The 5 Best Airbnb Alternatives of 2024

Interested in a short-term private vacation rental? Don’t assume Airbnb is the only option—one of these Airbnb alternatives may work better for your travel needs.

Best Overall

Vrbo

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Full-Service Booking

The Best Airbnb Alternatives Option Expedia

Expedia

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Best Home Swap

The Best Airbnb Alternatives Option Love Home Swap

Love Home Swap

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The explosion of the short-term vacation rental marketplace, fueled by Airbnb’s popularity, has changed the way travelers plan their stays and choose their lodgings—using an app to rent vacation homes is a new dynamic for many people. It has also upended the traditional assumption that travel or a vacation means staying in a sterile, cookie-cutter hotel room or paying a premium for a boutique hotel by making it possible to rent whole private homes of different styles. Initially, Airbnb was the only real option for this kind of rental—the company was so dominant that even now, with fierce, successful competitors on the market, people often refer to any vacation rental that isn’t a hotel as “an Airbnb” in the same way they refer to all adhesive bandages as Band-Aids and all facial tissue as Kleenex.

As Airbnb has grown, some communities have struggled with the pervasiveness of the rental homes; investors, seeing opportunity, began snapping up lower-cost homes, fixing them up, and renting them on Airbnb as income sources. This has resulted in some communities being overwhelmed with short-term guests or tourists in areas that had previously been exclusively residential, and the pushback through legislation, ordinances, and tourism taxes has forced Airbnb to increase some of its fees. In addition, because the demand for Airbnbs was so strong, the company has raised its mandatory cleaning fees and costs, creating a space for competitors to sneak in with lower costs and better neighborhood relationships, plus specialty amenities. As a result, the marketplace has opened up, and there are quite a few websites offering similar services to those offered by Airbnb that may suit some customers’ travel needs even better. We have examined and compared the competition and identified some of the best Airbnb alternatives: places like Airbnb but with lower costs and different perks.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Vrbo
  2. FULL-SERVICE BOOKING: Expedia
  3. BEST HOME EXCHANGE: Love Home Swap
  4. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Homestay
  5. ALSO CONSIDER: Booking.com
A yellow suitcase on a bed next to a large window with model sailboats on the windowsill.
Photo: istockphoto.com

What to Consider When Choosing One of the Best Airbnb Alternatives

No two travel booking sites offer exactly the same set of services and options, so it’s important to establish a basic criteria for comparison. The specifics of a traveler’s plans will make the choice a little easier, but it’s helpful to have some basic points of comparison.

Availability and Guest Needs

One of the most important criteria for choosing a vacation house rental app or website is the ease of establishing whether or not there are properties available on the dates for which the travel is planned, and whether or not those properties will meet the needs of the travel party. Nearly all reputable travel sites allow customers to search by date, and all have listing details that include number of guests, accessibility accommodations, age requirements, and basic facility information such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Based on the needs of the party, some of these details may be more important than others, so the ability to search and sort by these requirements can become critical. For example, a guest who needs wheelchair access will want to limit their search to wheelchair-accessible properties rather than searching through endless lists of attractive homes, then digging through the listing to see if a specific property is accessible to them. The more search-and-sort options are available for customers with specific needs, the more fruitful the online hunt will be.

Types of Rentals and Number of Listings

Not all home rental vacation sites list all types of properties, so it’s key to know that the selected site offers the style of property the customer is interested in renting. Some sites will only offer whole homes or apartments, private rooms with shared amenities, parts of homes, outbuildings on a property shared with the host, or standard hotel rooms. It can be fun to search sites that offer all of the options and may even inspire the customer to take a chance on a rental they may not have otherwise considered, but once the type of lodging is selected, it’s best to focus on one site that has the largest number of that type of listing—a targeted search is much more likely to provide a range of results that meet the customer’s needs.

Amenities

All house rental apps like Airbnb will provide listings with a place to sleep, bathe, and store a suitcase. For some travelers, that’s all that is needed. However, most vacationers have an idea of little extras they’d like that will make the trip feel special and a little luxurious. Soaking tubs, luxury linens, gourmet kitchens, fireplaces, streaming services on TV, pools, hiking or boating gear, barbecue grills—these amenities are what make a vacation feel like a vacation, and they can make a rental feel like it’s a home for the duration of the stay. The ability to limit searches based on desired amenities goes a long way toward helping a guest find the right listing for them without endless scrolling. Sometimes just reading through the list of possible amenities to check off during a search can help a customer suddenly realize they need that amenity to make the trip just right. A robust amenity list in the search function is a great marketing tool.

