AirBNB vs. Hotel: The Eternal Traveller's Debate

If you’re a serious traveller, you’ve undoubtedly been met with the critical decision between booking a hotel room or opting for an AirBNB rental. It’s a tough call — each side decorated with strong pros and notable cons. 

As with most travel-related debates, this one greatly depends on your individual needs and preferences. But even further than that, the value in one versus the other differs entirely from one country to the next — and often, from city to city. 

AirBNB in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

AirBNB in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

The simplest way to determine which bed is better for your budget is with an old fashioned pros and cons list. 

Let’s narrow it down.

AirBNB

PROS

1. Offset other costs within the price of your room (food, parking, laundry, other amenities). 

If you’re a budget traveller, the greatest challenge is finding a way to stretch every dollar you have while maximizing the experience. By choosing to stay at an AirBNB, you could actually trim quite a bit off of your overall budget.

Think about it — in comparison to a hotel room, with an AirBNB you might spend a little more in exchange for an entire house. This provides you access to a wealth of amenities that you might have otherwise had to pay for. For example, if you’re road tripping, you now have a place to leave your car for the duration of your stay without having to pay for parking. Or if you’re a long term traveller, having access to free laundry will reduce laundering fees and also allow you to pack less, potentially eliminating checked baggage fees. 

But the most valuable freebie is the kitchen. If you’re travelling to somewhere like Thailand, maybe this isn’t as great of a perk since eating out is way cheaper than making your own food, but consider somewhere like Iceland where the price of food is outrageous. Having access to a fridge and stove means you can meal prep and avoid overspending your food budget at restaurants. 

So while you may pay a little more upfront with an AirBNB, you will certainly absorb those costs elsewhere in your budget, if you take advantage of the freebies. 

2. Much better for groups.

Since we’re talking about savings, what better way to cut individual costs than to split them up amongst a group? If you’re travelling in a group of three or more, AirBNB is definitely the way to go. 

Compared side to side, one for one, a hotel is generally the cheaper option. But once you add in a second hotel room for your extra guests, you’re generally looking at a more comparable price. Except now, you get all the free amenities listed above, more space and bedrooms, and generally a much more memorable experience. 

In larger groups, splitting the overall cost of an AirBNB is a definitely pro.

AirBNB in Chattanooga, TN

AirBNB in Chattanooga, TN

3. Direct access to local tips.

This perk is truly priceless. While a hotel concierge is paid to be at your service, I find that their advice or recommendations are often biased (sponsored) or heavily angled toward what they believe the average tourist wants to hear. Rare cases aside, I find a lack of authenticity in the guidance they provide.

But with AirBNB, you’re chatting with real locals with real opinions. Sure, there may be some career hosts who act more like hoteliers but more likely, the interactions you have with AirBNB hosts will lead you to learn far more about the local attractions than you would from the hotel’s brochure rack. 

The best part is it’s all at the tip of your fingers. The AirBNB app allows you to directly message your hosts through the app so as long as you’ve got wifi, you’ve got a host who (typically) has your best interest at heart.

4. Go sleep in a cave if you want. 

The vast variety of options here means that you can cater your trip to be exactly what you want it to be. Is sleeping on top of a mountain on you bucket list? There’s an AirBNB for that. How about an underwater room surrounded by sharks? Yeah, they’ve got that too. 

Feel free to live out your wildest travel dreams with AirBNB. It’s just a click away. 

I swear I’m not affiliated, that just sounds like a good slogan.

AirBNB in Utah

AirBNB in Utah

CONS

Now that I’ve convinced you that AirBNB is clearly the right choice, let’s take a closer look at what could go wrong. 

1. Not all hosts are Superhosts.

To counter my free amenities point, it’s important to note that not all hosts are as well-versed in hospitality as others may be. Your freebies are finite, and this can sometimes catch you off guard. 

We booked a place in Bangkok once that offered just one roll of toilet paper. When we inquired about this, they mentioned that they only provide one roll per stay… no matter how long your stay. So we had to go purchase our own for the remainder of our time there.  

Another in Iceland was listed as having the entire 16 bedroom complex to ourselves. When we arrived, it turned out the listing was just for the downstairs, while the owner lived upstairs and shared the kitchen with us. Fortunately, he gave us our space but it held us back knowing he was just hanging out upstairs. 

It’s incredibly important to dive deep into the reviews and look for common concerns. It can put a real damper on your overall experience if you choose the wrong place. 

2. Dealing with AirBNB

It’s no secret that the company is heavily biased towards protecting their hosts. There’s a lot of fine print when it comes down to responsibilities, particularly when it comes to damages. 

