Airbnb vs. Vrbo: Which One Should Vacationers Choose in 2023?

Renting a private residence is all the rage, but how can travelers decide which service best suits their needs? When it comes to Vrbo vs. Airbnb, here’s what to consider.

By Meghan Wentland | Updated Dec 1, 2022 11:31 AM

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Vrbo vs. Airbnb

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Once upon a time, travelers consulted a paper travel guide (or, in a splurge, a travel agent) to find a place to stay while on vacation. Advancements in technology sent them to the websites of well-known hotel chains (or an online service that collected data from all of those chains). With the rise of online lodging marketplaces, however, travelers have more choices than ever, and they can choose from a huge range of options in neighborhoods all over the world to find one that suits their party, desired location, and budget to experience a truly unique stay. When any new service catches on, competition ensues—this is great for the consumer, as every competitor forces the others to perform better. But how can a traveler decide which rental sites are best?

Two of the top competitors among the best vacation rental sites are Vrbo (pronounced “ver-bow”) and Airbnb (“air-bee-en-bee”). How does Airbnb work, and what’s the difference between Vrbo and Airbnb? The two companies advertise similar services, but it’s not until a customer is really using the service that the differences come to light. Those differences can help travelers determine which site is best for planning their travel, so a direct comparison of Vrbo vs. Airbnb should highlight those differences and make the choice easier.

How We Compared Vacation Rental Sites

Vrbo vs. Airbnb

Photo: istockphoto.com

Because the two sites provide similar services and so much of the evaluative process is dependent on interpretation, it’s helpful to establish clear criteria as a basis of comparison.

  • Reputation: Travelers are trusting that when they arrive at their accommodations, they’ll find something that looks like what they intended to rent, that the keys or codes will be where they should be, and that the rental will be clean and ready for lodging. Services with a reputation for reliability and excellent customer service are preferable to those that are less tried and tested.
  • Accommodation types: Vacation rental sites offer all different types of accommodations: Some offer private homes, cottages, apartments, and condos, while others specialize in certain types of dwellings, and others offer individual rooms. Customers who have a solid plan for what they want should know which sites will meet their needs.
  • Number and location of listings: One of the benefits of vacation rental sites is that the listings aren’t limited to major cities. Travelers will expect to find numerous listings in a wide variety of locations, so having quality listings in both major and off-the-beaten-path areas will be a key component for satisfaction.
  • Search tools: Each of these services has thousands and thousands of listings. Search tools and filters that are specific and varied will make for a more pleasant, less frustrating search experience and increase the likelihood that the traveler will find the right listing in less time.
  • Pricing and fees: Every traveler is hoping for a great deal, right? And most who choose to use vacation rental sites are hoping to avoid the appalling hidden fees and taxes found at traditional hotels. The pricing structure, the honesty of the disclosure, and the fee and tax levies are critical information for customers to have.
  • Booking process: Simple? Inscrutable? More painful than a root canal? These services run completely online, so if the process to secure a reservation, check out, then confirm the reservation is more complex than it needs to be, customers will head to another site.
  • Cancellation policies: Travel is full of unexpected changes and reschedules. A clear, forgiving cancellation policy is important to most travelers, especially during seasons when health or weather might be a factor. Airbnb vs. Vrbo cancellation policy menus will help guests choose what fits best with their flexibility.
  • Traveler safety resources: While traveler safety is important in any lodging, much has been made in the media of the potential for danger or abuse when a customer is renting someone else’s private home, with none of the standard practices that hotels have in place to protect their clients. Vacation rental sites that offer clear policies about who can enter the lodging when a guest is in residence, helplines, 24/7 customer service, and other safeguards will make customers feel safer and more confident about renting through the site.
  • Guest guarantees: Travelers have to accept the photos and amenities described on the site at face value, and arriving to find that there aren’t enough beds for the travel party or that the photos were artfully angled to hide problems can ruin a trip very quickly. Services that offer guarantees that travelers will get exactly what they paid for will inspire more confidence in their customers.
  • Additional features and offerings: Does the site only offer bookings, or are there other services available? Connections with other travel programs, the opportunity to collaborate or build trips out beyond the lodging, and functions that allow customers to be their own travel agents working through one site instead of many can simplify the process of booking for customers and add appeal.
  • Mobile app: Customers can’t be tied to a laptop or desktop computer when traveling, and many don’t have the time to flip between different media when planning a trip. Travel sites with outstanding mobile apps simplify the process of making arrangements, checking in, and finding customer service when necessary.

