VRBO vs Airbnb: A Complete Look At Which Is Best For Your Family

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 are great for different reasons.

But, let's take a look at the differences between Airbnb and VRBO to help you identify which 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

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 both platforms are online and will help you find a rental, 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

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

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

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

By contrast, VRBO only rents 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 house boats, 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

Airbnb has about double the number of active listings currently as VRBO. However, keep in mind that Airbnb also includes private rooms, shared rooms, and hotel rooms whereas VRBO is only listing individual units.

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 Airbnb and VRBO, you book online. But their terminologies differ.

With Airbnb, you can “reserve” your booking but it typically requires you to wait for the host to approve. If you only want properties you can instantly 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 needs 24 hours to review the request before approving. 

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, have great reviews, and have provided a high-quality experience for guests.

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.

Airbnb VS VRBO Difference #4: Experiences

Airbnb uniquely 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 similar.

Airbnb VS VRBO Difference #5: 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 fee options. One is the split fee where part of the fee is charged to the host and part is charged to the guest. Airbnb states most guests pay under 14.2% service fee. This is the most common type of set up.

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

By contrast, VRBO only lists their service fee 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 allows the host 14 days to respond to the view. Airbnb does not.

This is great for a number of reasons. It protects the host from getting a false bad review and also allows them to put context around the guest review 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 flipside, it may deter guests from leaving a fully honest review.

In either case, reading reviews is really important before you book a property.

VRBO VS Airbnb Difference #7: Cancellation and Refund Policies

Airbnb allows their hosts to set 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 fee
  • 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. They 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 fee. 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 fee. 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 policies are set by the host, it is important to check them as they vary by property.

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.

Beatiful brick boat house with glass door walkout deck and attached dock.

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 straight forward clean.

You can incur additional cleaning fees if say you leave the property a mess, don't follow 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 their 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.

A host could opt to increase prices over certain dates, but it is not based on the system changing the price automatically simply by demand.

VRBO VS Airbnb Similarities

While there are some notable differences between VRBO and Airbnb, the platforms also have several similarities! Both VRBO and Airbnb:

  • 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

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

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

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better VRBO or Airbnb?

As you can see from above, there are differences. But one is not necessarily better than the other. It depends on your needs.

For shorter stays 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. There are so many factors to consider. And so much is determined by the host, including nightly rates, cleaning 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.

Can Airbnb or VRBO be trusted?

Airbnb lists their “Trust and Safety” page, which addresses the steps they take to keep travelers and hosts 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 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 family.

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