Vrbo vs Airbnb: Which One is Best for Canadian Travellers? 

Vrbo vs Airbnb
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    Travel planning software makes organizing trips faster, easier, and more convenient. For a (reasonably) small processing fee, you can find the perfect accommodation on sites like Airbnb and VRBO, two major players in the vacation rental marketplace. Platforms like these also enable homeowners to profit off their property and connect travellers with locals who can offer advice on things to do and places to go. 

    But when it comes to Airbnb vs. Vrbo, is one better than the other for Canadians? 

    I’ve used Airbnb frequently in the past, but since I don’t plan many group trips, I’ve never used VRBO, although I was aware of it. I was keen to dig into this topic to see how the two sites compare. So, let’s get into it and pit VRBO vs. Airbnb to decide which one is best for Canadian travellers.

    Airbnb Overview

    Airbnb is an online vacation rental platform that connects property owners with travellers seeking accommodation. They act as middlemen between the renter and owner and collect a commission from hosts, as well as fees from renters. The company was started in San Francisco in 2008 by three locals who had the idea to rent out their spare bedroom on a short-term basis for tourists. Since its inception, Airbnb has completely revolutionized the travel industry and, while rooms are still listed, rental options have expanded to include entire homes, luxury villas, treehouses, modular homes, and boutique hotels, hostels, and more. Users with certain travel credit cards can even earn reward points by using Airbnb. 

    They also offer Airbnb Experiences, basically host-led activities that travellers can book on top of their accommodation. Photography tours, foodie tours, cooking classes, cultural or historical walks and architectural tours are some popular options. Anyone can sign up to host an Airbnb Experience, even if you don’t have any property to rent out. Online experiences are hosted via Zoom and can be attended by anyone. Online experiences like virtual city tours are a great way to check a place out if you’re on the fence about visiting or to test out an activity before paying for the real thing. 

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    VRBO Overview

    VRBO began in 1995. The name is a shortened version of what it was originally called, Vacation Rental by Owner. It was purchased by Home Away in 2006 and while it hasn’t experienced an explosion in popularity like Airbnb (the word ‘Airbnb’ is practically a verb at this point) it has continued to enjoy steady success. 

    Part of why VRBO is not as popular with renters as Airbnb is because VRBO lists entire properties, not individual rooms. That means renters never have to share their space with anyone, neither other guests nor homeowners. 

    While this strategy is a major selling point for anyone who values privacy, it means that most properties are too expensive for solo travellers or anyone on a budget. 

    Vrbo vs Airbnb: Types of Properties Available

    Airbnb

    Travellers can find all kinds of accommodation on Airbnb, including entire homes, laneway houses, individual rooms in a shared house with other guests or with the hosts themselves, double-occupancy rooms, tents or yurts, cabins, houseboats, and even surreal properties like elaborate treehouses, mountain-side sleeping pods, tiny homes made from shipping containers, renovated windmills and even castles

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    A wagon, a converted train car, and a UFO-inspired guesthouse are just a few of Airbnb’s most unique options.

    VRBO

    VRBO has some unique properties as well. The only downside is that you can’t rent individual rooms on VRBO, only entire properties. If you’re planning a group trip, you’ll find plenty of Instagram-worthy accommodations; a cottage in the Scottish countryside, a working farm bed and breakfast, glamping pods, and treehouses were some of the more interesting listings buried among pages and pages of luxury villas, beach homes, condos, apartments, and lakeside cabins. However, if you’re travelling solo or on a budget, VRBO probably won’t be much help. 

    Winner: Airbnb

    Vrbo vs Airbnb: Number of Rentals

    Airbnb

    Airbnb has been around since 2008 and has since amassed a database of over 6 million properties. Over 250,000 listings were added in 2013 when homeowners began realizing how lucrative renting can be, and since Airbnb’s listings include almost every type of accommodation you can think of, its database has continued to grow exponentially.

    VRBO

    On the other hand, VRBO, which has been around almost a decade longer than Airbnb, has just over 2 million listings. Since VRBO only accepts listings for entire homes, not individual rooms, its database hasn’t experienced the explosive growth that Airbnb has. Also, VRBOI doesn’t list any hotels. These limits make it less accessible to potential hosts. 

    Winner: Airbnb

    Vrbo vs Airbnb: Cost

    Both Airbnb and VRBO use smart pricing software that compares similar properties and factors in things like location and travel dates to give hosts an idea of what to charge, but the base price ultimately comes down to the owner. All properties are subject to the occupancy taxes of the area, which will vary by location.

    When it comes to price, VRBO’s listings will obviously be more expensive by default because they only deal with larger properties. For the purposes of comparison, let’s look at each platform’s fee structure and how much of what you’re paying goes to the host. Note that in both cases, longer reservations are charged less in service fees. 

    Airbnb

    Bookings made through Airbnb are charged a cleaning fee as well as fees for pets and extra guests, which are decided by the host. The processing fee, according to Airbnb, should stay below 14.2%. Generally, a fee of between 14% – 20% is added to the reservation when you go to check out. Unfortunately, users only see the base price of the listing until it’s time to pay unless they reserve a hotel or hostel, in which case service fees don’t apply. 

    Hosts are subject to fees, as well. On top of paying Airbnb a commission, hosts who use Airbnb’s split fee structure pay a 3% fee for every booking. Hosts also have the option of using a host-only fee structure and pay the 15% themselves, but not many do. Hosts will also pay a 20% experience fee if they provide any. No experience fees are charged to the guest. 

