airbnb-vs-vrbo big differences cover image

If you are thinking of a family vacation rental, you may be considering VRBO vs Airbnb. While they aren’t the only vacation rental services on online accommodation marketplaces, they are two of the biggest players.

So, naturally, one of the questions I hear a lot when friends are considering private 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 and your family travel budget. 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 vacation rental services 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, vacation rentals can be a game-changer. It can also add a lot of value to single and couple travelers as well as 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! Both Airbnb and VRBO can offer you this with their vacation rentals, and that is something many travelers love.

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

Vacation rentals like VRBO and Airbnb have revolutionized the way we book vacations. While at one time we would have called a travel agent to find a place to stay, now most travelers can easily find a place to rent on vacation.

And on the flip side, if you have properties, you can earn some great rental income by renting them out on platforms like Airbnb and VRBO.

Our Experience

vacation home
A home rental may save you money on a family vacation on a budget. Photo credit: Bon Voyage With Kids

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 spot for private rentals.

And, I will tell you, after a long two-and-a-half-day road trip from New England to Florida, landing in a spacious vacation home with laundry and a kitchen was amazing.

The house 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 to book a place to stay from vacation rental sites 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 travel accommodations. But whether you go with Airbnb or VRBO, private rentals can give you more space, save you money, be healthier (with eating in), give you amenities like laundry and pools, and most importantly, space!

Especially when traveling in the time of COVID-19, an Airbnb or VRBO can allow you to vacation with a lot more peace of mind. Now, VRBO vs Airbnb- which is better for you? Let’s read on to find out!

VRBO VS Airbnb: 10 Big Differences

When my family or friends are thinking about vacation rental properties, they often ask me for my best tips or which company I prefer. But just because Airbnb and VRBO 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
Number of Listings
Cancellation and Refund Policies
Search Customization
Cleaning Fees
house rental on anna maria island
Property listings can vary depending on whether you use Airbnb, VRBO, or another home rental service.

VRBO VS Airbnb Difference #1: Accommodation Options

Both Airbnb and VRBO rental platforms allow you to choose different rental types during the booking process, but there are notable differences.

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

  • Single Homes and Private Residencesentire properties
  • Apartments/Condominiums
  • Shared Single Rooms or Private Rooms
  • Hotel Rooms

The nice thing is you can also filter by types of properties on the property listing page easily. You can choose from the different types of travel accommodations in your searches, such as entire places, private rooms, shared rooms, or even hotel rooms.

By contrast, VRBO rentals are different. VRBO’s rental types are only single units, though they can include entire properties or private residences, condos/apartments, cottages, tiny houses, beachfront cottages, and cabins — basically an entire property.  These are ideal for booking properties for beach, lake, and ski vacations, as well as some city destinations.

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 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.)

The Airbnb host network has double the number of active property listings – about 4 million listings currently – compared to VRBO’s 2 million listings. That’s a lot more listings. While VRBO offers fewer rentals, keep in mind that Airbnb also includes shared rooms, single private rooms, hotel rooms, long-term rentals, and short-term rentals.

Families traveling to traditional vacation destinations love sites like VRBO because they have tons of entire properties in areas popular with tourists.

VRBO offers 2 million current properties, but they are only individual units or entire homes. However, they also include long-term rentals and short-term rental properties.

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

  • High-quality homes are 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

On both Airbnb and VRBO vacation rental platforms, you book online. But their terminologies differ.

With the Airbnb booking process, 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 results 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 respective property listing.  In some cases, you can book instantly, and in others, the host (property owners) needs 24 hours to review the request before approving. 

Sometimes, the vacation home is managed by a property manager with whom you may be communicating instead of the property owners. This allows Airbnb and VRBO hosts to be hands-off, but don’t worry; the property managers are just as knowledgeable about where you are staying.

You may also see terms like “service fee,” “guest service fees,” or “cleaning fee.” You might even see “standard fee.” These can mean different things on each of the vacation rental platforms, so be sure and read the fine print.

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 property hosts. It also indicates the reviews have been excellent (which is very important), and they provide 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 results when you are considering Airbnb and VRBO.

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. Airbnb experiences are also very popular with city travelers. That’s because these experiences allow many travelers to completely immerse themselves in neighborhood experiences to get to know the area better.

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


There are two different Airbnb service fee 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% guest service fee. This is the most common type of setup.

In the other Airbnb fee structure, hosts pay the entire service fee. This tends to be reserved more for hotels and a few other types of property hosts.

Hosts may charge additional fees for cleaning, pets, etc.

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


Airbnb VS VRBO Difference #6: Reviews

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

However, on their vacation rental platform, 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 reviews on Airbnb do not offer the hosts a chance to respond on their rental platform, reading reviews is really important before you book a property. You can learn a lot from them!

Bottom line: Whether it’s VRBO reviews or Airbnb reviews, Read Them Every Time!!

VRBO VS Airbnb Difference #7: Refund and Cancellation Policies

Airbnb hosts set their refund and cancellation policy for each Airbnb listing.

Airbnb policies 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 a 50% refund on the nightly rate and the fee for cleaning, but not the service fees
  • Super Strict 60 days: If a booking is canceled 60 days before check-in, you get a 50% refund on the nightly rate and the cleaning fee minus the service fee

As you can see, Airbnb’s policies are pretty straightforward.

vacation-rentals-for-families-beachhouse and beach chairs

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

VRBO policies include:

  • 14/7 Day Cancellation Policy: A full refund is given if the booking is canceled longer than 14 days from check-in. A 50% refund is given if the 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 Cancellation Policy: A full refund is given if the booking is canceled longer than 30 days from check-in. A 50% refund is given if the 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 Cancellation Policy: A full refund is given if the booking is canceled longer than 60 days from check-in. A 50% refund is given if the 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 Cancellation Policy: A full refund is given if the 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 Cancellation Policies: Some properties create a custom cancellation policy for refunds.

