Turning Your Property Into a Vacation Rental? Here’s How to Choose Between Airbnb and Vrbo

Hosting a short-term vacation rental property can be a great source of revenue, but choosing the right platform is key. Comparing Vrbo vs. Airbnb for hosts can highlight the benefits of each website to find the best option.
Meghan Wentland Avatar
Vrbo vs. Airbnb for hosts
Photo: istockphoto.com

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The short-term rental boom has hugely expanded the accommodation options for travelers and provided a new income stream for those with homes or apartments to offer for rental. However, the best platform for travelers is not necessarily the best choice for hosts. While travelers are seeking low-cost lodging, guarantees of quality and service, and appealing amenities, hosts have different needs in terms of costs and protection, and also different concerns. Vrbo and Airbnb are two of the busiest vacation rental sites in the industry, so they will be attractive to both new hosts dipping their toes into online booking platforms and also more experienced hosts potentially looking to change their listing site. When comparing Vrbo vs. Airbnb for hosts’ concerns, which one stands out as the best option? By reviewing various aspects of each platform, hosts can see which holds more benefits for them depending on their circumstances. In a face-off of Airbnb versus Vrbo, hosts may find that one may be a better fit than the other.

How We Compared Vacation Rental Sites

Vrbo vs. Airbnb for hosts
Photo: istockphoto.com

Hosts want to be sure that every aspect of the rental process is easy to manage from their end and that their best interests will be taken care of no matter what happens. Once they have a better understanding of how Airbnb works and how Vrbo stacks up with that platform, they can make a more informed decision about which one is right for them. With that in mind, there are many factors to consider when selecting a platform to post short-term rental listings.

  • Company reputation: Both hosts and guests will choose to use (or not use) the services offered by a vacation rental site based on its reputation in the industry. Sites with strong reputations will attract more guests to shop for a rental on the site, increasing a host’s chances of booking their property regularly.
  • Area of operation: Guests usually come to a rental site with a destination already in mind, so a site that provides listings in a wide range of areas will be a better bet for guests—which means more business for hosts. Also, a greater density of listings in an area can suggest to guests that it’s a great place to stay, allowing hosts to charge higher rates.
  • Accommodation types: Not all sites list all types of accommodation; some list only private rentals, while others include hotels and motels. Others focus exclusively on whole-home rentals.
  • Pricing and fees: There can be a lot of variation in the pricing and fee structure at short-term rental sites. Some require that hosts pay for a subscription, while others will post listings for free but take a percentage of the rental charge. In addition, requirements for insurance, cleaning fees, and processing fees are charges that can mount up quickly, either requiring hosts to raise their rental prices to cover these costs or taking a bite out of their profits.
  • Listing process: Ease of placing a listing and managing it is of critical importance to hosts, especially concerning their short-term rental strategy. Having quick access to the listing and the ability to make adjustments and changes is a difference-maker.
  • Property damage protection policy: Every rental platform may have different levels of protection and different policies regarding property damage. This is a major concern for hosts, as they are renting out their personal property, which in many cases invalidates homeowners insurance protection for certain types of damage.
  • Cancellation policies: Last-minute cancellations may not be a disaster for those hosting a rental property as a casual side hustle, but for hosts who depend on that income, a late cancellation can be the difference between covering their bills or missing a payment. On the other hand, hosts have emergencies that crop up, too, and may need to unexpectedly cancel. Rental sites’ cancellation policies can make these arrangements smooth and convenient or a huge headache, so it’s often important to carefully review the policies of each platform.
  • Review process: Guest reviews can make or break a rental property. Some sites allow hosts to remove, contest, or respond to reviews, while others do not permit hosts to interact with reviews at all. Many guests prefer the latter policy because they feel that the reviews are more likely to be honest and authentic, but no host wants to be the victim of an unjustly critical review.
  • Host support and resources: What level of customer service is available for hosts? Are agents available by phone if there’s a problem with a renter or a dispute over pricing, refunds, or other elements of the rental that are handled by the company? Hosts trust that the best vacation rental sites will help them avoid the hassles of listing and collecting rents on their own, so the quality of the host-side customer service can be very important.
  • Mobile app experience: Managing a rental is easier when communications can be handled through an app while on the go. An app that is well designed and easy to use can make it simpler for guests to reach their hosts and hosts to address any problems promptly.

