Vacation rentals offer many potential benefits compared to 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 mission.
So, let’s compare the two most popular vacation rental platforms — Airbnb and Vrbo — across several criteria, so you can decide which is the right choice for your travel preferences.
When planning a getaway, as of late, many guests people opt to stay in a private, one-of-a-kind vacation rental versus in a standard hotel. With options such as uniquely-themed homes, beachfront cottages, cozy cabins, and upscale condos, the fun, exciting, and affordable options are endless when it comes to booking an Airbnb or VRBO property.
Some of the main reasons for staying in a private vacation rental vs a standard accommodation include cost savings, additional space, and pet-friendliness.In addition, the conveniences of having a kitchen, laundry, and multiple bedrooms and bathrooms draw larger families and groups to choose the more sizeable Airbnb or VRBO properties.
On the other hand, unlike hotels, these rented spaces are naturally dispersed throughout local neighborhoods and communities which is great for those who prefer the feeling of ‘living locally’.
In order to understand the differences between Airbnb and VRBO, let’s start by taking a look at their similarities.
Websites like Airbnb and Vrbo are online accommodation marketplaces that cater to both guests and hosts. Through these platforms, hosts can lease out their homes or living space and guests can rent a place to stay.
Airbnb and VRBO essentially act as brokers by advertising and executing a transaction, for which they receive a commission from each booking.
Anyone can sign up to be a host, and each platform has an outlined non-discrimination policy that allows anyone to serve as a paying guest.
Booking an Airbnb or VRBO property is similar in that all reservations are made online. The two ways to secure a reservation include Instant Book or 24-hour Confirmation. With Instant Booking, the platforms will immediately charge your credit card and send an email confirmation. When Instant Booking is not available, hosts have 24 hours to review your application and to accept or deny your request. Once accepted, your credit card is charged and a confirmation email is sent. In the instance of 24-Hour Confirmation bookings, you may cancel a pending request at any time before the host accepts.
VRBO charges a refundable security deposit to your credit card at the time of booking. Airbnb simply places these funds on hold and does not charge your credit card unless the property owner files a claim.
Both Airbnb and VRBO have a secure online messaging system for communicating with rental hosts.
To contact an owner or a property manager prior to making a reservation, guests simply message hosts directly from the respective property listing. Click “Contact Host” on the Airbnb listing page, and “Ask A Question” through VRBO.
If you have already made a reservation, you can access your guest account to find out how to contact the vacation rental owner or manager. You will then be directed to either email or call the host to communicate with before and during your stay.
Neither platform allows guests to call or email a host until a reservation has been confirmed.
Airbnb and VRBO both allow property hosts to charge a cleaning fee at their discretion. Cleaning fees help hosts account for extra expenses they have getting their listing ready before guests arrive or after guests depart.
Slight difference: VRBO has a strict policy that hosts must clearly display the cleaning fee on the property listing page. The displayed price per night does not include the cleaning fee as it is a separate charge.![
Airbnb, on the other hand, displays the price per night and does not specify whether or not a cleaning fee is rolled in. Guests will not find out what the cleaning fee is until at checkout.
Unfortunately, the addition of the cleaning fee contributes to the Airbnb service fee, which drives the final price up even further.
Airbnb: Airbnb is a much younger company than VRBO. Founded in 2008 under the name Air Bed & Breakfast, Airbnb came to fruition after its rebranding in 2009. Airbnb is a force to be reckoned with as the most recent statistics boast a total of 80 million monthly site visitors. It is estimated that 2 million people stay in an Airbnb property every single night.
VRBO: Airbnb’s biggest competitor is VRBO. VRBO stands for Vacation Rental by Owner and has been in business since 1995. After merging with Homeaway.com in 2005 and VacationRentals.com in 2007, VRBO has steadily grown into a global-wide community.
With its long standing track record and presence in 190 countries, VRBO continues to be a top player in the travel industry. HomeAway and VRBO share all of the same properties. For example, searching one site produces the exact same results as the other.
Vacation rental via Airbnb and VRBO is a matter of engaging in an online search to find a space that suits your style and your needs. As mentioned, options include houses, condos, beach houses, cabins, and so much more.
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. If you’re looking for a cheaper shared space or something less typical, stick with Airbnb. Airbnb also offers long-term stay discounts, while Vrbo does not. 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 should opt for Airbnb.
Pro Tip: 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.
