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Airbnb or VRBO – Which is better and does it matter?

Arirbnb vs VRBO how to decide which is best five assorted-color 2-storey houses

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If you’re looking to save money on accommodations, have you considered doing a home rental? When you are considering a home rental, you’ve probably come across the big names in the home rental or peer-to-peer space, Airbnb and VRBO. When deciding which to choose, Airbnb or VRBO, how do you decide which is better, and does it even really matter?

In the following, I’ll break down Airbnb and VRBO into what is the same, what is different, what might be better with one over the other, and some feedback as to if it matters in the grand scheme of home rentals.

Full disclosure, I have used both companies in the past. I’ll give my opinion on which is better below.

Additionally, you may wonder why you may choose a home rental over a hotel room. Read here to determine the difference and make the best choice for your family.

What is the Same Airbnb vs VRBO

Digging through both sites extensively, when it comes to choosing Airbnb or VRBO, many things are the same or similar. Both sites are a rental platform for vacation homes and rental properties.

Hosted by Owners

As I mentioned above, these are home rental platform sites. Someone does own the home and it’s rented for vacations so that travelers can have that whole-home experience and convenience. This is ultimately what a peer-to-peer rental means; you’re renting from an individual unlike a corporation such as Hilton. In fact, VRBO does stand for vacation rental by owner.

That said, often home rental owners will choose property managers to take on the responsibility of managing guests’ check-in and check-out, as well as scheduling cleanings, and generally being available to guests during the stay.

Contacting the host is also done through a messenger system on each platform. I get an email notification when a host replies, and in some instances a text confirmation.

Booking Experience

Another similarity between the two rental sites is the booking experience. Both offer a list view with nightly prices and totals for your stay, provided you input your dates.

Alongside the listings is the map view. By zooming in or out or asking the site to “search” this area, you can further narrow down your search.

Both sites offer additional ways to filter your search. While they are slightly different, the basics remain. Filter options include home type or type of accommodation, price, bedroom and bathroom numbers, features, house rules, location, and property types to name a few.

How to pay for your rental home is also similar between Airbnb and VRBO. However, it’s’ also one of the main reasons it differs from the hotel booking sites. You can choose to Pay later with Affirm on VRBO and pay part now, part later on Airbnb. With Affirm it’s equal payments over a set amount of time. With pay part now, part later, it amounts to approximately 20% of your reservation total.

Fees

One of the biggest differences between Airbnb or VRBO and booking a hotel is the service fees listed on property listings. Granted, a standard hotel often has hidden charges such as parking and resort fees, so always look at the total before you book and compare side by side. These fees are usually platform or guest service fees and they are added by the Airbnb service fee or VRBO service fee on the rental website. When you review your total, you’ll see a breakdown of this fee.

Depending on what you’re searching for on your next trip, these fees don’t necessarily make the reservation a worse or better option. Often you’ll find it’s comparable in cost.

Cleaning and Cleaning fees

Both sites list cleaning fees on nearly every rental I’ve seen. Occasionally, VRBO may list it as property fees, but the idea is the same. These do add to the bottom line, so be sure to look at the full cost of the rental rather than the nightly rate.

These fees range on both sites and are set by the owner. It depends on the property type, but I’ve seen anywhere from $50 to $200 for cleaning fees.

Both sites have responded to the COVID19 pandemic and outlined extensive cleaning practices. Cleaning practices are listed on individual homes on VRBO. Airbnb uses an enhanced clean policy to note cleaning procedures for hosts.

Types of hosts

Another similarity between VRBO and Airbnb is the type of hosts. By reaching a certain status, property hosts will earn a badge: Premier hosts on VRBO, Superhost on Airbnb. While the qualifications to attain this staus vary slightly, it boils down to having a high average rating, high response time, and low owner initialed cancellation rate. By seeking out these types of owners, you can rest assured you’ll have a pleasant experience.

Reviews

Both sites also display reviews that guests leave for their hosts. I strongly encourage you to read through at least a half dozen reviews to get a good idea of the space and the owner.

Additionally, the owner can leave a review about you as well. When you’re renting, potential property owners will see your history and can determine if you’ll treat the place with respect. Be a good guest and you shouldn’t have to worry about your ratings.

Wish Lists or Trip Boards

Each site has a way for you to collect your favorites into a wish list. Airbnb calls them wish lists, and you can create them based on any topic you like. VRBO calls them Trip Boards and offers a more collaborative effect through sharing with friends and family. It’s a great way to plan multi-family vacations for large groups.

Cancellation Policies

Each site also has various cancellation policies, though these have changed due to COVID19.

Generally, each property owner on both websites enacts their own cancellation policy. VRBO owners typically apply the policies found here. Airbnb policies are found here.

Here again, both sites offer similar policies that are set by the owner. These range from a full refund, partial refund, to no refund or even a custom policy. VRBO lists the dates specifically for your cancelation. For example, a December 11th trip may have until November 11ths for free cancellation. Airbnb offers everything from flexible to strict cancellation policies.

As always, read the fine print before making your payment.

Available worldwide

When it comes to selection worldwide, Airbnb vs VRBO come out pretty even. They are both international companies with listings in nearly any place you care to stay.

Customer Service

Both sites offer help pages and customer service options. I’ve used customer service with Airbnb in the past and found them helpful, especially during the start of the pandemic. There may be some additional differences we can cover below.

What is Different between Airbnb or VRBO

History

Many people became more aware of home rentals when Airbnb started making a name for itself in 2008. But the truth is, vacation rentals and home rentals have been on the scene for much longer.