RELATED: Looking to get away? Check out the best Airbnbs in Florida and the best Airbnbs in California.

1. Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Reputation

Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Airbnb? As one of the first vacation rental sites to break open the market, Airbnb is well known by most travelers (whether they have used it or not). Its 15-year success involving millions of guests each year is a testament: People keep coming back. Because it’s the biggest name out there, Airbnb bore the brunt of news stories during a brief series of investigations into the safety of private rentals simply because it was the name people knew, but the company bounced back quickly.

Vrbo is an up-and-coming option in the market with some great prospects, but at this time it pales in comparison to the power of the Airbnb name. When comparing the impact of the reputation of Vrbo vs. Airbnb for hosts, the wider reach of Airbnb’s reputation makes it an optimal choice for hosts who want to broadcast their property to more users. For guests, Airbnb’s popularity provides confidence that they’re paying for a legitimate service.

Verdict: Vrbo is an emerging site in the vacation rental industry and thus isn’t widely recognized. Airbnb has greater name recognition, with 15 years in business and over 1 billion guest arrivals, so it’s essentially the go-to vacation rental site.

Winner: Airbnb

Vrbo vs. Airbnb

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2. Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Accommodation Types

Searching for a listing on Vrbo vs. Airbnb will reveal different kinds of lodging. For renters looking exclusively for whole-house rentals, Vrbo will work quite well, because that is the only type of property it offers. In fact, those customers may find the wealth of offerings on Airbnb overwhelming—because there are simply so many options.

Airbnb also offers whole-property rentals, but it also offers private rooms, shared properties, wings or floors of occupied homes, and outbuildings on private properties with owner-occupied homes. Airbnb’s wider range of offerings provide guests with options and flexibility, which is ideal when booking travel. Whole-property rentals can be expensive (although there’s money to be saved by cooking in-house and having laundry facilities, even if the base price is higher), and the option to rent a single room or small suite can be ideal for travelers who don’t need a larger space or are on a tighter budget. In addition, guests searching Airbnb might accidentally stumble on something wonderful that they didn’t even know they were looking for: Someone searching for a family-friendly base for a trip might suddenly discover a treehouse on an owner-occupied property that turns a vacation into an adventure.

Verdict: Vrbo’s rental listings are limited to entire homes, whereas Airbnb has a wealth of accommodation types to choose from, such as entire homes, shared properties, hotels, private rooms, and more.

Winner: Airbnb

3. Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Number and Location of Listings

A key component of providing private rentals is having availability in a lot of different markets—not just in the number of properties, but in the diversity of them. Ideally, a service should be able to offer a choice of properties in any given area that cover a range of pricing points, styles, and locations (rural vs. urban).

Because of Airbnb’s long history and established reputation, the 5.6 million properties it lists ensures that most areas will have properties available, and because of the different types of lodging listed, those properties will range from single room to whole property, one bedroom to six or seven, and cover the budget from low to luxury. Vrbo’s more than 2 million listings is nothing to sneeze at, but that number indicates that it can’t provide the kind of coverage and variety in every location that Airbnb can. The speed with which Vrbo has established itself does indicate that this number will grow, and will grow quickly, so it’s certainly worth watching; for now, though, Airbnb has the edge in this category.

Verdict: Airbnb has a staggering 5.6 million listings worldwide, while Vrbo only has a reported 2 million-plus listings.

Winner: Airbnb

4. Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Search Tools

Endlessly scrolling through options can be exhausting, and search filters and limits make it less so. More filters offer travelers the options to really zero in on the amenities and facilities they need, and help clear out listings that don’t apply. Both Vrbo and Airbnb offer an excellent set of tools to make searching easier and more productive, from basics like the price, type of property, and number of beds to accessibility and amenities such as swimming pools and air conditioning. Guests can search for properties that are great for winter recreation, those that are close to the beach, or those that have nearby mountain views.