Airbnb: Airbnb currently advertises hosting more than 5.6 million listings in over 100,000 cities and 220 countries and regions. This extensive host network is perhaps Airbnb’s biggest advantage over other listing platforms. You can literally find an Airbnb anywhere.
VRBO: Compared to Airbnb’s 5.6 million listings, VRBO boasts over 2 million rentals worldwide. Keep in mind, however, that while VRBO offers fewer rentals, they only list whole houses, condos, or apartments. Users can rest assured that they will not be sharing space with the homeowner or other guests.
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 page looks clunky and outdated by comparison; however, Aesthetics aside, Vrbo offers far better filter and sort functionality than Airbnb. 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.”
Vrbo lets you filter by user reviews, including properties rated highly for cleanliness and properties rated 4 stars and above. Airbnb limits users’ capacity to filter and search based on this obvious criteria. The platform offers no way to search or filter by guest rating, which is often the most important consideration for travelers.
Airbnb: Property owners set their own Airbnb cancellation policies on a 6-tiered scale including the Flexible, Moderate, Strict, Long Term, Super Strict 30 days, and Super Strict 60 days cancellation options. It is important to look over each listing individually to determine its cancellation policy and understand the details of each. The Airbnb service fee is refundable three times a year when the cancellation takes place within 48 hours of booking and at least 14 days before the scheduled stay.
VRBO: VRBO property owners are also allowed to set their own cancellation policies, so it is important to read over the listing information carefully. Refunds are given in accordance with the property owner’s specific cancellation policy based on these 6 policy options: No refund, 60-day, 60/30 day, 30/14 day, 14/7 day, or a custom policy. Cancellations and refunds do not include the VRBO vacation rental service fee.
In terms of support, Vrbo is better than Airbnb. For one, a Vrbo guest can add travel protection insurance to their booking. So, if you get sick and need to cancel your trip, you will still get a refund for the prepaid cost. And if you’re traveling with pets or children, you can purchase damage protection insurance to avoid any extra charges. Each listing on Vrbo also automatically comes with their Book with Confidence Guarantee. Their support team is on hand to answer any questions before, during and after your stay. They also assist with finding another place to stay if the host cancels your rental.
On the other hand, Airbnb does not have travel insurance, and their customer support is usually just available for emergencies. They will only help if you are not able to access your rental or if the place is unsafe. And if you need a refund, they’ll require evidence that you tried to work things out with your host before contacting the help department.
Pro Tip: To save yourself the hassle, you can get a good sense of how easy it is to deal with the host based on their Airbnb reviews or Vrbo reviews. Follow the house rules, and you’re unlikely to have any issues at all.
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 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.
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.
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.
Note: Cleaning fees are the bane of many vacation renters, and both Airbnb and Vrbo properties carry these fees. They're set by the hosts, not the platform.
In terms of Airbnb vs. VRBO being safer, it is a toss-up. The safety in renting vacation rentals comes with going back to the listing to determine the location of the property. In fact, top vacation rental tips include asking plenty of questions, studying the location, and reading the majority (if not all) of the reviews.
Likewise, look for advertised safety features in the property listings as well as study the profile of the person or company renting out the property. In addition, check the social channels of the renter as well as ask specific questions once the booking is made to determine whether or not you feel comfortable with the property.
Conclusion on the Differences Between Airbnb and VRBO
Larger host network of available properties
Offer shared spaces as well as private residences
More options with a lower average price
Security deposit not charged to a credit card unless a claim is filed
Airbnb Experiences feature
Better for city travelers and adventure seekers
Smaller host network but with a higher concentration of high-end properties
Only rent ‘whole’ spaces; have the entire place to yourself
Upfront cleaning fee; lower service fees
Book with Confidence Guarantee
Great search filtering system and Trip Boards feature
Better for luxury rentals for families, and/or groups
In a nutshell, Airbnb is one of the only sites that offer shared accommodation. Single rooms and communal apartments tend to be much cheaper than renting the entire property, which is ideal for budget travelers. And since you will share the space with homeowners and other guests, you’ll have the opportunity to meet new people during your trip.
As a Vrbo guest, you’ll be required to book the entire apartment or home. But compared to Airbnb, the total price is usually a lot better on Vrbo. In terms of service and support, Vrbo offers better trip protection compared to Airbnb. So if anything bad were to happen during your Vrbo stay, you’d be able to get the help you need.