Airbnb vs VRBO for Travelers – Which One is Better?

Strap your travel bags and hike up your backpacks as we pit Airbnb and VRBO against each other and finally see which is the better one for travelers over various categories.

This is a close look at a mobile phone showcasing the Airbnb and VRBO apps.

I’ve booked several vacations on both Airbnb and VRBO.

Which one is better?

While both platforms are very similar for travelers there are some nuanced differences.  This Airbnb vs. VRBO comparison goes through many features of both.

Table of Contents

Related: Tiny House vs. RV | Trip Adviser Alternatives | Airbnb Alternatives | How to Rent Your Home as a Vacation Rental | Airbnb vs. Hotel

Pricing & Cancellation Policy

I lump both pricing and cancellation policy into one section because the two seem connected.  Let me explain.

If the same listing is on both, I more often book via VRBO than Airbnb.

Why?

I find hosts tend to offer a far better cancellation policy on VRBO than Airbnb.  Often Airbnb’s cancellation policy is only 48 hours.  VRBO is often up to 1 month before the stay.  Since I often book 6 months or more in advance and given anything that could happen during that time, I prefer a more generous cancellation policy.

But that’s not without cost.

While VRBO cancellation policy seems to be far more generous, hosts tend to charge more per night for the exact same accommodation for the exact same dates.  I doubt it’s an accident that the prices are different.  If I were a host, I’d charge a bit more for a better cancellation policy too.

For example, just today I booked a place for next Summer.  I found the perfect house. It was on both VRBO and Airbnb.  The price per night on Airbnb was $580 per night.  On VRBO it’s $600 per night.

Our second choice house was $714 per night on Airbnb and $856 per night on VRBO.

In both instances, the cancellation policy was 48 hours from the booking date on Airbnb and up to 1 month before the stay on VRBO.

In our case, paying an extra $20 per night was very much worth having a much longer cancellation policy.

Had I booked our second favorite, which is almost $150 more per night, I probably would have paid the extra amount for the extended cancellation period.  The fact is this booking is one year in advance and you never know what could happen.

The dilemma travelers have to deal with is whether it’s worth paying a bit more for a better cancellation policy?  For me, it’s often worth it paying a bit more per night to have the “insurance” or a much better cancellation policy.

Clearly, my preference for VRBO is a result of my preference for paying extra for a better cancellation policy.

If you’re certain you’ll go to the place you book, then paying less is better which means in many instances, Airbnb is better.

Winner: For me, VRBO due to the better cancellation policy.  If price is most important to you, Airbnb typically is cheaper.

Number of listings

This is a woman on her tablet looking at the app installation page of Airbnb.

Another big difference is the number of listings on each platform.

While many hosts list their accommodation on both platforms, not all do.

Which means having to check both when booking.  I almost always do so that I’m confident we get the best place for us.

Sometimes VRBO has more selection.  Other times Airbnb has more options.  It’s strange that way.  I can’t say that one or the other consistently has the most options.

I have both apps on my phone and traveler accounts with both platforms.

Payment Options

This is an easy one. Airbnb is best because it accepts American Express while VRBO doesn’t.

I think it’s odd VRBO doesn’t accept American Express.  AMEX is a popular charge card used for travel.  Moreover, I’ve used AMEX points to pay for Airbnb stays but that can only be done if paid for with an AMEX.  This means I cannot use AMEX points for VRBO bookings.

Winner: Airbnb because it accepts American Express

Number of reviews

This is a mobile phone on a map showing the logo of VRBO.

Again, sometimes VRBO has far more reviews and other times Airbnb has far more reviews.  It probably depends on how long a host has been listed with each platform.  I suspect some hosts joined one platform long after being listed on the other.

This is yet another reason it’s good to check both platforms when booking.

Review systems

Speaking of reviews, both platforms have similar review systems.  I get the whole review system but it has its problems.  It’s definitely geared toward giving favorable reviews.  Here’s the thing.  I’ve never had a bad stay on Airbnb or VRBO (knock on wood).  But there have been issues.

At one place the hot tub broke down one day into our 5-night stay.  The management service couldn’t fix it.  It was a ski holiday; the hot tub was a key selling feature.  We were really choked.  We were offered a measly $500 refund which was nothing considering the entire stay was $10,000.  Yet, I gave a pretty good review because a bad review does so much damage to hosts… far more than the inconvenience warranted.

Likewise, negative reviews for travelers can ruin an account.  Okay, if a traveler trashes a house, other hosts should know.  But if a traveler breaks a minor rule or two that doesn’t cause any damage or cause any real problems, a negative traveler review does far more damage than the rule infraction deserves.

The point is these review systems are far too “all or nothing”.  There’s no middle ground.

It’s not just the case on Airbnb and VRBO. It’s the case with all online reviews.  Small businesses that get a few negative reviews out of dozens of reviews, suffer more than they should.

The review system throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Winner: Tie. I’ve noticed no discernable differences between the two.

This is a close look at a mobile phone showcasing various travel apps including Airbnb and VRBO.

Map Accuracy

I’ve noticed discrepancies between Airbnb and VRBO with mapping accuracy.  Generally, Airbnb is more accurate.  I’ve noticed in VRBO on multiple occasions that the pin location of the home on the map is not close to accurate.

This is an important feature to be accurate.  For example, we often book vacations with family friends and we like to be close to one another.  Inaccurate mapping makes this difficult.  While I prefer booking VRBO for a better cancellation policy, I’ve often double-checked the Airbnb map for location accuracy.

Winner: Airbnb

Another reason to use one over the other?

It could well happen that a host gave you a bad review on one platform that could hurt your chances of securing a booking.  If that’s the case, you might be best off booking on another platform (assuming you haven’t garnered bad guest reviews there as well).

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