Deposit, Payment, and Fees 

Will guests need to pay up front? Pay a deposit? How much? To whom? These are important questions, especially in this type of marketplace where customers are paying a host or homeowner, not a larger company against whom there’s obvious recourse if something goes wrong. Fees can be a sticking point for many short-term renters: When they’re renting a hotel room, they expect the cleaning service to be part of the cost of the room, but many reservation marketplaces have required cleaning fees, and cancellation and refund fees can vary considerably by site and by host. These policies and fees should be up front and transparent, with no surprises at the end of the booking process or at check-in.

Mobile App

Sitting with a laptop scrolling through photos of beautiful rental homes, then clicking through to read the policies on a large screen, making a selection, and booking seems pretty straightforward. So why does it matter if a travel site has a well-functioning mobile app? Unless guests are printing all of their reference pages and writing down the addresses and contact information for the host, or they’re planning to lug that laptop on vacation, a mobile app is a necessity. First, it allows guests to double-check the plans for key pickup and payment, but more importantly, an app provides a fast and easy way to locate the host’s contact information and get in touch almost immediately if there’s a problem or question about the property or the reservation.

Property and Host Reviews

While online reviews should often be taken with a grain of salt (bearing in mind that people are far more likely to take the time to post a review to complain), in the case of Airbnb-type sites, reviews are critical. When renting from a site that connects customers with hosts, reviews of the host provided by previous customers will give potential guests an idea of the responsiveness, attentiveness, flexibility, and availability of the host. Because there is no staff at a private rental, guests will need to be able to contact the host if there’s a problem and know they can expect a prompt response and solution. Seeing a number of reviews that suggest that a host isn’t available or responsive can be a red flag. Similarly, reviews of the property itself (especially if there are photos) are enormously helpful. While the stock room photos on a standard hotel website aren’t necessarily indicative of the room a guest will stay in (especially as most of those photos were taken before the hotel was even open, some years before), they are indicative of the general space, decor, size, and number of beds. A lot of trust goes into renting from a private party, so seeing reviews from other customers who have found the property to be satisfactory and as advertised can go a long way toward helping a potential guest feel more comfortable with renting the property.

Cancellation Policy 

Clear communication of a property’s cancellation policy is absolutely critical. Some sites have an across-the-board cancellation policy to which every listed property owner must adhere. This makes booking much simpler, because the standard policy means that the customer doesn’t need to check it for each individual property, and also that the site administrators are likely to stand behind the policy on behalf of the customer should a property owner suggest a different policy. Other sites allow individual property owners to set their own policies. On the upside, sometimes the individual policies are more generous than blanket policies, as the hosts know they may draw in more customers with a policy that is more flexible. On the downside, if the policy changes unexpectedly or there’s a problem, the customer doesn’t have much in the way of support to count on.

Customer Support

Easy access to customer support, preferably via multiple avenues (email, phone, text, chat, app) is more important in this industry than in others. Again, because in many cases a customer is trusting that what the host listed on the app is accurate and true, and because they are taking a certain amount of risk in renting from an individual person, having a clear and direct way to contact the administrators of the marketplace website is necessary to help customers feel like there’s someone “behind the curtain” and in charge who can help them if there’s a problem. There are many problems that could arise: the rental could fail to include the correct number of beds or critical amenities that were promised, it could be dirty, or the guest could feel unsafe. An open line to a customer support department with a reputation for fine service provides a comfortable sense of protection as customers choose their rental property.

At-a-Glance Comparison

Types of RentalsNumber of LIstingsMobile AppCancellation PolicyCustomer Support
VrboEntire home2 millioniOS, AndroidDetermined by hostPhone, in app
ExpediaEntire home, hotel room1.8 millioniOS, AndroidDetermined by hostPhone, live chat
Love Home SwapHome swapNot specifiedNoFull points refund within 48 hours after bookingPhone, email
HomestayPrivate room37,000iOS, Android7 days before arrivalEmail
Booking.comEntire home, hotel roomNot specifiediOS, AndroidDetermined by hostPhone, live chat

Our Top Picks

We examined a range of sites that index and support short-term house rentals. Using the criteria above, we evaluated each site and compared it to sites and apps to rent vacation homes. We assigned these five sites the top spots in their respective categories.