You could find vacation rentals through management services and classified ads. VRBO started in the online space in 1995. Home Away acquired VRBO in 2006, and the two sites became one in 2020, keeping the VRBO name. VRBO is also a part of the Expedia Group, which leads me to believe they may have a bigger support staff.

Peer to Peer Experiences

While both sites are “by owner,” however, Airbnb seems to cater more to the peer to peer factor. While ultimately you’re still renting from someone through VRBO, Airbnb plays more into that local experience factor. In fact, one of the main differences of the sites is that Airbnb is more than a home rental with online and hosted experiences. Airbnb Experiences used to be front and center on their website, but it was harder to find recently. If you’re interested in Airbnb Experiences, start here.

Types of Rentals

One of the main differences between Airbnb vs VRBO is that VRBO does not do room shares or a private room in a home. You are viewing entire homes for rent.

VRBO is strictly for vacation rentals. Airbnb may have more listings, but VRBO will be exclusively whole houses private homes.

That can be a plus, however. Knowing that you’re only going to see whole-home rentals on VRBO may make it easier to search for the accommodations you prefer, especially if you’re a family. That said, we’ve had a lovely private room experience jus outside of New York City as a family of four in an Airbnb.

Additionally, on VRBO, you may not find unique spaces like treehouses, or private islands. while you can search for property type, it is more limited than Airbnb.

Airbnb now has a clearer navigation bar with types of listings of unique stays. You can find camping, beach house, farms, amazing views, tiny house, and even listings called OMG!

I love scrolling through Airbnb listings for this reason. They seem to have attracted a variety of owners initially looking to earn an side income, but have turned their spaces into something special.

I have also noticed that there tend to be more vacation rental managers on VRBO, though they exist on Airbnb as well. Usually, with a property manager, you do get 24-hour service. However, you may lose some of that personal touch of communicating directly with the owner who knows the area well. Property managers also come in handy when you’re renting a space such as a condo in a popular area.

Booking Experience Differences

Airbnb offers Airbnb hosts the option to approve your booking. When you are booking, you’ll see a button that says either Reserve or Instant book. If it is Reserve, your request will be sent to the rental owner to approve you. This provides a measure of protection from Airbnb users who may have negative reviews. Hence, this is where the bigger peer-to-peer differences come in.

If the option is Instant Book, then once you enter the credit card information, the reservation is yours.

Airbnb Aircover

Recently, Airbnb created Aircover for both hots and guests. This is a type of travel protection insurance, but it does not protect your entire trip. That said, it is no additional cost. Aircover is a booking protection guarantee that if the host needs to cancel, they will find you a similar or better home or refund you. If you can’t check in, or if the property is mis-represented, you have a guarantee there as well.

VRBO recommends travel insurance, but a separate policy you obtain on your own. (which I would recommend anyway) They also have a book with confidence guarantee that appears to cover the same things Aircover does.

Fees

I’ve noticed different terminology with VRBO in terms of fees. Sometimes these are called property fees, which could be very similar to cleaning fees.

I also don’t like that I have to click on view details to see what the fees are on VRBO, but at least when I do, they are broken down into the property fee and/or cleaning fee, service fee, and tax.

VRBO has changed this recently to include a total cost in the search results. Note, it still doesn’t include tax so your price will change.

However, I do like that VRBO has a notation on some rentals that if there is damage to the property during your stay, you may be charged up to $200. I think this protects the host from any willful or negligent behavior from the guest.

Slight difference: VRBO has a very specific Book with Confidence Guarantee and Trust & Safety page, while Airbnb simply has a Trust & Safety page.

Which is Better

The biggest question with Airbnb or VRBO, is which is better? The truth is, it depends. (I know, cop-out answer.)

Generally, I choose Airbnb for its variety and more of that community connection experience. I like having a host either on the same property or nearby. I’ve stayed in places with Airbnb where the host is in the connecting home, or personally dropped off a welcome gift for me. We’ve also stayed in truly unique accommodations with Airbnb such as vintage trailers, motorhomes, boats, etc.

I do like the whole home-only aspect of VRBO. We’ve stayed in a whole house with multiple families through VRBO vacation rentals. Plus, I’ve also found bed and breakfasts listed there as well. I also think you’re getting a bigger company experience and backing with VRBO. Granted, Airbnb is also a bigger company these days.

The better choice boils down to what you want out of the experience. Unfortunately, this is why I would always recommend you compare the two sites. While I mention below there are other players in the game, these two are the biggest in the travel industry. They offer more variety and support.

Side note: I know a few who list their rental property and as a host, they prefer Airbnb for the communication experience with the guest.

Does it Matter

Honestly, no. It does not matter which site you go with. While I may start by looking at Airbnb homes and experiences first, I will compare cost and availability on VRBO too.

With either site, you find great deals or gorgeous stays. Plus you get the support of a bigger company, an entire home, kitchen, and other perks. Imagine doing a home rental back in the days of a classified ad!

There are even other players in the home rental or vacation rental space such as Top Villas. These tend to be more in popular resort destinations such as Orlando, but well worth looking at for incredible rates.

Sometimes these smaller sites have deals which you can find on my Travel Deals page here.

Related Articles for Airbnb and VRBO

Determining if a home rental is right for you? Check here.

If you want a step by step to renting an Airbnb, check here.

Want to do something even more different? Rent an RV with RV Share, or a Campervan with Escape Campervans.

What are your thoughts? Do you have experience determining which is better, Airbnb vs VRBO? I’d love to hear your comments. Feel free to drop a comment below.

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