Hotels are dead. Airbnb is the future. Everyone knows that, right?
Whoa there, Nelly. Hang on a minute.
It’s a nice picture, but I have to rain a little on the parade. For one, there’s the whole snafu about the legalities of renting out your apartment in some cities. And, more importantly, there’s the economics of it. Do apartment rentals stand up to the real test – the money saving one?
Maybe it’s the destinations that we’ve been visiting, maybe it’s the time of year that we’ve been visiting, I don’t know. But every time I’ve searched for an apartment rental in Europe – Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome – I’ve come up with nothing. In every case, it’s been just as cheap, if not cheaper, to book a budget hotel. So far, the big selling point of sites like Airbnb, Wimdu, 9flats, Housetrip, etc (that they’re cheaper than booking a hotel) have not panned out.
Here’s what I’ve noticed about apartment rentals:
They’re often less central. After all, not everyone lives bang smack in the city centre. I can handle the inconvenience, BUT…
The base rate is usually on par with the cheapest hotels, or higher. Granted, this may be because we only ever book places a few days or a week ahead.
You have to account for any extra fees they tack on, such as cleaning fees or fees for additional guests, and of course, the booking fees. These can add up quickly and tarnish what originally seemed like a bargain.
It’s a hassle. Going back and forth to confirm a booking. Getting directions. Organising a checkin time. All this is time-consuming. With hostels and hotels, all that info is right there on the site when you (instantly) book, and they have a manned reception desk around the clock.
I’ve tried. I really have. There have been a couple of instances in which I found fairly good deals, and jumped right in with an enquiry. The one time I booked an apartment rental, the host backed out on me a week later. (Anyone in NYC want to host a humble Kiwi couple in the last week of September? Expressions of interest are open!) Since then, I’ve sent a couple of other requests out for rentals in Italy, and never heard back. There are, of course, lots of listings that allow you to book instantly, but these were by request only.
Look, I LOVE the concept; I think the sharing economy is ace, and given that I’m a Couchsurfer, it’s not really surprising that I also support the concept of private apartment rentals. Staying in a real local home, for less than a hotel! How much more authentic can you get?
But in my experience, if you’re looking for the absolute cheapest deal and are booking fairly close to your arrival date, hotels still seem to be the best bet. A recent Priceonomics study crunched the numbers and came out largely in Airbnb’s favour – surprise! Who’da thunk it? But upon closer inspection, it calculated this using hotel rack rates rather than the discounted rates (and who pays full price for a hotel these days?) that you can find on any third party booking site.
Of course, if you’re looking for somewhere more homey, perhaps with a kitchen, or for somewhere a bit longer-term (maybe a week or more), then maybe those extra dollars won’t really matter.
(Also, ICYMI: I played devil’s advocate in my last post, pitting hostels against hotels.)