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NerdWallet: 6 vacation rental alternatives to Airbnb

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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet

Maybe you have experienced your own horror story at an Airbnb
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rental. Maybe you are sick of the high cleaning fees and poor cancellation policies. Maybe you’re comparison shopping for an upcoming trip.

Whatever the reason, it’s worth considering other vacation rental platforms beyond the biggest one in the industry.

Airbnb is truly a behemoth. Data from Second Measure, a company that tracks transaction trends, estimates that Airbnb accounted for 19% of the entire accommodation market in 2018, including hotels and vacation rental competitors. And the pandemic likely expanded Airbnb’s slice of the pie: Longer-term stays among untethered workers boosted the platform’s revenue in 2021, according to a 2021 shareholder letter.

In other words, Airbnb holds a monopolistic grip on the vacation rental industry, making it hard for travelers to find good competitors. Unlike the hotel industry, which enjoys healthy competition, the vacation rental world is populated by Airbnb — and everybody else.

Yet some of these competitors offer meaningful Airbnb alternatives to travelers with specific needs. Those looking for glamping options might consider Hipcamp, while those looking for high-quality urban rentals should consider a site like Booking. Each has its own limitations and drawbacks. Here’s a closer look at the best alternatives to Airbnb.

The best sites like Airbnb

1. Vrbo

Good: Powerful search tools. Many listings aren’t not available on Airbnb.

Bad: Confusing cancellation policies. Only standalone houses (no shared spaces).

Use it when: You want to comparison shop.

Vrbo, in many ways, is the Lyft
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to Airbnb’s Uber. It doesn’t share the same ubiquitous name recognition, but it is indistinguishable from its competitor in many ways.

Vrbo plays second fiddle for a reason. It offers far less selection in most markets and has more confusing, user-unfriendly cancellation policies and customer support.

But it’s always a good idea to check Vrbo and comparison shop when searching for a rental home. Some listings are available on both platforms and are sometimes cheaper on Vrbo. Plus, Vrbo’s search function includes a “total price” option that lets you compare the real cost of a rental, including cleaning and other fees.

In most cases, it makes sense to check Vrbo as an Airbnb alternative, especially during peak travel dates when Airbnb listings might be scarce.

Also see: Spirit Airlines cuts some spring, summer flights to head off weather disruptions

2. Booking

Good: More professionally managed properties. Loads of international properties.

Bad: Limited portfolio. Little charm or personality.

Use it when: You’re looking for hassle-free accommodation when traveling internationally.

Booking.com is known internationally as a major flight and hotel search tool. It also offers vacation rentals.

Many of the properties, especially in major international cities, are for apartments in professionally-managed buildings. This means the accommodations often lack the charm and character of some of Airbnb’s more colorful listings. It also means that booking and checking into these apartments is less of a hassle.

While Booking may not be as well-known stateside as other rental platforms, it’s a good option to keep in mind, especially when traveling abroad.

3. Hipcamp

Good: Cheap, quirky.

Bad: Rustic. Quality control might be an issue.

Use it when: You’re looking for a cheap and interesting crash pad on the road.

Hipcamp is, as the name implies, a camping reservation platform. It also includes “glamping” options like Airstream trailers and yurt rentals that make it a solid cheaper alternative to Airbnb for travelers seeking a rustic experience.

For the crunchier among us, Hipcamp may be the right choice.

Hipcamp

It can be a great option for budget travelers looking for a bare-bones place to rest their heads or adventurous travelers looking for something especially offbeat. And, of course, it’s good for camping.

Also see: Inside Airbnb’s high-profile, if sometimes frustrating, effort to house Ukrainian refugees

4. Marriott Homes and Villas

Good: Earn and redeem Marriott
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Bonvoy points, high quality standards.

Bad: Very limited portfolio, low point value for redemptions.

Use it when: You want to use points.

The hotel mega-brand Marriott launched a home rental business in 2019 that has quietly gained popularity among frequent travelers. The biggest draw is the ability to earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points for vacation rentals, which opens a world of possibilities for travel rewards enthusiasts.

Airbnb and most of its competitors lack rewards programs, making it difficult (or impossible) to book a vacation rental for “free” using points. Marriott Bonvoy points, on the other hand, are relatively easy to earn through credit cards and transfer partnerships.

That said, the redemption value for using Bonvoy points to book through the Homes and Villas program isn’t always the best. Compare the cash and point costs of booking a rental to make sure it’s a good value.

5. Hopper

Good: Simple and easy.

Bad: Mobile only.

Use it for: Finding accommodation on the go.

Known as a user-friendly travel booking platform, the mobile app Hopper launched a vacation rental program in 2022. Remarkably, it already boasts 2 million bookable homes across the globe.

Hopper’s big selling point is its simplicity and user-friendliness. The app is fast, easy to use and less cluttered than most vacation rental platforms.

But simplicity cuts both ways. Its mobile-only limitation makes it hard to comparison shop by switching between browser tabs or to share information with travel buds who don’t have the app.

Hopper’s product is new and might require some ironing out to become a serious competitor to Airbnb. But it’s worth checking out.

Read: How to rent an RV for your next great road trip

6. Local vacation rental management companies

Good: Supports local businesses and hosts.

Bad: It’s a crapshoot.

Use it when: Local laws regulate vacation rentals.

Have you ever checked into an Airbnb and been asked by a host to avoid talking to neighbors? That’s likely because the vacation rental is forbidden by local law or the property’s homeowners association.

Popular vacation towns often sport their own local rental management companies. For example, the town of Seabrook, Washington, is composed primarily of vacation rentals that are rented and operated by the town itself.

Local rental companies tend to be on the up and up with the community in ways Airbnb might not be.

If you’re having trouble finding vacation rentals through the platforms listed above, it’s worth doing a quick internet search to see if any local operations exist.

The bottom line

Airbnb maintains a firm hold on the vacation rental space. Indeed, “getting an Airbnb” is often shorthand for booking a vacation rental.

If you’re dissatisfied with the cost, functionality or safety of the behemoth, good alternatives to Airbnb do exist. None can match the big fish in terms of pure size, but each satisfies a particular travel niche.

Always consider the final cost, including taxes and fees, when comparison shopping among sites like Airbnb (e.g., Booking versus Vrbo) as the extra fees can add up in a hurry.

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Sam Kemmis writes for NerdWallet. Email: skemmis@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @samsambutdif.

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