Big Differences Between VRBO vs Airbnb: A Complete Comparison

If you are thinking of a family vacation rental, you may be considering VRBO vs Airbnb. While they aren't the only ones in the vacation rental home market, they are two of the biggest players.

So, naturally, one of the questions I hear a lot when friends are considering vacation rentals is, “Airbnb vs VRBO –  What's the difference? Which one should we choose? Which vacation rental site is best?”

And those are tough questions. Because it really depends on your family and your needs. We have done both, and both Airbnb and VRBO are great for different reasons.

But, let's take a look at the differences between Airbnb and VRBO to help you identify which rental site might be right for you.

This post contains affiliate links which means I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you should you make a purchase using this link. See my disclaimer. Featured photo credit: Cheryl Casey | iStock by Getty

Why Choose A Vacation Rental With Airbnb or VRBO

Your home away from home!

When you are traveling with a large family, be it a multigenerational family, parents, and kids, and especially with babies and toddlers, a vacation rental can be a game-changer. It can also add a lot of value to single and couple travelers as well, or groups of friends traveling together. Why?

For one thing, vacation homes can save you money and help keep you within your travel budget. Having a kitchen, kitchenette, and even laundry can help you make meals and wash clothes in your “home away from home”, saving you eating out and laundry costs. And when traveling with kids, laundry is a must (not to mention an easy breakfast in the morning).

Plus, you can get an entire place for yourself! Now, some vacation rentals can be in shared spaces, but often families book them to get a large, entire place big enough for the whole family to have lots of space and amenities!

Every time our family has rented a vacation home, it has been well worth it. For the last two years, we took a trip to Anna Maria Island Florida, a popular vacation rental spot.

The vacation rental was large enough for several families (and maybe even more with an air bed.) This allowed grandparents to come and stay, giving us a much richer vacation.

Ski trips are also another popular vacation rental vacation because you have so much ski gear. It can be very helpful to have your own space when traveling to ski destinations.

We have also done it in London, and that has saved so much money on accommodations. But whether you go with Airbnb or VRBO, having a vacation rental can give you more space, save you money, be healthier (with eating in), give you accommodations like laundry and pools, and most importantly, space!

Especially traveling in the time of Covid, an Airbnb or VRBO can allow you to vacation with a lot more peace of mind. Now, Airbnb vs VRBO – which is better for you? Let's read on to find out!

VRBO VS Airbnb: 10 Big Differences

beach chairs multiple colors
Photo credit: stock image via Canva

When my family or friends are thinking about a vacation rental property, they often ask me for my best tips or which company I prefer. But just because they are different, doesn't mean one is better than the other.

It may just be that VRBO or Airbnb is better suited for the particular vacation you are booking. And, while the two platforms are online and will help you find a great place to stay, there are some notable differences that may influence your decision.

VRBO VS Airbnb: Differences At A Glance
Accommodations
Number of Listings
Terminology
Experiences
Fees
Reviews
Cancellation and Refund Policies
Search Customization
Pricing
Cleaning Fees

VRBO VS Airbnb Difference #1: Accommodation Options

Both Airbnb and VRBO rental platforms allow you to choose the type of accommodation, but there are notable differences.

Airbnb offers a range of accommodations on its site. They include:

  • Single homes
  • Apartments/Condominiums
  • Private or Shared Rooms
  • Hotel Rooms

You can choose accommodation types in your searches such as entire place,  a private room, shared room, or hotel room.

By contrast, VRBO properties are different. VRBO offers only single units, though that can include an entire home, condo/apartment, cottage, and cabin.  These are ideal for booking properties for beach, lake, and ski vacations, as well as some city locations.

Fun fact: On VRBO, you can also rent unique single properties, like houseboats, tree houses, and even castles! But, given Airbnb's variety of options, they are ideal for city stays, especially abroad in big cities like in Europe.

house in a tree
Photo credit: stock image via Canva
Our Experience
For booking beach and ski houses and condos, for which we want a private space and certain amenities, we have had more luck with VRBO. However, we found better luck in London with Airbnb, finding a flat in the area of the city we wanted to stay.

Airbnb VS VRBO Difference #2: Number of listings

VRBO was founded in 1995 and has properties in over 190 countries. Airbnb was founded in 2007 (though some say founded in 2008) and has properties in over 190 countries as well (220 countries and regions to be exact.)