There is a live support chat but they aren’t very helpful, and their responses are often very vague or copy-and-paste text from their policies. 

You need to exercise caution and if you do cause any damages, be ready to battle. 

3. Extra fees.

By far the worst part of this service is the hidden fees. The price per night will be listed at a decent rate, and then fluctuate drastically the moment you click on it. Prices can vary based on time of the year, length of stay, level of hosting abilities, and worst of all, the cleaning fees. 

Many times I’ve seen extra fees for cleaning added in to the cost, and then the hosts will make you clean the dishes or expect another additional fee. 

Keep a close eye on these extra costs before you book. Ask lots of questions about the check out process and what is expected. Only then should you commit to that booking!

Hotel in Bangkok

Hotel in Bangkok

Hotel

PROS

1. You can’t deny that lux life.

The feeling of luxury is hard to beat, let’s be honest. While you can find AirBNBs that resemble a hotel room, there’s just something about checking in to a clean hotel that feels so refreshing. 

And then there are the hotel beds! I don’t know where they get those magical mattresses and sheets but dang, are they glorious. Finding that level of bedding in an AirBNB is very rare!

This of course comes with the caveat that not all hotels provide those complimentary luxuries, but to make a sweeping generalization, if you stick within the major brands, you’re usually in good hands. 

2. Daily Room Service, built into the price.

This is where AirBNB misses the mark. Paying for that cleaning fee but never really seeing the benefit during your stay doesn’t compare to the daily room service a hotel offers, at no extra cost.

Embrace your sloppy lifestyle and rest assured that when you return to your room after lunch, your poor decisions will be erased! 

Not only that but if you’re feeling particularly lazy or unwell, you can order food directly to your door. Heck, if you forget your toothbrush, just order one of those, too!

3. That customer service.

Hotel brands have a reputation to uphold. Aside from folks who might visit a city several times, an AirBNB is more likely to be a one-time visit for the individual tourist. But branded hotels tend to pop up in most tourist destinations. 

Earning your loyalty is critical to their success. 

For this reason, hotels tend to put a lot more focus into tending to your needs. They will do everything they can to respond with a ‘YES’. There are definitely some AirBNB hosts out there that will go above and beyond but most will merely meet the bare minimum. 

Hotels are a business working to please you and their goal is to make you feel like a million dollars. You can take advantage of this feature to the extent that you wish.

Hotel in London, Canada

Hotel in London, Canada

CONS

1. Don’t expect much more than a room with a bed, for more money.

When you compare dollars per square foot, hotels definitely come no where close to what an AirBNB could offer in the same city. If you can do without those hotel-specific perks, you’re potentially looking at the difference of a single room with a bed versus an entire house with multiple bedrooms. If you’re travelling alone, this might not be a problem.

In general, you’ll find hotels tend to be more expensive per night, particularly from a value for money perspective. But keep in mind, that little hotel room could come with one heck of a view, so be careful not to discount the option right away. 

2. Right in the heart of… tourist destinations.

Now, depending on what you’re travelling for, this may be a perk but for others, being positioned right in the middle of overpriced tourist-centric neighbourhoods is a hinderance.

If what you’re looking for is a local experience, staying downtown in a hotel may not stack up against the value you’d get out of an AirBNB. Taking into consideration the benefit of having a local contact, AirBNBs also tend to be located off the beaten path. 

Alternatively, if you are looking to be right in the heart of the city, hotels often can’t be beat. 

3. Lack of personality. 

Pricey boutique hotels aside, unique rooms are almost non-existent. The plight of a large hotel is catering to the average client. And average tends to be bland and faceless; good for business travels and airport layovers where the main goal is sleeping.

Beige, white, and brown have never been a classic combo for individuality. If you want to spice up your hotel stay, you’re going to have to scour those hotel websites for a gem. 

Unbeatable view from a Tennessee AirBNB

Unbeatable view from a Tennessee AirBNB

So which one is better?

Well, the annoying truth is that no option is better than the other as a general rule. Your travel preferences must dictate and guide your decision in the right direction. While I personally will choose AirBNB more often than not, you may not be looking for the same type of experience.

So to help in your decision making, it could be boiled down to this

Choose AirBNB if you are…

  • travelling with a group of three of more.

  • interested in a more localized experience.

  • a value-driven or budget-conscious traveller.

  • an adventure seeker, or bucket list traveller. 

Choose a Hotel if you are…

  • all about that that luxurious lifestyle. No interest in cooking or cleaning.

  • just looking for a comfortable place to sleep.

  • interested in just checking in and checking out without overthinking the process. No responsibilities.

  • enjoy being in the heart of the hustle and bustle.