You may have experienced your own horror story at an Airbnb rental. Maybe you’re fed up with high cleaning fees and poor cancellation policies. Maybe you are comparing prices for an upcoming trip.
Whatever the reason, it’s worth considering vacation rental platforms other than the largest in the industry.
Airbnb really is a giant. Data from Second Measure, a company that tracks transaction trends, estimates that Airbnb accounted for 19% of the total lodging market, including hotels and vacation rental providers, in 2018. And the pandemic likely enlarged Airbnb’s slice of the pie: Long-term stays among freelance workers boosted the platform’s revenue in 2021, according to a 2021 shareholder letter.
In other words, Airbnb has a monopolistic grip on the vacation rental industry, making it difficult for travelers to find good competitors. Unlike the hospitality industry, which enjoys healthy competition, Airbnb — and everyone else — populates the vacation rental world.
Still, some of these competitors offer viable Airbnb alternatives for travelers with special needs. Those looking for glamping options should consider Hipcamp, while those looking for quality rental accommodation in the city should consider a site like Booking. Each has its own limitations and disadvantages. Here’s a closer look at the best alternatives to Airbnb.
The best sites like Airbnb
Good: Powerful search tools. Many listings are not available on Airbnb.
Poorly: Confusing cancellation policy. Only detached houses (no common areas).
Use it if: You want to compare shop.
In many ways, Vrbo is the Lyft to Airbnb’s Uber. It doesn’t have the same ubiquitous recognition, but it’s indistinguishable from its competitor in many ways.
Vrbo plays second fiddle for good reason. It offers far less choice in most markets and has a more confusing, less user-friendly cancellation policy and customer support.
But it’s always a good idea to visit Vrbo and the comparison shop when looking for a rental. Some offers are available on both platforms and sometimes cheaper on Vrbo. Also, Vrbo’s search feature includes a “Total Price” option that allows you to compare the actual cost of a rental, including cleaning and other fees.
Be sure to filter by total price when evaluating costs on Vrbo.
In most cases, it makes sense to explore Vrbo as an Airbnb alternative, especially during peak travel dates when Airbnb listings might be scarce.
Good: More professionally managed real estate. Loads of international features.
Poorly: Limited portfolio. Little charm or personality.
Use it if: You are looking for a stress-free place to stay when traveling internationally.
Booking.com is internationally recognized as the leading search tool for flights and hotels. It also offers vacation rentals.
Booking.com hotels are typically operated by management companies.
Many of the properties, especially in major international cities, are apartments in professionally managed buildings. This means the listings often lack the charm and character of some of Airbnb’s more colorful offerings. It also means that booking and checking into these apartments is less of a hassle.
While Booking may not be as well known in the US as other rental platforms, it’s a good option to keep in mind, especially when traveling abroad.
3. Hip camp
Good: Cheap, quirky.
Poorly: Rustic. Quality control could be an issue.
Use it if: You are looking for a cheap and interesting crash pad for on the go.
Hipcamp, as the name suggests, is a camping reservation platform. It also includes “glamping” options like Airstream trailers and yurt rentals, making it a solid, cheaper alternative to Airbnb for travelers looking for a more rustic experience.
For the crunchier among us, Hipcamp might be the right choice.
It can be a great option for budget travelers looking for a no-frills place to rest their head, or for adventurous travelers looking for something extra special. And of course it’s good for camping.
4. Marriott Homes and Mansions
Good: Earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points, high quality standards.
Poorly: Very limited portfolio, low point value for redemptions.
Use it if: You want to use points.
Hotel megabrand Marriott launched a home rental business in 2019 that has quietly gained popularity among frequent travelers. The biggest draw is the ability to earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points for vacation rentals, opening up a world of opportunity for travel rewards enthusiasts.
Marriott Homes and Villas is a solid choice if you have points to burn.
Airbnb and most of its competitors lack rewards programs, making it difficult (or impossible) to book a vacation rental “for free” with points. Marriott Bonvoy points, on the other hand, are relatively easy to earn through credit cards and transfer partnerships.
However, the redemption value for using Bonvoy points to book through the Homes and Villas program is not always the best. Compare the cash and points cost of booking a rental car to make sure it’s value for money.
Good: Simple and easy.
Poorly: Mobile only.
Use it for: Find accommodation along the way.
Mobile app Hopper, known for being an easy-to-use travel booking platform, launched a vacation rental program in 2022. Remarkably, it already has over 2 million bookable properties around the world.
Hopper offers a strong app experience for mobile booking.
Hopper’s big selling point is its simplicity and ease of use. The app is fast, easy to use and clearer than most vacation rental platforms.
But simplicity goes both ways. The mobile restriction makes it difficult to compare stores by switching between browser tabs or share information with travel buddies who don’t have the app.
Hopper’s product is new and may need some ironing out to become a serious Airbnb competitor. But it’s worth taking a look.
6. Local vacation rental management companies
Good: Supports local businesses and hosts.
Poorly: It’s a bummer.
Use it if: Local laws govern vacation home rentals.
Have you ever checked into an Airbnb and been asked by a host to avoid talking to neighbors? This is likely because vacation rentals are prohibited by local law or the property’s homeowners association.
Popular resorts often have their own local rental management companies. For example, the city of Seabrook, Washington consists primarily of vacation rentals owned and operated by the city itself.
Local rental companies tend to be on the rise with the community in ways Airbnb may not be.
If you’re having trouble finding vacation rentals through the platforms listed above, it’s worth doing a quick internet search to see if there are local businesses.
The final result
Airbnb has a firm grip on vacation rentals. In fact, “get an Airbnb” is often shorthand for booking a vacation rental.
If you’re unhappy with the cost, functionality, or security of the giant, there are good alternatives to Airbnb. None can match the big fish in terms of sheer size, but each caters to a specific travel niche.
When comparing purchases between sites like Airbnb (e.g. Booking versus Vrbo), always consider the final cost, including taxes and fees, as the additional fees can quickly add up.
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Sam Kemmis writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @samsambutdif.
The article 6 alternatives to Airbnb if you want other options originally appeared on NerdWallet.