Airbnb has about double the number of active listings – about 4 million listings currently – compared to VRBO's 2 million listings. However, keep in mind that Airbnb also includes shared rooms, single rooms, hotel rooms, long term rentals, and short term rentals.

Whereas VRBO's 2 million current properties are only individual units but they also include long term rentals and short term rental properties.

With Airbnb, there are a few different options targeting specific rental needs. If you want:

  • High-quality homes, uniquely designed, choose Airbnb Plus.
  • Extraordinary, high-end homes in specific worldwide locations, choose Airbnb Luxe.
  • Properties targeted for work retreats and work travelers, choose Airbnb For Work.
European chateau
Photo credit: Stock image by Canva

Airbnb VS VRBO Difference #3: Terminology

In both cases with the Airbnb and VRBO rental platforms, you book online. But their terminologies differ.

With Airbnb, you can “reserve” your booking but it typically requires you to wait for the property owner to approve. If you only want properties you can instant book, you can select “instant book.”

In the same way, VRBO offers you the opportunity to filter your search by a variety of options, including whether you want to book with “instant confirmation” or “24-hour confirmation.”

lady stretching and looking out window in hotel room
Photo credit: Stock image via Canva

But whether you “request a booking” or “book right away” depends on the property.   In some cases, you can book instantly and in others, the host (property owners) need 24 hours to review the request before approving. 

Sometimes, the vacation home is managed by a property manager with whom you may be communicating.

Airbnb and VRBO use different terminology, but by and large, they are the same concept.  

In the same way, you may see VRBO's Super Hosts or Airbnb's Premier Partners. Both of these indicate experienced hosts. It also indicates the reviews have been excellent (which is very important), and they have provided a high-quality guest service for renters.

There are a few other terminologies that offer the same concept but are referred to differently, but these are the main ones to look for in your search when you are considering Airbnb and VRBO.

BVWK Tip
Be sure to read the reviews before booking a property. This can tell you a lot about the guest service, the property itself, the neighborhood, cleanliness, and what it was like to stay in this rental. Bottom line: READ THE VRBO and Airbnb REVIEWS!

Airbnb VS VRBO Difference #4: Experiences

Airbnb offers a service of “experiences” – both online and in-person – that you can book. These are things you can book to tour the place you are visiting, often with a local who acts as a guide.  

Currently, Airbnb offers online experiences, local in-person guided experiences, and multi-day adventures. The adventures are multi-day trips, led by local guides, that include stays, experiences, and meals. 

VRBO is not currently offering anything like Airbnb's experiences. So when it comes to VRBO vs Airbnb in this department? Clearly, Airbnb wins!

Airbnb VS VRBO Difference #5: Service Fees

Both Airbnb and VRBO will charge a percentage of service fees on the base price of the rental, not including tax. These will vary and so you want to check these carefully.  Often these fees cover costs of cleaning, payment processing, and customer service.  

vacation-rentals-for-families-house-with-palm-trees

Airbnb has two different service fees options.

One is the split fee where part of the fee is charged to the property owner and part is charged to the guest. Airbnb states most guests pay under 14.2% service fee. This is the most common type of setup.

The other type of service fee is entirely consumed by the property owner. This tends to be reserved more for hotels and a few other types of hosts.

By contrast, VRBO only lists its service fees as a percentage of the amount of the subtotal. It is reported to vary between six to 15% of the subtotal.

Vrbo

Airbnb VS VRBO Difference #6: Reviews

Both Airbnb and VRBO allow guests 14 days to leave a review on their experience.

However, VRBO guests can leave a review and it allows the host 14 days to respond to the review. Airbnb does not.

This is great for a number of reasons. It protects the host from getting a false bad review and it also allows them to put context around the VRBO guests' reviews if it is necessary.

It also will give you a sense of the host and how they will respond to any concerns that might come up during your stay. On the flip side, it may deter guests from leaving a fully honest review.

But although Airbnb reviews do not offer the hosts a chance to respond, reading reviews is really important before you book a property. You can learn a lot from them!

Bottom line: Read The Reviews Every Time!!

VRBO VS Airbnb Difference #7: Cancellation and Refund Policies

An Airbnb host sets their cancellation and refund policy for their property.

