Airbnb may be the most recognizable name in short-term rentals, but it isn’t your only option for finding unique and affordable accommodations around the world.
From longtime players like Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), to niche newcomers like OneFineStay, we’ll explain the pros and cons of the most popular Airbnb alternatives.
They all stand out for different reasons. If you’re looking for a private room, a pet-friendly accommodation, or a more hotel-like experience, we’ll help you figure out the best site to use for your next trip.
Established Airbnb alternatives in the short-term rental market
These short-term rental sites have all been around for a while. Some even pre-dating Airbnb, and many are owned by larger travel companies.
Since Expedia purchased the HomeAway family of alternative lodging sites in 2015, property owners and travelers have complained about policy changes including increased service fees and a review process that requires approval by owners (potentially leading to the exclusion of negative reviews).
Overall, the websites of these next three short-term rental sites are visually similar, but they vary in terms of average price, extra fees, property selection, and target audience.
HomeAway offers “vacation rentals” and “vacation homes”, suggesting a target audience of leisure travelers seeking week-long beach house or cabin rentals. However, most listings have only a two or three-night minimum stay, so you could also use HomeAway for weekend getaways and other short trips.
There is an option to search for pet-friendly homes. As you move your mouse over each listing, the corresponding dot on the map lights up. This is helpful since many listing titles don’t mention a particular neighborhood.
When you book you only pay half the total upfront. You can take advantage of free cancellation for about a week after you book.
Extra fees don’t show until you request a reservation. For one sample listing I looked at, there was a $150 cleaning fee and a $140 service fee. Depending on the nightly rate, this could be the equivalent of paying for one or two additional nights.
VRBO calls itself “the most popular vacation rental site in the US” as well as a place to search for short-term rentals. When I browsed properties in NYC I saw some of the same listings as on HomeAway, but in general VRBO has lower nightly rates.
You can also search for pet-friendly rentals and enjoy the convenience of seeing a listing’s location on the map as you hover over it.
When you fill out the reservation request form, you’re told that “taxes and fees” are included in the total, but you have to click on “show details” to see the exact breakdown.
VRBO’s additional fees vary more than any other site I reviewed except for VacationRentals.com. Some owners ask for a cleaning fee and/or a refundable damage deposit. The amount of each is at the owner’s discretion. One listing I reviewed didn’t have a cleaning fee but it did ask for a refundable $400 damage deposit. A second option had a smaller damage deposit but also a cleaning fee. Many of the listing photos look like generic rentals rather than someone’s home.
VacationRentals.com seems geared more toward budget-conscious travelers. However, the nightly rates on listings I browsed in NYC and Rehoboth Beach, DE, weren’t significantly cheaper than HomeAway and VRBO. I did notice there were fewer NYC listings, suggesting this site is geared more toward beach houses and country getaways than short-term urban rentals. Many listings have a longer minimum stay threshold of five or seven nights.
As with HomeAway and VRBO, it’s easy to size up the location as you browse listings. And there is a free cancellation option for a certain period of time. You pay half of the total upfront and the second half prior to your arrival.
Listing photos suggest homes with more unique character/aesthetic appeal.
There is no pet option in the initial search bar. I didn’t understand why additional fees like “accidental waiver fee” and trip insurance are added to the total with no explanation or option for removal. What if you don’t want trip insurance? And that’s on top of tax and the service and processing fees, which seemingly should be combined.
FlipKey is a vacation rental site offering “rentals and private rooms for every kind of trip.” When you search for listings, the property’s TripAdvisor starred rating appears on each photo, as well as the distinction of “Certificate of Excellence” if applicable.
This makes it easy to scan a large number of listings and decide which ones to click on based on price and rating. Nightly rates are more in line with HomeAway and VRBO, ranging from $135 to close to $1,000. And like these sites, extra fees are added to the total, although it’s harder to see what you’re paying for (cleaning fee, tax, and booking fee).
Booking.com is like the kitchen sink of short-term rental sites. You can find everything here: hotels, apartments, bed and breakfasts, vacation homes, hostels and more. There are lots of options for narrowing your search to specific preferences or needs, such as pet-friendly properties or handicapped access. The cleaning fee of $50.00 for apartments is the lowest I’ve seen and the only additional fee besides taxes. Booking.com also promises additional discounts if you sign up for their email list.
The only downside to this site is that there are so many options, it can feel overwhelming. If your heart is set on a short-term rental (particularly the experience of staying in someone’s unique home), I’d suggest using a site that focuses solely on that type of accommodation. But if you love getting the best deal, Booking.com is a great way to compare all the types of lodging.
New options for niche experiences
Created in the wake of Airbnb’s success, these short-term rental sites offer more luxury and personalized service than the competition.
With hand-picked listings in international cities, OneFineStay offers a luxurious twist on the short-term rental business model. The company promises that all properties have been personally inspected by a staffer to ensure they are “well-designed,” “well-located,” and owner-occupied.
Indeed, the gorgeous listing photos seem to have been taken straight out of The New York Times’ real estate section. OneFineStay also provides concierge services you would find at a hotel. They offer services such as a personal greeting upon arrival, fresh linens and toiletries, and 24/7 support. You can pay for additional services including airport transfers, childcare, and grocery delivery.
The only downside is that this level of service and experience doesn’t come cheap. When I searched listings in NYC, I saw many more Manhattan properties than on other sites (which primarily had Brooklyn listings) and nightly rates averaged around $500. There were a few Brooklyn listings for around $300/night, but also many Manhattan listings for $1,000 and up. However, cleaning is included in the nightly rate, and there are no hidden fees added to your total upon booking.
Travelers who want a hotel’s level of service plus the unique experience of staying in someone’s home will enjoy OneFineStay. The higher nightly rates won’t be worth it every time you travel, but could be fun for a special occasion.
9flats is another small short-term rental site that promises its listings are all owner-occupied. Their objective, along with OneFineStay’s, seems to be to distinguish themselves from the many generic listings operated by property managers that appear on other sites.
There is only a small service fee added to the total. However, prices are in euros, so whatever you see will be more expensive in American dollars.
Calling itself “Europe’s biggest portal for city and holiday apartments,” Wimdu features properties all over the world and displays prices in US dollars so it’s easy for Americans to use. Like OneFineStay, Wimdu offers the assurance of verified properties and owners. However, it’s unclear if all properties are checked or just some of them.
There is a tax/service fee added to the total as well as a currency conversion fee if you’re paying with American dollars.
Since Airbnb’s founding in 2008, short-term rentals have become a popular alternative to hotels for travelers who want to save money and enjoy a more original, less touristy experience. Today’s short-term rental market is diverse with large and smaller companies offering many options to travelers.
Still, Airbnb remains the best place to find a private room if you don’t want an entire home to yourself. I recently used it to reserve a NYC apartment for a trip my family is planning with friends. We enjoyed the convenience of splitting the payment through Airbnb instead of one person making the reservation and waiting to be paid back.
Airbnb also has an edge over some of its competitors in offering “experiences” and restaurant booking through its site. However, I’m looking forward to trying Wimdu on my next trip to Europe. Plus, I think I’d enjoy the OneFineStay experience on a future special getaway.