If you’re looking for a place to stay on your next big trip, chances are you’re considering a vacation rental. And if you’re reading this article, chances are you’re wondering about the differences between Vrbo vs. Airbnb.
It seems like everyone these days is familiar with Airbnb, which sort of changed the game for vacation rentals when it launched in 2008. But did you know that Vrbo – originally Vacation Rentals By Owner – has been around since 1995?!
While both platforms allow homeowners to list their property for short term rent and travelers to access these millions of listings, Vrbo and Airbnb are not created equal!
In this post I’m going to help you decide which is best for you. It’s a Vrbo vs. Airbnb showdown!
Summary: Vrbo vs. Airbnb
There are some clear similarities you’ll notice when looking into Vrbo vs. Airbnb. Both platforms make homeowners’ properties available for short term rent to guests. You can easily search by date, location, number of guests, etc. and book just as if you were booking a hotel on Booking.com, for example.
Once a booking has been made on either site, you’ll have access to a secure messaging platform to arrange your arrival details and ask any questions of your host.
Vacation rentals from either of these two platforms are an excellent option for travelers looking to embrace slow travel – staying amongst locals and trying to live like one yourself for a week can be one of the most rewarding parts of any trip, and allows you experience your destination in a much more intimate way.
While it’s absolutely possible to find amazing vacation rental properties on either site, there are a whole series of key differences between Vrbo vs. Airbnb that you should be aware of before choosing which one is right for you.
Here is a brief summary of the key differences between each platform, with the “winner” highlighted in bold:
|Number of listings||2 million in 190+ countries||6 million+ in 220+ countries & regions|
|Types of properties||Private accommodation only (whole property)||Private accommodation, private rooms in hosts’ homes, shared rooms in hosts’ homes|
|Search options||Extremely robust with ability to filter by reviews, discount, cancellation policy, location, etc.||Strong, but far more limited than Vrbo|
|Pricing & fees||Similar nightly rates & cleaning fees, but overall cheaper service fees and usually cheaper overall; fees included in quoted price on search page||Sometimes hosts cover service fee to entice guests, but overall fees can add up; plus, fees aren’t factored into nightly rate displayed in search results|
|Cancellation policy||Most flexible: 100% refund up to 14 days before check-in and 50% refund up to 7 days before check-in||Most flexible: 100% refund up to 24 hours before check-in|
|Customer service||24/7 customer service telephone hotline with an easily located number||Chat support, often passing you between different support agents you’ll need to re-explain your problem to|
Read on for a more detailed review of each piece of criteria and to find out why I recommend Vrbo!
Differences Between Vrbo vs. Airbnb
1. Number of Listings
At the time of writing, Airbnb boasts over 6 million listings in 220+ countries and regions worldwide. This apparently means that it’s bigger than the world’s top ten hotel chains COMBINED – which have just under 5.5 million rooms between them.
On the other hand, Vrbo is proud to offer 2 million listings in 190+ countries. This is pretty impressive and means you’ll still be spoiled for choice in most destinations you try to visit.
At the end of the day, it’s clear that Airbnb wins this round by sheer volume of listings! However, depending what type of listing you’re looking for… Airbnb’s huge number may be deceiving. With the amount of listings available, you’ll often be shown things that aren’t up to standard, have unreasonable asks on the part of the host, or don’t fit your private vs. shared preference.
Vrbo vs. Airbnb Winner: Airbnb
2. Types of Properties
When Airbnb’s founders started the company in 2008, they were looking to find a way to rent out a spare room in their San Francisco apartment. True to its beginnings, one of the biggest draws of Airbnb is the fact that guests can still book private rooms in locals’ homes.
Many travelers thrive on being able to sit down for a drink or meal with their hosts, picking their brains about the best restaurants and things to do or simply swapping travel stories. I used to be one of these!
At the same, that style of travel definitely suits a younger crowd. And, let’s be honest, this just isn’t as popular of a way to travel as it was pre-pandemic.
On the other hand, Vrbo only rents out private accommodation. Of course, you’ll find a variety of listings from tiny city center apartments to villas in the countryside, but you can rest assured that Vrbo will only be showing you properties where you get the whole place to yourself.
I should note that Airbnb does offer “entire places” on its platform as well – but you will often significantly cut down the number of listings available to you if you sort this way.
You should consider what’s most important to you when choosing between Vrbo vs. Airbnb, but I can’t say one of them actually wins because it’s completely up to personal preference.
