Airbnb vs. Vrbo: Which Is Better for Travelers?

If you're debating between the two booking websites, you're likely better off with Airbnb.
Elina Geller
Sam Kemmis
By Sam Kemmis and  Elina Geller 
Updated
Edited by Meghan Coyle

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Vacation rentals offer many potential benefits compared with hotel rooms, including lower prices, more amenities and a more personal touch. Yet knowing which vacation rental platform provides the best overall experience for travelers is another question.

Here we compare two popular vacation rental platforms — Airbnb and Vrbo — across several criteria. We found that Airbnb offers a better overall experience for most travelers, but the right choice will depend on your travel preferences.

Let’s break it down (or you can skip to our selected winner at the end of our analysis if you'd like).

Accommodation type

Winner: Airbnb

The biggest difference between these two platforms is the type of accommodation they offer:

  • Vrbo offers stand-alone vacation homes only. It doesn't generally offer “shared” spaces like private rooms or more unusual options like campsites.

  • Airbnb offers stand-alone vacation homes as well as shared spaces and even hotel rooms. Although it started as a home-sharing concept, it now hosts many types of accommodations.

In other words, if you’re looking for a home to rent for a family get-together, both Airbnb and Vrbo are good choices. But if you’re looking for a cheaper shared space or something less typical, stick with Airbnb.

If you’ve had bad luck with vacation rentals in the past, which were dumpier or dirtier than the pictures suggested, you might consider searching for Airbnb “Plus” properties, which have been vetted in person for quality.

Search functionality

Winner: Vrbo

Both Airbnb and Vrbo offer similar, intuitive search tools.

Airbnb’s page certainly looks better, and it includes some nice visual elements on the map, such as prices and notable locations. Vrbo’s map looks a bit outdated by comparison.

However, aesthetics aside, Vrbo offers far better filter and sort functionality than Airbnb.

For example, Vrbo lets you filter by user reviews, including properties rated highly for cleanliness and properties rated 4 stars and above.

Vrbo’s filters are also more intuitive. The “pets allowed” filter, which is a must for many travelers, is prominently displayed on Vrbo’s initial search screen. On the flip side, it’s buried deep in Airbnb’s menus under “house rules.”

Overall, Airbnb seriously limits users’ capacity to filter and search based on these obvious criteria. Want to find the best-rated property in your search area on Airbnb? Good luck. The platform offers no way to search or filter by guest rating, which is often the most important consideration for travelers.

Travel smarter this year
Shop our Best-Of Awards to see 2023’s top hotel and airline rewards programs, picked by our Nerds.

Selection criteria

Winner: Airbnb

This one is really no contest. Airbnb boasts 6.6 million active listings as of December 2022, and while Vrbo doesn't publish this number, it's almost certainly lower. Searching in the same region with both platforms quickly reveals the disparity.

For example, an Airbnb search in the tiny town of Forks, Washington, reveals 42 listings, with a broad range of accommodation styles and prices.

A similar search on Vrbo reveals just one active property (the pin doesn’t count).

This isn’t a fluke. Airbnb simply dominates in terms of the pure number of listings available.

Video preview image

Booking process

Winner: Airbnb

Both vacation rental services are platforms for booking with a property host. That is, you're not booking “an Airbnb” but booking a rental “through Airbnb.” For this reason, the booking process can seem a bit strange to those used to staying at hotels.

For all Vrbo and some Airbnb properties, you first send a booking request, which includes a price quote and a message to the host. The host then reviews the request, including your profile and possibly previous ratings from other hosts, and then confirms or denies it. In other words, you must wait for approval from the host before your booking is confirmed.

If that sounds like a lot of hassle, Airbnb offers an “instant book” option on some properties, which is just what it sounds like.

This takes a sometimes-obnoxious step out of the booking process and gives Airbnb the edge in this category.

Cancellation policy

Winner: Airbnb

Both Airbnb and Vrbo let the property manager set the terms of the booking for cancellations and changes. Since these policies vary from property to property, there's no way to determine which one offers more flexibility overall.

However, the way these policies are explained, implemented and presented does vary; again, Airbnb has a slight edge.

Airbnb lets hosts choose from several preset flexibility policies, ranging from “flexible” to “strict.” Each policy features a color-coded timeline to help potential guests make sense of it.

Airbnb’s limited policies and clear explanations take some of the headache out of deciding whether to book. It’s easy to see when you could receive a full refund or potentially lose your entire booking fee based on the booking dates.

Vrbo’s policies, on the other hand, aren’t as clean or simple. These range from “no refund” to “14/7,” which means you’ll receive a full refund if you cancel 14 days or more in advance, and a 50% refund (minus the service fee) if you cancel at least seven days in advance. These policies are similar to Airbnb’s but are a little harder to compare.

