Airbnb vs. VRBO: The Full Comparison
Whether you want a place to stay or you want to rent out your own home, you need to know the differences between the two best home listing sites in the industry.
Are you an intrepid traveler planning a vacation? A homeowner in need of extra income? A digital nomad looking for a remote working location?
No matter which you are, it’s the differences between Airbnb and Vrbo, otherwise known as Vacation Rental By Owner, that will help you make your decision.
We’ve compiled all of the information you need to make informed choices that work best for your unique situation.
Read on to see how Airbnb and Vrbo compare, so you’ll have a good idea of what to expect either as a renter or a guest.
What Are Airbnb and Vrbo?
If you aren’t familiar with one or both homestay rental sites, here’s a quick rundown on the basics of each.
Airbnb connects travelers with hosts who provide a wide range of lodging options. You can rent anything from a shared space in an occupied home to as much as an entire property — even a castle!
The service has 150 million users worldwide, and it all started in a spare room. The founders needed some extra cash, and there happened to be a significant event in town and no hotels. They rented out their spare room, and that has now grown into an approximately $35 billion company.
You can frequently book an Airbnb at the last minute, depending on availability. It’s an excellent option for travelers who are on the move as well as those that plan well in advance.
And Airbnb is an excellent choice for hosts who don’t own a separate vacation home or rental property, and even for those that do.
Vrbo has been matching tourists and travelers with vacation rental owners since 1995. They then have since merged with the Homeaway family of companies and have extended their reach even further.
Vrbo properties can be run by the homeowner or a property manager representing the homeowner (but you only qualify to use a property manager with the service if you hold more than 10 properties). Most of them are empty homes (i.e., no permanent resident lives in them) that are available for rent throughout the year.
Renters never share space with other lodgers or homeowners when staying in a Vrbo listing. Vrbo rentals are full space rentals, ranging from cool apartments to entire estates.
Airbnb vs. Vrbo: Rental Types
So what can you rent? From mobile homes to entire villas, there are a number of available spots for travelers to stay in.
Depending on your length and type of trip, you can choose between either Airbnb or Vrbo for the perfect place.
Airbnb offers all kinds of spaces from large to small and from renovated basements to luxury accommodations.
Here’s a look at Airbnb home types:
- Entire place: That’s precisely what you get — the whole place, including all bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, etc. You’re all on your own.
- Hotel room: This will be a private or shared room in a boutique hotel, hostel, bed and breakfast (which was a new offering made just last year), and the like.
- Private room: You get your own room, but you may share a bathroom, dining area, kitchen, and other communal areas.
- Shared room: You share your room with another person and that may include someone who lives there, another guest you don’t know, or a bed in a common area with other people.
When you choose a private room or a shared room, the owner or permanent occupants of the property may — and probably will — be onsite in the house or building you’re booking.
Airbnb veterans often find onsite residents to be a plus in their travel experience. So, if you’re considering renting out a room in your home, don’t worry — the private room option is popular with many travelers.
As far as listing types, Airbnb rentals are so diverse that every kind of home cannot be listed. Among many other things, there are treehouses and grounded planes available.
Here are the guidelines for what constitutes a good listing and what does not:
- The rental space is only meant for lodging (i.e., not a garage that also houses a car and storage boxes).
- Vessels like mobile homes and boats must have a permanent home, like a dock or campsite, that is permanently owned by the lister.
- The listing cannot be “a motor vehicle or watercraft intended for mobile use.”
Vrbo doesn’t offer shared spaces, and the owner is not present during the stay. Instead, Vrbo offers entire homes to rent. If the owner is also the property manager, they may meet the renter initially to transfer keys or may appear in the case of a maintenance issue, but on the whole, they aren’t around.
When a traveler books a Vrbo rental, they’re reserving the entire property.
While most Vrbos are houses, condos, or cabins, they have a wide array of listing types, including:
- Campsites if they “include a structure in one specific location”
Vrbo also rents mobile RVs under the condition that the RV is housed at a base location. The renter can take the RV elsewhere, but it has to always be returned to and rented from one place. From what I can tell, they’ve modeled this method after popular RV-sharing giant Outdoorsy.
Vrbo also allows timeshares to be rented as long as they are owned by an individual timeshare owner for a single specific location.
In the case of RVs, timeshares, yurts, and cabins, note that the company only allows one subscription listing per property and will need to see proof of ownership if more than one account tries to list a property at the same address.
This may be an issue if your cabin, RV, yurt, or timeshare is at an address that houses multiples of your rental type like a resort or campground.
Airbnb vs. Vrbo: Location and Market Base
So which one would work best for you? Your location could make a difference.
If you’re traveling to or want to rent out a place in an urban destination, Airbnb is a great option. Airbnb is popular with younger or very mobile travelers. People looking for a rental in the city will likely try Airbnb first.
