Airbnb is not cheaper than hotels (YMMV)

Airbnb: Is it really cheaper than hotels?

Modified from CC image, original by Flickr user bittermelon

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.

helpx attic bedroom italy

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 through an apartment rental company, 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 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.)

Have you experienced the same thing? Would you rather pay a small premium for what you get? Or have you always found better deals through Airbnb?

17 thoughts on “Airbnb is not cheaper than hotels (YMMV)

  • Reply Charlie August 22, 2013 at 07:33

    My experience with Airbnb has always worked out a good deal. Sure I could probably find dirt-cheap hotels for around the same price, but it’s not just because it’s a budget friendly option that I choose to use Airbnb and similar sites. When you’re inside a hotel room, you could be anywhere in the world; there’s often very little character. By staying in someone’s house you get to taste a little bit of what life would be like living in that location. I quite like the fact that many aren’t located downtown as it encourages me to discover an area of the city I’d not otherwise see. I mean, I’m sure to see downtown, whether I stay there or not. I’ve also got great tips from people hosting about where to eat and what to see, which are super valuable on their own and more interesting than the generic tourist traps suggested by hotel staff. Maybe I’ve just had great luck with Airbnb but, personally, I love it! 🙂

  • Reply Katie C. August 22, 2013 at 07:52

    I loved Airbnb for our trip to NYC. Here’s the thing about hotels that really bugs me… In my experience, tourists (especially tourists traveling with kids) are rowdy as heck. True, I could get unlucky and rent an apartment next door to a family with loud/obnoxious young children, but we didn’t see one child in our apartment building in NYC. By contrast, David and I stayed at a budget motel (Super 8) on a road trip in 2012 and just happened to choose the same night as a very loud church group. Our neighbors were up until the wee hours of the morning, hollering, playing their TV way too loud (though maybe the walls were just ridiculously thin), jumping on the bed (at least we assume that’s what that banging on the wall was), etc. I’ll pay a bit more to avoid that annoyance.

    Since I’ve only used Airbnb for NYC, my experience is obviously limited, but I can say that the apartment we rented was cheaper than hotels in the city. We stayed on the UWS for $175 per night (plus $86 service fee – so $185.75 per night), and our location couldn’t have been better. There are cheaper hotels out there, but – and I know this is awfully un-frugal of me – I feel like I’m too old to sleep in low-rated hotels with uncomfortable beds in out-of-the-way locations just to save a few dollars. Like the blog you linked said, I liked having a fully functioning kitchen available to us during our 8 day stay in NYC. For shorter trips, it’s not as much of a concern, and I don’t think I’d go through the hassle of booking an Airbnb apartment for a couple days in a city unless it was noticeably cheaper than the hotels. Added bonus of hotels? Having someone else make your bed, clean up your space, and provide you with shampoo, condition, soap, and lotion.

  • Reply Debt Blag August 22, 2013 at 08:41

    Interesting that you say this as I’ve found the opposite to be the case. To be fair, I’ve only used AirBnB twice, but when I stayed in Waikiki, I was half a block from the beach and next to all the resorts, and when I stayed in Dubai, I was a few blocks from the Burj Khalifa. I don’t think you can get more central than either of those and I paid 1/4 of the cheapest hotel I could find (even booking nearly a year in advance) in both cases — extra fees included.

    Having someone make my bed every day, give me fresh towels, and using someone else’s shampoo was definitely not worth the hundreds I saved per night 🙂

  • Reply Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies August 22, 2013 at 12:00

    I think a lot depends on how early you book. AirBnB seems to fill up the cheaper and better value (central location, privacy, etc) really early. There doesn’t seem to be the last minute “OMG discount it so we can fill it this week!” that you can often take advantage of with hotels.

  • Reply Linda August 22, 2013 at 12:06

    For me, using Airbnb has always been more about the facilities/amenities than the price. Having a kitchen to use is a huge deal when you’re not able to eat out for all your meals. When I was traveling with a friend last month, we couldn’t find a hotel that had a kitchen or kitchenette, and since my friend had dietary restrictions it was very important that we be able to do some cooking on our own.

    When I was in Seville a couple years ago I chose to stay in an Airbnb accommodation in an apartment instead of a hotel, not because I wanted a kitchen necessarily, but because I really wanted to be with a local family. I really enjoyed my hosts and got to know more about the city from them.

  • Reply krantcents August 22, 2013 at 12:19

    I never stayed at AirBnB, but I look for 4 star hotels at a discount or actual B & B’s.

  • Reply Lindsey @ Sense & Sensibility August 22, 2013 at 15:01

    I’ve never used AirBNB and wasn’t aware of extra charges like booking fees. I’m not a big fan of surprise costs that I didn’t anticipate when I booked. It tends to make me want to back out and go with something predictable and expected. Thanks for the info!

  • Reply Michelle August 22, 2013 at 15:05

    I still swear by hostels and unusual hotels! I prefer to rent my own room now with a bathroom, or a shared room with no more than 3 other people. I’m just there to sleep and catch my breath before the next round of site seeing.

  • Reply Genie August 22, 2013 at 19:39

    I’ve only used AirBnB once it was for a room within a flat. I purposely picked people with similar interests and we got along well. I thought Airbnb was great and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it again.