Vrbo vs. Airbnb Winner: Tie
3. Search Options
When you’re searching for a vacation rental, finding a way to sort through the hundreds or even thousands of options is an important way to save time and frustration.
Both platforms offer a number of the same features: type of property (apartment, house, villa, etc.), number of bedrooms and bathrooms, “Premier Hosts” (Vrbo) and “Superhosts” (Airbnb), accessibility options, safety options, instant booking, etc.
But there are plenty of differences, and Vrbo wins on all of them.
First, the map feature. Both websites include an option to automatically update search results as you move or zoom the map. This is great.
While Vrbo shows both the total price of a stay (with taxes and fees included) as well as the nightly rate, Airbnb very frustratingly only shows prices on the map at the nightly rate without fees.
This is extremely confusing of Airbnb. Almost all properties on that site include cleaning and service fees, and these are not standardized, so you actually have no way of knowing the actual nightly rate from the map results.
Both Vrbo and Airbnb offer robust search functionality with many filters and the ability to search via a map. However, when you actually look at which platform offers the most useful and intuitive filter function, Vrbo is most definitely stronger.
Again, Vrbo allows you to filter either by nightly rate or total stay cost, while Airbnb forces you to search by the (misleading) nightly rate only.
Vrbo also features the ability to filter by specific cancellation policy. Here’s an example of what that looks like for a trip scheduled to begin on November 11.
On the other hand, Airbnb’s filter is far more general. You can only show stays that offer free cancellation, but you will not be able to specifically choose between their most and least flexible policies. Really, you’re just filtering out completely non-refundable policies.
Other great filter options that Vrbo offers include:
- Filter by reviews (4+ stars only, high cleanliness rating, high location rating)
- Filter by discount (weekly discount, monthly discount, etc.)
- Location (beachfront, rural, mountains, etc.)
- Virtual tour (Airbnb does not offer these)
- Private pool! (Airbnb lets you search for a pool, but there’s no way to sort between shared and private pools)
As you can see, Vrbo lets you find exactly the property you’re looking for with MUCH less weeding through the details of specific listings, so it the undeniable winner of this round.
Vrbo vs. Airbnb Winner: Vrbo
4. Pricing & Fees
It’s difficult to directly compare prices on Vrbo vs. Airbnb as prices fluctuate so drastically between locations and property types – especially since Vrbo does not offer single rooms in shared accommodation the way that Airbnb does.
The difference in total cost to guests on both sites is primarily affected by the fees that each site charges. You are likely to ecounter a cleaning fee, service fee (how each company makes money), and sometimes a refundable security deposit on both platforms.
While Airbnb’s service fee ranges from 14-20% of the subtotal, Vrbo’s fee is more modest at around 6-15%.
Hosts set their own cleaning fees, so these are also difficult to compare.
Due to Vrbo’s cheaper service fees, properties on Vrbo are often cheaper than Airbnb.
For example, here’s the same property for the same dates in Lanzarote:
As you can see, despite a slightly better weekly discount via Airbnb, the higher service fee actually makes the house almost $20 more expensive via Airbnb.
Here’s another example in Rome. Same place, same dates:
In this case, you save over $200 booking the property on Vrbo.
And that’s with the host covering the Airbnb service fee to try to entice you to book with them. It’s not uncommon for hosts to do this, and then just adjust the nightly price to compensate. It does make Airbnb’s confusing structure more transparent… but in this case (and many others) it just can’t beat Vrbo.
Vrbo vs. Airbnb Winner: Vrbo
5. Cancellation Policy
Flexibility of travel arrangements is more important than ever these days.
Both Vrbo and Airbnb allow hosts to set their own cancellation policy, so largely this will be up to things like the seasonal popularity of your destination and what the majority of hosts in the market are choosing.
That said, many hosts are now offering flexible cancellation as the pandemic continues to affect travel in multiple and often unexpected ways.
Airbnb allows hosts to choose from 6 tiers of flexibility, from Flexible (100% refundable bookings up to 24 hours before check-in) to completely Non-Refundable. While Flexible policies are increasingly common, the most frequent policies seen on the site seem to be Moderate (100% refund up to 5 days before check-in) and Strict (100% refund for 48 hours after booking).
On the other hand, Vrbo offers slightly stricter options from the 14/7 policy (100% refund up to 14 days before check-in, 50% refund up to 7 days before check-in) to 60-day policy (100% refund up to 60 days before check-in).