1. Company Reputation

Vrbo has been a solid part of the rental industry since its inception in 1995, with more than 15 million unique visitors each month and featuring more than 2 million properties around the world. Now a part of the Expedia Group and the only vacation rental site among the company’s holdings, Vrbo is a well-respected and well-supported platform with a history of stability and quality. That being said, Airbnb hit the market at just the right moment in 2008 and took off, becoming the first real household name in the short-term rental market. Not much has changed in the interim; Airbnb is still the first name most guests think of when they look for a rental site—and that could make it a very appealing option for hosts. With more than 7 million active listings for guests to peruse, and more than 4 million hosts using the platform, Airbnb’s position at the top of the industry remains secure.

Verdict: Although Vrbo has been around in some form since 1995, Airbnb has quickly become synonymous with short-term vacation rentals. The platform boasts more than 7 million active listings from more than 4 million hosts, compared with Vrbo’s 2 million listings. That name recognition could make Airbnb the first place guests go to find rental listings.

Winner: Airbnb

2. Area of Operation

Both Vrbo and Airbnb have listings in more countries and regions than most people could name. This is exciting for both guests and hosts, as it increases the likelihood that guests will be able to find accommodation and hosts will be able to find guests. For security purposes, neither platform currently permits listings in Russia, Belarus, or North Korea, among other nations, though that is subject to change (either adding or removing excluded areas) based on world events.

Vrbo has listings in more than 190 countries and is still growing as demand from its guests, who tend to be a little older than those who choose Airbnb, requires. Even so, Airbnb lists properties in more than 220 counties and regions around the world, giving it a more extensive presence across the globe. That reach may help hosts appeal to guests who want a more authentic travel experience and compare Airbnb vs. hotel lodgings primarily based on location. Although either platform is likely to support hosts in popular destinations, those hosting rentals in remote or unusual destinations that are off the beaten path may have more luck with Airbnb.

Verdict: Although Vrbo has an impressively large coverage area, with listings in 190 countries, Airbnb supports listings in more than 220 countries and regions across the globe. Both platforms exclude service availability in certain nations, such as Russia, Belarus, and North Korea, but Airbnb holds a slight edge here.

Winner: Airbnb

3. Accommodation Types

The various accommodation options that Airbnb supports give it an edge from the host’s perspective. Vrbo only lists whole-house or whole-unit rentals, which is not to say it doesn’t offer variety. Search categories include homes, condominiums, apartments, cabins, cottages, villas, and chalets, so hosts who own a wide range of homes can plan to list there. Vrbo monthly rentals are also an option for hosts looking to rent out properties for longer stays. However, those who are interested in listing rooms for rent in a larger home, shared properties, or hostel-style lodgings can’t list with Vrbo. This suits Vrbo’s primary clientele, who are most often family groups or larger parties who have planned their trips long in advance.

Airbnb, on the other hand, permits whole-home rentals, in addition to part-of-home rentals, where guests may have a private bedroom but shared kitchen or bathroom, and shared-room rentals, where guests have essentially rented a bed. Airbnb also offers a variety of types of properties, including beach houses, large vacation homes, cabins, and treehouses, to meet the needs of the most discerning guests and allow their hosts to offer creative, thoughtful rental spaces.

Verdict: Airbnb hosts can rent out various types of lodgings, including tiny houses, cabins, and even treehouses. Vrbo, meanwhile, will not list rentals for shared spaces such as dormitories or only part of a house, so the platform’s accommodation options are a bit more limited.