    Our room was half the price of a budget hotel and within walking distance of the city centre. I usually go for budget hotels or private rooms at backpackers/hostels. It’s a mixed bag really. If you want to meet locals, Airbnb is pretty awesome. If you want to be central, you sort by location. If you want to save money, you have to shop around and it helps if you are flexible.

  • Reply Pauline @ Make Money Your Way August 22, 2013 at 20:43

    In my experience Airbnb has been slightly cheaper than a further away hotel, for example we stayed in Brooklyn for a few nights for $50 15 min away from Manhattan when we would have paid $70 for a hotel 30 min away and $120 for a hotel in Manhattan at the very least. It has been a hassle a few times, especially when you try to book last minute. People aren’t reactive enough, and the ones you can book directly come at a premium. You do save money/hassle when you stay at least 3 days, they have a washing machine and let you use the kitchen.

  • Reply Thomas | Your Daily Finance August 22, 2013 at 22:43

    Never actually used AirBnB but some people I know love it. I don’t know if they are actually paying attention more to the price vs the experience. Remember cant put a price on a great experience. I dont think its for everyone but to be fair I would have to start checking them out more to see.

  • Reply Leah August 23, 2013 at 00:37

    Blasphemy! I’m a MASSIVE AirBnB fan and user and have never found a hotel cheaper in the cities we have stayed in yet.

    There are two elements to AirBnB – one, where you can stay with the host in their home (which I have done once in Scotland, 3 x in Ireland, and twice in England and met some AMAZING friendly and hospitable people that absolutely made our travels); or two, where you rent their entire apartment for yourself (which I have done in Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest, Copenhagen, 2 x Ireland, England, Iceland).

    I’ve found some absolute bargains – £19 a night?! You can’t get THAT in a hotel. I like the fact that we often have access to a kitchen too (or at least coffee making facilities) – eating out constantly while travelling can be a real drain on incomes and you end up feeling yuck. Sometimes we have made dinner at home and then gone out to enjoy cocktails somewhere instead.

    While you might see the to-ing and fro-ing of liaising with a host as a pain, I see it as an added bonus. I get someone local to ask questions of, get recommendations from, get directions to the apartment from the airport. I’ve had hosts arrange taxi’s for us to collect us from the airport, leave bottles of wine in the fridge for us, provide us with maps and bus/tram tickets for our first day somewhere, or come with two bikes included so we can cycle the city and not have to pay to rent bikes. It’s these little touches that make the experience so special and rewarding.

    I’d recommend giving it another go – I swear by it. I’ve met some fabulous people while travelling through AirBnB, swapped stories and been treated amazingly so far. My first place to look online for accom is now always airbnb!

    • Reply eemusings August 24, 2013 at 02:50

      Actually, our Athens hotel was 19 euros a night! And it was very nice, though sans kitchen.

      For a normal trip I don’t think the liaising would be too bad, but when you’re moving around 1-2 times a week, like we are, that’s a hassle I don’t really need, unless there is a lot of money to be saved.

  • Reply The Asian Pear August 24, 2013 at 14:41

    I think with anything… You have to do a comparison… AirBnB won’t alwasy be cheaper than a hotel. And a hotel won’t always be pricier than a hostel. You have to do research. Figure out your priorities. Find out what pros and cons each type of accomodation and the actual location has.

    I had my first AirBnB experience in Hawaii. Could I have gotten it cheaper? Well, yes… If I booked with an American airline with a hotel. But I wasn’t going to compromise my airline choice and I didn’t like the hotel choices. So I went with a pull-out couch of someone’s livingroom which was perfect for me in the end because it was in the right location, quiet, had all the amenities I wanted and more.

    I don’t think one can just generalize what is better… It’s about doing research. Knowing what you want. And what you’re willing to give up. And then it comes down to your budget.

  • Reply SP August 25, 2013 at 07:38

    I agree that for your type of travel, it may not be. But for a more average trip, such as planning a weekend or week away that requires flights and is booked weeks to months in advance, it definitely is often be a cheaper (or at least better value) option. Like someone said, booking last-minute doesn’t work as well. Major cities have better luck, but I found a super cheap room in a smallish town near Temecula (for a race) once too.

    I’ve had 4 airBNB stays and just booked another. I definitely check out both options.

    I think I wrote a similar post about hostels before – if you are traveling in a pair, often a budget hotel is the same price. if you are traveling in a 4-some, even better!

  • Reply Cat August 30, 2013 at 06:03

    We’ve used air bnb twice, once in Florence and once in Dubrovnik. Both times we were really struggling to find anywhere to stay. Although not cheap they were cheaper than hotels and hostels. For instance in Dubrovnik we got a whole apartment to ourselves for less than we would have had to pay for 2 dorm beds!

  • Reply Airbnb: A first-timer's experience | NZ Muse January 12, 2014 at 15:23

    […] Airbnb was a total bust for us while travelling around Europe. We never found any good deals, plus the hassle of going back and forth liaising with hosts, when we were travelling on the fly, meant our first Airbnb experience didn’t take place until right at the end of our Eurotrip. We found an apartment in Paris, quickly followed by another two in New York. Paris and New York are both crazy expensive (a friend reckoned he spent $30 for a dorm in NYC last year; this year the cheapest start at $50 a bed), and even staying in hostels would have blown our budget. As it turned out, we had firm dates for both cities, and were able to lock in rooms at much lower prices than we could have found on the commercial market. […]

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