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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).
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.
» Learn more: The best credit cards for Airbnb
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 Vrbo’s map looks a bit outdated by comparison.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.
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.
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.
» Learn more: 6 best alternatives to Airbnb
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.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards
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.
» Learn more: How to get a full refund from Airbnb
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.
» Learn more: Why it’s worth booking Airbnbs for a week or longer
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
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 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.
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.
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
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