However, even more than amenities, customers want to see what other guests thought about their stay at a particular property. This is the case in all industries (Yelp flourishes for a reason!), but in the private vacation-rental industry, prior guest ratings and comments take on greater importance in the decision-making process. When a traveler chooses a hotel, they can go to the hotel’s corporate web page and see professional photos of the rooms, facilities, and surrounding areas, certain that the legal teams of those hotel chains wouldn’t permit much in the way of misrepresentation. In a private rental, that kind of guarantee isn’t present (or if it is, the correction will be after the trip has concluded). So travelers want real-life ratings and reviews from people who have actually stayed at a particular venue. In addition, cancellation policies are a key factor for many travelers when choosing between two properties.

How is Vrbo different from Airbnb? Vrbo allows shoppers to search for properties based on guest ratings and reviews, so they can look only at properties that other guests have endorsed, and it also offers a tool that filters out properties that don’t offer free cancellation. Airbnb does not offer these tools at this time. It does, however, offer some unusual filters designed to draw customers into unusual or adventurous stays, such as “castles,” “domes,” “islands,” and “caves,” but while these are interesting options and might pique the interest of a shopper, being able to easily sort by ratings and free cancellation policies will be more important to many customers.

Verdict: Vrbo and Airbnb both offer a large selection of search filters to help travelers find a rental that meets their amenities preferences, accessibility needs, and other requirements. However, Vrbo edges out Airbnb by having slightly more comprehensive search filters, especially the ability to filter by guest ratings and free cancellation.

Winner: Vrbo

Vrbo vs. Airbnb

Photo: istockphoto.com

5. Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Pricing and Fees

Many people assume that booking a private vacation rental will cost less than a traditional hotel, and in some cases that can be true, especially if a larger party rents a home with multiple bedrooms instead of many hotel rooms. A quick swing through the listings on Airbnb and Vrbo, however, can be a little misleading up front: The price per night as listed on the thumbnail shot of each listing is literally the price per night for the space and doesn’t include fees or taxes. In addition, some listings have reduced rates for multi-night stays, so it’s important to see if there’s such a notation alongside the posted cost.

It’s not unreasonable for these services to charge additional processing fees: After all, they’re providing a listing service, and the fees cover additional services the companies render. Airbnb charges a cleaning fee for each listing, which is dependent on the cost of the rental and the size of the property. While many guests find the additional fee irritating, it does at least suggest that the rentals are being thoroughly cleaned in between stays. Airbnb also charges a set administrative fee. On the listing page, Airbnb clearly itemizes the costs of the rental, including the cost per night multiplied by the number of nights the guest has indicated, the cleaning fee, and the service fee. Once a guest clicks through to the booking page, the taxes on the property are also itemized so the guest can see the complete and total cost of the booking before committing. Sometimes the total with the addition of the taxes and fees can feel like quite a bit more money than it initially seemed, but the total is clear before the final click so there are no surprises.

Is Vrbo cheaper than Airbnb? Vrbo initially provides a summary total on the listing page, but clicking “View Details” underneath the summary or “Book Now” brings up an itemized list of the costs per night, the cleaning fee, and the service fee. This page also indicates a Damage Protection charge (similar to a security deposit) that will be calculated when the guest actually chooses to book the stay. Another click to actually access the full booking page will show the total tax amount, but the Damage Protection charge isn’t revealed until the booking is complete.

In a battle of Airbnb vs. Vrbo fees, it’s a draw: A quick check to compare Airbnb and Vrbo prices on the rentals themselves indicates that both services are fairly equal in terms of costs per night and fees. The main variables in cost, across the board, are the location and size of the rental. The market in some popular destinations is simply priced higher than in others, which is not within the control of Airbnb or Vrbo, and taxes are set locally.

Verdict: Airbnb and Vrbo take similar factors into account to determine costs. However, the biggest factor that influences total cost is location: Renters may want to compare prices and fees from both platforms in the location they are traveling to to determine which one can offer the best deal.

Winner: Tie

6. Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Booking Process

This is an area where both Vrbo and Airbnb excel, as one would expect. The point of these services is to make it easy for travelers to find and reserve a personalized place to stay, so it stands to reason that a lot of design energy would be exerted on the booking interface.