    VRBO

    VRBO also charges fees to both guests and hosts. Fees charged to guests can be anywhere between 5% – 16% depending on the total amount of the rental. VRBO also offers renters a monthly payment plan option through Affirm, so you don’t need to worry about paying it all upfront.

    The fee structure for hosts is more complicated. VRBO collects 8% if hosts use a pay-per-booking strategy. 3% is a credit card processing fee, and 5% is a commission. Instead, hosts can pay the $499 yearly subscription and only pay the credit card fee. 

    Winner: Tie

    Vrbo vs Airbnb: Customer Service

    Airbnb

    Poor customer service has long been a point of contention amongst users. If any issues between homeowners or property managers and guests arise, Airbnb doesn’t get involved unless necessary. Since there is no direct point of contact, getting a hold of a real person can be a long and arduous process, often involving several frustrating conversations with bots or reading countless articles in the seemingly endless ‘Help’ section. 

    VRBO

    VRBO has a long-standing reputation for delivering excellent customer service. Their online portal and customer service lines are manned 24/7, so there is always a point of contact if anything goes wrong. For a lot of us, outstanding customer service can more than make up for products’ minor shortcomings. 

    Winner: VRBO

    Vrbo vs Airbnb: Cancellation Policy

    Each platform has a few cancellation strategies hosts can choose to employ. 

    Airbnb

    Airbnb will refund the nightly rate and cleaning fee only. Processing fees are non-refundable. Higher fees are charged to hosts with strict cancellation policies. You may have a travel insurance policy through your credit card that covers any non-refundable portion if you need to cancel. 

    Super strict50% refund granted if cancelled 60 days before reservation
    Super strict for long stays (27 nights or more)50% refund if cancelled within 48 hours of booking OR at least 28 days before check-in
    Strict Refundable if cancelled within 48 hours of reserving and at least 14 days before check-in. A 50% refund is granted if cancelled 7 days before check-in. 
    ModerateFree cancellation up to 5 days before check-in; 50% refund if less than 5 days before check-in. 
    FlexibleFree cancellations up to 24 hours before first day. You’ll pay for the first night if cancelled less than 24 hours before check-in. 

    VRBO

    Will refund your service fee and any damage deposit paid to hold the reservation. 

    No refund No refund is given once booking is confirmed
    StrictFully refundable if cancelled 60 days before check-in
    Firm50% refund if cancelled 30 days before reservation 
    Moderate50% refund if cancelled 14 days before reservation
    Relaxed50% refund if cancelled 7 days before reservation

    Winner: VRBO 

    Vrbo vs Airbnb: Functionality

    Both platforms are very user friendly an easy to navigate. Travellers can find rentals using filters like number of guests, dates, and whether a location is pet-friendly; on-site amenities like pools, hot tubs, or full kitchens; and what’s nearby, price range, type of property, ratings, and cancellation policy. 

    Airbnb

    Airbnb’s search page is on the home screen. When you click on the box to enter your destination, a drop-down menu with regional maps will appear. You can enter a specific destination, or if you only have a rough idea of where you want to go you can browse what’s available for a little inspiration. You can also click ‘I’m flexible’ to see available properties around the world. Once you’ve chosen a location, add your dates and number of guests then click search. 

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    Your options will be listed on the left-hand side of the screen, and a map with approximate locations will be on the right. Click on a listing to see more details about the property like house rules and the cancellation policy. You can look at photos, connect with the host and learn more about the space. You’ll also be able to read reviews from previous guests and check out the hosts’ availability calendar. 

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    To narrow your search, Airbnb has a toolbar at the top of the page. Click on any of the icons to see properties with amazing views, near a national park or beach, or properties in the countryside. You can also click on ‘filters’ to add multiple filters to your search. 

    When you’re ready to book, click ‘reserve’, review your reservation and payment deals, and if everything is fine you can reserve automatically. In some cases, you first need to send a reservation request to the host, who can either confirm or deny your request. You can choose to filter out properties that require a reservation request and only see listings that offer instant booking. 

    VRBO

    VRBO‘s website works in very much the same way as Airbnb’s. To search for properties, you can either enter a specific city or town or just put in a country or region like the Canadian Rockies or Western Europe. Enter your dates and number of guests then click search.

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    The results page is like Airbnb’s as well, with a list of properties next to a map with pins on approximate locations. Exact locations are provided after the reservation is confirmed by the host. If you want to filter your results you can click on one of the quick filter buttons or click on the ‘filter’ icon. 

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    VRBO has more specific filter and sort options than Airbnb, giving it a slight advantage. For example, with VRBO you can choose to see properties that are highly rated based on cleanliness or location or places that are offering discounts. 

    Click on a property to learn more about it, read reviews, look at photos and contact the host. With VRBO, all guests need to request to book from the owner. VRBO also has Trip Boards where users can save and compare potential properties. You can share Trip Boards with other members of your travel group, a useful tool that gets everyone on the same page. 

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    Winner: Tie 

    Vrbo vs Airbnb: Our Final Verdict

    The size of Airbnb’s database and the variety of accommodation options make them the clear winner. Even though VRBO has a clear cancellation policy, a more straightforward fee outline and much better customer service, their policy of only renting out entire properties excludes a huge portion of the travel market. 

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    Meagen Seatter is a freelance journalist for Hardbacon. She's been using credit cards to travel-hack her way around the world since 2019. In addition to freelance work, she writes for Investing News Network, a global publication reporting on the latest investment news, developments, and trends. She studies online at Athabasca University and currently resides in Vancouver, British Columbia.