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Airbnb vs. HomeAway/VRBO vs.Booking.com

Unfortunately, my husband and I will not be able to take an RS tour in May. we want to go from Amsterdam, then onto Portugal, Barcelona and perhaps Italy within a three week period. We tried our best, but there really isn’t a tour that will work with these places and our travel dates . Therefore, we will be traveling Independently with one of our adult daughters. In an effort to accommodate the three of us and save some $$, we are looking for an apartment instead of two hotel rooms.
We have used Airbnb in the past, but due to recently discovering their service fee refund policy details, I feel it’s best to check some of our other options. After doing some reasearch, it seems HomeAway/ VRBO, and Booking.com have a good selection of places and their prices seem competitive with Airbnb.
I’m just wondering if anyone has had any experience with these other companies? I’m not pleased with Airbnb right now, but I’m also a bit fearful to face the unknown! Any advice or suggestions would be very much welcomed!
Thanks very much fellow travelers!

Posted by
255 posts

We have used booking.com in the US and abroad with all good results. Reviews to see if it fits your needs seem accurate for us and never any issues with checking in or any other things.

Posted by
1713 posts

if we don't have a particular hotel in mind, we use booking.com. Just booked 6 different hotels with them for this summer. Easy to use, good information on each hotel such as amenities, nearby attractions/sights, map locator, reviews, rating system, pictures, easy cancellation. Tells you if there is laundry facilities, airport shuttle, parking, free breakfast, wifi, restaurants, etc. you can narrow your search by neighborhood, price, etc. wouldn't use any other website. Good luck with your search.

Posted by
1527 posts

We have used VRBO for years, long before they became part of Homeaway. I've always hated Airbnb and now, I'm sorry to say, Homeaway seems to be copycatting some of their policies. Still, VRBO is still the first place I go to search for apartments. Booking.com is next. As long as you're vigilant about reading the fine print, they are fine. There was a recent post here about Booking.com by (I think) Laurel that you should read.

Posted by
229 posts

I used VRBO/Homeaway for apartment rentals in Paris and Amboise, May, 2017. Everything was exactly as represented, and I was happy with the price and terms of the rental.

I've researched hotels on booking.com but generally go to the hotel website to make the actual reservation. Did that for our hotel in Chartres.

Not a fan of Airbnb.

Posted by
11768 posts

Many apartments are listed on multiple platforms, and it pays to check the deposit, cancellation, refund, and service fee policies on each site.

Friends of ours had their Island beach home listed on VRBO and gave up when the service fees became onerous.

What I do not like about Air BnB is that they charge the whole amount up front when booking. But I have had a full refund, including service fees, when I had to cancel shortly after booking. I believe it is up to the owner.

A nice feature of Air BnB is the "super host" rating which they work hard to earn. I feel more confident when booking one of these.

The site I like best is the TripAdvisor vacation rental site. The deposit is reasonable, communication with the owner is easy, and payment through the site is protected. We have enjoyed some very nice flats in London through this site, and are looking forward to one in Mürren next summer.

Posted by
300 posts

Lola,
My recent bookings on AirBnB charged 1/2 now and the rest in May shortly before our trip. It must be a new thing. At first I thought it was because our first booking was for over $1,000 but then our second booking for $300 offered the same option. You have to choose it. It was the same amount just charged at 2 different times.

I have used both AirBnB and VBRO. I couldn't find registration numbers on any of the listing on VBRO for Paris apartments so I stuck with AirBnB. I was finding some of the same places on both sites (and Booking too). Sometimes the rates varied greatly between the sites. There was also an interesting thread on the France board about one of the sites that is worth a read. https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/france/psa-rental-apartments

Posted by
1784 posts

I was once a fan of Homeaway/VRBO but have become less enamored with them once they jacked up their service fees.
Have begun to rely more on Booking.com lately thanks to their user friendly cancellation policy. Do read the fine print carefully before committing to a specific property however.
Also, it's worth googling a particular place you're interested in to see if a better deal can be had by booking with them directly. Have occasionally found better prices, more options, and/or more amenities by booking directly.

Posted by
4156 posts

Most places list on all of these sites, so it doesn’t really matter. To save money, though, contact the host directly which will get you around the booking fees for these sites.