Both Vrbo and Airbnb provide a clear layout of costs on the booking page. Vrbo helpfully lets customers know where they are in the process by noting how many pages are left to click through (which can also alleviate any anxiety a customer feels that they might accidentally book before they’re ready). Vrbo also lists a telephone number prominently at the top of the booking page for customers to call if they’re having trouble or have questions. There is a space for customers to add a message for their host with questions or special requests, and obligatory links to the terms of the rental and privacy policies. In terms of payment, Vrbo offers hosts the option to “split” the payment so that guests can essentially make a down payment with the balance due by a date closer to the time of travel. Vrbo also partners with Affirm, a service adopted by many online companies that allows customers to break large amounts into smaller payments over time. The booking page notes how much the customer would pay per month if they choose to use Affirm. A quick click on the Affirm link explains the potential breakdowns of the cost over 3, 6, 9, or 12 months and notes the interest charges for each. This is a great option for customers who don’t have the cash up front (or can’t tap a credit card for that much) to pay for their vacation over as long as a year, making travel more accessible to more customers.

Airbnb’s booking process is similarly seamless. Customers need to sign up (or sign in) to book using email, Google, Facebook, Apple, or a phone number. Details and costs are spelled out clearly. Airbnb also offers an option to purchase additional short-term rental insurance right on the booking page (and near the cancellation policy reminder) so customers can take care of those details all in one place. In addition to traditional credit cards, Airbnb supports payment through PayPal, through which PayPal customers can choose to apply for PayPal’s private pay-over-time program, and Google Pay. For those living outside the United States, Airbnb also provides currency conversion on the booking page, as well as on the listing pages, to make it easier for guests to clearly understand their rates. An opportunity to contact the host appears once the booking is complete, not on the booking page itself, but Airbnb does provide contact opportunities on the listing pages prior to booking. Airbnb vs. Vrbo for renters looking for straightforward booking is basically a draw.

Verdict: Both Airbnb and Vrbo have straightforward and seamless booking processes. Payment options differ slightly between the two, with Airbnb offering the ability to pay with PayPal and Vrbo allowing guests to book instantly and pay over time with Affirm.

Winner: Tie

7. Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Cancellation Policies

The best-laid plans often go awry, especially if they involve prepaid travel. Illness, weather, sudden demands at work, and unexpected events can crop up, requiring an adjustment to travel plans. Sometimes these events have the grace to occur well in advance, which can make it easier to cancel or reschedule, but more often they happen right before it’s time to leave.

Understandably, hosts don’t want their guests to cancel; they’ve been planning on that income, and they’ve held their home off the market and potentially lost other guests because they assumed the booked guests would arrive. Both Vrbo and Airbnb provide their hosts with a “menu” of cancellation policies to choose from when listing their home, but there are some differences between Vrbo vs. Airbnb cancellation policy menus.

Vrbo’s policies are presented using the number of days prior to check-in the guest needs to cancel within to receive a refund. The strictest policy is a “No Refund” policy, which means there’s no refund under any circumstances. Next is a 60-day policy, which means that prior to 60 days before check-in, guests who cancel will receive a full refund; for cancellation fewer than 60 days before check-in, there’s no refund available. After that, the policies are presented with two numbers: the number of days before which guests can get a full refund, and another number indicating the number of days before which the guest can receive a 50 percent refund. For example, 60/30 means cancellation prior to 60 days before check-in earns the guest a full refund, and cancellation anywhere between 30 and 59 days prior allows the guest a 50 percent refund. Guests who cancel closer than 30 days before check-in receive no refund. The most generous policy on the menu is a 14/7 day policy, so there’s no set policy through which a guest can receive any refund for a cancellation fewer than 7 days prior to their stay. There’s a custom option that permits hosts to set their own policy, however.

Airbnb tops its list of cancellation policies with its Flexible policy, through which guests can cancel until 24 hours before their stay and receive a full refund. The Moderate policy offers a full refund for travel canceled 5 days beforehand, and the Firm policy requires a 30-day notice of cancellation for a full refund. There are other policies that apply to long-term stays, and some very strict policies that are offered to hosts by invitation for special circumstances. The Non-Refundable policy is buried well down the list.

