Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
INSIDER SECRET: Home rentals may be better for large groups or extended vacations. Hotel stays can be a better choice for business travelers or special occasions.
To Airbnb or not to Airbnb? That is the question.
Factors like price, location and type of trip all play a part in the decision. It’s not an exact science, but I’ve outlined some situations when it makes sense to use a home rental or book a hotel.
Keep in mind that there are many types of rentals. The two main types are a standalone home or apartment, where you and your party will be the only ones in residence, or a rental where you may be sharing with roommates, a family or guests at a bed and breakfast.
A home rental is ideal if:
- You’re traveling with a group or kids. A rental is a fun way to stay in a private space with your entire group, with separate rooms for couples or parents and their kids and common areas to share, like a kitchen and living room. You can pick the right rental for your group, with amenities like outdoor space or a private pool. For families with young children, preparing meals in a kitchen may be preferable to taking kids to a restaurant. Having a separate area where parents can hang out when children sleep can be key for relaxation. You can always spend time together in a hotel lobby or bar, but a rental that perfectly fits your group’s needs may be even better.
- You’re traveling for an extended period of time. Eating out three times per day can be fun at first, but if you’re on the road for a few weeks, a month or more, restaurant food can get old. You may want to make your own scrambled eggs or salad and not be held to the hotel’s breakfast buffet schedule.
- You have special dietary needs. Having a kitchen in your home rental is more than just convenient, it may be essential if you have a lot of dietary restrictions or food allergies. If you’re a vegan in New York City, you probably won’t have an issue eating out, but being a vegan in a country like Spain may prove to be slightly more challenging. Having the option to prepare your own food ensures you’ll be able to eat as you usually do. After all, a hangry traveler is no fun for anyone.
- You’re looking for immersion in the local culture. Home rental or hotel depends greatly on your destination. When traveling to places distinctly different from the US, like Cuba or India, you may relish the idea of staying in a family home or with local roommates. It will give you an insider view on a different way of life and may help or encourage you to learn or practice a new language. Even if you prefer a standalone rental, interactions with your host can be more personal than a hotel staff member.
A hotel is ideal if:
- You’re traveling for a special occasion. During a honeymoon, anniversary, graduation or birthday trip, you may want to have someone else cleaning the room. Eating out for celebratory meals is more exciting than cooking, and having access to hotel amenities like the pool or spa may be just what you need during a special getaway.
- You hate cleaning. Although some home rentals offer cleaning services, if you want the room cleaned daily, it’s best to stay at a hotel. Some travelers love coming back to a tidy room after a day out, and you probably won’t get that when staying at a home rental.
- You’re traveling alone, especially female travelers. It’s not that home rentals are unsafe, but hotels typically have stronger security measures: a reception staff 24/7 downstairs, possible key card access to elevators and extra locks on the door to ensure your safety. It’s not a given you’ll be 100% safe anywhere, but if you’re traveling alone, a hotel may be your best bet.
- You’re trying to get status in a hotel program. Obviously, if hotel status is important to you, stay in hotels. The more you stay, the more you get, and gaining elite status may award you things like late checkout, upgrades and free breakfast — all things that don’t come with a home rental.
- You’re traveling for business. If you’re on the road with a company, you’re looking for convenience. Things like late-night room service, fast Wi-Fi and daily housekeeping matter when you’re on the go with meetings and work. Hotels with a business center are also a plus if you need a quiet place to work, print or scan something. Technically, as you’re not on vacation, you may want to keep to your daily workout routine in the hotel gym, an amenity business travelers might appreciate. Another option to consider is Airbnb for Work, which could be ideal if you’re traveling with co-workers or have a long-term stay planned.
- Your flight home is late in the day. I’ve been in many situations where my home rental simply wasn’t able to hold my luggage for the day. Although a hotel won’t always let you have a late checkout, it’s usually no problem to leave your luggage at the hotel for the remainder of the day. This way, you can enjoy the rest of your stay without having to drag your bags around. Many hotels will let you continue to use their facilities for the day, meaning you can spend your afternoon at the pool, do a workout, shower in the locker rooms, then grab your stored luggage and be on your way.
Remember to choose your credit card wisely
If you’re booking a hotel: Use a co-branded hotel credit card to earn points associated with the hotel brand loyalty program. If you don’t book a brand hotel, you can still join the loyalty program at Hotels.com, which gives you one free night for every ten booked/stayed. Paying with your Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card and booking via Hotels.com/venture will earn 10 Venture miles per $1 spent. The card also offers perks like 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. And, the $95 fee is waived the first year.
If you’re booking a home rental: Use a flexible card that gives bonus points on travel, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. The card gives you 2x points on travel (and dining) and 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening with an annual fee of $95.
Also, in order to snap up those bonus points, make sure to book your home rental on a site that codes as travel. Although Airbnb rentals always code as travel, VRBO didn’t used to code as travel; it reportedly now does. I’ve heard situations from some readers saying it sometimes still codes as a real estate transaction. To be safe, Airbnb may be your best bet if you want to score those extra bonus points.
Other factors to consider:
- Pricing: Home rental can sometimes be a better deal than a hotel, but not always. It depends on several factors, like the size of the rental, the city you’re visiting and more. Do the research and look into both if pricing is important to you.
- Scams: Be aware that both hotels and home rentals can end up a scam. However, it’s more likely with a home rental. Make sure to read the reviews and consider using highly rated hosts. Communicate with hosts via the messaging feature on Airbnb to get a feel for whether or not they seem legitimate. Messaging hosts can also confirm details about check-in, leaving your luggage at checkout, directions to the property, etc. It’s a good idea to confirm with the host if the property is private or whether other guests will be staying there or not. Make sure you never provide payment information outside of the original home rental booking website. If you do any transaction outside of the official site, you can’t count on the home booking rental site to help you if any issues arise. This is also the case with hotels — make sure you’re always booking either on the official site or a well-known online travel agency to avoid scams.
- Your intuition: If a rental is extremely cheap but looks stunning, it’s probably too good to be true. Make sure the quality of the property matches the price so there won’t be any surprises.
- Reviews: Read reviews for both hotels and home rentals to avoid surprises. I especially recommend reading negative reviews. If the negatives state the host didn’t smile when he walked out, I don’t mind. If it says the hotel room was filled with cockroaches, I definitely won’t be booking it.
- Book rentals on hotel booking sites: Websites like Hotels.com and Booking.com also offer home rentals. This is a way you can take advantage of Hotels.com loyalty program or Genius discounts on Booking.com, but also stay in a rental home and not a hotel.
- Offers: Chase and American Express often have offers for Airbnb where you get a statement credit for charging a home rental to your card. Look for offers in your account pages to see if any match up with the timing of your reservations.
For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.