Airbnb vs. Hotel: What’s the Difference?

Is it time to book a vacation? Then it's time to pick a side in the great Airbnb vs. hotel debate!

We’re all dreaming of our next vacation, although some parts of travel will most likely look different the next time you pack your bags. Still, few things are as exciting as planning a trip somewhere new, and with the rise of home swaps and Airbnb, travelers have more options than ever for accommodation. But how do you decide, when it’s down to motel vs. hotel, or Airbnb vs. hotel? You might be worried about Airbnb scams, or high hotel prices, but where you choose to stay ultimately depends on the kind of vacation you want to have, and how you like to travel and experience a place. There are pros and cons to both kinds of stay, and we’ve outlined a few of the biggest factors in the Airbnb vs. hotel debate below.

Do you want to live like a local?

Many hotels are centrally located, with easy walking or transport access to nightlife, restaurants, and cultural attractions. But if you really want to blend in with the neighborhood’s full-time residents, an Airbnb is the better bet. Renting an apartment or room in a house through Airbnb makes you just one of the locals for the length of your stay. You’ll be shopping in the same supermarkets, eating at the same restaurants, and locking your front door behind you in the morning just like everyone else. This approach also gives you the opportunity to discover a less-touristy (but still charming) neighborhood, which can help in getting a real feel for the day-to-day life of a city, not just its highlights. We think this is a win for Airbnb on the Airbnb vs. hotel list.

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Are you traveling with a large group?

If you’re traveling with another family, or even just your own, Airbnb can work out a lot cheaper for big groups than booking a hotel suite or a series of hotel rooms. Having more space is always better with kids around (or even your adult friends), and sharing cooking and cleaning duties between adults is cheaper than finding kid-friendly meals, or eating every meal out. On the other hand, some hotels offer some form of childcare, which can make for a welcome break or peaceful dinner out. Airbnb vs. hotel? It might depend on how close your group is and how much time you want to spend together.

Do you want to avoid your regular chores?

Let’s face it, getting a break from your usual domestic drudgery (cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry, etc.) is most definitely a priority for many people on a vacation. Booking an Airbnb usually means having to do at least some light housework. You’ll be making your own bed, cooking some of your own meals, and washing at least the odd wine glass. Staying in a hotel, however, means blissful freedom from all of the above. If you like (and you don’t feel guilty about defying the “please help us be green” sign in the bathroom), you can even have fresh towels every day. At the very least, you’ll be getting into crispy well-tucked-in sheets every night. On the other hand, you might be woken up at 8 a.m. for housekeeping, and you’ll be spending more money eating every meal out. There’s a lot to consider!

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Do you want a unique accommodation experience?

This one has benefits on both sides of the Airbnb vs. hotel debate. There are plenty of unusual boutique hotels worldwide, with different themes, artwork, and even building practices (such as ice hotels in Scandinavia). You can stay at Giraffe Manor in Kenya, or eat at an underwater restaurant in the Maldives. However, Airbnb also offers a plethora of bizarre accommodation options. Treehouses, yurts, and houseboats can all be found among the listings on the Airbnb website. And, as is usual, Airbnbs tend to make for a cheaper overall vacay cost.

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How long is your stay?

Short stays benefit from hotels. Everything is conveniently located, and you don’t have to do much research about neighborhoods, transportation methods, or attractions. For longer stays, though, where you’ll be spending more time in your accommodation (think month-long business trips or research jaunts) we think that there’s a clear winner in the Airbnb vs. hotel debate, and it’s not hotels. It’s nice to feel like you’re in your own space for that long, and although you will have to do some of your regular life activities (like laundry), we can’t help but feel that having control over your space is a much more pleasant experience than the anonymity of a hotel.

Do you want luxury?

Hotels are usually the first name in luxury, and it’s easy to understand why. With four- and five-star ratings, daily housekeeping, designer toiletries, and Michelin-starred restaurants all on-site, everything from the thread count of your sheets to the 24/7 check-in and -out is managed for you. However, Airbnb recently rolled out its Airbnb Luxe offering, which allows travelers to stay in gorgeous homes (the kind you might see in Architectural Digest) with all the amenities of a five-star hotel. Some homes come with services like drivers, chefs, and butlers, as well as “trip designers” who can plan experiences for you (much like a traditional luxury hotel concierge can). It seems there are many wonderful options for the luxury jetsetter (are we really surprised?!).

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Or are you budget-conscious?

Budget hotels definitely exist. They tend to be familiar and basic: everything you need, in a wipe-clean sort of way. Which is fine, especially if you’re only staying for a night or two. Additionally, many hotel chains offer membership and reward points, so if you travel a lot for work you can stay at the same chain around the country (or world!) and earn points that you can use for your actual vacation, or for upgrades. That’s a win for hotel in the great Airbnb vs. hotel rumble. However, if you’re staying for more than a few days, an Airbnb is definitely your best option here. It is possible to find an affordable Airbnb in most cities, you don’t have to tip anyone, and the addition of a kitchen saves so much on cooking that it’s a no-brainer.

So, who wins in the great Airbnb vs. hotel showdown?

It depends! Hotels are conveniently located, chore-free, and help is only a front desk call away. However, you will spend more on meals, and probably on accommodation. Airbnbs are private, often cheaper, and offer the chance to live like a local and save money on meals. But you have to do your research on neighborhoods and transportation, and they are sometimes less reliable in amenities and services than the standardized offerings of hotels. We’re fond of using both! After all, variation and flexibility are an important part of traveling. A great accommodation option is all about figuring out your requirements and desires and finding a place that aligns with those needs. Either way, you’ll have fun planning your next trip!

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