The absence of a preset late cancellation policy on Vrbo and the simplicity of Airbnb’s Flexible and Moderate policy make it more likely that guests will find sympathetic policies on Airbnb listings, and a browse through listings—all of which note the cancellation policy clearly and up front—bear that out. The cancellation policy statements of Airbnb vs. Vrbo for owners also places Airbnb slightly ahead: Its menu explains exactly how owners will be compensated if their guests cancel.

Verdict: Both Airbnb and Vrbo allow hosts to select a cancellation policy from a list of preset policies, so guests are encouraged to check listings’ cancellation policies before booking. However, Airbnb users are generally more likely to find properties with very flexible policies (such as the ability to cancel until 24 hours before check-in for a full refund) than Vrbo users.

Winner: Airbnb

Vrbo vs. Airbnb

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8. Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Traveler Safety Resources

Traveler safety is a huge challenge to address in the private rental industry. Why? Listing sites can have as many policies as they like, but individual owners are actually maintaining the properties and posting the listings, so the listing sites can’t monitor the properties or check on the safety mechanisms the hosts have put in place. In terms of safety, which is better: Airbnb or Vrbo?

Vrbo presents an extensive set of guidelines for both owners and guests, ranging from suggestions about what to do in a disaster to how to do a security walk-through upon arriving at the rental. The focus is on mutual trust and safety, and it highlights the steps Vrbo has taken to protect guest privacy and security. The company provides a 24/7 Help Portal via phone, email, and online chat.

Airbnb provides a program called AirCover, which is included for free with every booking. Among other protections, AirCover offers a 24-hour safety line. This isn’t just customer service; the safety line is a dedicated hotline staffed by trained safety agents. Should a guest feel unsafe at any time during their stay for any reason, they can call the number and get immediate and useful assistance until they’re more secure. For travelers who are uncertain about the idea of staying in a private home rather than a commercial property, this reassurance can go a long way toward making a private rental feel safer.

Verdict: Vrbo has guest support available 24/7 and encourages guests and hosts to prioritize safety measures. However, Airbnb comes out on top with its dedicated 24-hour safety line that ensures guests have access to specially trained safety agents any time of day.

Winner: Airbnb

9. Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Guest Guarantees

Both Vrbo and Airbnb provide a raft of guarantees to help guests feel confident that they’ll get what they paid for—or be made whole after the fact.

Vrbo’s program of guarantees is called Book With Confidence. It guarantees property access (assistance or compensation if guests can’t access the property on arrival), payment protection against fraud or unreturned damage deposits, assistance finding a comparable property should the owner cancel within 30 days of the reservation date, and assistance booking a new lodging if the property was significantly misrepresented in the listing. These items are briefly described on the Vrbo site and are a great set of protections, but exactly how they’re activated or provided isn’t spelled out.

Airbnb’s AirCover lays out clear policies for the company’s guarantees and provides booking protection: If a host cancels within 30 days, Airbnb will either find the customer a similar or better property or issue a refund. The same remedy is in place for both check-in and the Get-What-You-Booked Guarantee, so if a guest can’t access the property at check-in or the property isn’t what was advertised, Airbnb will either find a similar or better lodging or provide a refund. The Get-What-You-Booked Guarantee goes a bit further: If at any point during the stay there’s a problem related to what was promised in the listing, the guest has 3 days to report it for assistance rebooking or a refund. The exclusions to the policies are clearly listed, as are the steps necessary to make a claim on one of the guarantees. While Airbnb’s policies are similar to Vrbo’s, the straightforward explanations of the guarantees and the remedies provided give Airbnb the win in this category.

How do these policies stack up in Airbnb vs. Vrbo reviews from customers who have tried to use them? This does seem to be an area where guests choose to register complaints. Airbnb’s reviews on Trustpilot and Consumer Affairs often cite problems with misrepresentation and cancellations. Vrbo’s Trustpilot and Consumer Affairs reviews focus on Vrbo’s unwillingness to issue refunds or credits in a timely fashion, which may be in accordance with Vrbo’s policies, but the lack of clarity on the solutions in their posted policies may make this area hazy and more frustrating for customers. Some of these complaints do fall under the exclusions noted by each service, but it’s worth noting that many of the reviews don’t mention whether or not the guests attempted to avail themselves of remedies through the proper channels. Because the exclusions to the policies are very specific, it’s key for guests to actually read the fine print.

