Airbnb vs. hotels – Which is really better?

Cover: Airbnb in Boulder, Colorado
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Now that Airbnb has moved beyond finding a place to crash in someone’s spare bedroom (sure, you can still do that, but a large inventory of entire homes or apartments are also available), it has become a more mainstream lodging option for both vacationing and business travelers.
Airbnb website Airbnb website

With houses and condos ranging from simple to luxury, Airbnb, and other home rental services, provide a great option for individuals, couples, and families seeking more than a standard hotel room stay.

The phenomenal growth of Airbnb

Despite the hype that has surrounded Airbnb since they entered and took over the short-term rental market, the concept of renting someone’s home for a short-term stay is nothing new.

We began renting houses and apartments through the VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) not long after it was formed in 1996. From ski condos in Aspen to a large house overlooking Orient Bay in St. Martin, we typically found a VRBO rental more convenient for stays longer than a couple of days.

Numerous other alternative accommodations providers entered the space along the way and, as acquisitions were beginning to shape the market, two guys in San Francisco who needed rent money decided to rent out air mattresses on their floor in 2007. It worked, so they built a website to match hosts with renters. They picked up another founder and some VC and investor money along the way, and by 2014, Airbnb had a $10 billion valuation. Impressive.

Airbnb founders Airbnb founders

During the same period of time, we had migrated back to staying in hotels. We’d never tried out Airbnb, so when we recently spent a week in Boulder, Colorado, we decided to give it a spin.

Airbnb by the numbers Airbnb by the numbers Source: Airbnb website

Our Boulder Airbnb experience

The Airbnb website offers three accommodation types: Entire home/apt, a private room or a shared room. While Airbnb’s roots may be with the shared experience, we tend to value privacy quite a bit and immediately hit the entire home/apt. We were only a few days out from our desired stay dates, but quite a few interesting selections were available.

Browsing for Boulder Airbnb accommodations Browsing for Boulder Airbnb accommodations

One that caught our eye was a well-decorated and obviously well cared for townhouse in Boulder that was walking distance to Pearl Street and rented for $212 per night for our desired four nights (prices vary by booking dates). A quick comparison of hotel rates put it around the same price as a room at the Westin in Westminster, which is about 20 minutes away, or a standard room at the Best Western Plus or the Basecamp, which are both in Boulder.

However, the recently renovated townhouse provided a much-improved living space versus the hotel rooms, with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, 1 1/2 baths, a patio downstairs, an upstairs deck, and a good-sized living room. For a four-night stay, the extra space was undoubtedly a plus. Finally, we wanted to stay within Boulder and the hotel choices in the city are limited and generally more expensive.

The photos were plentiful and good, the description was detailed and, while the “house rules” were somewhat lengthy, we felt they represented a quality standard set by the owner and we viewed that as a good thing. It also had a 5-star rating by over 90 past visitors.

AirBNB Boulder townhouse kitchen Airbnb Boulder townhouse kitchen Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On our arrival date, the owner and our host, Sandy, met us at the townhouse and gave us an overview of the property. The townhouse was exactly as depicted on the Airbnb website and located in a quiet area near a park and hiking trails.

The entire home was spotless. The kitchen had stainless appliances, high-quality cookware, and dish ware, and was fully stocked, including an assortment of coffee and teas.

Airbnb Boulder townhouse living area Airbnb Boulder townhouse living area Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The living area was comfortable and good size, with a couch, a couple of chairs, a flat panel TV, and access to a patio facing a wooded open space.

Airbnb Boulder townhouse bedroom Airbnb Boulder townhouse bedroom Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Upstairs were two bedrooms and an awesome spa-like shower. One of the bedrooms had a balcony and in the bathroom, a cabinet contained “Just in case you forgot something” essentials, ranging from shampoo to toothpaste and more. Our host, Sandy, manages the townhouse extremely professionally and overall our stay was a very good value.

Airbnb Boulder townhouse Airbnb Boulder townhouse “Just in case you forgot something” stash Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

So, which is better? Renting a place on Airbnb or going with the tried and true hotel room?

Just as there are great hotels and horrible ones, there are great Airbnb rentals and others that have resulted in some horror stories. We had a friend traveling in Europe that drove to his Airbnb, looked at it, and never got out of his car, opting to sleep in his vehicle versus even go inside.

