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6 Best Airbnb Alternatives – NerdWallet

Tired of Airbnb’s high cleaning fees and poor cancellation policies? Still reeling from a personal Airbnb horror story? Are you just trying to comparison shop for an upcoming trip? Explore these six alternatives to Airbnb for your next vacation rental:

Airbnb holds a monopolistic grip, but travelers are getting sick of it

Airbnb is truly a behemoth. Data from Second Measure, a company that tracks transaction trends, estimates that Airbnb accounted for 19% of the entire accommodation market in 2018, including hotels and vacation rental competitors. And the pandemic likely expanded Airbnb’s slice of the pie: Longer-term stays among untethered workers boosted the platform’s revenue in 2021, according to a 2021 shareholder letter.

In other words, Airbnb holds a monopolistic grip on the vacation rental industry, making it hard for travelers to find good competitors. Unlike the hotel industry, which enjoys healthy competition, the vacation rental world is dominated by Airbnb — and everybody else.

Yet some of these competitors offer meaningful Airbnb alternatives to travelers with specific needs. Those looking for glamping options might consider Hipcamp, while those looking for high-quality urban rentals should consider a site like Booking. Each has its own limitations and drawbacks. Here’s a closer look at six sites that have some parallels to Airbnb, but ultimately might offer a far better experience for certain travelers:

Vacasa: Best for professional management yet hometown flair

A Vacasa in Wilmington, North Carolina boasts a massive bedroom (plus plenty of other space throughout the living room and kitchen). (Photo by Sally French)

  • Good: High-quality standards, local expertise, diverse portfolio.

  • Bad: Limited availability compared to giants like Airbnb or Vrbo.

  • Use it when: You prioritize excellent property condition, local knowledge, and unique finds.

Vacasa takes a different approach to vacation rentals. Instead of solely listing individual properties, it acts as a full-service vacation rental management company, partnering with homeowners to professionally manage their properties. This means you can expect:

  • High-quality standards: Vacasa properties undergo rigorous inspections and adhere to strict cleaning protocols, ensuring a consistent and comfortable experience.

  • Ability to book on points: Vacasa has formed some pretty unique partnerships with platforms like Homes and Villas by Marriott International, Wyndham Rewards and American Express Travel, which makes it possible to book vacation rentals on points.

  • Diverse portfolio: With 40,000 homes across the U.S., Canada, Belize, Costa Rica and Mexico, Vacasa manages a wide range of properties, from cozy cabins to beachfront condos. For example, a rental we tested in Wilmington, North Carolina came in a charming Neo-renaissance style (it was built in 1902 though had since been fully updated), making for a welcome contrast to the generic Hilton and Best Western properties nearby.

  • Robust app: Throughout the rental experience, Vacasa’s web and mobile app experience is seamless. It’s easy to get check-in instructions both via text and within the app, and the in-app process for checkout is intuitive. If there is a problem, Vacasa promises 24/7 customer support.

However, Vacasa’s got one big drawback, and that’s limited availability. Sure, Vacasa is considered the largest vacation rental management platform in the U.S., but its 40,000 vacation home listings are still puny compared to Airbnb’s estimated 7 million active listings worldwide. Additionally, Vacasa is primarily only operational in North America. If you’re seeking a vacation rental in, say, Europe or Asia, don’t bother with Vacasa.

Vacasa is a strong contender for travelers seeking a professionally managed, high-quality rental experience with a touch of local charm. Its emphasis on quality and personal touch makes it a good alternative for those who want to avoid the potential pitfalls of individual listings on other platforms.

Vrbo: Best Airbnb alternative with a loyalty program

  • Good: Powerful search tools and a loaylty program called One Key.

  • Bad: Confusing cancellation policies. Only standalone houses (no shared spaces).

  • Use it when: You want to comparison shop.

It offers similar features (houses, apartments, even unique stays) but lacks the ubiquitous brand recognition. It also offers far less selection in most markets, though its hidden gems can be delightful bargains.

A big differentiator between Airbnb and Vrbo is that Vrbo has a loyalty program, called One Key. Whats more, you’re not committed to tons of Vrbo stays just to earn points. One Key encompasses multiple travel companies within Vrbo’s parent company, which is Expedia Group, meaning you can earn and redeem rewards for travels booked through Hotels.com, Expedia and Vrbo.

Upon joining, you’ll receive 2% in OneKeyCash for every dollar spent on eligible hotels, vacation rentals, activities, packages, car rentals and cruises. From there, you can apply the OneKeyCash you’ve got to your next trip. So even if you booked a $500 Vrbo and only have $10 in OneKeyCash to your name, that’s at least $10 off your next Vrbo. Not bad.

