AirBnB and other online vacation rental booking agencies provide a valuable service. They allow you to book longer term accommodations, usually at a lower price than local hotels, with the security that the place you booked actually exists. The alternative to a service like this would be booking through an online ad service like craigslist.org and sending money to the prospective landlord or property manager, only to possibly discover when you arrive that the place you paid for doesn’t exist. AirBnB takes care of vetting the property for you and guaranteeing the transaction, for a fee.
If you return to the same place multiple years in a row you may end up developing a relationship with the owner or manager (who you will probably be in direct contact with you once you make the booking) and rent direct from the owner next time at an even lower rate without the fees paid to the online services. But, if you are always going to a new place, and you don’t have any local contacts there, AirBnB and similar services provide you some assurance that the place you are booking is legitimate and reviews from people who have stayed there previously to help you evaluate the quality of the place and it’s owners or managers.
Discounts for longer stays
Typically there is a three-tier pricing scheme when booking vacation rentals. The highest rate is charged when you are booking a place for less than a week. Then there is usually (but not always) a small discount for booking for a week or longer…usually 5-15%. If you book for a full month (30 days) you will often be able to get a larger monthly discount, usually 20-45%. I’ve seen monthly discounts as high as 70% occasionally. Obviously if you are looking for very low cost lodgings you are mainly interested in places that offer large discounts for longer stays. Fortunately, the sites usually make it easy to shop around for the best deals.
In addition to the listed per-day price for the room, apartment, or house, you are usually charged a cleaning fee by the owner and a guest service fee by AirBnB. I’ve tried to work out the formula that AirBnB uses to calculate these fees but I haven’t figured it out yet. The fee percentage scales downward as the overall cost of the booking increases, just like eBay’s auction fees. So you pay the largest percentage if you book for just a couple days. AirBnB says the fees are “usually” between 6-12%, but can be higher or lower depending on the specifics of the reservation. Again, the longer you book your place for the lower the percentage fee that AirBnB charges. The main takeaway here, as we’ve said many times, is stay longer and you pay less per day for lodging.
With AirBnB, if you confirm a reservation and cancel it later, the service fee charged to you is non-refundable. That means if you book an expensive place for a month, you could be out a substantial fee, so be careful about booking if you aren’t absolutely sure you are going to show up. If the reservation is only changed, the service fee is adjusted to reflect the new payment details. If the host cancels the reservation, you are refunded your guest service fee.
Alternatives to AirBnB
AirBnB may be the most well-known online vacation rental booking service, but they are certainly not the only game in town. If fact, they have some very worthy competitors listed below. I went online to check several of them out. In order to compare sites, I looked for places to rent in Puerto Vallarta, a very popular destination, from Jan 8 next year for various stay lengths to see if weekly and monthly discounts were applied.
- Vrbo.com — has fewer listings than AirBnb, but not by much, specializes in full apartment and house rentals, doesn’t charge a guest service fee. They had some decent lower cost listings, and some had discounts for longer stays. Website says “part of the Homeaway family”, but listings aren’t exactly the same as the HomeAway site.
- Homeaway.com – also has fewer listings than AirBnB, but again not by much. Had some decent lower cost listings, but I didn’t find any listed with weekly or monthly discounts. This seemed odd, since the other sites listed here in the “HomeAway family” did offer discounts.
- Perfectplaces.com – didn’t find many low cost listings on their site.
- Homestay.com – geared toward renting a room in someone’s home, rather than a full apartment or house.
- Vacationrentals.com – also says “part of the HomeAway family”. The website and VRBO.COM website look and behave identically. Prices were the same as VRBO.
- Wimdu.com – not nearly as many listings, but a couple lower cost listings had monthly discounts over 50%. Definitely worth checking out. Apparently Wimdu.com has a lot of listings in Europe, but is expanding to other regions.
- Roomorama.com – only two listings for P. V. and no monthly discount for the cheap one.
Overall, AirBnB had the most listings and the largest selection of low cost listings, and offered weekly and monthly discounts on several of them. VRBO and Wimdu had some low cost listings as well with longer stay discounts on some of them worth checking out.
The website tripping.com provides comparisons of various AirBnB competitors and the website AirBnBHell provides criticisms and reasons you should avoid AirBnB and go with other providers. I’m sure some of the negative stories are true but out of how many satisfied and successful rentals were those culled? Both my daughters and many of their friends and our friends have used AirBnB multiple times and have so far had no negative experiences, and we ourselves have had no problems either, so I take these negative websites with a grain of salt. As always, you need to do due diligence and read the online reviews and comments for each renter. Certainly avoid those rentals that don’t have a history of positive comments, or don’t have any comments at all.
Is there a better way?
Maybe…it depends on what you would consider “better”. With AirBnB and it’s alternatives, they do most of the work finding places for you to rent, but you are still booking your place sight unseen and if you show up and hate the place or the location or the person managing it is a creep, you usually end up losing some money (reservation fee, etc.) if you decide to get out of the situation and find another place. If you are only staying for a short time, you may decide to tough it out and count it as a lesson learned. If you are planning to stay for a longer time in one place, like a few weeks or more, you may want to just forget about online booking services, reserve a hotel room for the first day or two in your destination and find and rent your longer-term lodgings yourself when you get there. Some of the places available for rent locally will not be listed on AirBnB or any online sites, and often these places will be cheaper. Plus, you don’t have to pay the service fees to the online booking services which also saves you a chunk of money. It also means you are not locked into specific arrival and departure dates if you want your travel to be more flexible. The only downside is that you have to do the legwork and find the place to rent yourself. Refer to this post for more information on finding and booking vacation or long-term rentals on your own.