Options include:

  • Flexible: Free cancellation until 24 hours before check-in
  • Moderate: Free cancellation until five days before check-in
  • Strict: Free cancellation for 48 hours after booking, if canceled before 14 days prior to check-in
  • Long term: Free cancellation for 48 hours after booking, if canceled 28 days before check-in
  • Super Strict 30 days: If booking is canceled 30 days before check-in, you get 50% refund on the nightly rate and the cleaning fee, but not the service fees
  • Super Strict 60 days: If booking is canceled 60 days before check-in, you get 50% refund on the nightly rate and the cleaning fee, but not the service fee
vacation-rentals-for-families-beachhouse and beach chairs

VRBO also allows hosts to choose their cancellation and refund policy.

Options include:

  • 14/7 Day Policy: 100% refund is given if booking is canceled longer than 14 days from check in. A 50% refund is given if booking is canceled more than 7 days from check in, less the service fees. No refund is available less than 7 days before check-in.
  • 30/14 Day Policy: 100% refund is given if booking is canceled longer than 30 days from check in. A 50% refund is given if booking is canceled more than 14 days from check in, less the service fee. No refund is available less than 14 days before check-in.
  • 60/30 Day Policy: 100% refund is given if booking is canceled longer than 60 days from check in. A 50% refund is given if booking is canceled more than 30 days from check in, less the service fees. No refund is available less than 30 days before check-in.
  • 60 Day Policy: 100% refund is given if booking is canceled longer than 60 days from check in. No refund is given under 60 days.
  • No Refund Policy: No refunds are given
  • Custom Policy: Some properties create a custom refund policy.

Important Note:

When you search for a property in both Airbnb and VRBO, you can filter the search based on the cancellation policy. And, because these cancellation policies are set by the host, it is important to check them as they vary by property.

BVWK Tip
Make sure you take note of the cancellation policies for whichever property you book. Things can come up where you may not be able to attend the trip. Bottom Line: You want to make sure you are very clear on what your obligation will be should you need to cancel your trip or vacation rental to protect your investment.

VRBO VS Airbnb Difference #8: Search Customization

Airbnb and VRBO differ in the search customization process. This makes it a bit tricky to compare and contrast properties.

VRBO Customization

VRBO initial search includes dates, number of adults, kids and if you are bringing pets.

To customize further, on VRBO you click “filter” to narrow down amenities like pools and wi-fi, set a budget, bedrooms or kitchens, cancellation policy, house rules, neighborhood, area amenities, rating, and more. It is a very detailed customizable search.

In fact, you have 25 types of properties to choose from (from an apartment to a farmhouse to a yacht); 14 different location types (beach, woods, etc.); nearby activities (golf courses, gyms); safety and accessibility, and more. So, if you are planning a family trip, these details will really give you a custom search to suit your needs.

Airbnb Customization

By contrast, Airbnb's initial search function offers you the options to select cancellation policy, type of place, price, and instant book to narrow your search. It also allows you to further customize your search, but it is less comprehensive.

You can still narrow your search by bedrooms, on site amenities like kitchens and laundry. It also gives you the options to filter your search by verified property, 18 different property types, unique stays (like a tiny house, dome house, farm stay, etc.) house rules, and host language.

You can get quite a narrow search result with Airbnb but not as much as with VRBO.

London row houses
Photo credit: stock image by iStock by Getty via Picmonkey

VRBO VS Airbnb Difference #9: Cleaning Fees

At both VRBO and Airbnb, you can expect to find a cleaning fee added to the cost of the nightly rate. These will also vary by property, as they are set by the hosts.

One of the reasons they will vary will depend of course on whether the host outsources the cleaning to a company, or does it themselves, and what it takes to cover those costs. In addition, travel in 2021 and beyond brings with it additional cleaning and sanitation measures which adds cost.

And, on top of that, there may be additional costs associated with a property that allows pets or smoking, is near a beach, and so forth. That said, the cleaning fee is usually meant to cover a straightforward clean.

You can incur additional cleaning fees on your credit card if say you leave the property a mess, don't follow the proper check-out procedures, break or stain things, and don't follow the rules (i.e. you bring a pet to a no-pet accommodation.)

The way the cleaning fees are listed will differ at VRBO vs Airbnb.

Vrbo

At VRBO, you may see a “standard fee” which can cover the cost of extra guests, pets, and cleaning. The host may also add a “custom fee” on top of that depending on what is not covered in the “standard fee.”

These are set by the host, so check each properly carefully. You won't know these fees until you click “book now.”

On Airbnb, the cleaning fee is a straight line item made clear on the initial quote. You will see the “cleaning fee” and “service fee” on top of the nightly rate.

