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AirBnB or Hotels – Which Is The Best?

AirBnB or Hotels – Which Is The Best?

By Paul Marshman

Choosing a place to stay on your travels used to be simple — you just looked for a hotel you liked and could afford. These days, however, you need to ask yourself: hotel or Airbnb?

The two offer very different experiences, and depending on your travel style, one might suit you better than the other.

So I thought it would be useful to compare the two — Airbnb vs hotels — and see what you’re getting for your money with each.

In case you’ve never used Airbnb, it’s a service that lets you stay in someone’s house or apartment, for a price that’s often less than a hotel would charge. There are different types of rentals: some offer a room in someone’s home, with the hosts and sometimes other guests in residence; others give you the whole home for yourself. For this comparison, I’ll focus on whole-home rentals, since these are the type most suitable for baby boomers and most comparable to a hotel room.

For each choice, I’ll list the positive and the negatives. See which one you think wins the day.

Airbnb

PROS

Affordable prices The biggest plus for Airbnb is the price. In most cities — though not in all, as this study showed— an Airbnb stay can behotel-bed significantly cheaper than a comparable hotel. And who doesn’t like to save money?

Big spaces When you take a whole-home rental, you get an entire house or apartment — lots more room to spread out and live normally, the way you do at home.

Facilities As well as the extra space, you also get some home-style facilities: a kitchen, usually stocked with at least tea and coffee, and in some cases a washer and dryer for your clothes.

Contact with locals This is more relevant if you’re renting just one room, but even with whole-home rentals, you get to meet the owner, who can provide tips on how to get around and what to see. If you’re lucky, he or she might even give you an inside look at the local culture.

CONS

All of that is great. But Airbnb has some real drawbacks, and I’ve encountered a few on the occasions I’ve used it. Read on.

Deceptive pricing Browsing the Airbnb listings can turn up some very attractive prices. But when you actually go to book the properties, you’ll find those prices aren’t quite what they seem. There’s a cleaning fee added on (sometimes a hefty one), plus taxes and Airbnb’s own booking fee. That $70 room can often end up costing you more than $100.

Negotiating with the owner In most cases, you have to message the owner in order to book the place, and disclose a bunch of information about yourself. Fair enough — they have their security to worry about — but it’s a hassle compared with booking a hotel online. Then, you A photo of a hard-sided "spinner" 20-inch carry-on suitcasehave to arrange a time to pick up the keys when you arrive. That can be even more inconvenient, especially if you arrive at 10 a.m. and the host works till 5. I’ve had it happen.

Mystery locations Airbnb doesn’t disclose the address of the place you’re booking until you’ve actually booked. This may protect the host and Airbnb, but it makes the rental something of a pig in a poke: you know what neighbourhood you’re in, but not whether you’re on the main street or across from a meat packing plant. You can get some info by reading previous guest reviews, but it’s not quite the same as knowing the real address.

No luggage storage If you arrive before check-in time, most hotels will let you leave your luggage and return later. With Airbnb that’s usually not possible. since the last renters may still be in the home. You’re left to lug your suitcase around with you, or go looking for a storage locker.

No front desk If you have a minor problem or a small request at an Airbnb, you have to go to the host, who may or may not be available. No front desk to offer help, or change your room if there’s a big problem.

The legal problem In many cities, a lot of the places on Airbnb are violating local by-laws. These homes are supposed to be private dwellings but are now being rented like hotel rooms. As well, turning hundreds of apartments into Airbnb units has caused housing shortages in some cities, leaving local renters struggling to find a place to stay.

Hotels

PROS

Easy booking These days, finding and booking a hotel is as easy as shopping at Amazon. There are several major booking sites so you can comparison shop, and no one asks for any personal information except your name and credit card number.

Professional hosts Most hotels are run by big companies, or people who’ve been in the hospitality business for a long time. They’re equippedhotel-bed to serve travellers, and have professional systems for billing and dealing with any problems that arise.

Luggage storage In contrast to Airbnb, most hotels will happily keep your luggage in a secure place if you show up early and they don’t have your room ready. They might even store it if you take a side trip for a couple of days.

Maid service You can expect your room to be cleaned daily, with fresh towels, soaps and shampoo provided when you need them. There might even be high-end toiletries, and a chocolate on your pillow. This stuff is possible with Airbnb, but don’t count on it.

A front desk Hotels have a front desk, which is often manned 24 hours a day in case you arrive late or have some unexpected needs. There may also be a concierge, who can give you travel advice, hail a cab, or even get you dinner reservations or theatre tickets.

Common facilities Unlike Airbnb rentals, many hotels have common areas like a lobby or bar where you can meet with people, and in some cases a shop for picking up things you forgot to pack. An attached restaurant or coffee shop can also be a real convenience if there isn’t much around.

Free breakfast You don’t get this everywhere, but these days a lot of hotels offer at least coffee and pastry in the lobby in the morning, and some provide a hot breakfast. You can make your own at an Airbnb, but you may be buying the food yourself.

CONS

Hotels can be great — some are even local institutions — but as with Airbnb, there are a few flies in the ointment. Here are a few.

High prices Especially in tourist hot spots like New York and Amsterdam, hotel prices can be hard on the pocketbook. And during big festivals and conventions, they can be outrageous. That’s one of the main reasons Airbnb exists. Yes, you can book a place out of town, but then you have that daily commute …

Hidden fees One of my biggest pet peeves these days is something hotels call the “resort fee”. They claim it’s to pay for use of facilities like the pool and gym, but you pay it whether you use them or not — and aren’t they supposed to pay for their facilities themselves? Sadly, it’s become rampant in the hotel world, another example of the bait-and-surprise strategy that plagues the travel industry. There are also hotel taxes in many cities, another few bucks to add on before you see the real price.

Maddening crowds Since big hotels get a lot of guests, you can end up standing in long line-ups just to check in if you arrive at the wrong time. The same can apply when you try to get something from the front desk.

Billing problems I’ve heard many complaints about hotel guests being charged for things they didn’t order, and extra charges sprung on people when they went to check out. So even with modern billing systems, you’re still in danger of billing mistakes — and sometimes larceny. That makes the Airbnb billing system look good.

Impersonality Hotels are institutions, and in a big hotel, you can sometimes feel like you’re been institutionalized; at worst, it can feel like you’re up against Big Brother. Small hotels tend to have a more personal touch, but they usually don’t have the same amenities as a big property.

There’s my Airbnb vs hotels comparison.

There are strong arguments for using both — and some good reasons not to, as we’ve seen. And of course, there are big variations within both types of accommodation. I’m sure there are Airbnb properties that rival a top hotel, and I know there are hotels that offer little more than a bed and a dingy bathroom down the hall (I’ve stayed in them).

When all is said and done, I personally favour hotels, and especially old hotels; I like the rooms, the facilities and the ambiance. But I do stay at Airbnb properties when the price is right, and I’ve had some very good experiences with them. Still, the legality issue does give me pause.

The post was originally published on The Travelling Boomer and reprinted with permission.

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Paul Marshman is a writer, photographer and traveler living in Toronto, Canada. Paul is semi-retired from a 30-year career as a reporter, editor and photographer on Canadian newspapers and magazines where his travels have taken him to 50 countries. Paul’s articles have been published everywhere from the Toronto Star to Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel and Paul now shares travel tips and stories on his popular blog – The Travelling Boomer.

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