Over the last decade, an explosion in the on-demand economy has seen tech startups challenge the taxi industry, the food industry, and the hotel industry. While travelers were once limited to whatever hotel offerings were in an area, the emergence of short-term rental services has allowed people to book rooms, guest houses, and vacation homes whenever they travel. It’s also allowed for renters to bring in extra income via their second homes or guest rooms.
VRBO (short for Vacation Rental By Owner) and HomeAway are two of the biggest players in the field, and this article will examine how the two compare. (Along with Airbnb, which this article will also look at.) If you’re considering different options for your next trip and don’t feel like staying in a hotel, we’ll help you figure out what’s right for you.
What Are VRBO and HomeAway?
VRBO and HomeAway are two vacation rental sites that allow you to book entire homes and apartments all over the world. The websites promise easily browsable search results by home size, location, amenities, etc. and let you find the exact place you’re looking for.
So if you’re looking for a beach house in the islands and want a pool, three bedrooms, and a modern interior, that’s all searchable and easy to find (and, most likely, with plenty of options to choose from as well).
Both sites allow renters to choose the settings for their property. Cost, availability for instant booking, limitations on pets, etc. are all decided on by the homeowner.
To list on these sites, homeowners pay an annual subscription fee that lets them list on the sites and be searchable and bookable by users. (One advantage for renters re: VRBO and HomeAway is that paying the subscription fee to one gets you listed on both sites, and all the others that HomeAway has acquired.)
Renters can set different prices for different times of the year, or days of the week (weekends tend to be pricier than weekdays, for obvious reasons), and they can also set minimum-stay requirements. All of this information will be clearly labeled on the site.
Unlike other sites — more on that later — VRBO and HomeAway do not allow renters to list individual rooms for sharing. Entire homes must be available for rent. This isn’t a couchsurfing situation; only complete homes, apartments, condos, and guest houses are allowed to be rented on the site.
While they do specialize in larger vacation homes, these sites are also available in major cities all over the country and the world. The two sites have listings in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and more.
How Are the Two Different?
VRBO and HomeAway are not different. They were two seperate companies in the very early days of the apps; both offered vacation rental properties offered directly from a property owner. HomeAway acquired VRBO in 2006. (The company also owns Vacationrentals.com.)
The two services are now completely the same. The listing sites are more or less identical, and all the rental sites are cross-listed, so anything listed on HomeAway is also listed on VRBO. These are two identical services that have two ways of getting there. So it’s really more about which website you feel like bookmarking.
Are There Any Other Sites to Know About?
There are a multitude of vacation rental sites out there, such as FlipKey, HolidayHomes.com, and LuxuryRetreats.com, but the big player in the field is Airbnb.
When considering Airbnb vs. VRBO and HomeAway, it’s really about evaluating which properties you are interested in, your budget, and what you are looking for. Unlike VRBO and HomeAway, Airbnb allows renters to list individual rooms. If you’re traveling on a budget and don’t mind sharing a space with other people, you will be able to save by booking individual rooms within a house for considerably less than you might spend on an entire apartment or home.
VRBO and HomeAway specialize in vacation homes and destinations, but they also list in New York City and any other big city you want to get to, where Airbnb has plenty of vacation rentals listed. Once you decide where you want to go, see what’s available on each site.
If you are looking for hotel rooms, there are tons of sites, from Orbitz to Expedia to Hotel Tonight. Hotels have the advantage of staff, a guaranteed person there for check-in, and sites like TripAdvisor, which offer third-party reviews, photos, and rankings. Rental properties on VRBO and HomeAway also have user reviews, though some people prefer the comfort of a hotel.
How Much Are Service Fees?
Service fees for these sites are determined by the cost of the rental and several other factors.
The processing fee, via the company website, is calculated as “a percentage of the total amount of the reservation, excluding taxes and refundable fees. The service fee is between 6–12 percent for most bookings but can be above or below, based on the reservation.”
Booking fees can be refundable, depending on the cancellation policy of the individual property.
Speaking of which, Homeaway.com and VRBO.com have the same refund policy, and allows the renters themselves to set the terms of cancellation from one of five options. Those options are:
- Relaxed: 100 percent refund if cancelled 14 days before stay and no booking fees, and 50 percent refund if cancelled up to 7 days before stay (booking fees are kept)
- Moderate: 100 percent refund if cancelled 30 days before stay and no booking fees, and 50 percent refund if cancelled up to 14 days before stay (booking fees are kept)
- Firm: 100 percent refund if cancelled 60 days before stay and no booking fees, and 50 percent refund if cancelled up to 30 days before stay (booking fees are kept)
- Strict: 100 percent refund if cancelled 60 days before stay and no booking fees
- No refund: No refund if cancelled at any time
Do They Have the Same Customer Support Team?
VRBO and HomeAway share customer support.
That being said, these sites want customers, if possible, to deal directly with property owners or property managers. The owner is in charge of organizing check-in, and should provide a phone number to call if any emergencies should arise with the property.
If there are issues beyond that, both sites have Help Centers (HomeAway Help Center and VRBO Help Center) that allow you to look at commonly asked questions, submit problems, and connect with a specialist who can sort out any problems that may have arisen.
So, Where Do I Go to Rent?
When looking at vacation home rentals, or any hotel alternative when traveling, it’s about evaluating what you are looking for and what you prioritize. When it comes to HomeAway vs VRBO, they’ve made it easy in being identical services with identical properties listed.
So then the question becomes about what you prioritize. If you’re looking to save money, and don’t mind sharing an apartment with other people, Airbnb and CouchSurfing.com could be attractive options. If you like the comforts of a hotel, there are plenty of ways to book hotels and save money while doing so.
If you want an entire home and looking in areas that are predominantly known for vacation properties, VRBO and HomeAway might be worth a look. As always, do the research, see what is available on the dates you are traveling, and make an informed decision.