We’ve had similar reactions to hotels over the years – especially with photos that may have been enhanced beyond recognition or appear to be of another property or you arrive and discover the neighborhood is on the iffy side.

Which is where reviews are incredibly helpful. Just like hotel reviews, Airbnb reviews are a critical part of the vetting process. A property with numerous reviews praising the host and verifying the accuracy of the listing sets your mind at ease when you hit the book it button.

But, back to the initial question – which is better, an Airbnb or a hotel? Assuming both the Airbnb and the hotel are equal in quality and location, it gets down to needs, desires, and preferences.

The pros of Airbnb

Space. Specifically speaking of renting an entire house or condo, an Airbnb property almost always is more spacious than staying at a hotel – even with a suite. The exception to this is an extended stay hotel or say, a Hyatt House, which generally is apartment-like in most locations.

Kitchen. Even if you are staying somewhere for a few days, it can be nice to warm up the previous night’s dinner’s leftovers in a microwave or oven and to eat from real plates and with silverware versus the plastic takeaway variety. For longer stays, having the option to prepare a meal at home can save time and is a nice break from eating in a restaurant every meal.

Laundry. While the rental described above did not have a washer and dryer, many do. Following our stay with Sandy, we rented another Airbnb and it was great to do the laundry throughout our stay so we didn’t return home with loads of dirty clothes.

Privacy. While the level of privacy obviously differs by location, overall, staying in an Airbnb condo or private home allows for more privacy than found in a hotel.

Live like a local. As most Airbnbs are located in residential areas, a stay provides more of an experience of what life is like in the community.

Price – especially for a group. If two hotel rooms are needed and the group is willing to share the common areas, the price of a two bedroom Airbnb is almost always going to be less than two comparable quality hotel rooms.

The pros of a hotel

Predictability. Sure locations vary somewhat, but a hotel chain is fairly predictable. Within the brand, hotel styles may vary, but the level that can be expected is normally the same and, with a large chain, the description, photos, and amenities described are usually somewhat accurate.

Amenities and services. If you like to visit the spa, take a dip in the pool, head to the bar for a nightcap, or dine in a restaurant without venturing out, a hotel definitely has the advantage for extra services provided.

Less coordination and interaction. There’s a social aspect to Airbnb not present at a hotel – which some love and others may find bothersome. With a hotel, you head to the desk, give them a credit card, get your key and move on to your room. Checking in at an Airbnb typically requires meeting the owner at a specific time to have them explain the property, its rules, and its quirks. It requires coordination with your schedule and interaction with the host.

The cons of an Airbnb

House rules. Each owner sets the rules for their property – some are lengthy, some are brief. Examples include not wearing shoes on the carpet, taking the trash out before you leave, and no parties. The rules are present in the listing before you book, so make sure they are something you can adhere to before renting.

Short stays may not be possible. Most owners have minimum stays of two or three days. Given the entire home must be cleaned after each guest and there isn’t a staff of maids roaming from room to room, it is understandable why owners set minimum stay requirements. Additionally, the meeting and rules process is a bit cumbersome for one night.

Deposits. Some of the listings we considered – and didn’t rent – required security deposits. While it is understandable that an owner wants to protect their property, requiring a high deposit for short stay is also risky for the renter. For example, a nice, not stunning, house in Boulder required a $2000 deposit for a three-night stay where the rent was about $200 per night. What if the owner turned out to be a jerk and makes a claim against the deposit for no reason? Yes, Airbnb mediates, but that’s quite a bit of risk and hassle for a stay – and not one you have at a hotel.

Cleaning and administrative fees. In addition to the nightly rent, most owners charge a cleaning fee, which typically ranges from $100-$250. Obviously, the shorter the stay the more this adds to the per night rate. Additionally, Airbnb charges an administrative or service fee. The amount of the fee is displayed before the reservation is confirmed. According to Airbnb… “guest service fees are typically 6-12% but can be higher or lower depending on the specifics of the reservation. The higher the subtotal, the lower the percentage so you can save money when booking large reservations.”

Staying in someone’s home can be a bit weird. While some Airbnbs are run solely for rental purposes, like Sandy’s described above, most are homes, where the owners live. Their art, décor, photographs, and smells may permeate throughout.

