The views from our favorite Airbnb in Prague.
Airbnb or Hotel?
It used to be an easy choice for us. A few years back we were full-time travellers and spent over 300 nights/year in Airbnb apartments.
The reasons was simple: On Airbnb you can rent weekly or monthly and save tons of money off the daily rate. We’d have a kitchen which meant we could cook our own food (and save money) and usually have an apartment with 1 or 2 bedrooms which meant much more comfort than the standard hotel room.
The choice is no longer that simple. The shine has come off Airbnb these days and the advantages of the platform are not what they used to be. I’ll discuss that below. There’s also increased competition from hotel booking websites who’ve worked on including aparthotels and apartments in their search engines. That’s cut into Airbnb’s market share. I discuss that as well.
But I start with a general comparison between Airbnb and Hotels. People usually have a clear-cut favorite. We don’t. What we choose depends on a few different factors.
Choosing a Hotel – the Pros and Cons
- I like that Hotels are centrally located and usually easy to find. You show up and there’s someone at reception to greet you. Hotels are easy.
- Service & help. There’s always someone there if you need help with something in your room.
- There might be a restaurant in your hotel. It’s always good choosing a hotel with a restaurant especially if arriving after a long travel day.
- Usually you don’t have any unpleasant surprises when arriving in a hotel. You have a comfortable bed, a bathroom stocked with basic toiletries and wifi (hopefully decent wifi. We’ve seen lots of hotels with bad wifi).
- Unless you’re splurging, one hotel is like the next: a basic room with four walls.
- Hotels are usually more expensive than an Airbnb.
- You’ll generally pay much more for food because chances are that if you’re staying in hotel you’ll be eating in restaurants. If you try to save money by bringing food into your room, it’s often uncomfortable in a hotel room and you need to bring some of your own supplies (plastic knives, forks, paper plates…).
- I can’t tell you how many hotel rooms we’ve had with thin walls (where you can hear all your neighbours), bad wifi, bad beds (and bedding) and poor ventilation.
A hotel is the easy and reliable choice, especially if going somewhere for a night or two. But the eating thing tends to drive us crazy – if you’re on a 1-month trip through Spain are you going to be eating every meal in a restaurant or bringing fast food back to the room?
As I say, hotels are easy. But after 2 nights maximum I tend to go stir crazy in hotel rooms.
Choosing an Airbnb – the Pros and Cons
- A good Airbnb apartment can be a great experience. You’re in a home away from home, have a comfortable living space, a working kitchen, a washing machine/dryer for your laundry.
- Besides the comfort, you have an “in” if staying in a good Airbnb. During our travels we often had great hosts and in many cases were shown around the city, invited out for drinks, etc. Many hosts really want to give you more than just an accommodation experience (the longer you stay, the more you might experience the above kind of relationship with your host).
- You save money on longer stays because of weekly and/or monthly discounts. Long stay discounts are the reason we were able to travel the world full-time for 6 years (paying an average of $1000 US/month in Airbnb apartments).
- Cooking and eating at home. The average traveller will pay more on food than on accommodation when staying in a hotel. You have to factor that into your costs when deciding whether to stay in a hotel or Airbnb. Another thing – after a day of walking around a city sometimes you just want to come “home” and eat on the couch while watching tv. Going out and finding food can be exhausting.
- Co-ordinating check-ins with owners and finding the place. It can be stressful.
- As much as you can have great experiences, you can also have some really bad ones with shitty hosts. I wrote a post on how to get the most out of Airbnbs here and, following these rules, we usually have good experiences. BUT we’ve also had a few very bad ones, especially if: 1) we’ve broken own rules (sometimes you have to, in some places there aren’t many options), 2) on shorter stays. A few examples of bad Airbnb stays here and here.
- It’s harder to get help on Airbnb if there’s an issue/conflict, and harder to get your money back should something happen (especially on longer stays).
What’s been happening with Airbnb
In my opinion Airbnb has gotten greedy. It used to be an app that connected people with apartments to travellers searching for lodging. Often the hosts were like-minded people who rented not just to make money but also to meet up with fellow travellers.
Somewhere along the line Airbnb became big business. They started squeezing both hosts and customers with higher commissions. They started having more “professional” hosts, people who bought 2nd or 3rd properties just to rent them out on Airbnb. And just as the business changed, so has the host/customer relationship. More and more, you’ll have self check-ins where you pick up your keys from a lockbox. It’s changed the dynamic, made it less personal and made both hosts and guests less accountable. It became all about the money and all about growth which has led to the backlash against Airbnb that you see in many cities. And with all this, prices have gone up, making Airbnb a less obvious option.
It’s all a shame because we absolutely loved Airbnb.
I’ll say this though – you can still have great Airbnb experiences. I recently travelled through Mexico and we had GREAT Airbnb experiences where we had fantastic stays and incredibly helpful hosts. I think, more than ever, you just have to do more research if thinking of staying in an Airbnb. Carefully read reviews, research the area, and book with Superhosts anywhere you can.
A good article by WIRED: Is this the end of Airbnb?
And then there are those other Hotel Booking Sites
Hotel sites like Booking.com have increasingly added more aparthotel and apartment options on their search engines in recent years. If looking for a short stay it’s a good alternative to Airbnb. In fact we recently stayed in an apartment in Salamanca that we booked on Booking.com that was better (and cheaper) than anything we saw on Airbnb.
HOWEVER – for anything more than a few days hotel websites can’t compete price-wise with Airbnb because their websites are not set up for the flexibility of longer term stays. If an apartment on Booking.com is 100 Euros a night, the price for 7 nights will show up as 100 Euros * 7 nights = 700 Euros. On Airbnb owners have the discretion to change their pricing for longer term stays. It’s why long-term travellers chose Airbnb.
So while Hotel search engines have cut into Airbnb’s market share, that competition is in the short-stay market. Airbnb is still the place to go for longer stays.
So Airbnb or Hotel?
I stick to a very simple strategy:
- If we’re staying somewhere 2 days or less we stay in a hotel.
- If we’re staying 3 days or more we stay in an Airbnb or an apartment we find on Booking.com.
My logic? You won’t save much on Airbnb on a 2 day stay and the inconveniences aren’t worth it. But if staying somewhere 3+ days you see the price differential add up, plus you get the comfort and savings (on cooking your own food) of an apartment.
Another variable: If I’m travelling with a family member (like I do with my mother), I’ll always try to book on Airbnb. The reason being that we need a place with 2 bedrooms, something that the average hotel won’t offer.
Your thoughts? Do you have a preference when travelling?