Best Overall

Vrbo

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Why It Made the Cut: Featuring an extensive number of whole-home listings, Vrbo offers one of the most customizable search functions in the industry and a spectacular customer service team, in addition to a storyboard function that allows customers to plan upcoming trips or dream about potential trips far out in the future.

Vrbo is probably Airbnb’s closest competitor. Offering most of the same services on a slightly smaller scale, Vrbo hosts over 2 million listings only for whole-house or whole-unit rentals, not private or shared spaces. Its search filters are comprehensive, making the search experience more exciting and productive. Customers can filter results based on basic qualities, such as the number of rooms, number of bedrooms or bathrooms, and the type of home—including condominiums, cottages, bungalows, villas, caravans, houseboats, and castles. Who knew there were castle or cabin rental apps? Customers can also limit their searches by type of view, pet friendliness, outdoor spaces, nearby activities, and cancellation policies. Accessibility, safety features, booking options, and the ideal mood of the property (good for families, good for a romantic weekend) are also search filters that are available. Bold photos guide customers to explore the options, which adds to the spirit of vacation adventure.

Even if a customer isn’t up for renting a barn to stay in for the vacation they’re shopping for right now, Vrbo offers a bulletin board–like feature called Trip Boards, where users can save properties, activities, and weekend getaways on named boards as they plan a trip in the future. These boards give users a space to plan far in advance, or just to dream, giving themselves something to save toward.

Vrbo’s customer service department is quite well-regarded. The cancellation policy for renters is determined by each individual host, but another concern that many guests have is the possibility of last-minute cancellation by the host. To counteract the possibility that a guest might arrive to find their reservation canceled with no immediate recourse, Vrbo has a specific team dedicated to assisting customers whose reservations are canceled by the host within 30 days of the stay to get the problem resolved as quickly as possible and help the customer find a comparable or superior rental. The “Book with Confidence” guarantee also protects the customer against problems with property access and inaccurate property descriptions, as well as providing payment protection.

The one drawback to Vrbo is the fee schedule. Fees can add up surprisingly quickly and are not included in the cost per night posted on each listing (though this information is available on the website and appears on the total cost prior to booking). There’s a range of potential fees—pet fees, extra-guest fees, parking fees, damage deposits—that are only applied in certain circumstances, but all guests can expect to pay a service fee, which is a percentage of the rental subtotal and averages between 7 and 10 percent, a cleaning fee between $30 and $200, and the amorphous “owner fee,” which can be a conglomeration of other fees. Again, these fees are listed prior to rental, but they can be significant and might push a rental that otherwise seemed affordable out of reach. Overall, however, Vrbo’s wide range of offerings, great customer service, and creative search function make it Airbnb’s top competitor.

Specs

  • Types of rentals: Entire home
  • Number of listings: 2 million
  • Mobile app: iOS, Android
  • Cancellation policy: Determined by host
  • Customer support: Phone, in app

Pros

  • Over 2 million listings worldwide
  • Trip boards allow guests to save and organize listings
  • Wide range of filters for customized results
  • Dedicated customer service team for handling host cancellations

Cons

  • Fees may be relatively high

Full-Service Booking

Expedia

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Why It Made the Cut: Expedia is a truly full-service booking site, featuring homes, hotel rooms, rental cars, flights, and activities, and includes a wide range of specific accessibility accommodations in its search filters to simplify the search process for those with disabilities.

Expedia has been around for a long time, having started in the more traditional travel industry as a one-stop shop for booking services. Flights, rental cars, activities, hotels—all of these can be booked through Expedia, and all of the trip information will be neatly saved in one spot for customers to have easy access to travel details and documents. Expedia added private home rentals to their raft of booking options to compete directly with Airbnb. The convenience factor of being able to book airline tickets, car service and rental, and private home rental all on one site is enormous: Using just one app, travelers can see every aspect of their travel arrangements in one convenient spot rather than fumbling back and forth between different apps or flicking through confirmation emails to find information they need.