Verdict: Both Vrbo and Airbnb offer guarantees to help guests book with peace of mind. However, Vrbo’s Book with Confidence policy falls short of Airbnb’s AirCover: While both cover similar situations in which a guest can be inconvenienced (such as listing misrepresentation or host cancellation within 30 days), Airbnb is more transparent about its policies and solutions.

Winner: Airbnb

Vrbo vs. Airbnb

Photo: istockphoto.com

10. Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Additional Features and Offerings

With all the competition among vacation rental sites, guests are expecting something more than just a list of properties to choose from. Both Vrbo and Airbnb have designed additional features on their sites to encourage their guests to look at their booking as a package, not simply a place to stay.

Airbnb’s Experiences let guests play travel agent. Offering up a slew of tours (self-guided or led by an expert), classes, lessons, and excursions that can all be booked through Airbnb, the Experiences section helps guests find unusual and interesting ways to occupy their time. Many of these experiences can be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, such as sailing tours at dusk, photo shoots in unusual locales, or the opportunity to learn glassblowing. Others are quirky and fun—a sandwich tour, an hour hanging out with goats, or creating a custom perfume. Packaging several experiences together with a stay at a great property can elevate a quick weekend away to a truly memorable experience.

Vrbo’s Trip Boards are similar to a really cool group project, or an Instagram-meets-Pinterest mash-up. Guests can create interest boards featuring elements of their planned (or desired) travel, and others can collaborate by posting suggestions and ideas, allowing travelers to tap into local expertise or draw off of great experiences others have had. The Trip Boards are a great and visual way to plan, and they can be especially helpful for travelers who want to really enjoy the anticipation of their trip. At this time, however, the Trip Boards really are very much like other social media outlets. Including the planning boards on the same site as a guest’s lodging reservations system is convenient, but it’s not yet a huge asset.

Verdict: Vrbo allows travelers to plan and collaborate on travel plans with Trip Boards, which caters to groups of travelers and thus doesn’t appeal to all types of users. Airbnb has a more broadly appealing additional offering in the ability for guests to book experiences alongside vacation rentals.

Winner: Airbnb

11. VRBO vs. Airbnb: Mobile App

Mobile apps are essential for travel services. Even guests who typically prefer the larger screen of a tablet or laptop will defer to a smartphone once travel has commenced, so having a functional, user-friendly app is critically important. Airbnb and Vrbo both have solid entries in this category, though they’re different. Vrbo’s app asks for location access so that it can more easily connect the user with nearby properties, which may make some users uncomfortable. The home page is limited in terms of how far down users can scroll. Airbnb’s app opens to a global map and popular listings until the user opts to enter a search location or parameter; the app interface is very similar to the Airbnb desktop site.

Both apps are highly functional in terms of bookings, and especially for communicating with hosts—which is an essential function once a guest has departed for their trip in case of any access problems or issues. Airbnb’s product is simply easier to access and use in general, and it feels much more like a regular web page.

Verdict: Both mobile apps allow guests to browse, book stays, and message hosts, but Airbnb’s user interface is more appealing, with an interactive map and endlessly scrollable home page.

Winner: Airbnb

Verdict: Airbnb has an abundance of vacation rentals all over the world. Regardless of type, size, cost, and amenities desired, guests are all but guaranteed to find a property that fits their needs. While Airbnb is a clear winner in the industry, it doesn’t go unchallenged: Vrbo still has a vast selection of whole-home properties, and its rapid growth is a sign that it can offer vacationers a positive experience that will keep users coming back for more.

Vrbo promises to give Airbnb a run for its position, but for the moment, Airbnb is fairly secure in its top spot. However, the upgraded search functions offered by Vrbo and its partnership with Affirm, which allows customers to pay over time, signal that Vrbo has identified the areas that will help it find a toehold. Airbnb’s wide range of property types and locations, amenities, services, and protections assure customers that it has the experience and established credibility to provide a smooth, relaxed travel experience.