Winner: Airbnb

4. Pricing and Fees

Sorting out fee structures for short-term rentals can be a little tricky. There is the actual cost of the rental, and then piled on top are booking fees, listing fees, cleaning fees, damage deposits, local taxes, and assorted other charges. In addition, neither platform publishes all of the numbers that would allow hosts to calculate the exact cost of doing business on its site.

Airbnb offers a two-tiered cost structure, and navigating Airbnb host fees can seem a bit complicated at first. Hosts can decide if they want to split the listing and booking fees with the guest, or if they prefer to absorb the cost themselves. In a split-fee setup, the host pays a 3 to 5 percent service fee based on the booking subtotal, while the guest pays a service fee of 14.2 percent. In the host-only model, hosts pay a commission of 14 to 16 percent, effectively covering the booking fee for the customer. This is similar to the structure that quite a few other booking sites use, as it prevents the guest from having to pay an undefined fee (and one that can add up quickly) at the end of the stay. Many hosts prefer the lower out-of-pocket expense of the split fee, but others know that renters appreciate the transparency of the host-only pricing model and that it might attract more high-level clients if the cost seems lower.

Meanwhile, Vrbo fees are based on a pay-per-booking structure, where hosts will pay a booking or reservation fee that includes a 3 percent payment processing fee and a 5 percent commission fee. There is also a service fee that’s paid by the guest, but this can vary from one booking to the next, which can make it difficult for hosts to anticipate exactly what rates will be presented to those thinking about booking a stay at their property. Although Vrbo previously offered an annual subscription option, this is no longer available to new platform members.

In the experience of Kourtney Shepard, an Airbnb Superhost and Vrbo Premier Host with rental properties at Lone Star Casitas in Surf Beach, Texas, Airbnb’s pricing structure comes out ahead. “Airbnb is more host-friendly in terms of pricing. Full stop,” she says. “I don’t know how to predict [Vrbo’s] algorithm, but they take away my control of pricing with their unpredictable guest fees.”

Shepard also explains that Vrbo’s website may contain outdated information regarding pricing options, which could be very confusing to those listing rental properties for the first time. “New hosts may see other hosts posting online about Vrbo’s ‘annual subscription’ model (and there is even still a button for it in the app), but someone should tell them that the annual model is not available anymore for new hosts.”

Verdict: Airbnb features two pricing structures for hosts: split-fee and host-only fee options. Most hosts opt for the split-fee option due to the lower out-of-pocket costs. Vrbo, meanwhile, only offers a pay-per-booking method, as it retired its annual subscription plans. Service fees with this model can be difficult to anticipate because they vary from one guest to another.

Winner: Airbnb

Vrbo vs. Airbnb for hosts
Photo: istockphoto.com

5. Listing Process

A complicated listing process isn’t going to attract quality hosts and properties—and a clunky listing process suggests that the guest interface won’t be much better. Fortunately, both Vrbo and Airbnb have relatively streamlined processes in place to make it easy for hosts to list their rental properties. Frameworks in place on both sites invite hosts to fill in rates and rules, establish the best price for the listing, set availability and blackout dates, and add tags for amenities and local sites. Photos can be added quickly and easily, as neither of these platforms requires coding or website knowledge.

Vrbo provides a quick question-answer setup. As a bonus, Vrbo has a Fast Start team: For hosts already renting on another platform, this is a group that will help prepare a listing for Vrbo as well. However, Vrbo doesn’t have a set policy for how long it will take after the listing is submitted before it becomes available to guests, which could result in lost bookings, especially if the delay occurs each time an edit is made to the text.

Airbnb, on the other hand, states that listings should go live on the site within 24 hours of submission, giving hosts some assurances that listings can be posted on relatively short notice. Airbnb also offers map tools to help search for comparable rental prices in the area, articles and videos on pricing the rental correctly, setting up the listing, and choosing conditions and policies.

Verdict: Both Vrbo and Airbnb feature streamlined and intuitive online platforms that allow hosts to quickly submit new rental listings. Hosts can set rates, upload images, add property descriptions, outline rules for guests, and adjust other aspects of their listing with ease. However, Airbnb listings should go live within 24 hours, while Vrbo does not make any promises regarding the turnaround time on a new listing.