The search functions on Expedia offer all the expected options and more, but guests with accessibility needs will find the search parameters particularly delightful: Instead of guessing or having to call a property for specifics, they can search directly on Expedia to find rooms with elevator access, accessible bathrooms, sign language–trained staff or hosts, and stair-free pathways. The company also highlights the ability to search for specifically business-friendly recommendations, family-friendly activities, and LGBTQ+-friendly experiences so that every guest will be able to enjoy their travel and the purpose for which it was planned.

Across the board, Expedia’s rental rates are more expensive than those of other sites—often for properties posted on more than one site, the Expedia cost is higher. This may be offset for some users by the fact that Expedia is a familiar, established name and offers strong customer service, but for others it may be a deciding factor. Additionally, as Expedia’s home-rental branch is still relatively new, properties often don’t have many reviews, which can make it more difficult for potential guests to vet a rental. Still, for travelers booking multiple aspects of a vacation, the convenience of Expedia’s centralized booking site may be irresistible.

Specs

  • Types of rentals: Entire home, hotel room
  • Number of listings: 1.8 million
  • Mobile app: iOS, Android
  • Cancellation policy: Determined by host
  • Customer support: Phone, live chat

Pros

  • Guests can book flights, cars, airport transportation, and vacation rentals at the same time
  • Extensive accessibility search filters
  • Explicitly business-, family-, and LGBTQ+-friendly traveler experiences available

Cons

  • Prices may be relatively high
  • Fewer reviews available than on other sites

Best Home Swap

Love Home Swap

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Why It Made the Cut: A bit of a throwback? Maybe. But Love Home Swap provides a different kind of private vacation rental that many find appealing and less expensive than other choices—the largest cost potentially being the willingness to swap a home with someone else in exchange.

Love Home Swap is a little different from the other vacation rental sites that made the cut. Instead of paying a fee to a host to rent their room or home, customers at Love Home Swap pay a flat monthly rate to the company ($11 to $15 per month, depending on the selected plan) for access to a search similar to those found on other rental sites. Users find a home they’d like to rent, then see if the owner would like to swap houses for a period of time. If that works out, the two homeowners arrange a Classic Swap and trade homes for an agreed-upon period of time. If the other owner isn’t interested in the other customer’s home, they can arrange a Points Swap, where one customer rents another customer’s home in exchange for “points,” a virtual currency used only on Love Home Swap, and the customer whose home is rented has points to spend on a home they’d like to stay in. The agreements are heavily based on trust: Arrangements about cost, cleaning, use, and cancellation are left entirely up to the customers and what they agree on, which makes for a friendly, active online community that also helps renters find activities and points of interest in the area where they’re staying. There is nearly endless flexibility, as long as the home is available when a customer wants it. Plus, while an Airbnb host might have to rent somewhere to stay while their home is in use, Love Home Swap hosts can simply choose another home to stay in as a swap.

Customer service supports a points refund after a canceled stay, and help is available via phone and email. There’s no app to use to facilitate on-the-go arrangements, which may be a problem. And some travelers will object to paying for a membership, though that’s a monthly cost that can be canceled when it’s no longer needed (but they can resubscribe again if desired). Many customers will find this “swap” more traditional and comfortable, making Love Home Swap a worthwhile contender as an Airbnb alternative.

Specs

  • Types of rentals: Home swap
  • Number of listings: Not specified
  • Mobile app: No
  • Cancellation policy: Full points refund within 48 hours after booking
  • Customer support: Phone, email

Pros

  • 2 types of home swaps for booking flexibility
  • Cost of lodging rental eliminated
  • Active community platform

Cons

  • No mobile app
  • Membership required after 2-week free trial

Best Bang for the Buck

Homestay

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Why It Made the Cut: Homestay’s target market is students, independent business travelers, and those traveling alone or in small groups who want an economical place to stay for a night or two—and Homestay does it well.

Unlike most well-known private vacation rental sites, Homestay offers only private rooms, not whole homes. Some of the rooms include a private bathroom, while others include shared bath and kitchen facilities. Some rooms hosted on the site are literally the spare bedroom in a local resident’s home, allowing guests to mingle with the host family and get to know them, while others are small guesthouses with a bed and a bathroom.

