Are Airbnbs a better deal than hotels? Here’s what to look for

Remember when one of the best money-saving travel tips was to book an Airbnb rather than a hotel? Not only were nightly rates almost always much cheaper, but Airbnbs and the hosts themselves were often designed to be the most memorable aspects of a trip.

These days, staying at an Airbnb rarely involves big savings or friendships with hosts. For better or worse, features like self-check-in ensure that hosts and guests never even meet. Meanwhile, many listings are managed not by landlords, but by corporate property management giants – without the convenience of full-time on-site staff.

And the cost? A June 2022 NerdWallet analysis looked at 1,000 Airbnb reservations in the United States for 2022 or 2023. While there’s no way to directly compare costs since every Airbnb is different, some key metrics provide clues as to the when Airbnbs is better or worse than a hotel.

In some cases, Airbnb rentals are still a bargain compared to hotels. Other times, they are far from it.

TRAVEL TIME

For short stays, Airbnbs are rarely a bargain for two reasons: discounts and cleaning fees.

The savings increase with the length of the trip: the rate per night for the average The seven-night Airbnb stay was 32% cheaper than an overnight stay, according to NerdWallet’s analysis.

  • One night stay: $314 median price per night
  • Seven-night stay: $213 median price per night (32% cheaper per night compared to a one-night stay)

Why are longer stays cheaper? One of the reasons is multi-day discounts. Hosts offer these incentives because they prefer to have fewer reservations to manage and ensure occupancy.

Another reason is cleaning costs. Although not all ads have them, the median cleanup fee is $75, according to NerdWallet’s analysis. Since it is a one-time fee, the cost is reduced by longer stays. A $75 cleaning fee is higher for a one-night stay than for a three-week stay, where it would only be about $3.50 per day. Since hotels typically don’t have cleaning fees, travelers staying a night or two might be better off with a hotel if the Airbnb cleaning fee is high.

GROUP SIZE

For solo travelers and couples, Airbnbs are generally more expensive (although NerdWallet’s study only looked at “whole” properties, so people sharing a room or house could still save) .

NerdWallet compared the price per person for Airbnbs with a maximum capacity of two adults versus a hotel room in the same city. He also compared the cost of an Airbnb with a maximum capacity of six people to the cost of booking three hotel rooms (assuming two adults per room).

The average Airbnb for six was 33% cheaper than booking three hotel rooms. But the average hotel was 29% cheaper than booking an Airbnb for two.

Here’s how the median costs break down, per person:

  • Small Airbnb (for two adults): $125.
  • Large Airbnb (for six adults): $60.
  • Hotel room (for two adults): $89.

OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Of course, every traveler’s situation is unique and other costs go into a trip beyond the listed price. Ask yourself about:

TRANSPORTATION: Does the hotel charge for parking? Is there a free airport shuttle? Is the hotel downtown and walkable, when your Airbnb might require a rental car?

STAFF AVAILABILITY: For Airbnbs, you may never meet the host or interact with any type of staff. If you’d rather talk to a human (or just need personal assistance with getting directions or helping clean up a mess), a hotel might have better deals.

Then again, even the hotels are still understaffed. The American Hotel & Lodging Association projects hotels will end 2022 with 1.97 million employees, or 84% of pre-pandemic levels, and a May 2022 AHLA survey found that 97% of hotels indicate that they are experiencing a shortage of staff.

FOOD: Can you avoid restaurants by cooking in the Airbnb kitchen? Is the free hotel breakfast more convenient?

OTHER AMENITIES: Does your Airbnb include laundry? Are daily activities included in your hotel so you can avoid paying for other entertainment if you spend all day at the pool?

For teleworkers, what about offices? A spring 2022 Deloitte survey of 4,200 Americans asked what factors go into their lodging decisions. “Space to work” saw a 19% increase in 2022 compared to 2021 – and an Airbnb with a separate office or courtyard might be a nicer workspace than being locked up in a tiny hotel room.

ADDITIONAL FEES AND PAYMENT METHODS: Will you owe resort fees? Airbnb doesn’t have a loyalty program, but can you stay at the hotel for free with points?

Given the variability, it is impossible to claim that Airbnbs are better or worse than hotels. And given the continued reduction in hotel services like housekeeping and room service, the sometimes lackluster sentiment that increasingly surrounds Airbnb is a tough comparison to make as hotel services disappear too.

But if you’re booking a trip in 2022 assuming Airbnbs is still the best deal, reconsider your strategy.

— Sally French, NerdWallet