Airbnb, Vrbo and more: Comparing popular holiday home-booking sites
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated. It was originally published in August 2019.
Even the most-devoted hotel aficionado still has a time when a short-term home or villa rental makes more sense due to location, privacy, amenities or group size. With so many sites now offering home rentals, you should know the difference between four of the largest that range from an average £25 per night to £1,700 per night, and from concierge service to shared bathrooms, so that you can find the right site for your next booking.
During normal, pre-COVID-19 times, two million people check into an Airbnb every night, so chances are that you’ve already stayed at a place listed on the rental behemoth.
Airbnb created sub-brands to differentiate between its six million properties. For example, you’ll find Airbnb Plus (vetted listings), Airbnb Luxe (high-end listings averaging £1,6000/night) and differentiators such as its Superhost programme. Airbnb famously started as renting airbeds and continues to have shared and hosted accommodation.
Travel writer Jarvis Marcos, who typically stays at luxury hotels, also recommends Airbnb. “As much as I love hotels, some of the best-ever stays have taken place in private rental properties”, Marcos told TPG U.K. “If you want to go off the beaten path, value the added privacy of your own villa or just want somebody to give you unbiased local advice, Airbnb really comes into its own”.
Downsides of using Airbnb include that you don’t always know what you’re going to get. There can be safety concerns and the fees are paid by both the guests and the hosts, with guest fees reaching as much as 20% on top of the nightly rate.
The upsides of staying in an Airbnb include that you can do the whole process through the app. You can search, book, pay, get check-in info, message the host and leave a review all from your phone.
Keep in mind, too, that you can earn bonus Avios for your Airbnb stay. For new Airbnb users, you can earn up to 6 Avios per pound spent on your first stay. For example, on a five-night stay that costs £1,100, you’ll earn 6,600 Avios — worth about £73 based on our most recent valuations.
Vrbo, or Vacation Rentals by Owner, rents only entire properties. The company has been operating since 1995 and properties are often only available for weekly bookings and have a booking fee of 5%-15% for guests.
“I’ve heard about so many issues with Airbnb”, Clare Keimig of The Traveling Empty Nester explained to TPG U.K. “Listing not giving the entire picture, bad surprises after the renter gets there, last-minute cancellations. With Vrbo, I have never had these issues. We have rented probably 15 homes with them and each time, the home was exactly as pictured”.
Where Vrbo stands out is in its robust filters. Unlike Airbnb, you can drill down into lots of specifics of what you require in a property before seeing your results.
Vrbos are not always paid through the interface and still sometimes require a contract and a paper cheque mailed to the owner.
Onefinestay started with six homes in London in May 2010 is now owned by AccorHotels, making it the only hotel-affiliated — and hotel points-earning — homeshare site on this list. With 10,000 premium upscale and luxury homes worldwide, from resort destinations to major cities, Onefinestay has a large emphasis on its hospitality and concierge function. The platform boasts that it is the only short-term home rental site that has visited and vetted every property in person.
Since April 2018, Accor’s LeClub loyalty members have been able to earn and redeem their points for stays with Onefinestay, and last year, Accor debuted a new loyalty programme called ALL (Accor Live Limitless), in which Onefinestay is also included.
Additionally, a Onefinestay credit is one of the benefits of the Platinum Card from American Express. Cardholders get a US$200 (£150/€170) credit for every qualifying Onefinestay house rental. Read more about the benefit here.
While Airbnb started as a hosted home-exchange site, it’s now mostly professionally managed properties. The site Homestay was founded in 2013 to bring back that experience with its 55,000 listed rooms. At a global average of $31 per night room rate, it is certainly a budget-friendly option.
“HomeStay is like Airbnb but with the option of it being a true homestay, meaning engaging on a regular basis with a host, or even a host family”, Gabby Packs Light told TPG U.K. “More than other short-term rentals, I think HomeStay really focuses on interaction and connection just as much as having a place to stay. You can do short- or long-term stays, which means it’s a great option for a student studying abroad, professionals travelling for work or people who just want a more communal energy on their trip with more privacy and calm than a hostel”.
Nadine Jolie Courtney, a luxury family travel advisor with Elite Travel International, said not to forget about the speciality home-rental sites, especially in major cities.
“In cities like Paris, where half the fun is pretending you’re a local, I like to book with speciality rental sites such as Paris Perfect that focus solely on that location. You’ll get a more tailored experience than with, say, Airbnb, often including hotel-like amenities, and the apartments are killer: think Eiffel Tower views from giant balconies”.
There are also speciality family-centric curated home rental sites like Kid & Coe and destination-specific sites such as FeelFree rentals in San Sebastian, Spain or Parrish Collection for home rentals on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.
Featured photo courtesy of Airbnb.
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