Winner: Airbnb

6. Property Damage Protection Policy

One of the top reasons people choose not to rent their homes is because of the potential for invasion of privacy by strangers and the possibility that precious items will be damaged or destroyed. Both Vrbo and Airbnb take this concern seriously and provide some financial coverage options for hosts who take the risk of renting out their homes.

Airbnb’s AirCover for Hosts is essentially Airbnb insurance for hosts, providing up to $3 million in damage protection—which may cover pet damage, art and valuables, auto and boat, income loss, and deep-cleaning costs—so hosts can file a claim. The program also offers a $1 million liability policy to protect the owner if guests are injured on the property. Having this option available may make it unnecessary for hosts to seek out separate coverage with the best insurance for Airbnb hosts. Airbnb also provides guest identity verification and reservation screening to further protect its hosts.

Vrbo also offers $1 million in liability for stays processed directly through the platform. However, hosts may want to carry additional liability coverage through a separate insurance policy to fully cover damage to the home and property. As such, hosts may need to purchase a stand-alone policy from one of the best short-term rental insurance companies such as Steadily to fully protect themselves financially. The site also provides resources to help owners decide what a reasonable damage deposit might be in the interim to cover any losses.

Verdict: Airbnb’s AirCover for Hosts program provides coverage for up to $3 million if the rental property or the host’s belongings are damaged during a guest’s stay. Meanwhile, Vrbo hosts can set a damage deposit to cover any losses or as well as purchase up to $1 million in liability coverage. Even so, AirCover’s high coverage amount gives Airbnb a clear edge in this category.

Winner: Airbnb

7. Cancellation Policies

Vrbo has several cancellation policies that hosts can choose from, including options for refusing to give refunds if the guest cancels at any time. In some cases, Vrbo cancellation policy options can give guests up to 60 days before their stay to cancel and receive a full refund, or for those who cancel less than 30 days in advance, a 50 percent refund. Hosts can also set more relaxed cancellation policies that give guests a full refund as long as they cancel more than 14 days ahead. If none of the available options suit a host’s needs, they can choose to create a custom cancellation policy as well.

Airbnb host cancellation policies are structured similarly, with quite a few options to consider. However, some refund policies may be quite generous to guests at the expense of the hosts. For instance, the Flexible plan allows guests to cancel up to 24 hours before the booking—at which point the host doesn’t get paid at all. There are also more complicated cancellation policies with varying refund and reimbursement amounts depending on when the guest cancels.

Verdict: Regardless of which platform they choose, hosts will have a lot of flexibility when it comes to their cancellation policy, with multiple options to consider. That being said, Airbnb’s cancellation policies may be too generous at times, as in some cases, guests may be able to cancel up to 24 hours before check-in and still receive a full refund.

Winner: Vrbo

Vrbo vs. Airbnb for hosts
Photo: istockphoto.com

8. Review Process

Reviews are important to hosts: One terrible review with the right buzzwords can stop guests from booking, and a review system ideally prevents guests who haven’t actually stayed at the property or have lied outright about conditions from leaving a negative or harmful review. Both Airbnb and Vrbo age requirements limit the use of the site, including posting reviews, to those who are 18 years old and up, which prevents underage users from leaving reviews.

Vrbo provides a lengthy list of content regulations and notes that the system automatically screens the reviews before they are posted to ensure that they meet those standards. Only verified guests and hosts may review each other and have 180 days from the end of the booking to submit a review. Once submitted, reviews cannot be altered or changed, though. The company notes that from time to time it may also require evidence to support claims or accusations. This suggests that for the most part, the reviews at Vrbo are honest and fairly accurate. Reviews and ratings of guests are not made public to other hosts, however; they are only visible to hosts if the guest has communicated with them directly, which limits transparency for those considering a rental request from a new guest.

