Airbnbs vs Hotels: Where to stay during the holidays

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When comparing Airbnbs and hotels, there are many factors to consider, especially when traveling in the age of COVID. While you can earn perks and free nights to stay at hotels and utilize hotel credit cards and hotel rewards programs, Airbnbs tend to offer lower prices and more privacy. Plus, there are also credit cards ideal for booking Airbnbs.

Before you decide where to stay this holiday season, check out our complete rundown of the pros and cons of hotels and Airbnbs. 

There are a few factors to consider when deciding between staying in an Airbnb vs. a hotel. (Photo by WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock)

Check-in/ checkout process

Hotels

At hotels, the check-in/checkout process is centered around the traveler. When you arrive at a hotel, all you have to do is walk into the lobby, give your information, and you’ll be presented with your room key. Some hotels even offer the option of checking in online or in an app! Hotels always put the guest first and make conscious efforts to make your check-in and checkout processes smooth and efficient. 

Most hotels have a universal check-in time of around 3 pm, and a universal checkout time around 11 am. An earlier morning checkout isn’t always ideal, but if you’re an elite status member (or just a really polite guest), you might be able to get early check-in or late checkout and extend those times. 

Another great perk that comes with hotel stays is that in most cases, you can cancel your booking up to 24 hours before your arrival date and receive a refund.

Airbnbs

In comparison, Airbnb check-in and checkout processes aren’t always as seamless. Because Airbnbs are properties run by individuals, for privacy reasons, many owners won’t release the Airbnb’s exact address until a few days before your stay. This means you won’t be able to plan your exact arrival time until right before your trip. 

Similarly, the individuals who own the property (the hosts) decide the rules and regulations for check-in and out. There’s no standardization, which means your host could tell you check-in isn’t until 7 pm. The hosts also determine how you check-in and out, meaning you could be entering in a garage code you get the day of arrival, picking up a key from a mailbox, or a variety of other unconventional methods. 

It’s also important to keep in mind that while you can cancel your Airbnb stay up to 24 hours before your arrival date (like hotels), hosts can also cancel your stay at any time they want to (although Airbnb does penalize them). This could leave you searching for a place to stay at the last minute. 

Cost

Hotels

While hotels are usually more expensive than Airbnbs, if you use your travel rewards wisely, you can stay at hotels for little to nothing. If you travel a lot for work, you can easily rack up loads of hotel rewards. Or if you have a hotel credit card, you can accumulate points for free nights by using your card for your everyday spending. In short, there are lots of options when it comes to finding deals on hotel stays.

Hilton, for example, has 15 hotel brands with 5,500 locations worldwide — meaning there’s a good chance you could use Hilton points for a stay, regardless of your destination. using your Hilton points to book at some of these locations makes the price an absolute steal. Take the Conrad Tokyo, for example. You could book an $844 per night room there for just 95,000 Hilton points, netting you a value of over 1 cent per Hilton point

Plus, hotel points can oftentimes be transferred from other sources, too. For example, you can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt or Amex Membership Rewards points to Marriott and book for less. With the right cards, you can earn Chase and Amex points for spending money on groceries, gas, dining and more. If you accumulate enough points through your everyday spending, you’ll be able to use the rewards you’ve earned for your next hotel stay. 

Booking hotel stays for longer periods, during off-peak seasons or the weekdays, will help the cost of your overall stay go down. But, if you’re just looking to pay for your stay with cold, hard cash, a hotel will likely put a dent in your wallet.

Airbnbs

Much like hotels, when booking an Airbnb, the cost largely depends on the location of the property and type of accommodation you book. For example, if you’re looking to book a penthouse apartment in New York City, it’ll be more expensive than a studio apartment at the Jersey Shore. However, unlike hotels, Airbnb prices are flexible, and there are ways to save money on bookings

Negotiating with your host is one way to bring the total cost of your stay down, as will filtering your search and being flexible with your dates. But because Airbnb doesn’t offer a rewards program, as many hotels do, it is harder to get discounted stays with Airbnb. But it’s possible to use certain types of travel rewards, like Capital One miles, to offset the cost of your stay.

In many cases, Airbnbs can be a cheaper alternative to hotels if you’re paying cash. But it largely depends on the type of property and location you’re booking. 

Amenities and perks

Hotels

Hotels are typically staffed with people whose job it is to make sure you have a pleasurable stay. When you check in, you’ll likely be greeted by an upbeat front desk employee who will stash your bags if you arrive early and a concierge who can give you recommendations for the area.

During your stay, you might come in contact with cleaning staff who will make your bed every morning, on-site dining employees who can deliver food straight to your room, or lifeguards at a pool. Hotels are designed to make your stay comfortable and relaxing and come with many amenities and perks. 

