All over the world, the short-term rental market is booming. These days, savvy international travelers are looking for more than a chic hotel room; they want the home comforts that only a fully furnished house or apartment can provide.
If you’ve been searching for the perfect vacation apartment for your next trip, you’ve probably noticed that two giants are dominating the market right now; Airbnb and Booking.com.
In the last couple of decades, both of these platforms have revolutionized the way that we travel, opening up a whole new world of short-term lodging for comfort-seeking globetrotters.
But in 2024, which platform caters better to travelers?
In this post, I’ll explore the pros and cons of Airbnb and Booking.com to help you decide which one to choose when you’re planning your next adventure.
The Pros of Booking with Airbnb
A local experience
Airbnb prides itself on offering guests the opportunity to travel like a local. Unlike Booking.com, where the property you rent is exclusively yours during your stay, Airbnb offers the option to stay inside someone else’s home. And sharing the space with a local host can lead to some pretty epic travel adventures.
Unique and diverse property options
While there are plenty of run-of-the-mill rentals on Airbnb, the platform also offers a higher concentration of quirky and unique stays. Think treehouses in the middle of the forest, converted lighthouses perched on rocky cliffs, or luxurious yurts nestled amongst green rolling hills.
Short and long-term stays
What happens if you fall in love with a destination, and decide you don’t want to leave? Well, Airbnb offers long-term lodging options for travelers staying more than 4 weeks. These longer stays typically work out cheaper per night than regular bookings, as hosts can save time and money on things like cleaning, check-ins, and check-outs.
The Cons of Booking with Airbnb
Cleaning fees and other hidden costs
Found the perfect vacation rental and the perfect price? Before you get too excited, check the final booking details to make sure the price Airbnb is quoting on the website really is the price you’ll pay. More often than not, you’ll be subject to additional cleaning fees and service charges which can make a great deal not quite so great after all.
Stricter cancellation policies
There are several cancellation policies that hosts can choose from on Airbnb. These range from super strict non-refundable after-booking options to flexible cancellation that allows guests to change their minds and receive a full refund up to 24 hours before their stay. But unlike Booking.com, you’re less likely to find good deals that let you cancel at the last minute.
Questionable quality control
Airbnb allows you to travel like a local and live as the locals do. But if you’re staying in someone else’s home, you’ll need to be prepared to accept a certain level of variability when it comes to quality control. While many hosts pride themselves on maintaining high standards of cleanliness, the same can’t be said for everyone.
The Pros of Booking with Booking.com
A great rewards program
Booking.com offers a Genius discount program to regular customers. Each time you book a stay through the platform, you’re awarded credits that help you progress through Genius levels 1, 2, and 3. The higher your level, the more discounts you unlock and the more money you can save. Genius members also get the added bonus of advanced customer service and occasional added perks such as free breakfasts and upgrades.
No need to pay in advance
While most listings on Airbnb require you to pay the full cost of the booking upfront, Booking.com offers a huge array of properties that you can reserve in advance without paying a penny. The full fee is taken closer to your travel dates, or, in some cases, when you arrive at the property.
Booking.com used to specialize in hotel stays, giving Airbnb the leading edge in private vacation rentals. But these days, the platform has branched out to include thousands of villas, houses, and apartments, with more than enough choices to rival Airbnb. Browsing both hotels and private rentals all on one platform makes it easier to weigh up all your options and find the best lodging at the best price.
The Cons of Booking with Booking.com
Less host interaction
When you book through Airbnb, you’re immediately put in contact with your host. You’ll be able to introduce yourself, start a dialogue, and ask any questions before you arrive. This can make the whole booking process feel more personal, as if you’re going to stay with a new friend.
But Booking.com doesn’t offer guests the same level of host interaction. While it’s still easy to get in contact if you have any concerns or queries, the process feels more anonymous.
Fewer unique and unconventional stays
Booking.com has more listings than any other site, but when it comes to offbeat and eccentric lodging, nobody beats Airbnb. So, if you’re looking for something truly unique for your next vacation, it’s best to start there.
Airbnb vs Booking.com: Which is Best for Budget Travel?
If your travel budget is tight, which platform offers the cheapest choices for places to stay?
The answer depends on a couple of factors.
Airbnb used to be the king of low-cost lodging, but in recent years, the increasing added fees have made it more difficult to score a bargain. That being said, if you’re happy to rough it and sleep on someone’s sofa, you can find dirt-cheap deals that you won’t see on Booking.com.
But if you don’t want to share a space with a stranger and you’re looking for an entire home or apartment, I find that Booking.com tends to be cheaper overall. This is particularly true if you’re a Genius member, as those extra discounts quickly add up. I try to book all my trips through Booking.com to maintain my Genius Level 3 status, but even without the rewards program, Airbnb usually can’t match the price.
Airbnb vs Booking.com: Who Wins?
In the battle of the best vacation lodging platform, there’s only one winner for me, and that’s Booking.com. They offer free cancellation options, a rewards program with travel perks, and no hidden fees. And in my opinion, that’s pretty unbeatable.
But that’s not to say I’ll never use Airbnb again. They offer some amazingly unique places to stay that you simply can’t find on Booking.com, or anywhere else for that matter. Plus, there’s something special about staying in someone’s home and getting the full immersive experience that only a local can provide.
So, that’s what I think, but what about you? Do you agree with my choice, or have you had a different experience? Drop a comment in the box below and let me know which platform gets your vote.
|Local, immersive stay with options to share space with a local host.
|More anonymous, less interaction with hosts.
|Unique and diverse options like treehouses, lighthouses, and yurts.
|More choices overall, but fewer unique and unconventional stays.
|Offers both short and long-term stays with potential discounts for longer stays.
|Primarily focused on short-term stays.
|Additional cleaning fees and service charges; can be more expensive.
|Often cheaper overall, especially with Genius discount program.
|Stricter cancellation policies with less likelihood of last-minute deals.
|More flexible cancellation options, often without upfront payment.
|Variability in quality, depending on the host.
|Consistent quality, particularly in hotels.
|Genius discount program with levels and travel perks.
|Generally requires upfront payment.
|Options to reserve without upfront payment; pay closer to travel dates.
|Superior in offering offbeat and eccentric lodging.
|Less focus on unique stays compared to Airbnb.
|Historically cheaper, but added fees can increase costs. Cheaper options like shared spaces available.
|Tends to be cheaper overall, especially for entire homes or apartments and for Genius members.