Vrbo is a better option for resort destinations or natural vacation getaways, like beaches and mountain towns. It’s a popular choice for people looking to rent for more than a couple of days and wanting a space that will accommodate more than one or two people.
Airbnb vs. Vrbo: Renting Details
To feel comfortable in your temporary home, it’s important to be aware of a few details. Things like cleanliness, amenities, and even rules regarding pets are tiny details that make a big difference.
The pet policies for Airbnb and Vrbo are very similar. Both follow non-discrimination laws very closely as regards to assistance animals. Both leave the rest of the pet policy up to property owners.
If pets are allowed at a property, it’s designated as a House Rule under the amenities section of the property listing.
Assistance animals are allowed according to the nondiscrimination policy, unless pets threaten the health or life of the property owner. The rules for assistance animals include:
- Assistance animals include Emotional Support Animals.
- Renters do not have to tell the owner about the animal in advance.
- The owner cannot charge any additional fees for an assistance animal’s stay.
- Owners cannot ask for documentation or proof that an animal is a service animal.
If the owner already has a pet at the property, it will be indicated in the listing. The owner having a pet does not necessarily mean the guest can bring theirs as well.
Individual listings will vary in their pet policies, fees, amenities, and clean up expectations.
Vrbo’s policies are much the same as Airbnb’s, and properties accept assistance animals without documentation, extra fees, or prior notice. Accepting pets is also designated as an amenity and shows up as in the details of the listing.
Pet policies and fees will vary from listing to listing and are, with the exception of assistance animals, left up to the property owner.
Vrbo does have a helpful guide for property owners on how to build a pet policy that protects their interests.
Vrbo’s parent company, HomeAway, has the additional policy that owners have to comply with the assistance animal policy whether or not their neighborhood mandates or local laws prohibit the animal because of breed or weight.
As such, they encourage all homeowners and property managers to review their local laws before listing on Vrbo.
Neither service has a dedicated cleaning policy for guests. However, both have helpful guidelines for property owners.
Hosts on both platforms have the option to add cleaning fees, and the amount of those fees can be different for each host.
Cleaning expectations vary by the property owner, but it’s standard etiquette for guests to take responsibility for their dishes and general tidiness.
Hosts are responsible for providing clean accommodation and taking care of laundering linens and towels, as well as vacuuming after the guests leave.
Airbnb does not have an extensive list of cleaning expectations for hosts to meet before guest check-in. Airbnb’s hospitality guidelines remind hosts that there is a “cleanliness” rating that guests are asked to fill out after their stay.
Airbnb does give information and tips on providing a clean rental. Here is a synopsis:
- Clean all areas the guest can access
- Clean floors and surfaces of dust, mold, etc.
- Clean up trash and leftovers from previous guests
- Provide clean linens, towels, and amenities like toilet paper
Airbnb encourages hosts to charge a cleaning fee to cover the cost of cleaning supplies or of hiring a cleaning service.
It’s common for owners to ask for minimal cleaning in the checkout instructions. That might include putting trash in trash cans, leaving all of the used linens and towels in one area, and running the dishwasher.
Vrbo points out that your home has to be clean enough for guests, not just for you.
Their guidelines include details on how to clean the following rooms:
- Living room
- Laundry room and appliances
- Outside areas
- Must have items (like working light bulbs, brooms, plungers, etc.)
What Items Are Provided and What Should Guests Bring?
Airbnb used to leave that up to the hosts, but they have recently set rules that require hosts to provide certain essentials, like linens and towels.
Vrbo doesn’t have any absolute requirements, but their suggestions include almost everything a person would want in their home away from home. Right down to pancake mix and Tabasco sauce.
Airbnb vs. Vrbo: How to Book
Once you’ve found your perfect vacation rental, it’s time to place your booking. The following information explains the different options available, as well as any associated costs.
Hosts have the option of taking an instant booking on faith or of reviewing guests’ reservation and profile before approving.
If a host takes instant bookings, there will be an Instant Book button on the listing.
If the host wants to review the guest first, the button will say Request to Book. The host then has 24 hours to review the guest’s information and confirm the listing. The listing is instantly confirmed upon approval.
Savvy travelers will reach out to hosts before clicking either of those booking buttons. If a guest and host communicate beforehand, the host has the option of inviting the guest to book under pre-approval or a Special Offer.
Airbnb offers last minute booking, which typically comes at a higher price.
Airbnb handles all bookings and payments. They have extensive payment options that include international banks and credit cards.
Hosts have control of what kind of bookings they’ll take, including:
- How much notice they need
- Length of time a reservation can last (short-term rentals or long-term rentals)
- Questions to be answered by guests before they book
- Confirmation of the House Rules before accepting bookings
- Only allowing veteran Airbnb travelers with good ratings to book
- Only allowing guests that have shown Airbnb their government-issued ID
Airbnb also protects hosts with requirements for all guests.