Like VRBO, these cleaning fees are set by the host and will differ by property.

VRBO VS Airbnb Difference #10: Accommodation Pricing

So, this is one of the most important differences to note.

Airbnb Pricing

Airbnb allows its hosts to set “Smart Pricing.” What this means is that the accommodation's nightly rate will automatically go up and down based on demand.

The host will set the minimum and maximum rates for their property, but you could pay anywhere within that range.

Yes, this means if you and everyone else loves that beach house, and the system can see many people clicking on it, you may pay more for it than you might during a time when it wasn't so popular. It has less to do with location and time of year and more based on demand for that specific property.

The reality is, though, these will go hand in hand.

Hosts can also set custom pricing, say for a very busy time of year or they can set fixed pricing. So not all properties will have “Smart Pricing.” It is just an option available to the hosts, and something to keep in mind.

row of colorful beach cottages
Photo credit: MikeVanSchoonderwalt | iStock by Getty

VRBO Pricing

With VRBO, the host sets a nightly rate, and then they can customize it for busy times of year like holidays. But they do not use the flex pricing based on demand.

Like Airbnb, VRBO hosts can opt to increase prices over certain dates, but it is not based on the system changing the price automatically simply by demand.

BVWK Tip
Did you know that you can use your credit card to save money on booking an Airbnb and VRBO? Check with your credit card company to verify the options. Some allow you to use your credit card points to book your stay, some offer you cash back for booking a VRBO or Airbnb stay, some allow you to earn additional reward points for booking using your credit card, and others allow you additional credit card perks. You may even be able to use credit card rewards to earn Airbnb or VRBO gift cards. So don't overlook this option as an additional money saving tip for booking an Airbnb and VRBO.

VRBO VS Airbnb Similarities

While there are some notable differences between them, the two platforms also have several similarities! Both companies:

  • Use an online platform to search for vacation rentals
  • Have 24/7 customer service
  • Provide secure communication with hosts
  • Use maps to show where the property is located
  • Have A Trust and Safety Process
  • Both rental sites offer long term rentals and short term rental properties

Check out my 12 Essential Tips For Booking Vacation Rentals For Families!

mountain house in the woods
Photo credit: Shaiith | iStock by Getty

FAQ's

Which is better VRBO or Airbnb?

Often I am asked if when considering between Airbnb or VRBO, which is better for a family's next trip. And sometimes people ask if going with vacation rental by owner is a good idea or will save money rather than using rental sites like these.

As you can see from above, there are differences between Airbnb and VRBO. Which is better depends on your needs and your family, as well as your location. But, I do think it is best to go through rental sites like VRBO and Airbnb for all of the protections, rather than going direct to a vacation rental by owner.

One other note is that VRBO's parent company is Home Away, which is also part of the Expedia Group. So choosing a company like VRBO or Airbnb will offer you a different guest service experience and protection than a private owner.

For short term rentals for families, and especially city stays in Europe or unique farm stays, I would go with Airbnb. But for longer stays, beach houses, ski houses, and some city stays – or if you want a unique home like a castle – VRBO is what I would choose.

Which is cheaper VRBO or Airbnb?

Again, this is not really easy to answer when you consider VRBO vs Airbnb. There are so many factors to consider, and the difference between Airbnb and VRBO is not always straightforward. And so much is determined by the property owners, including nightly rates, cleaning fees, credit card fees, etc.

So you could find a property with a cheaper nightly rate but a bigger cleaning fee, and end up paying more. The best thing to do is gather tips and do your research no matter if you choose Airbnb or VRBO.

Can Airbnb or VRBO be trusted?

Airbnb lists their “Trust and Safety” page, which addresses the steps they take to keep travelers and property owners as safe as possible. See their trust and safety page for the details.

VRBO also has a “Trust and Safety” page, to share their process for vetting to keep travelers and hosts as safe as possible. See their trust and safety page for the details. They also include a “Book With Confidence Guarantee” for individuals who book and pay on their site.

Vrbo

Final Thought On VRBO VS Airbnb

Both VRBO and Airbnb are great companies to find a vacation rental and a great place to stay for your home away from home. Which one is best for your family will depend on a variety of factors.

This includes your budget, type of property you want, and family needs. It also depends on vacation type. Either way, do your research, read reviews, and read the fine print carefully to make sure you find the best vacation rental for your next trip with an Airbnb and VRBO property.

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