Travel Tips

Published on April 11th, 2016 | by Mark Chesnut

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Hotel or Airbnb: Which is Right For You? Here’s How To Decide

When you’re planning a vacation or business trip, one of the biggest questions you may face is whether to stay in a traditional hotel or with Airbnb, the private home rental service. So which is right for you?

It’s interesting how passionate some people’s stand on this issue can be. Airbnb enthusiasts crow about the beauty of unique experiences and personal contacts (and never mention the lack of consistency and potential hassles), while traditional travelers rail against the idea of sharing accommodations with someone they don’t know (and seem to forget about the fact that Airbnb and other home rental services also offer complete, private home and apartment rentals where you don’t have to share).

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The strongest reactions often come from hotel industry and travel industry insiders, who love to call Airbnb and the home rental concept a “disrupter,” a term they use with a decidedly negative connotation — they’re upset because it makes them have to scramble and deal with new realities (funny how a threatening new concept like Airbnb is a “disrupter,” but inventions like resort fees and WiFi charges — which are made up just to get more money for something that’s already there — are not a disrupter, according to the hotel industry).

As a journalist and travel writer, I’ve been covering the hotel industry for about 20 years. I’ve also been covering the rising popularity of home rental services like Airbnb and Homeaway since they’ve popped into the scene. I’ve stayed at countless hotels around the globe for business trips and vacations, and also rented private apartments in countries as diverse as Argentina, BrazilColombia, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and Spain (some people mistakenly assume that booking via Airbnb means that they have to share an apartment or house with strangers, and I’ve never done that. I like my privacy, and I only rent entire apartments). It’s also worth noting that, while Airbnb attracts the most attention, there are other ways to rent apartments and homes, such as Homeway.com.

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Over the past few years, I’ve slowly come up with some guidelines that I use to decide when I prefer a hotel, and when I prefer a private home. These tips might help you to decide, too — see which advantages appeal most to you.

The Advantages of Staying in a Hotel
• Consistency and expectability. Especially with the big chain brands, you can pretty much expect the same experience every time you check in, no matter where: same decor, same amenities, same level of service. You can generally avoid the homey imperfections that you might find in a private home.
• Loyalty programs, rewards and upgrades. If you’re a frequent traveler, you may prefer to rack up points that can get you free nights, upgrades and other benefits. You won’t get that with Airbnb.
• On-the-spot assistance. When you stay at a hotel, there is ideally staff on hand at all times, day or night, to resolve problems. Can’t get the WiFi to work? Make a call. Can’t figure out the TV’s remote control? Make a call. With a rental apartment or house, there may not always be someone available to help you. (A recent Airbnb rental had me frantically trying to figure out which buttons on which remote control to press, and I finally gave up. It was just like being at home.)
• Flexibility with reservations. After you’ve reserved a hotel room, if you later find out that you need to add extra nights (or change your dates), it’s generally relatively easy to do so. There will usually still be hotel rooms available. With a singular apartment or house, however, you may not be able to do so. During my most recent trip to Lima, Peru, for example, I realized that I needed an extra night after I’d already reserved an apartment, but it was already booked by someone else for that night.

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The Potential Advantages of Booking Airbnb (and other home rental services)
• A unique experience. Unlike the cookie-cutter style of chain hotels, booking an individual residence provides the opportunity to experience something different every time you travel (unless, of course, you find a home that you like so much that you book it every time you visit that destination).
• More privacy. Depending on the type of accommodations, you may have more a feeling of really having your “own place” when you book a private residence — rather than feeling like hotel doormen, security and reception staff are watching your every entrance and exit.
• Feeling like a local. Staying in a private house or apartment can make you feel like you’re actually living in a destination, rather than on vacation or on a business trip. You’re more likely to have access to a full kitchen so you can shop and cook, and if the host is good, you’ll also have access to insider travel tips like recommendations for shopping, sightseeing, dining and nightlife that may be more helpful than an overly trained hotel concierge.
• Possible savings. Depending on the destination, renting an apartment or house may be cheaper than renting a hotel room or suite. WiFi will be free, for the most part, with rental apartments, whereas a lot of upscale hotels charge ridiculous fees for it.
• The ability to get more for your money. In other cases, you may spend the same amount you’d spend on a hotel, but you’ll get a lot more space, plus amenities like a full kitchen and multiple bathrooms.
• Amenities with a personal touch. A beautiful apartment I recently rented in Bogota had bookshelves filled with travel guides, novels and DVDs to play on the TV. You won’t get that with a hotel.
• More personal attention and better problem resolutions. Sure, hotels ideally offer immediate, on-the-spot resolutions to any problem that may occur. But once, when I arrived at an Airbnb apartment in Mexico City and it hadn’t been properly cleaned, the owner gave me a refund for two entire nights. You think you’d get that same response from a hotel where the maid didn’t show up on time? I doubt it.
• You may find surprising options during hard-to-get events and in destinations where hotels are at a premium. During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for example, a company called Homestay.com is offering rental rooms in private homes at rates ranging from $22 to $192 per night. That’s probably cheaper than what you’ll find at most hotels at this point. Airbnb, meanwhile, is already entering the red-hot Cuba market, with accommodations that can complement the crowded Cuba hotel scene.

That’s enough to get you thinking about which type of traveler you are, isn’t it? In my next post, I’ll outline the things you need to verify before you book Airbnb.

Photo via VisualHunt.com

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About the Author

The founder and editor of LatinFlyer.com, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He’s worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.



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