Vrbo has last minute bookings as well. Some last minute bookings on Vrbo may even come with a discount rather than a penalty.
The booking process is similar to that of Airbnb, offering booking requests that require approval (Request to Book) and those you can book instantly (Instant Book).
Payments for Vrbo rentals do not have to be made through Vrbo/HomeAway, but they are highly recommended. If you pay outside of the HomeAway payment system, the company is no longer obligated to any guarantees.
Online payments for Vrbo rentals are processed through the HomeAway checkout platform and are usually protected by their Book With Confidence Guarantee.
Vrbo owners and property managers have two options for accepting bookings.
If they are set up as an Instant Book property, Vrbo automatically accepts bookings for available dates and then marks those dates off of your availability calendar.
When booking options are set up with a 24-hour confirmation, the owner has 24 hours to accept or reject the booking. If they don’t respond at all, Vrbo automatically rejects the reservation.
Airbnb vs. Vrbo: Costs and Fees for Owners and Hosts
Whether you decide to use Airbnb or Vrbo, read through of all the costs and fees you may incur before you list your property.
These will depend on the type of rental, total booking cost, and other extra services. We’ll look at several of the fee structures.
Online marketplaces often charge a listing fee, which is the amount you pay to be able to list your item or service on the site. Some may be flat fees or percentages. Some may even allow users to list for free.
Both Airbnb and Vrbo do not charge any listing fees. However, Vrbo offers hosts the option of an annual subscription of $499. Those with a subscription don’t have to pay the 5% booking fee — just the 3% fee for credit card or eCheck processing per booking — and will have access to other perks like more photos and a better user dashboard.
Commissions and Fees
Commission fees are usually percentages of the total charge, which the platforms take from each successful booking. There may also be fees for other guest services, payment charges, and taxes.
Airbnb charges hosts a fee of 3% of the subtotal (including host-generated fees like cleaning or pet fees). It can be more than 3% in certain countries or when the host levies heavy fees, restrictions, or complicated cancellation policies.
Airbnb also has a 20% host service fee for Airbnb Experiences, although hosts who participate in nonprofit partnerships can have this waived.
On Vrbo, those who do not opt for the subscription model have to pay Vrbo a 5% commission on the Pay Per Booking model plus a 3% payment processing fee.
Airbnb reports your rental history to the IRS regardless of how many nights your rental was booked for. Vrbo may or may not send you a 1099 form, so it’s best to follow up with them to confirm.
Depending on how often you rent your property and how meticulous your record keeping is, renting could help you or hurt you come tax time.
There are several deductions you could claim, but you also have to be careful not to book more often than you can afford. If you book just over 14 days, you might not make a profit at all. There are some fine lines.
If you rent out your home for 14 days or less per year, you don’t have to report it as income to the IRS. But you may need to send documentation to the IRS, in addition to a letter to use this loophole.
The tax rules are complicated, so it’s best to check with the IRS for more details.
Airbnb vs. Vrbo: Costs for Guests
Guests are also required to pay certain percentages to the platforms for use and service. This is usually a percentage of the total fee, as well as any additional services and taxes.
Airbnb charges guests anywhere from 0-20% of the subtotal before Airbnb fees and taxes.The percentage depends on the listing. The higher the cost of the listing, the lower the percentage on average.
Some guest fees may look like they’re over 20% when guest service fees and Value Added Tax (VAT) are factored.
Under HomeAway, Vrbo guests are charged a service fee of 6-12% of the reservation total. Like Airbnb, the higher the rental price, the lower the percentage on average.
Vrbo also charges the required VAT. And hosts can charge additional fees for cleaning, pets, and other services and amenities.
Airbnb vs. Vrbo: Cancellations and Refunds
In the case of any cancellations and refunds, guests may be required to pay a percentage of the total booking cost as a way to make up for any lost sales on the part of the owner.
Airbnb offers hosts three standard types of cancellation policies, ranging from flexible to strict and three individual circumstance policies to choose from, all of which tend to be strict in favor of the host.
Under the Flexible policy, guests can get a full refund if they cancel the booking within 24-48 hours before the check-in time. Each policy has multiple rules and requirements.
Vrbo has five cancellation policies: relaxed, moderate, firm, strict, and no refund. Vrbo policies aren’t as complicated as Airbnb’s, but you may want to review the details of each.
Under the Relaxed plan, guests can get a full refund if they cancel 14 days before the check-in date. They are given a 50% refund for cancelling within 7 days of the check-in date. The service does not mention a grace period from the time of booking.
Choosing a Place to Stay
You’ve just taken in a lot of information about each service. Now you need to determine which service is right for you. Defining the pros and cons of each is up to each guest and each host.
Consider your lifestyle, financial situation, and other pertinent factors when you look at each of the sections above. And don’t forget to consider your personality.
Can you share space with others or do you need your privacy? Do you mind leaving strangers alone in your home? These are essential questions to ask yourself.