There are cases when hotels must be the accommodation of choice. But when it's possible to avoid expensive hotels, considering alternative bookings through Airbnb.com and VRBO.com can add value to your budget travel.
Airbnb.com promotes that it offers accommodations in more than 34,000 cities and in 192 countries. The site says it offers world-class service to about 11 million guests.
The growth of Airbnb since its inception in 2008 is impressive.
Identities are verified for safety
Guests and hosts both are required to verify their identities through social networks. They confirm personal details and scan official IDs into the system. This is a safeguard for all parties. If you're going to open your property to someone, you must have assurance that their identities are verified. Thus, if you tend to be a private person who doesn't dabble in social media and harbors a reluctance to turn over personal information, Airbnb might not be a good choice.
Much like eBay.com asks buyers and sellers to rate one another, Airbnb allows for reviews once a transaction is completed. This gives future business partners an idea about how the previous arrangements worked -- or didn't work.
Airbnb provides a platform for exchanging money. There is a structure for cancellations, with partial refunds possible according to notice given to the property owner. Airbnb provides advice to property owners about pricing and cleaning fees, but these amounts are set by the owners.
Potential advantages: extra space, local connections
Property owners can monetize their spare bedrooms or an investment property through Airbnb and keep these spaces rented, especially in high-demand areas of major cities. Renters enjoy the benefits of having extra space, avoiding tourist zones (and the higher prices that come with these places), and in many cases making local friends who can advise the visitors throughout the trip.
Airbnb arrangements differ from hotel stays in significant ways
There are a number of ways these arrangements differ from a traditional hotel booking.
One example: the owner sometimes will terminate a reservation, forcing the guest to search for a new place to stay. One reader wrote with an example of this situation. The property had been booked for five nights at a total cost of $779. But Airbnb offered the reader a 20 percent bonus for rejecting a full refund and instead finding another property within the Airbnb system. The reader elected to start shopping again -- this time with $935 for five nights.
Keep in mind that some properties will be difficult to find and that there won't be a front desk at which to make inquiries. Most will require a minimum stay.
Another difference: you might be asked to pay a cleaning fee in addition to the rental charges. Many owners will ask you to take out trash and do dishes.
Airbnb patrons will need a sense of adventure in some places, but it sometimes pays off with a better place to stay for less than what a hotel would charge.
VRBO is an acronym for Vacation Rentals by Owner. It is billed as one of the world's largest vacation rental-by-owner websites.
Established in 1995, it offers a huge inventory of vacation properties. Travelers can search more than 620,000 paid listings in more than 160 countries. Property owners pay an annual fee of $349 to advertise, but there are no booking fees for travelers.
VRBO has become popular with families. A family can rent one house rather than multiple hotel rooms with more convenience and lower costs in many destinations.
VRBO can also prove quite useful in large cities. I once rented a small apartment through VRBO in Panama City, Panama for about $60/night in a nice area of the city. A nearby chain hotel was charging about four times that amount for rooms that probably were smaller, offered the same view and the same neighborhood advantages.
HomeAway.com owns VRBO and offers travel insurance for VRBO stays that starts at $39. HomeAway is the largest dealer in vacation rentals.
As with Airbnb, keep in mind that deposits often are due in advance of travel, and a cleaning fee often is imposed in addition to the rent.
Budget travelers tend to benefit from both services if they travel in larger groups, appreciate living and eating like a local and need more space than a hotel room affords.
Another benefit: apartments come with kitchen facilities that help travelers avoid dining in restaurants.