Compared to Airbnb, Homestay really lets customers soak in their surroundings when traveling. For those who want to truly be immersed in local culture, Homestay is a gold mine of opportunity: Depending on the room selected, guests may share a dinner table with their host family and spend time with them. Other travelers will be attracted to the low, low cost of the rental accommodations: Because these are individual rooms and not whole homes, the cost is dramatically lower than many other options in the industry, with a global average of $38 per night. Hosts are on-site in the home, so any questions or concerns can be addressed immediately; in addition, the on-site hosts can offer amenities such as laundry service, meals, or transportation for an extra fee.

The primary concern for some customers is that the company doesn’t perform background checks on hosts; like most other private rental sites, the hosts are evaluated by previous guests, but the company doesn’t accept responsibility for vetting the hosts. As the vast majority of rentals on Homestay are private rooms within the host’s home, the proximity is a little closer and the security options are fewer, especially for a solo traveler. Homestay’s customer support is primarily over email; however, users can access customer support over the phone once they’re made an email query or booking.

The company’s website stipulates that the standard cancellation policy is 7 days prior to arrival to cancel without a charge, but individual hosts are able to adjust the policy to be more generous. Everything about the stay is arranged between the host and the renter: Payment may be requested ahead of time or at the time of the stay, and direct payment can be requested by credit card or payment app, but Homestay recommends paying through the website or app to maintain a record and to give Homestay access to the information in case of a dispute. Homestay is a fantastic option for travelers who need to keep costs down or want to explore the world in accommodations that are nicer than a hostel, more homey than a hotel, and less costly than a standard whole-space rental.

Specs

  • Types of rentals: Private room
  • Number of listings: 37,000
  • Mobile app: iOS, Android
  • Cancellation policy: 7 days before arrival
  • Customer support: Email

Pros

  • Single-room rental available
  • Global average nightly cost of $38
  • Live-in hosts can address any issues or concerns

Cons

  • Customer support only initially available by email
  • No background check performed on hosts

Also Consider

Booking.com

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Why It Made the Cut: Booking.com shares many of the same features of other traditional travel booking sites but adds a larger selection of travel experiences and earns points for sustainability.

Another all-in-one reservation site, Booking.com allows travelers to keep all of their travel information in one place for convenience. Rental cars, flights, and hotel rooms or whole-home private rentals can all be completed through the website or the app.

Where Booking.com has a leg up is in the inclusion of travel experiences. Site users can click on “Attractions” and enter or select a destination (or just browse). Booking.com lists hundreds of sightseeing tours, museum admissions, concert performances, sailing tours, self-guided tours, and more. Customers can select a ticket or tour, click through the options, and book a ticket directly through the site. Tickets are saved in the app along with flight and lodging information for convenience.

Booking.com does offer standard hotel reservations through the site, but it also offers privately rented apartments, condominiums, and villas. Guests can search specifically for rentals with an eco-friendly designation for sustainability, if they’d like, along with searching by location, cost, and amenities. Listings clearly indicate the number of beds or the number of guests that can be accommodated, the cancellation policy (many offer free cancellation through the site with no charge to encourage patrons to lock in their price), the cost per night, and the amenities available. Because Booking.com is newer in the private rental market, there are fewer reviews of the services available than for other sites, and some policies are still evolving. For example, there’s no clear explanation of background checks being performed on hosts, which is something fairly standard among other competitors. Some rentals require direct payment to the hosts, which may seem like a great way to save money by avoiding fees, but it leaves the customer with little to no backup should something go wrong. However, it’s likely these parameters will become clearer as the company continues to evolve, and guests can reach out to customer support with any specific questions for more clarity.

Specs

  • Types of rentals: Entire home, hotel room
  • Number of listings: Not specified 
  • Mobile app: iOS, Android
  • Cancellation policy: Determined by host
  • Customer support: Phone, live chat

Pros

  • Guests can book flights, cars, airport transportation, and vacation rentals at the same time
  • Guests can book experiences through the site
  • Travel Sustainable badge awarded to eco-friendly rentals

Cons

  • Unclear background-check policy for hosts
  • Many rentals require guest to pay host directly
  • Fewer reviews available than on other sites

Our Verdict

Customers seeking interesting places to stay that are a little off the beaten path and are full of fine amenities and close to attractions and entertainment will want to consider putting Vrbo at the top of their list—we did. Great customer service, excellent search-parameter options, and reasonable costs and safety measures make it an extremely flexible and fun option, but it’s one that’s still supported and backed by a company with experience in this type of rental. Travelers looking for a different experience and a cheaper option may want to consider Homestay. The accommodations may not be as luxurious or filled with amenities as other options, but the experience will be unique and story-worthy at a lower cost than almost any other accommodation.

