airline ticket or investing in stocks and trying to predict if prices will increase or decrease.
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 booked over 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.
Actually, Airbnb sometimes has some mysterious and vague booking fees as well. As more people travel, VRBO and Airbnb can increase their “pricing power” through these fees.
But VRBO takes the top prize. When we booked our 2021 beach trip, we didn't see the VRBO fees until we went to pay. Needless to say, we didn't book that time.
Whether you book a property owned by an agency or an 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. VRBO isn't as much of a bargain as before.
But VRBO is often cheaper than a hotel. You can get a whole house for the price of one hotel room.
Honestly, 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 only come with a stocked kitchen and basic toiletries (i.e., soap, toilet paper, and towels). You have all the kitchen gadgets and home furnishings for 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 you can get at many Airbnb places.
Another trend I noticed last year is hosts listing on Airbnb and VRBO to reach more potential guests. So as a traveler, you should do the same and look for potential properties on both Airbnb and VRBO. Often, you see the same property on both sites and its common 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, but otherwise Airbnb will usually be cheaper as VRBO charges its hosts (and guests) more fees than Airbnb.
Whichever one you go for, both platforms are cheaper and more comfortable than a hotel room in many cases. Still, 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 and school buses with compost toilets.
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.” That's just my opinion.
What's your preference? Airbnb or VRBO?
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.