VRBO’s policies are a little more complicated, so be sure to make note of them in case you need to cancel.

Important Note:

When you search for Airbnb and VRBO properties, 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.

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, the number of adults and kids, and if you are bringing pets. This is where VRBO shines, as the filters make it easier to find the specific type of property in the location you’re looking for.

VRBO boasts that you customize further by clicking “filter” to narrow down amenities like pools and wi-fi, set a budget, bedrooms or kitchens, cancellation policies, 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 option to select cancellation policy, type of place, price, and instant book to narrow your search. It also allows you to further customize your search for Airbnb properties, but it is less comprehensive.

You can still narrow your search by bedrooms and on-site amenities like kitchens and laundry. It also gives you the option 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.

That means, if you are on the hunt to rent a tiny house in New York or luxury rentals for your next vacation home, you can filter your search to find it!

You can get quite a narrow search result with Airbnb and find a perfect Airbnb property quicker, 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 Airbnb and VRBO, you can expect to find a cleaning fee added to the cost of the night 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 fee for cleaning is usually meant to cover a straightforward cleaning.

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 fees for cleaning are listed will differ at VRBO vs Airbnb.


At VRBO, you may see a “standard fee,” which can cover the cost of extra guests, pets, and cleaning. It can be above and beyond the service fees. 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 VRBO fees until you click “book now.”

On Airbnb, the cleaning fee is a straight-line item made clear in the initial quote. You will see the “cleaning fee” and “service fee” on top of the night 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 hosts are permitted 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 other Airbnb users 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 or property owner sets the night rate, and then they can customize it for busy times of the year, like holidays. But they do not use the flex pricing based on demand. You will also notice VRBO and Airbnb tack on occupancy taxes to the nightly price, just like traditional hotel rooms.

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

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 (Vrbo rentals and Airbnb rentals), the two platforms also have several similarities! Both companies:

  • Use an online platform and booking process to search for vacation rentals.
  • Both Airbnb and Vrbo offer excellent customer service and are available 24/7, which is nice if you have issues or questions. But often, people choose VRBO over Airbnb because they have better customer service. I assure you that VRBO customer service is great.
  • Provide secure communication with hosts
  • Both VRBO and Airbnb offer guarantees for peace of mind
  • Use maps to show where the property is located
  • Have A Trust and Safety Process
  • Both booking sites offer long-term rentals and short-term vacation rentals.

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

winter house airbnb-vs-vrbo
VRBO rents full units, unlike Airbnb, which can offer a range, including single rooms. Photo credit: Bon Voyage With Kids
There is a new player on the market called Vaycay My Way. Often, they have the same properties as VRBO and Airbnb. But, because they have a different service fee structure, you can often get the SAME PROPERTY for hundreds of dollars less. Check out VAYCAY My Way Here!


Which is better, VRBO or Airbnb?

Often, I am asked if, when considering Airbnb or VRBO, which is better for a family’s next trip. Sometimes, renters ask if going with a vacation rental by owner is a good idea or if they will save money rather than using these popular vacation rental sites.

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 directly to a rental property by the owner.

For one thing, you will have fewer vacation rentals to choose from. And you will have to deal directly with the host if you have an issue, rather than having a bigger company to help you with this.

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 between entire homes that are unique. VRBO presents many amazing, unusual properties.

Which is cheaper, VRBO or Airbnb?

If you’re wondering, “Is VRBO cheaper than Airbnb?” Again, this is not really easy to answer when you consider your options. 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, fees for cleaning, 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. Always check the VRBO and Airbnb reviews. Because cheaper doesn’t always mean better!

Is VRBO Owned By Airbnb?

No, VRBO is owned by the Expedia Group.

Why Is VRBO More Expensive Than Airbnb?

This is due to the fee structure and range of pricing options. See above for more details as to how this works. You can also check out Vaycay My Way, which may have the same property for less because their fee structure is different.

Although they have fewer rentals at the moment, they are a growing company. But whatever vacation rental property you go with Airbnb or VRBO property or another company, compare the service fees, as this is often why VRBO is more expensive than Airbnb or even Vaycay My Way.

Airbnb has more properties than VRBO, so based on that, you could say Airbnb is more popular. However, as stated here, both VRBO and Airbnb are great for different needs and different types of vacations for many travelers. Where you are headed may influence which company will better serve your needs as much as cost and whether VRBO is more popular than Airbnb.

Can Airbnb or VRBO be trusted? Which is safer VRBO or Airbnb?

Airbnb lists its “Trust and Safety” page, which addresses the steps it takes 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 its process for vetting to keep travelers and Vrbo property owners 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.

These safety policies cover things like payment assistance, emergency rebooking, property access assistance, and more.


Final Thought On VRBO VS Airbnb

When it comes to the Airbnb vs VRBO comparison, both are great companies to find vacation rental properties 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.

Whether you are looking for Airbnb or VRBO properties, you may find different options depending on the vacation you want. But we love renting an Airbnb or Vrbo property because we get more bang for our buck with the total reservation cost than traditional hotels and resorts. There are often hidden fees when you stay in traditional hotel rooms.

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

Like this post? Check out these!

Family Travel On A Budget: The Very Best Tips To Make Travel Affordable

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The 8 Best Things To Do In Provence With Kids

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