How We Chose the Best Airbnb Alternatives

To select these five services as the best in their categories, we considered the longevity and reputation of the companies, in addition to their reviewed and commented-upon features, policies, and customer service. We especially considered the payment, safety, and cancellation policies and the clarity of their disclosures so customers can feel safe using the sites and finding some certainty in what is otherwise an uncertain trust-based industry. Search simplicity, limitations, and filters were considered, as were the average prices and the types of property offered.

Before You Book Through One of the Best Airbnb Alternatives

The Airbnb competitors we selected are all reasonably explicit about availability, cost, fees, penalties, and conditions. Rather than selecting a service by default or because it’s the first one to pop up on an internet search, users will want to carefully consider the type and style of travel being planned. For example, for those planning on flying and renting a car at their destination, the convenience of a full-service vacation rental site may make it the right choice. But customers will want to take care to look at the terms and conditions of the rental, the cancellation policies, the costs, and the house rules. Being happy with a rental is predicated on everyone reading the contract and knowing and understanding what they’ve gotten into with the agreement.

Cost of Booking Through One of the Best Airbnb Alternatives

Some of the Airbnb fees can make the price of what would be an otherwise affordable home seem exorbitant, so looking for a cheaper alternative to Airbnb is a wise choice. Vrbo provides a similar service with a slightly lower cost and clearer fee structure. Love Home Swap offers a much lower-cost option, but customers will have to be willing to rent out their own home in exchange. Homestay offers a completely different experience at a bargain-basement cost, allowing guests to stay in family homes. Expedia costs more than Airbnb or any of the competitor services discussed, but it also provides many more services in a well-packaged convenience, as does Booking.com. For travelers seeking the best deal, it may be wise to search on multiple sites to ensure that they’re accessing the best price and most reasonable fees.

The Advantages of Booking Through One of the Best Airbnb Alternatives

Airbnb has a lot going for it; it’s a strong company that has been in business long enough to work out the kinks in the system. But it has some drawbacks: High fees have scared off some hosts and customers, and the overabsorption of available housing in some communities and resulting widespread destruction of the residential spirit has sent some looking for alternatives.

  • Guests can find many of the same services or amenities offered at Airbnb at competitor sites for less money.
  • Customers can find completely different services that are not monetized in the same way, and they may consider a home swap or single-room rental instead of a whole home.
  • Travelers may find a more robust customer service department willing to help them move forward after an issue.

FAQs

There are many choices among the best vacation rental sites and best rental listing sites, and the options can all start to run together. But there are distinct differences between each of the possibilities, and the right choice will depend on where the travel will occur, when, and the size and nature of the traveling party. These are some common questions asked about Airbnb and its alternatives, along with their answers, to make planning a little easier.

Q. Is Airbnb cheaper than a hotel in Europe?

An Airbnb private room rental—where the renter purchases a room in a house or building but shares common space, a bathroom, and a kitchen facility with others—is generally the cheapest option in Europe, followed by a mid-range hotel. The price of a luxury hotel (3-star and above) and an Airbnb rental of an entire home are fairly comparable.

Q. What is the biggest problem with Airbnb?

Many people who use Airbnb complain about the exorbitant cleaning fees and taxes, but those types of complaints are to be expected in almost any industry. The chief problem with Airbnb right now is that more and more people are using it as a source of revenue, purchasing a second home with the express intent of renting it through Airbnb. This creates several problems within the communities where the rentals are located, especially in areas where customers might flock on weekends or during high-tourism seasons. Essentially, the homes purchased as Airbnbs are vacant during the week or the off-season, and their purchase reduces the number of available homes for those who actually live in the community. On the weekends or during the tourism season for the area, the homes fill with vacationers and tourists who are feeling fancy-free on their vacation and host loud and large parties, are destructive of nearby property, and create traffic and congestion in areas that normally would be quiet locations. Nearby residents have little or no recourse, and while they’re perhaps pleased to have customers for small and local businesses, many people are resentful about the destruction of their neighborhoods for the profits of what they essentially see as absentee landlords. Many communities are struggling with this problem and are working to enact mandates and ordinances governing, limiting, or actually banning the short-term rental of homes and properties through Airbnb and other rental sites, either by law or through the application of exorbitant taxes and fees.

