An unavoidable aspect of travel is booking accommodations—and some people equate this to the agony of getting a tooth pulled. On the other hand, I find the search for overnight accommodations to be an adventure in itself! With anything from motels and hotels available to apartments, homes, cabins, houseboats, lighthouses, earthships, vineyards, and yes even yurts as possible places to sleep. Of course accommodations fall on a scale from budget to high-end, but for the purpose of this article let’s compare mid range hotels with mid-range “short term rental” properties. My aim is to summarize the pros and cons of “short term rentals” versus traditional hotels—and provide you with a little food for thought as you make future travel plans.
The largest and most popular home sharing and short-term home rental network is Airbnb, with more than four million listings worldwide—so let’s focus on that rental provider. It is interesting that the majority of Airbnb customers are millenials. According to Statista, an online statistics portal, “In 2017, 36 percent of the Airbnb users were 25 to 34 years old.” This statistic isn’t surprising since millenials value “experiences” in almost every purchase decision they make, are tech savvy, and feel no hesitation to book a listing online or through a mobile app.
There seems to be a general consensus that Airbnb is less expensive than a hotel, but there are some indications that contradict that train of thought. According to AirDNA, a company that tracks Airbnb pricing, Airbnbs in many markets can cost more than a basic hotel room. And according to Money Magazine, “Airbnb prices increased 5.4% over the past year , as opposed to hotel rates, which rose less than 1%.”
But of course price isn’t the only consideration when seeking a place to stay on vacation, right? Some people adore hotels due to high end fixtures, access to a spa, gym facilities, on site restaurants, and last-but-not-least, room service. For Airbnb fans, it is important to “live” like a local, get an expansive space with cooking ability, and enjoy the unexpected “quirk factor.” (Full disclaimer, I am a dedicated Airbnb-er and have stayed in at least 15 Airbnb properties over the last 10 years).
The beauty of Airbnb is the variety of experiences to be had—from under-the-stars secluded cabins to contemporary lofts in the heart of a city. And best of all there is no corporate footprint. You can usually find a folder of neighborhood suggestions upon your arrival from your Airbnb host—or the ability to reach out to them if you want further guidance. I value privacy, so I am sure to choose listings that are completely separate from the host residency.
Standard hotels have a more hands-off approach to its customers and specific guidelines and design elements that are common to their brand. For instance, when you book a Hilton or Sheraton you usually know what to expect. And for some people, there is comfort in that expectation. Hotel travelers also like the communal spaces that are available to them—like a gym, office, spa, lobby, etc. Most hotels have a concierge and other staff who are ready to help guide your stay; they can get you a taxi, suggest excursions and restaurants, and be of great service in an emergency medical situation.
I recommend doing your research whether you are choosing Airbnb or a hotel. Check out the reviews (and read the host or hotel responses), and traveler’s photos. Hotels in general have a better standard for cleanliness due to regulations and an ever present staff. With Airbnb it can be a little more hit and miss. That is why I always read the reviews carefully on Airbnb and especially the way a host responds to a complaint! Most of the places I have stayed on Airbnb have been clean—some immaculate, some not as much. In every instance that I had any type of issue (not always relating to cleanliness), the Airbnb host responded quickly and respectfully.
Airbnb hosts decide their fee per night—so there are amazing finds out there as well as mispriced lodgings to be sure. As do all of the short term rentals sites, you need to make sure you are taking into consideration any cleaning fees, service fees, extra guest charges, etc. One benefit of a home rental, especially if you are a family or group, is the use of a full kitchen. This can be a significant cost savings. Many listings also have a minimum night’s stay as well as an “on season” and “off season” rate. In general, hotel prices are dependent on room and bed type, and are tied into days of the week and time of year (especially if there is a tourist season). Hotel prices also adhere to a business model and need to account for overhead costs and staff wages.
Here is a specific comparison to examine. My family of three traveled to Tucson and chose to stay in an Airbnb home in the foothills of Tucson—so about fifteen minutes from downtown in an upscale, quiet neighborhood with easy access to walking trails. It was described as a “ranch home in the city,” and did not disappoint. It was a spacious 2,000+ square foot, mid century modern home with three bedrooms, air conditioning, two patios, WiFi, an entertainment room (complete with pool table), full kitchen, and scenic views. The price? It was listed at $80 per night but also included cleaning fees ($40), service fees ($46.42) and occupancy tax ($41.40). So the grand total of our four night stay was $447.82 or $111.95 per night. One unaccounted “cost” was time; it did take quite a few hours of careful review to find this deal, and the patience to research neighborhoods in Tucson to ascertain the safety of the area. This Airbnb accommodation was perfect for us—it gave us plenty of space to spread out, was an ideal location for all the activities we had planned, and let us feel a little special with the upscale furnishings and location. And having a full kitchen made traveling with a young child easier—we cooked almost every meal at “home.”
Let’s now compare to a comparable hotel stay hotel in the same area. The Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa is located in the Tucson foothills region and lists a traditional 475-square-foot hotel room with one king or two double beds. Resort perks include eight on-site restaurants, five pools, and a water slide. Then there’s access to 27-hole golf, a tennis center, spa, and kids’ club (extra fees apply). Through its website, I found a traditional room available for four nights with two double beds at $142 per night for an estimated total of $568. Also in the fine print was a 12.05% tax ($68.44), and $29 amenity fee per night ($116). So the grand total would be $752.44. Even with the prepaid option, the grand total would be $617.44. For some, that extra price tag is completely worth the resort experience.
A less “resorty” option is the Sheraton Tucson Hotel and Suites, a couple of miles away from the Airbnb. A prepaid rate with free breakfast for a traditional room with two double beds for four nights was quoted at $101.50. With surcharges and occupancy tax (spelled out in this case), the grand total would be $470.92—so pretty close to our Airbnb rate. This urban hotel had a pool, but from the images it looked like it would have more appeal for a business traveler.
This is the one issue where traditional hotels win hands down. This is true not only in terms of safety from crime, but also in health standards. Although I have never had a situation where I felt unsafe, I could see this as a potential issue. I am very careful in choosing Airbnb listings that I can vet for safety. If I know someone in the area I get their opinion, and when I don’t I refer to a crime overview of the neighborhood.
So there are plenty of reasons to choose a hotel when you travel—especially if you consider on-site conveniences and luxuries an integral part of your travel experience. But if you are curious about the Airbnb experience, I urge you to give it a shot. You may find the experience a little bit of an adventure and enjoy the ability to live like a local and save some cash (make sure you look for a deal that suits your budget).