Airbnbs

With Airbnb, the amenities and perks of your stay are up to your host alone. If something is broken or missing, it’s on you to contact the host to fix it. And it’s possible they won’t come to do so until after you’ve left. Similarly, there’s usually nowhere to stash your bags if you arrive early and no one to bring dinner to your room. 

But, Airbnb does come with its own unique set of perks. An Airbnb tends to provide more privacy than a hotel. If you’re looking for a staycation and don’t want to leave your rental, Airbnbs typically have access to a full kitchen for you to cook your own meals and sometimes even a place to do your laundry. 

Each property also comes with its own set of amenities; yours could have a private pool, a hot tub, or even a movie room. All of which will be advertised before you book. Plus, Airbnb hosts are normally locals, and you can get incredible insider tips and tricks through asking your host about the area or signing up for an Airbnb experience. 

Some Airbnbs can actually feel (and look!) a lot like a hotel room. (Photo by Myphotojumble/Shutterstock)

Safety

Hotels

When you book a hotel, you can research the location, which can oftentimes help you feel safer and more comfortable upon arrival. Plus, with a front desk staff, specific keys for each room, and deadbolts on doors, you should feel pretty safe staying at most hotel properties. 

Airbnbs

In contrast, you typically won’t get the specific address of your Airbnb until a few days before arrival. Which makes it harder to look into the area and determine if you’d feel safe in your property’s location.

In some cases, Airbnbs can be just a room in a house, meaning the host could be living there as well or other rooms could be rented out to other tenants. While you will know if you’ll get the whole property or only part of it before your stay, if it’s the latter, you won’t know who you’re sharing a living space with until you show up. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable sharing a living space with roomies, make sure you book a stay that gives you access to the entire rental. 

But, Airbnbs do provide a lot of privacy. If you’re the only one at the property for the duration of the stay, you’ll be in total control of who enters and leaves, and you won’t have to share any common areas with other guests like you do at hotels.  

Cleanliness 

Hotels

Major hotel brands have universal standards across their properties for cleanliness. And since the coronavirus hit, those standards have only increased.

Hilton partnered with the makers of Lysol to develop Hilton’s CleanStay program and ensure its properties are being routinely and thoroughly disinfected. Marriott has put together the Marriott Cleaning Council to ensure each room is up to standard before a new guest enters. And Hyatt has placed a trained hygiene and wellbeing leader at every location. 

Cleanliness has never been more important than right now, and when you stay at a hotel, you can rest assured your room will be up to standard. And if it’s not, the cleaning staff is only a phone call away. 

Airbnbs

Airbnb has also upped their cleaning protocols to combat the spread of COVID, but it’s up to the host to clean their property. Airbnb has required all hosts to commit and follow a five-step cleaning procedure in between every guest: prepare, clean, sanitize, check, reset. The site also provides cleaning tips and step-by-step checklists for hosts, but there are no measures in place to make sure hosts follow these rules.

Additionally, each Airbnb you stay in will include a “cleaning fee” set by the host. And these prices have increased since COVID because hosts have had to stock up on the necessities to properly clean their rentals. 

COVID-19 measures

Hotels

All major hotel brands have taken extreme measures to ensure your stay is safe during COVID and make traveling during these uncertain times as easy as possible. Every major hotel brand has a mask mandate in place, which will help you feel safer when walking through public spaces. Hilton has committed to a price match guarantee to ensure you get the lowest prices on your stay. Marriott and Hyatt are offering contactless check-in to limit your interactions with hotel staff and have hand sanitizer stations set up throughout the properties. 

Additionally, some amenities and services hotels normally offer may be off-limits right now, but it’s for your safety. Hilton and Marriott are both only doing daily room cleanings upon request. If you’re staying multiple nights, there won’t be anyone accessing your room besides you. On-site office spaces and gyms are closed at some hotels (varies by brand and location) to combat the virus’s spread. While these things may be inconvenient at times, they will hopefully make you feel safer during your stay. 

Airbnbs

Booking an Airbnb during a pandemic is a lot different than a normal booking. Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy ended on Mar. 14, 2020, which means you can’t cancel your booking and get a full refund for any reason (including COVID) unless you have contracted the coronavirus. 

Because some Airbnb rentals can have both the guest and host/other guests living in them simultaneously, Airbnb requires that everyone at the property wear a mask and stay six feet apart from those they did not travel with. Still, if you’re sharing a small apartment or just one bathroom, that may be easier said than done. Like most things with Airbnb, how seriously coronavirus measures are being taken falls largely on the host. 

Bottom line

When comparing Airbnbs vs. hotels, hotels win out in the majority of the categories. Hotels have reliable, universal, and trustworthy policies for things like check-in and checkout processes, cleaning standards and amenities.

But, if you’re willing to roll the dice with your travel plans, booking an Airbnb could mean a cheaper stay for a totally unique experience. 

Alexandra Maloney is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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