So what should you beware of when booking a Vrbo? Watch out for user-unfriendly cancellation policies, lesser customer support. In addition, you can only rent standalone accommodations, unlike Airbnb, which offers hotel rooms and shared spaces.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Use Vrbo’s “total price” filter to avoid hidden fees and compare costs accurately.

It’s always a good idea to check Vrbo and comparison shop when searching for a standalone rental home. Some listings are available on both platforms and are sometimes cheaper on Vrbo. Plus, Vrbo’s search function includes a “total price” option that lets you compare the real cost of a rental, including cleaning and other fees.

In most cases, it makes sense to check Vrbo as an Airbnb alternative, especially during peak travel dates when Airbnb listings might be scarce.

Booking.com: Best for stays abroad

Booking.com properties tend to be run by management companies.

  • Good: More professionally managed properties. Loads of international properties.

  • Bad: Limited portfolio. Little charm or personality.

  • Use it when: You’re looking for hassle-free accommodation when traveling internationally.

Booking.com is known internationally as a major flight and hotel search tool, yet it also offers vacation rentals.

Many of the properties, especially in major international cities, are for apartments in professionally managed buildings. Like Vacasa, the professional management increases your likelihood of a drama-free trip. For travelers, that means booking and checking into these apartments is less of a hassle.

In general though, Booking.com accommodations tend to lack the charm and character of some of Airbnb’s (or even Vacasa’s) more colorful listings.

Hipcamp: Best for glamping on a budget (or just plain camping)

For the crunchier among us, Hipcamp may be the right choice.

  • Bad: Rustic. Quality control might be an issue.

  • Use it when: You’re looking for a cheap and interesting crash pad on the road.

Hipcamp is, as the name implies, a camping reservation platform. If you’re seeking four real walls, go ahead and scroll on.

But for people open to getting in touch with the outdoors, Hipcamp is compelling. On Hipcamp’s site, you’ll find listings for simple camp sites where you can pitch your own tent, as well as “glamping” options like quirky Airstream trailers and yurt rentals.

In general, it’s a solid, cheaper alternative to Airbnb for travelers seeking a rustic experience. It can be a great option for budget travelers looking for a bare-bones place to rest their heads or adventurous travelers looking for something especially offbeat.

Just remember, rustic comes with its own charms and challenges.

Marriott Homes and Villas: Good for Marriott members seeking more space

Marriott Homes and Villas is a solid choice if you’ve got points to burn.<br>

  • Good: Earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points, high quality standards.

  • Bad: Very limited portfolio, low point value for redemptions.

NerdWallet rating 

Because Airbnb and most of its competitors lack rewards programs, that makes it difficult (or impossible) to book a vacation rental for “free” using points. But because Marriott Bonvoy points are relatively easy to earn through credit cards and transfer partnerships, Marriott Homes and Villas offers an option to book a vacation rental without handing over any cash.

NerdWallet rating 

That said, the redemption value for using Bonvoy points to book through the Homes and Villas program isn’t always the best — and can often be pretty bleak. First, understand what a Bonvoy is worth (NerdWallet conducts an extensive annual analysis of hotel loyalty programs and believes Bonvoys to be worth 0.8 cents each. With that, compare the cash and point costs of booking a rental. Even if it’s a “lesser” value, you might still book just to spend down your points (NerdWallet doesn’t recommend hoarding hotel points).

And also consider if you can save your points for a standard hotel room, which can often (though not always) offer better redemption value. Especially if you can take advantage of the Marriott hotel redemption sweet spots, it might be worth saving your points for that. If you have Bonvoys and a plan to book a Marriott hotel room sometime soon, that’s generally a better bet.

Local vacation rental management companies: best for supporting small businesses

Local rental companies tend to be on the up and up with the community in ways Airbnb might not be.

  • Good: Supports local businesses and hosts.

  • Use it when: Local laws regulate vacation rentals.

Have you ever checked into an Airbnb and been asked by a host to avoid talking to neighbors? That’s likely because the vacation rental is forbidden by local law or the property’s homeowners association.

Popular vacation towns often sport their own local rental management companies. For example, the town of Seabrook, Washington, is composed primarily of vacation rentals that are rented and operated by the town itself.

If you’re having trouble finding vacation rentals through the platforms listed above, it’s worth doing a quick internet search to see if any local operations exist.

How to choose the best Airbnb alternative

Airbnb might be the vacation rental king, but its crown isn’t glued on. For travelers seeking specific features, loyalty programs, budget options, or unique experiences, consider these alternatives – and don’t underestimate the value of comparison shopping.

But if you’re dissatisfied with the cost, functionality or safety of Airbnb, good alternatives to Airbnb do exist. None can match the big fish in terms of pure size, but each satisfies a particular travel niche. Always consider the final cost, including taxes and fees, when comparison shopping among sites like Airbnb (e.g., Booking versus Vrbo) as the extra fees can add up in a hurry.

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