Q. What is the difference between Airbnb and Expedia?

Both Airbnb and Expedia are essentially digital travel agencies: They facilitate the reservations and rentals of travel accommodations and services. Expedia initially focused on hotels, airline reservations, and car rentals and quickly rose to the top of that industry, while Airbnb pioneered the short-term vacation rental of private homes market. As both companies grew, they began to compete, and Airbnb expanded to include more traditional hotel reservations, while Expedia acquired a company that provided private home rentals. There are still some distinctions, however. Expedia hosts reservations for rental cars and cruises, which Airbnb does not, but Airbnb includes restaurant reservations. Expedia remains the larger company, but as each company grows and encroaches on the other’s market, the companies will become more and more similar, with the primary difference being attitude and aesthetic.

Q. Should I get an Airbnb or a hotel?

For many vacationers, a hotel is the better option: Less work for the guests, clear expectations in terms of payment and services, excellent locations near tourist destinations, often more luxurious. However, for those traveling with a large party, an Airbnb can be significantly more cost-effective; choosing a rental with multiple bedrooms and common spaces, along with a full-size kitchen, can make traveling with a family (or several families) much less expensive. Airbnb can also be more comfortable and cost-effective for long-term stays. When balancing the cost/convenience ratio, however, travelers will want to keep the cleaning fees assessed by Airbnb in mind to make sure the cost comparison is accurate.

Q. Can I avoid Airbnb fees?

There are some ways to try, though they may not be successful and skirt some ethical boundaries. One easy way to avoid Airbnb fees is to check to see if the listing is available on a competitor site that doesn’t charge fees, or whether it’s listed independently online instead of through a marketplace. Of course, the sites should be companies the traveler is comfortable working with. During off-peak rental times, there’s also the option of contacting the Airbnb host to ask if they’re willing to lower their prices. The cleaning fees are mandated and set by Airbnb, so the host can’t change those, but they may be able to lower their daily rate to offset the cleaning fee. Another option is to reserve a night through Airbnb, but make arrangements to privately pay the host directly for the remainder of the stay. This comes close to violation of the terms of service that Airbnb provides to its hosts, and it also leaves the guest without the protections and guarantees that Airbnb offers. However, it’s something a guest can try if the fees set by Airbnb are prohibitive.

Q. How does Booking.com compare to Airbnb?

It depends on what the guest is looking for in the booking process and during their stay. Airbnb tends to be a little less expensive than Booking.com and offers locations in the heart of a wide range of destinations, while Booking.com’s hotel options are more likely to be in hotel districts or in areas more removed from prime locations. On the other hand, Booking.com doesn’t require advance payment for hotel reservations—but it offers some fabulous deals for customers who are willing to do so. Booking.com’s hotel rooms can feel a little boring and sterile compared to the homey, comfortable, stylish spaces offered by Airbnb, but at the same time those rooms will meet the company’s standards, while Airbnb rentals rely on the honesty and accuracy of the host. Airbnb rentals do require more effort on the part of the renter—contacting the host, making arrangements, and sometimes cleaning up afterward, while Booking.com’s hotel rentals are more traditional. Booking.com has recently begun offering short-term rentals similar to Airbnb, but its marketplace hasn’t quite filled in, so while travelers can look at those offerings as potential alternatives to Airbnb, it’s a good idea to be extra cautious while they get their feet under them. So for travelers looking for an adventure deep in the heart of their chosen location where they can stay in a home away from home, Airbnb is the better choice. Travelers who want easy-to-book, easy-to-leave accommodations without the risk of surprise will find Booking.com offers more options.

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Meghan Wentland

Contributing Writer & Editor

Meghan Wentland joined the Bob Vila team as a writer and editor in the home finance, home security, and home improvement spaces in 2020. She is also a professor of writing and literature, where she spends her time teaching students to think critically and look for clarity.

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