Hotel vs. rental: When does it make sense to book one over the other?

Robert Malcolm is heading to Las Vegas this fall and after weighing the options of staying at a hotel or an Airbnb rental property, he is leaning towards booking a hotel.

"Basically, it's the Airbnb fees that kill you," the 38-year-old said.

If you're looking to get away in the next few months, you might also be wondering how to get the best accommodation experience in the most cost-effective way.

Experts say the best option for you ultimately comes down to what your goals are for the trip, where exactly you're going and how many people will be joining you.

"The way I see it is, it's no longer Airbnb versus hotels. They are similar to a certain extent, but they offer different opportunities," said personal finance and travel specialist Barry Choi.

Airbnb is the biggest name in the accommodation rental game right now and has seen triple-digit growth over the last decade, giving travellers access to unique properties, the ability to live like a local and even find places to stay in the most remote parts of the world.

But its getting costlier to book Airbnbs in many cases as prices rose substantially over the last two years, noted Choi.

If booking an Airbnb is going to cost close to the same amount as a hotel, "I feel like most people will just lean towards the hotel," Choi said.

He added that its easier to get discounts with hotels compared to vacation rentals.

The Marriott's loyalty program, for example, allows members to earn and redeem points for free nights and other redemptions at its Bonvoy brands.

The best way to get a discount with Airbnb is by booking a rental for an extended period of time.

"But I'm seeing that less and less these days," Choi said.

The cleaning fees have also increased significantly, he noted.

And oftentimes, you're expected to do chores.

"A property I was looking at, they wanted me to strip sheets, start the laundry machine and the dishwasher while charging me a $150 cleaning fee. When it gets to that point, I might as well just stay at a hotel."

Choi said there are certainly times when an Airbnb will definitely make more sense over a hotel even if it is the same cost or more expensive.

"Perhaps you want some extra room because you've got teenagers that fight often, so definitely getting an Airbnb makes more sense. Or if you're going on a multi-generation family trip, it definitely makes way more sense," he said.

An Airbnb might also make more sense if you're going on a romantic getaway or going on a solo trip and want to be out of the city, he added.

Stuart Martin, 32, is going to Berlin for the first time in November and after debating over hotels and Airbnb, he opted to book a small apartment through the vacation rental platform.

"My typical pattern is if I’m only staying in a city for one or two nights, hotels seem to be the way to go," he said.

"If I’m staying longer than a couple days, I prefer Airbnbs because I can offset some of my costs by cooking my own meals, and it’s more comfortable to collapse on a real couch at the end of the day."

He said getting the best deals depends on the research you’ve done and how far in advance you can plan your trip, based on his experience.

"One of the best parts of Airbnb is connecting with the host and getting their recommendations on what to do and see," he added.

If you want to widen your net when it comes to rental options and shop around Vrbo, which is owned by Expedia Group, is the probably the second-most popular option.

But sites like Booking.com and Tripadvisor also offer rental options these days.

There are also other platforms on the market such as Sonder and Vacasa, although their listings are not as extensive as Airbnb. You can book these rentals through Booking.com instead of directly going through their sites as well.

Travel writer Natalie Preddie, who finds herself leaning more towards hotels as of late, said there are some limits to hotels that will sway people towards a rental, especially if they are visiting a new country.

"You're going to have a more curated experience, which for a lot of people, when you're travelling, you're trying to experience a new country, so with a hotel you're likely going to get the same holiday here that you're going to get in, say, Mexico. It's a very similar experience," she said.

"Plus, you're putting your money into a larger corporation and taking it away from something more local."

Preddie said travel overall will likely be more costly regardless of accommodation for the foreseeable future amid high gas and fuel prices, other inflationary pressures, a labour shortage, and demand, taking a bigger bite out of Canadians' pocketbooks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2022.

Adena Ali, The Canadian Press