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We all travel for different reasons and with different expectations depending on where we are headed. Perhaps a family vacation means you want to have kitchen and dining space. A business trip to a big city could put a comfortable bed and deep soaking tub at the top of the priority list.
When deciding between an Airbnb or a hotel, understanding what you want out of your accommodations can make your choice easier, especially when price and location are equal.
Here is some insight that can guide your thinking if you're debating between booking an Airbnb or a hotel stay.
When it comes to what accommodations can offer, Airbnb will often come out ahead for a variety of travelers, including self-sufficient families and digital nomads.
Airbnb is the biggest home-sharing service in the world, connecting private homeowners with people looking to rent their place for a specific period of time. It offers standalone homes, shared spaces and some hotel rooms. All of these stays are searchable using an online tool similar to most hotel brands, where you search by destination and price range.
In practice, the residential units of Airbnb aren't that much different than a hotel. Like hotel rooms, these spaces provide a place to sleep, host different guests on a regular basis and are cleaned between uses.
But there are some advantages with Airbnb that hotels cannot always easily match, at least not for the same price point. Hotels are a far more traditional concept, with guest rooms and occasional suites. Airbnbs, on the other hand, typically offer residential-style amenities like living rooms, kitchens, dining rooms, laundry facilities and, in some locations, a private place to park your car. Sure, hotel suites can match some of these amenities, but they often carry a surcharge over the price of a standard room.
Similar to some hotels, Airbnb can even offer long-term stay discounts. This can be especially helpful if you're booking a stay for several weeks or months. While extended stay brands in the hotel industry are meant to target this customer, they still lack the more spacious comforts of some residential Airbnb properties.
» Learn more: Hotel chains and their brands
There are always outliers, but hotels have far more oversight than Airbnb. This is a primary reason why hotels top Airbnb when it comes to quality.
Hotels have 24-hour staff available to manage the general operation. During a hotel stay, you have immediate access to these workers — which isn't always the case with Airbnb. Problem with the swimming pool or the WiFi? Hotel staff are on it. Airbnb requires contacting a host, and the lag time can be frustrating.
In general, hotels offer the option for daily housekeeping while Airbnbs don't. They also don't charge an extra fee for this service. Many Airbnbs tack on cleaning fees that aren't built into the rates.
Airbnb does have a property designation called Airbnb “Plus,” which signifies that it has sent someone to personally vet the property. For first-time users or those that prefer a bit more quality control, “Plus” properties are the way to go.
» Learn more: Don’t let hidden hotel fees spoil your stay
Both hotels and Airbnb offer decent flexibility when making a reservation, with policies clearly laid out while booking.
Many hotels have the option of a nonrefundable rate or an increased rate with more flexibility. Even with normal cancellation policies, some hotels are flexible with guests in the event of unforeseen circumstances (like a sudden illness). This means you can try your luck and, especially if you have documentation to back your claim, many hotels will agree to waive fees in your favor.
Airbnb hosts often set their own cancellation and refund policies, which are stated both on the listing page and during the booking process. You can also find listings with both nonrefundable and refundable price options, and you can also set a filter to search for listings with a free cancellation option.
Airbnb offers cancellation policies for a limited number of extenuating circumstances, although everyone’s experience will vary based on the situation.
Ability to stay for free
The cost difference between a hotel room and an Airbnb can vary depending on the location, amenities offered and time of year. The rule of “supply and demand” applies, as with other things in life.
If all things are equal, there is one benefit that can really sway your decision: loyalty programs. The ability to earn and redeem points for hotel stays has many people hooked, and Airbnb doesn't have a full-fledged loyalty program.
» Learn more: How to earn or redeem points on Airbnb stays
With a hotel loyalty program, you’ll earn points based on every dollar you spend at included properties, with bonus points for having elite status with the brand or if you’re using a hotel-branded credit card. Earning these points can really move the needle when it comes to value, as you can later redeem them for other stays.
Add in any benefits received from elite status, like complimentary breakfast or room upgrades, and hotels can steal the show when it comes to value.
Since Airbnb is often considered a travel purchase, you may be able to use certain credit card points as a statement credit to cover the cost of your stay. Even some airlines, like Delta and British Airways, offer a way to earn miles when booking an Airbnb. Still, this pales in comparison with the outsized value that many hotel loyalty programs can provide.
Should I stay in an Airbnb or hotel?
Both hotels and Airbnb offer similar cancellation policies. If you're looking for a more unique or extended stay with more facilities, Airbnb will give you plenty more attractive options than most hotel chains. However, hotels are a safer bet when it comes to quality and the ability to save money in the long run.
The final call is up to you and what you want out of your stay. Fully understanding what’s being offered before showing up at the door is one of the best ways to mitigate disappointment.
These days, there is often the choice between an Airbnb and a hotel no matter where you’re traveling, giving everyone the flexibility they want and need.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card