Posted by
1552 posts

Hi runningklein
Some of the other places have added fees like airbnb. make sure you check the total before booking. VRBO is becoming like airbnb with all their fees, it's getting fee crazy nowdays. we used an airbnb in london which was so misleading, horrible communication with owner, one set of keys, dishwasher broken, smelly dirty clothes left in washer from previous guests, 2nd bedroom was living and dining room/ couch, single bed all in one, no lights in bathroom, noisy street. never again. we used citymundo.com for an apartment for first trip and houseboathotel.nl or houseboatrental.amsterdam (which was great and something different on the boat) second trip. have used booking.com many times with no problems, read reviews and all the fine print! cancellation time, what floor and how many stairs to climb with luggage, lift (elevator) cash security deposit, cash when you arrive. ask questions. cross-pollinate.com has apartments in countries you have listed. if in rome there is the-beehive.com which is hotel/hostel that does have an annex for double or single with ensuite baths. Hope this is some help to you.

Posted by
4122 posts

We take 4 or 5 holidays in Europe each year and I always rent apartments and don't stay in hotels.

I use Trip Advisor rentals as my first option as they allow open communication with the property owner before you book, their prices are competitive and they use a decent currency conversion rate.

My second option would be VRBO, who I have used a lot in the past, but I don't care for their new booking fee.

Third option would be booking.com. They are better for hotels.

My last resort would be Airbnb, who I have used several times in the past. I don't like them because (a) they charge the full amount up front and I tend to book accommodation 9-12 months ahead. (b) they don't disclose the property's actual location until after you have booked (c) they are usually c25% more expensive than the other booking sites for the same property (d) the currency exchange rate offered is woeful.

If you have the time, find a property that you like and do some internet searching to check if it is multiple listed and opt for the cheapest provider. If you are staying for more than just a few nights, book a few nights with one of the main providers then make contact with the property owner direct and book extra nights usually at a much cheaper rate. I haven't tried this myself, but know some that have and they take properties that have good review scores with an established letting history.

If you are booking a hotel, I would book directly with the hotel unless booking.com was significantly cheaper.

Posted by
963 posts

I use airbnb and VRBO and booking.com, the first two for apartment rentals and the latter for b&b's/ They all have equivalent service fees. As for paying up front, I guess Ive never minded because I like to pay for everything up front (so by the time I take the trip its paid for ;). And the "free cancelation" on booking.com does in fact charge you more per night, by about $5, so you are in fact paying for the freedom of "free cancelation", but its a nice feature if you aren't sure about the place or your plans. I wouldn't be afraid at all. These are all reputable and easy to use. Have fun exploring the different options

best,
Jessica

edited to add: I have used airbnb primarily for years and always had very good experiences, however, I read everything like Im studying for a test. I read many many reviews of places, I look at the location (Ive found the location is listed in the description), I have communicated easily with hosts. I think, if there are bad experiences it is from lack of study. Reviews tell you a LOT about a place. So far, so good. But yeah, all these fees are annoying

Posted by
68 posts

I've booked through HomeAway a few times in Canada, and now I've booked both our London and Paris accommodations this summer through them - nothing but good experiences so far. Of interest, one of the places we booked for this summer was about 10% more expensive to book through AirBnB - it pays to look around. Once I find a place I like, I do a quick reverse image search on a key image or two, and all the other listings come up.

Posted by
628 posts

I have been looking on AirBNB myself and was astounded at the service and cleaning fee charges. Unless you are staying at least a week, you are better off in hotels. Many hotels in Europe offer family rooms which will accommodate more than 3 people. Use booking.com to find them and book direct. Many hotels will be much lower and even negotiate for long period of stays. I think AirBNB will regret the price gouging and others who are following will regret it as well.

Posted by
2854 posts

What I do not like about Air BnB is that they charge the whole amount up front when booking. But I have had a full refund, including service fees, when I had to cancel shortly after booking. I believe it is up to the owner.

I don't have any problem with paying up front, as long as I pay attention to the cancellation policy. I believe that the owner gets to choose among 3 levels of cancellation policies. With one level you get everything back (except the service fee) as long as you cancel within a few days of the trip. With the most restrictive one I think you only have a couple of days after booking to cancel with no penalty. As to the service charge, I think you only get it back if you cancel within the first 2 days. As to the cleaning fee, I have trouble with that, especially when it's fairly high. After all, when you stay at a hotel there's a set nightly rate, and they have to clean afterwards. All that being said, I've used AirBnB in Canada, and for a couple of days for an upcoming trip to France. For hotels in France I often use Booking.com, or book directly. But most of the time we rent gites by the week through Gites de France.