Here Airbnb is the clear winner, although the 14/7 policy is extremely common on Vrbo’s platform – and 50% refund up to one week before check-in certainly isn’t horrible.
Vrbo vs. Airbnb Winner: Airbnb
6. Customer Service
Another thing to consider when choosing between Vrbo vs. Airbnb is the customer service you’ll receive if there’s any problem before, during, or after your stay.
Both platforms offer a basic protection package – the “Book with Confidence” guarantee from Vrbo vs. Airbnb “Aircover”. These guarantees help you with things like avoiding fraudulent listings, re-booking if your host cancels, etc.
Beyond that, though, Airbnb has notoriously bad customer support, whereas Vrbo is know for connecting you quickly to a real person to help with any issue you might have.
If you have a dispute with your host, find the property not as described, or have the host cancel your stay with short notice before your trip, you may have some issues with Airbnb support. It can take quite a while to get past their chat bot to a support representative, and even then they often won’t be very helpful.
For example, last year, we had an issue where our host did not prepare an Airbnb property for the day we were arriving: when I went to pick up the keys from a (seriously sketchy) liquor store at 8pm (the time I told them I was arriving), and the man refused to give me the keys!! Airbnb support not only refused to re-book me into a new accommodation, but also passed me around to about four different support reps over the course of two hours – none of whom read the previous messages, causing me to have to re-explain the situation multiple times. We had to spend the night in a random Travelodge!
On the other hand, Vrbo will quickly connect you 24/7 to a live representative by phone who will happily help you sort out any problems like this. I really could have used that during my Airbnb horror story.
Vrbo vs. Airbnb Winner: Vrbo
Why I prefer Vrbo
As you can see from the above comparison, the ultimate winner in the Vrbo vs. Airbnb matchup is… Vrbo!
At the end of the day, each one of these platforms offers something unique and both are worth checking out, depending on what kind of experience you’re looking to have.
I used to book every vacation on Airbnb, without even bothering to check Vrbo, but that’s totally changed over the past few years.
Although Airbnb boasts by far the widest selection of vacation rental units of any platform, I have felt the quality of Airbnbs I’ve stayed in decrease steadily and noticeably over the past 5 years or so.
These days, it’s not uncommon for hosts to impose ridiculous rules about stripping the sheets, taking out the garbage yourself, or limiting the use of heating/air conditioning to certain hours. These are chores we’re all used to doing at home – but we go on vacation to forget about the small stuff for a little bit, don’t we?!
Being conscious of the environment or doing a little bit here and there to help out is obviously just the right thing to do, but more and more often the ridiculous requests of Airbnb hosts feel like an attempt for them to minimize cleaning costs and maximize profit – potentially due to the lack of regulation imposed by the platform itself.
On top of that, it’s just a fact that travel in a post-pandemic world has changed! In the past, I wasn’t so concerned about the potential for a cancelled trip and it wasn’t a hard requirement for me to have a private space (rather than a shared space via Airbnb).
These days, I am all about flexibility and privacy! On both fronts in the battle of Vrbo vs. Airbnb, Vrbo is the undisputed winner.
Not even needing to think about whether a property on Vrbo will be private is one less thing to consider in the trip planning process.
Although Airbnb does have a slightly more flexible cancellation policy, I’ve found that most Airbnb hosts opt for a stricter policy. Not the mention, the best Airbnb properties (beautifully designed, great locations, super unique – you know the ones) are often some of the strictest.
With Vrbo, even though the most flexible 100% refund policy is 14 days before the trip, I find that almost all properties have this option set.
Add to that the fact that Vrbo will put you in touch with an actual person dedicated to helping you solve any problem that arises, as opposed to Airbnb’s robo-chat, and Vrbo just feels better equipped for the post-covid world!
Ultimately, I’m sort of done with Airbnb myself. I’ve had too many bad experiences—and heard of WAY too many more from friends and family—to trust that it’s not just way too big and unregulated for its own good.
Vrbo vs. Airbnb: Which is better for guests in 2023?
Really, the winner of the Vrbo vs. Airbnb debate is going to depend on your personal priorities while traveling!
If you’re the kind of person who thrives off urban adventure and loves connecting with Airbnb hosts in shared spaces, this is obviously still a good option for you.
However, if you’re looking for affordability, stellar customer service, and the privacy of renting out a whole space, then you’d likely benefit from looking more into Vrbo.
Whichever you choose, I hope you have a wonderful vacation rental experience! Happy travels!