However, the real problem with Vrbo is that it allows “custom” policies. This means a host can set different rules from the typical policies, so you — as the guest — must read more fine print to understand them.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that Vrbo rentals have less flexible policies than similar Airbnb properties, it does mean they’re harder to understand.

Long-stay discounts

Winner: Tie

Airbnb and Vrbo both offer long-term stay discounts. These discounts can make a big difference when staying for a week or more, so digital nomads and others looking to put down temporary roots can save with both booking websites.

Here’s an example of a discount on a long stay with Airbnb.

And here’s a Vrbo booking that shows the discount for a weeklong stay.

Pricing and most fees

Winner: Tie

It’s difficult to compare overall pricing between these two services since each property is unique. They both charge a service fee on top of the base rate, which is how they make money, but we compared bookings across platforms and found them to be roughly similar on average (at about 20% of the base rate).

Although Airbnb and Vrbo both allow hosts to determine whether to require refundable security deposits for guests, we saw a lot more of these deposits on Vrbo properties when we searched.

These deposits add a layer of complexity and possible expense for guests, but we’re not confident that one platform systematically charges them more often than the other.

Cleaning fees

Winner: Vrbo

Cleaning fees are the bane of many vacation renters. Both Airbnb and Vrbo properties carry these one-time fees, which the hosts use to cover the cost of cleaning their space. Amounts are set by the hosts, not the platform, so the fees vary widely depending on the property. A NerdWallet analysis found that the median cleaning fee per Airbnb listing for a one-night stay was $75.

As far as how fees are presented though, Vrbo wins. Vrbo has been displaying the total price (excluding tax) of booking vacation homes for years. Travelers do not need to opt in to see this, and guests can use the Vrbo price filter to narrow down search results by total price. Travelers always see the total price and breakdown of fees before they book on the Vrbo website or app.

Vrbo's price search filter and map feature.

Airbnb, on the other hand, does not default to show cleaning fees as part of the price in search results. In response to complaints that cleaning fees were confusing and only presented upon checkout, Airbnb announced a new toggle feature at the end of 2022 that will display total price, including all fees. However, users who don’t toggle the total price display will still see nightly rates only.

Safety

Overall winner: Tie

Safety is an important consideration while traveling, and booking a stay on Airbnb or Vrbo presents different safety challenges than staying in a hotel. Is there a carbon monoxide detector? Do the listings in reality match the photos in terms of condition and cleanliness? Are the hosts responsive?

If you’re staying in a hotel and the room isn’t to your liking, in most instances, you can easily be switched to another room. If you encounter this problem with Airbnb and don’t feel comfortable staying in the accommodation you’ve paid for, you’re at the mercy of Airbnb and the host.

Airbnb has many safety features in place, including host reviews, the ability to communicate with a host through the platform and host background checks. With each booking, Airbnb includes AirCover, which provides protection against host cancellations, listing misrepresentations, check-in problems and a 24-hour safety phone number.

Vrbo also offers a safety policy that includes a property description guarantee, property access assistance, payment protection and emergency rebooking help. The company also offers 24/7 customer support to help deal with issues like if a host is unresponsive or if the host withholds your damage deposit.

» Learn more: Is Vrbo legit?

Overall winner in Vrbo vs. Airbnb

It's no contest: Airbnb

There are lots of reasons to choose Airbnb for your next vacation rental search. It has millions of listings (literally), a broad range of accommodation types and slick booking and flexibility options.

Vrbo has positioned itself as a “family” brand, and its stand-alone house rentals certainly fit that target. But beyond some superior sort and filter tools, it’s difficult to argue that anyone, including families, should prioritize Vrbo.


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 2024, including those best for:

Cards for Airbnb from our Partners
Citi Custom Cash® Card

on Citibank's application

Citi Custom Cash® Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1%-5%

Earn 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to the first $500 spent, 1% cash back thereafter. Also, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Cashback

Intro offer

$200

Earn $200 cash back after you spend $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months of account opening. This bonus offer will be fulfilled as 20,000 ThankYou® Points, which can be redeemed for $200 cash back.

Wells Fargo Active Cash Card

on Wells Fargo's website

Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2%

Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases

Cashback

Intro offer

$200

Earn a $200 cash rewards bonus after spending $500 in purchases in the first 3 months.

Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Credit Card

on Wells Fargo's website

Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card
4.5
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-3x

Earn unlimited 3X points on restaurants, travel, gas stations, transit, popular streaming services and phone plans. Plus earn 1X points on other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

20,000

Earn 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months - that's a $200 cash redemption value.

Points
See more cards for Airbnb
Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.