Posted by
6145 posts

I've used VRBO and booking.com for apartments all over Europe and have never had an issue. I tend to trust booking.com's reviews because they can't be fudged by apt owners or anybody who hasn't actually stayed there and they've always been borne out when I stayed at the apartment. I know a lot of people don't like dealing with a booking agent rather than directly with the owner, but I like using booking.com and they have been responsive to the only small issues I have had.

Posted by
17768 posts

I can't tell you about any of these because I've never used them, but I have compared their prices with what I've paid for similar places, and they have always been more. If you use any of them, use them because they might be more convenient, but know that convenience has a price.

We recently spent a week in a small town on the Main River between Frankfurt and Würzburg. We stayed in a vacation apartment (Ferienwohnung) that I found on the town website. On the town website there were 19 FeWo listed. I immediately rejected 5 because they were too far out of town. Of the remaining 14, places, the rent was between 33€ and 55€, per apartment per night, for an average of 37€. Only two were outside the range of 33€ to 38€ per night. I found four places on Airbnb. Two were across the river in an area I had rejected during my search because of the difficulty getting to it with public transportation. They were both rented by the same person for 52€ per night including cleaning fee and Airbnb fee. In the same area were three apartments listed on the town website for 33€, 33€, and 35€. Another place, a little south of town rented for 62€/nt on Airbnb. The fourth place was in a good location, near the Bahnhof, and rented on Airbnb for 75€/nt.

VRBO showed no apartments, just a Best Western hotel, for over a hundred euro a room.

Booking.com showed no apartments. They showed 6 hotels out of the 15 hotels shown on the town website. The average price of a double room for these 6 hotels on Booking was 109,50€. The same hotels, booked directly from info on the town website was 99,67€. The average price of the additional hotels shown on the town website but not on booking was 68,56€.

This town was not exceptional. I have consistently found over maybe 10 years, that I have more selection and pay less per night by booking direct using a town's website (or sometimes just Google maps) than I do by using any 3rd party website.

Posted by
11768 posts

Lee, I think the town website listings for FeWo rentals are pretty unique to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I have not found them in Italy, Spain, nor in the UK. Or New Zealand for that matter.

I tried to use the village listing site for a chalet in Bettmeralp, Switzerland, this summer for my family group of 6. The place I liked best I could not rent from that website as it only allows full week rentals, usually Saturday to Saturday.

I found the same chalet on Air BnB by googling the name, and was able to book it for the four nights we want.

Carefully proofread this for your benefit.

Posted by
31 posts

WOW!!! Thanks to all of you for the valuable information!! I am going to look into Booking.com and VRBO/Homeaway. I’ve noticed the same property renting for different prices depending on which listing site it’s on... probably because each site charges the owners different fees. It is a time consuming process, between checking the websites, contacting owners with questions, and meanwhile hoping the place doesn’t get rented out while doing the research.
Again
, I appreciate all the suggestions!
Happy travels!

Posted by
3217 posts

I am late to this thread, but thanks for the idea to check town websites....at least to see if they are options.
I will admit, I check a variety of sites for apartments, but go back to AirBnB; primarily due to safety deposits. AirBnB holds the safety deposit amount against your credit card. I am fine with that. On a recent trip to Spain, other sites required cash up front safety deposits...sometimes 500Euro. Particularly for a last in country apartment, what do I then do with 500Euro cash once returned to Canada? I will have lost converting to Euro and then back again. Also, some hosts require payment outside of PayPal or a secure payment method, so if wiring money, there can be extensive wiring costs and if it goes wrong, there are other problems. (been there, experienced that).
That is just my comfort zone, others may vary. As said, I do my due diligence and check numerous sites, but have found the one that gives me most peace of mind and a successful use history.
As stated, read all the fine print - as host's requirements can vary from listing to listing. Also take the time to read all the FAQs and Terms & Conditions of the company considering. Often people complain due to not having read the fine print before hitting 'book'. And don't read it once. If it has been some time since booking, read it all again - bound to have changes.
Good luck with your plans regardless of who provides the accommodations.
Oh, Barcelona is one of the cities that requires licensing for short term lets, so ensure any posting has a HUB number on it, or ask for it. If not supplied, move on.