Airbnb also provides a content policy to help guests and hosts understand how to write an honest and respectful review. The company commits to removing reviews that violate the policy and has a formal review process to appeal an incorrect or misleading review. Hosts can respond to posted claims within 14 days as well. Any poster can remove a review they have written at any time, but they have to take the step of calling the company to request the change. In addition, hosts can see reviews of guests submitted by other hosts, which may be helpful when vetting rental requests.

Verdict: Vrbo gives hosts and guests a long window of time—180 days—to submit a review, whereas Airbnb requires both parties to submit reviews within 14 days of checkout. However, Airbnb offers more flexibility to edit reviews, and any guest review that a host leaves will be posted on the traveler’s public profile, providing more transparency.

Winner: Airbnb

9. Host Support and Resources

Videos and articles on both sites provide excellent guidance for hosts. Vrbo has a wide variety of short articles and video links that help hosts understand the various parts of the hosting process as well as a 24-hour video chat or live call with a customer service rep who can offer assistance. Airbnb’s repository of articles is a bit more extensive, though, with detailed articles that may be of more use to hosts with questions. Newer hosts may also receive assistance from an Airbnb Superhost who acts as their mentor, and they are guaranteed an experienced guest for the first booking. They can also receive specialized one-tap assistance on the dedicated mobile app to make their introduction to Airbnb hosting a smooth one. If all else fails, the company offers 24/7 customer support over the phone as well.

Verdict: Both Vrbo and Airbnb offer 24/7 customer support over the phone and maintain a large online repository of help articles and resources to aid hosts. That being said, Airbnb’s help articles tend to be more detailed and, as such, may provide more direct answers for hosts.

Winner: Airbnb

10. Mobile App Experience

Both Vrbo and Airbnb have well-developed, highly effective mobile apps that make it easier for hosts to manage their accounts, communicate with guests, and keep records. In some ways, the difference between Vrbo and Airbnb may seem nominal, but certain features make Airbnb’s app stand out. For instance, both mobile apps offer a program that allows users to view ranking metrics regarding their properties so hosts can see how their listings stack up with the competition’s and adjust pricing and guest requirements appropriately. However, Airbnb’s version, called Insights, is somewhat more developed, providing in-depth analysis to help hosts compare the performance of their properties against similar local listings so they can better see where they fit in the market and how to adjust to attract more guests.

Verdict: Hosts can manage their listings with a dedicated mobile app no matter which platform they use. Airbnb and Vrbo’s mobile apps allow hosts to manage bookings, communicate with guests, and receive real-time notifications about their listings. However, Airbnb’s app includes a standout feature, Insights, that analyzes the host’s listing and compares it with similar listings so they can make adjustments to attract and book more guests.

Winner: Airbnb

Verdict: Airbnb is the better overall option for hosts due to the extensive property damage protection, wide variety of accommodation options, and streamlined listing process. But Vrbo’s straightforward pricing structure and flexible cancellation policies make it a great choice for hosts as well.

Both Airbnb and Vrbo provide excellent, intuitive access to lodgings in a wide range of places, reasonably clear pricing guides, and information about protecting the host and their investment. Airbnb’s larger stable of properties and faster listing process make it a great option for many rental property owners. In addition, the company’s AirCover for Hosts protection may offer tremendous peace of mind for those who worry about paying for any damages that guests cause to the property. As such, for many property owners looking to get into short-term rentals, becoming an Airbnb host could be a no-brainer. Kourtney Shepard recommends that new hosts start with Airbnb listings and then explore other platforms. “In my opinion, Airbnb is synonymous with short-term rental services in the U.S. because it brings in so much more volume than the others,” she says. “All new hosts in 2024 should definitely start [listing with Airbnb first].”

That being said, Vrbo is one of the best Airbnb alternatives available. If hosts are looking to rent out their property to large groups or want a more rigid cancellation policy that protects their interests, then listing through Vrbo can also be a worthwhile endeavor. After reviewing the short-term rental landscape, property owners may even decide that the best option is to submit listings to both platforms so they cast the widest net possible.