The cons of a hotel

Lack of personality. It goes hand in hand with the first pro listed for the hotel, predictability. With consistency comes an element of routine, cookie cutter and a lack of personality.

No community immersion. If you want to truly understand a community, you have to experience the culture – not pass through it on a walking tour or drive by it on a sightseeing bus. Granted, not everyone needs or wants to really understand a place in-depth. But, if you do, it is difficult to do so while staying in a hotel.


Disclosure: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Miami, Florida

Travel tip: Finding the best last minute hotel deals website or app

Finding the best last minute hotel deals website or app, Miami, Florida
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures ©Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Do last minute hotel deals websites always have the best deal? Sure they say they do, but does one really have the best deal?

Recently a last minute adjustment to our itinerary caused us to find ourselves in need of a hotel for two nights in Miami, so I quickly began searching for the best deal on a hotel. I set some criteria and then shopped five hotel discount sites to compare rates. Here’s how it went…

The comparison criteria

For our two nights in Miami, we set a maximum of $160 per night base rate that we were willing to pay for a hotel in the Miami Beach area. Knowing the devil is also in the details, in addition to the night rate, I checked out parking, resort fees, and any other fees or freebies.

The hotel discount websites and apps

I’d heard quite a bit about HotelTonight, but never used them, so I decided to select five hotels on HotelTonight and check their rates against other discount hotel websites. For each hotel, I compared the rates directly on the hotel’s website and also on Expedia, Hipmunk, JetSetter, Priceline and RocketMiles. While on the other websites, I also briefly looked to see if they had any offers that looked like a better deal than the first five.

Expedia and Priceline are fairly well known and I generally drop by their sites when shopping for rooms. Hipmunk was founded in 2010 and compares posted prices on multiple travel websites.

After being purchased by TripAdvisor in 2013, Jetsetter transformed from an invitation-only community to a discount travel website. Jetsetter also features limited-time sales that last 5-14 days until sold out in addition to their regular listings.

Rocketmiles is owned by Priceline, offers airline rewards with bookings, and can be a great way to pick up significant points. Last November, we spent three days in Puerto Rico at a luxury resort, picking up 16,000 Rapid Rewards points in the process – enough to put us over the top for a companion pass for this year and also enough points for a free long distance flight on Southwest.

Are there more last minute hotel deals website or apps? Absolutely – and I have a long list at the bottom of this article – but, for time’s sake, when shopping for a hotel, I generally check three to five sites to compare rates and go with those results.

HotelTonight

HotelTonight is an app for iOS and Android (you can’t book on their desktop website) that connects people that need a hotel room within the next week to hotels offering discounts on unsold rooms. Scrolling through the Miami Beach offerings on the HotelTonight app on my iPhone, using the criteria outlined above, the best deals appeared to be:

Riviera South Beach

  • HotelTonight price: $143, showing a discount from $223 per night
  • The good and the bad: Not on the beach, has a rooftop pool. Stay includes beach access, use of beach chairs, free WiFi, nightly cocktails, free airport shuttle
  • Parking fee: No self-parking, valet parking $35 per night
  • Resort fee: $18 per night
  • The price comparison: Rate shown on Expedia $156, Hipmunk $216, Not listed on JetSetter, Not on Priceline, Rocketmiles $163 + 3,000 RapidReward points
  • Rate is shown on the Riviera South Beach website for the same dates: $146.70 per night

Best deal for Riviera South Beach: HotelTonight at $143 – total of $196 per night with parking and resort fee.

The Hall South Beach

  • HotelTonight price: $149, showing a discount from $234 per night
  • The good and the bad: One block from the ocean, has a pool with cabanas. Rate includes the use of house bikes, fitness center, free wifi. The hotel is under renovation with a construction noise warning.
  • Parking fee: No self-parking, valet parking $40 per night
  • Resort fee: $22.80 per night
  • The price comparison: Rate shown on Expedia $189, Hipmunk $189, JetSetter $189, Priceline $189, Not on Rocketmiles
  • Rate is shown directly on the Hall South Beach website for the same dates: $179 best available, $143 with AAA discount

Best deal for The Hall South Beach: The Hall website with AAA discount at $143 – total of $205.80 per night with parking and resort fee

