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 best platforms 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 one 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 have 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.
If you aren’t familiar with one or both trip booking services, here’s a quick rundown on the basics of each:
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 a 38 billion dollar company.
You can book an Airbnb at the last minute depending on availability. It’s an excellent option for travelers that are on the move as well as those that plan well in advance.
Airbnb is an excellent choice for hosts that don’t own a separate vacation home or rental property and even for those that do.
VRBO properties can be run by the homeowner or a property manager representing a homeowner. Most of them are empty homes awaiting rental for most of the year.
Renters never share space with other lodgers or homeowners when staying in a VRBO listing.
So, what can you rent?
Airbnb offers all kinds of spaces from large to small, from grandma’s basement 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.
Private room – you get your own room, but you may share bathrooms, dining area, kitchen, grounds, and other communal areas.
Shared room – you share your room with another person and that may include someone who lives there or another guest you don’t know, or you may sleep 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 or in the house or building you are 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. Suffice to say, there are treehouses and grounded planes available among many other things.
Last year, Airbnb announced that they also now welcome boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts to list on the platform.
That said, here are the guidelines for what constitutes a good listing and what does not:
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 for a transfer of 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 are reserving the entire property.
While most VRBOs are houses, condos, or cabins, they have a varied array of listing types:
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 be returned and always rented from one place.
VRBO also allows timeshares to be rented as long as it is “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.
This may come into play if your cabin, RV, yurt, or timeshare is at an address that houses multiples of your rental type like a resort or campground.
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 travelers and travelers on the go. People looking for a rental in the city will likely try Airbnb first.
VRBOs do well in resort destinations or traditional natural vacation spots like beaches and mountain towns. It’s a popular choice for people looking for more than a couple of days to rent and for a space that will accommodate more than one or two people.
The pet policies for Airbnb and VRBO are very similar. Both follow non-discrimination laws very closely as regards to assistance animals. Both leave most of the pet policy making to property owners.
If pets are allowed at a property, it is designated as an amenity and shows up as “Pets Allowed” in the list of amenities on the property listing.
If the owner already has a pet at the property, it will be indicated in the listing. Whether or not the owner has a pet does not necessarily mean the guest can bring theirs in as well.
Individual listings may vary in their pet policies, fees, amenities, and clean up expectations.
VRBO’s policies are much the same as Airbnb’s. Accepting pets is also designated as an amenity and shows up as “Pets Welcome” in the amenities section 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.
Like Airbnb, assistance animals are to be accepted without documentation, extra fees, or prior notice.
HomeAway (VRBO’s parent company) 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. They point you to reviewing your local laws before listing with 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 is 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 have left.
Airbnb does not have an extensive list of cleaning expectations for hosts to meet before every guest check-in. Airbnb’s hospitality guidelines remind hosts that there is a “cleanliness” rating that guests are asked to rate after their stay.
Airbnb does give information and tips on providing a clean rental. Here is a synopsis:
Airbnb encourages hosts to charge a cleaning fee to cover the cost of cleaning supplies or of hiring a cleaning service.
It is 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 expanded details on the following checklist:
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. See this page for checklist downloads and rental tips.
Hosts have the option of taking an instant booking of guests on faith or of reviewing their 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 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 with an additional fee.
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:
Airbnb also protects hosts with requirements for all guests.
VRBO has last minute bookings as well. Some last minute bookings on VRBO come with a discount rather than a penalty.
The booking process is similar to that of Airbnb with both booking requests that require approval (Request to Book) and those you can book instantly (Instant Book).
Payments for VRBO rentals do not have to 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 to 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.
VRBO has created a guide for Managing Reservations that goes into greater detail on what to expect.
VRBO: There isn’t a listing fee, but you have the option of an annual subscription so you can advertise your listing on the site. If you have a subscription, you don’t have to pay booking fees. The cost of a subscription is $499 a year and includes other perks like more photos and a better user dashboard.
Airbnb charges hosts a fee that is 3% of the subtotal (including host-generated fees like cleaning or pet fees) before Airbnb’s fees. It can be more than 3% in certain countries or when the host levies heavy fees, restrictions, or complicated cancellation policies.
If you need more information about Airbnb fees, look here.
Owners 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.
To learn more about VRBO fees, look here.
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 Value Added Tax (VAT) is added.
If you need more information about Airbnb fees, look here.
HomeAway charges VRBO guests a service fee that is between 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. Hosts may also charge additional fees for cleaning, pets, and other services and amenities.
To learn more about VRBO fees, look here.
As outlined above, both services charge VAT.
Airbnb reports your rental history to the IRS regardless of how many nights your rental was booked. 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.
Airbnb offers hosts three standard types of cancellation policies and three individual circumstance policies to choose from:
Under the Flexible policy, guests can get a full refund if they cancel the booking within 48 hours and 14 days before the rental time slot.
Each policy has multiple rules and requirements which you can see here.
VRBO has five cancellation policies:
VRBO policies are not 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 within 14 days before the booking. No grace period from the time of booking (i.e., 24 or 48-hour window) is mentioned.
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.
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