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Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Differences You Need to Know

Looking to book a vacation rental for your next trip? First, you need to know a few things about Vrbo vs. Airbnb to figure out which is right for you.

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Brownstone facades & row houses in an iconic neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights in New York City
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Checking into Vrbo vs. Airbnb

The best hotels have plenty of perks…but they also have a few detractions. First, there’s the check-in line. Then there are the fees for things that really should be included. Plus, you’re generally limited to a small, cookie-cutter room with just a bed and a bathroom. If you’re looking for a homier experience, book a vacation rental instead. While you may know the difference between an Airbnb vs. a hotel, in the battle between the two top rental sites, Vrbo vs. Airbnb, which is better?

It really depends on what you’re looking for. While both have options for lakehouse rentals, beach house rentals, cabin rentals, and even castle rentals, each site has a slightly different approach. Also, one offers only fully private rentals, while the other also provides options for home or room sharing. Also wondering about Vrbo vs. Airbnb vs. HomeAway? HomeAway merged with Vrbo a few years ago, so it’s no longer an option for renters. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about Airbnb vs. Vrbo, along with some popular Airbnbs, cheap Airbnbs, and amazing Vrbos to consider.

Modern room with sofa and bed designed in oriental style
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What is Airbnb?

Airbnb is an online marketplace where homeowners personally list a place to stay and travelers can book directly. Launched in 2008, it now has around 6 million listings worldwide in 220 countries and 100,000-plus cities. Those listings include entire apartments and homes, private rooms or shared rooms within someone’s home (yep, while the owners are there), and even rooms at some boutique hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.

What makes Airbnb unique is that you can choose to spend the night in anything from a bedroom in someone’s house to a tree house to a castle in France. (No, really—the company reports that it has nearly 3,000 castles and 1,400 tree houses in its current listings.)

Who is Airbnb for?

Airbnb is particularly popular with millennial travelers and those looking for a more immersive or intimate travel experience. Single or shared rooms also offer the opportunity for lower costs. Generally speaking, if you love meeting people who live in the destination you’re visiting or even staying with people who know the area, especially in far-flung locales, Airbnb may be the way to go. Some hosts even create itineraries for guests, help with local language translations, and offer restaurant suggestions. We’ve even heard of hosts picking up guests at the airport.

Since more than one billion travelers have stayed at an Airbnb, there’s a good chance you’re at least familiar with the brand, but here’s a helpful cheat sheet when deciding on an Airbnb vs. Vrbo.

Airbnb pros:

  • Millions of listings translates to lots of choices
  • The option to interact with local hosts
  • Homey stays

Airbnb cons:

  • If you don’t love interacting with strangers, then a room in someone’s home is not for you
  • No hotel-style amenities, such as fancy soap or thick towels

View of Tin Hat Cabin on top of a mountain during a sunny summer evening. Located near Powell River, Sunshine Coast, British Columbia, Canada.
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Popular Airbnb listings

Want to stay in a centuries-old castle? A ski chalet on a mountainside? How about a quirky tree house? Airbnb has a wide array of options for stays that will definitely make your vacation stand out. These are a few of our favorites:

Next, check out this list of the most extravagant Airbnb listings in every state—including yours!

Seaside rental house in cape cod
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What is Vrbo?

When you’re considering a Vrbo vs. Airbnb, it helps to know the lingo. Vrbo (pronounced ver-bow) stands for Vacation Rental By Owner, and once you know that, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that this platform is exclusively for vacation home rentals (or that you’ll be dealing directly with homeowners). When you rent through Vrbo, there’s no option to rent individual rooms or shared spaces—you’ll be getting an entire home or apartment for the duration of your stay. Vrbo has been around since 1995, and it offers approximately two million listings in 190 countries.

Who is Vrbo for?

Due to the exclusive use and privacy of the vacation homes available, Vrbo is a perfect fit for families who want to spread out instead of squishing into a hotel room, or for groups who want to be together in a shared space. You’ll also have kitchens to cook meals, which cuts down on vacation costs, and common spaces to spend time together without having to troop down to a hotel lobby.

Vrbo pros:

  • Great for families and large groups
  • Kitchens for meal preparation
  • Superior search filters on the website, so you can find the perfect place

Vrbo cons:

  • You have to trust reviews and the owner’s description to get the full story on a property
  • Don’t expect the full range of amenities you’d find at a resort

luxury vacation house with an infinity pool looking over a lake
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Popular Vrbo listings

There are houses of every size on Vrbo, as well as some very unique properties—including whole islands. (Yes, you read that right!) Here are a few of our favorites:

If you’re still debating between Vrbo vs. Airbnb, or a hotel where you’ll be waited on hand and foot, compare these rental listings with the best all-inclusive resorts.

Beautiful House Exterior with swimming pool
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Tips for finding the best vacation rental

Of course, the quality of vacation rentals, whether they’re on Airbnb or Vrbo, varies widely. But there are a few things that will help you find the best options for you.

  • Each vacation home is unique, so use the extensive filter options (Vrbo excels at this) to find one that fits the needs of your family or group.
  • Remember: This isn’t a resort, so if you need a pool to keep your kids happy, be sure to add that to your “must haves” when adding filters.
  • No matter which vacation rental site you’re using, do your homework. Be sure to read the reviews, ask questions of the property owners, and scope out the area on Google Maps.

Fireplace and bookshelf with piano in living room at home
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How to reserve a vacation rental

Browse options

Now that you know the differences between Vrbo vs. Airbnb, do a search on the vacation rental website you’re most interested in. To get started, choose a location and the dates you want to travel. Note, however, that during peak seasons—like summer—sites may require a minimum stay of anywhere from two to seven nights.

Choose your dates

On most vacation-rental websites, a booking calendar should pop up, showing you availability. Note that if you’re using Airbnb, you may have to get in touch with a host if you need more info.

Check for fees

Eliminate unwanted surprises on your credit card statement by checking for additional fees before you book. Both Airbnb and Vrbo also may have a number of additional costs, such as cleaning, that can drive up the price that’s initially displayed. Those types of costs may be more common on Vrbo and on whole-home rentals on Airbnb.

Scan for cancellation policies and other restrictions

An important note: Don’t assume that you can cancel for a full refund unless the listing explicitly states that. Since each listing’s rules are determined by an individual owner, whether you’re renting an Airbnb or Vrbo, each will be different. To that end, you’ll also want to check rules on occupancy limits, pet restrictions, and damage waivers and responsibilities.

Check the total cost

Wait—you’re not ready to book just yet! There may be extra charges for cleaning fees, pet fees (if applicable), and requirements for minimum stays, so make sure you’re OK with all of that before you book.

Pay through the site

Always pay directly through the site, whether you book through Airbnb or Vrbo. This activates protections and gives you access to customer service, and it’s one of the services you’ll always want to pay for with a credit card.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is an intrepid explorer and award-winning travel journalist with more than 25 years of experience. She covers topics ranging from family travel and Disney to honeymoons and romantic beaches and everything in between.