Villa Italia Hotel

  • HotelTonight price: $139, showing a discount from $271 per night
  • The good and the bad: Not on the beach, free WiFi, breakfast buffet included
  • Parking Fee: No self-parking, valet parking $25 per night
  • Resort fee: $12.95 per night
  • The price comparison: Rate shown on Hipmunk $236, JetSetter $255, Not on Priceline, Expedia or RocketMiles
  • Rate is shown on Villa Italia Hotel website for dates shown: $231.50 for a room with twin beds, which showed it was the last room available for our dates (the hotel is very small)

Best deal for Villa Italia Hotel: HotelTonight – total of $176.95 per night with parking and resort fee.

Aloft South Beach

  • HotelTonight price: $157, showing a discount from $269 per night
  • The good and the bad: .1 mile from Miami Beach, free WiFi
  • Parking fee: No self-parking, valet parking $42 per night
  • Resort fee: $23 per night
  • The price comparison: Rate shown on Expedia $161, Hipmunk $152, Not on JetSetter, Priceline $152,
  • Rate is shown on Aloft South Beach website for dates shown: $143 prepaid rate

Best deal for Aloft South Beach: The Aloft website at $143 with a total of $208 including parking and resort fee.

Hilton Cabana Miami Beach

  • HotelTonight price: $154 showing discount from $239 per night
  • The good and the bad: Direct beach access, pool, fitness center, free WiFi, North Beach vs South Beach
  • Parking fee: No self-parking, valet parking $40 per night
  • Resort fee: $25 per night
  • The price comparison: Rate shown on Expedia $159, Hipmunk $159, Not on JetSetter, Priceline $159,
  • Rate is shown on Hilton website for dates shown: $159, $155 for HHonors members, $131 with AAA discount

Best deal for Hilton Cabana Miami Beach: The Hilton website at $131 AAA rate for a total of $196 including parking and resort fee

Which hotel did we choose?

From an overall financial standpoint, the Villa Italia was the lowest priced at $177 all in. However, we didn’t really want a room with twin beds and because the hotel is so small, we took them at their word with the information they had published on their own website that a twin room was all that was left. The Hall is a lovely hotel in a great location near the Fontainebleau, but the construction noise warning was a bit concerning.

Hilton Cabana, Miami Beach, Florida
Hilton Cabana, Miami Beach, Florida
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures ©Chasing Light Media

The other three all came in from $196-$208. Having stayed in South Beach numerous times, we decided on the Hilton Cabana in North Beach at $196. The only one of the five located directly on the ocean, we decided we would prefer to return each evening to the quieter North Beach setting. The Hilton Cabana opened in 2014 and has a contemporary, upscale style with a great bar overlooking the pool and ocean.

Additionally, because I booked direct on the Hilton website, we received HHonors points for our stay and with HHonors gold status, free breakfast each morning at the hotel.

Miami Beach, Florida
Miami Beach, Florida
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures ©Chasing Light Media

So, does it always pay to book directly on the hotel website?

Absolutely not. But, what the comparison does show is…

  • You always need to compare properties with a fully-loaded cost (i.e., parking, resort fees, WiFi fees, etc.)
  • The “regular price” shown on many discount websites and apps may be the price they charged once when a convention or major event came to town and filled up every room in the city – and, tends to be exaggerated.
  • Searching for deals for hotels in cities can be quite a bit easier than in smaller towns since many times small, independent hotels aren’t listed. An example – when looking for a full month of hotels in Europe last summer during the Tour de France, the selection in small, remote locations was limited or non-existent.
  • Several hotel brands have recently begun advertising that you can receive the best deal by booking direct and they do appear to be offering more competitive pricing on their own websites.

Discount hotel websites and apps

While not an all-inclusive list – many of the discount hotel websites and apps. The list is in alphabetical order and we have no affiliation with any of them.

Agoda
BookingBuddy
BookIt
CheapTickets
DealBase
Expedia
Hipmunk
Hotel Hunters
HotelTonight
Hotels.com
HotelsCombined
Hotwire
Jetsetter
Kayak
Last Minute Travel
LuxuryLink
Orbitz
Priceline
Rocketmiles
Trivago
Travelocity
TravelZoo
Trivago


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.