There are three types of travelers who pay for accommodation: those who primarily use hotels or hostels, those who stick to Airbnb, and the very few who alternate between the two. It’s easy to get comfortable with a particular travel workflow but if you’re diehard in either the Airbnb or hotel camp, you might be missing the advantages both have in different situations.
Here’s when to use Airbnb or a hotel, depending on you travel plans.
Misconceptions About Hotels And Airbnb
Let’s lay down some ground work. First, by hotels, I mean traditional accommodation which includes a variety of services such as cleaning or meals. Airbnb lets you rent a room or an entire home from someone else, generally on a short term basis.
There’s a blurring line happening here, where Airbnb renters are becoming more professional, offering additional services – and hotels are getting into the Airbnb game as well. On the flip side, hotels are now offering more of the perks of Airbnb, such as free wifi. Consequently, Airbnb has gotten more expensive while hotel prices have lowered to compete.
Many people who aren’t familiar with Airbnb often confuse it with Couchsurfing, where you crash at someone’s place for free. Although you can rent out a single room in a home or apartment using Airbnb, you’re always paying for it. Travelers who rely primarily on Airbnb, tend to always assume hotels are more expensive which is hardly the case these days.
Last Minute Bookings: Hotel
Much like flights, booking at the very last minute can leave you with exceptionally high or low price options. You might be in luck if someone isn’t able to rent out their place but generally speaking, hotels are often a cheaper alternative in these cases – for the simple reason there’s more of them. Consequently, competition between various hotels and hotel booking engines, encouraging price competition whereas on Airbnb, there’s only Airbnb. (True, there are other home rental options but Airbnb has the most market share.)
Large Groups Or Families: Airbnb
In terms of price per person, Airbnb typically works out much better. Of course it depends on the renter but usually, for large enough homes, the total cost of the stay doesn’t increase much with more guests. In other words, if a home is listed as accommodating up to 6 people, usually then the rate for 2 people versus 6 isn’t much different. Hotels on the other hand are designed for 2-4 people – larger rooms aren’t often available in bulk, so they’re more expensive in general.
Many Airbnbs will offer free wifi, a kitchen, laundry machine, refrigerator, microwave, plus the attentiveness of a single owner, rather than an anonymous clerk at a customer service desk. (Except hotels also may bundle common services such as airport pickup into the price, saving you the cost of a ride.) Having all of those services can save you money over a longer stay since you can get groceries and cook, for example, but for very short trips, you might end up paying for things you never use.
Length Of The Stay: Depends
Longer stays of more than a few days tend to always be cheaper using Airbnb. Hotels charge by the night, mostly a flat rate per day that doesn’t take into account the total time you’ll be staying. Airbnbs on the other hand tend to be more expensive on a daily basis, but discounted in week long or monthly increments. For longer stays you can also contact the owner directly, circumventing Airbnb (as well as its protections) to save even further.
Late Night Arrivals, Comfort, Events: It Depends
One area where Airbnb can get a bit annoying is when you’re arriving late at night. Some owners have automated key lock boxes for guests but where it’s not an option, you’ve got to coordinate through Airbnb’s messaging system. In theory, not too difficult but if your flight’s delayed or you don’t have mobile service upon arrival, it can make communicating hard. Hotels are generally staffed 24 hours so for late night arrivals they make for easier check-ins. In cities where there’s no Uber taxi drivers will have a better idea of where the hotels are; finding an Airbnb in the middle of the night could mean a few extra turns to get lost or scammed.
Hotels, for better or worse, are consistent in their quality, not to mention security as well. You can look up a Yelp or TripAdvisor review and have a pretty good idea of what you’ll end up with. Alternatively, cleanliness can vary more widely with Airbnbs. Some owners have lots of reviews you can rely on but even in those cases, I’ve stayed at places where the owner had an off day. They either didn’t arrange the cleaning staff in time for my arrival, forgot, or seemed hungover. An Airbnb can often get away with one bad review among many good – besides most people don’t leave as bad of reviews on Airbnb. (Owners certainly reach out to prevent it.) Hotels have a public image to maintain, full-time staff, and more prepared for a high volume of guests one after the other.
When it comes to conferences or other special events, hotels can be advantageous if you book well in advance before rooms are scarce. Select hotels usually have conference rates and discounts, tending to be closer to the event themselves (potentially saving you on daily transportation costs). Most convention centers or stadiums aren’t in residential areas, meaning few Airbnbs nearby. The Airbnbs that are close go (significantly) up in price, while those further away end up costing you in Uber fees. All of this assumes you’re in town for a short trip.
Always Check Both For Comfort
You want to avoid the habit of only checking for hotels or Airbnb when looking at a particular destination. All of the above are generalities that can’t take into account very specific circumstances, how lucky you are, and the type of trip it is. For some people, a kitchen and a laundry machine give convenience, for others, it’s a burden they’d rather leave at home.
Hotels are generally a straightforward deal, might get you reward points, but there’s less wiggle room for negotiation. You can always call directly, use corporate discounts, or look at private rooms in fancier hostels as well. With Airbnb, a reverse image search helps uncover deals, this device can uncover hidden cameras, and you can turn your phone into a hotel room surveillance device wherever you stay.
What do you prefer? Hotel, Airbnb, or neither? Let me know in the comments below!