Thanks to the Internet, the “sharing economy” has fundamentally changed the way that people view their personal time and resources. Suddenly, everyone with a car or a home can now easily become a part-time entrepreneur with the barrier for entry being as simple as just having a working email address.
For hosts and travelers alike, Airbnb is the biggest name in the vacation rental game, but they’re far from the only one. When there are so many options, how can you know which one(s) you should use to list your place? Let’s take a look at some of the top listing sites on the Web and see how they compare to one another.
People have been renting out their spare space for as long as people have had space to spare, but Airbnb really changed the game when it launched in 2008, primarily through the user-friendly interface that makes it easy for people to list their rentals or find and book a place to stay. Perhaps most importantly, it also gives both hosts and guests the ability to rate and comment on their experiences with one another.
Airbnb originally set itself apart by being the first widely accepted service that allowed people to rent out individual rooms or spaces in their homes, as opposed to an entire house or apartment (sorry Couchsurfing - we see you), and it really remains the most effective service out there for people who just want to rent a single private room (or bed). Likely because of this, Airbnb is the most popular listing service for travelers looking to stay in urban areas. It’s basically the standard service for younger people, which means it’s also largely used for last-minute, shorter-term bookings. Although Airbnb provides three tiers of cancellation policies for hosts to choose from, it does sometimes charge hosts a higher service fee if they have a strict cancellation policy, so it’s clear that they generally want to encourage flexibility.
Airbnb pays hosts on a per-booking basis (you’ll get your money 24 hours after a guest checks out) and charges a 3% service fee, which is among the lowest options on this list. This low fee is part of the reason why Airbnb is a great choice for people who may just want to rent out a private residence at select times during the year, rather than operating a regular year-round rental.
From a branding perspective, HomeAway is the biggest challenger to Airbnb’s perceived marketplace dominance, and that’s largely because it’s built a broad audience by positioning itself as the premier service for more seasoned travelers looking to spend time in traditional travel destinations (think beach or mountain locations). Typically, HomeAway caters to families and/or people looking for a places to stay for multiple days or even weeks, rather than individuals or small groups who just need somewhere to sleep for a night or two. Hosts can even set the “minimum stay” requirements for each place to narrow down their potential audience even further.
Of course, this is a broad generalization — many hosts offer two night minimum stay options for short-term or weekend travelers — but it gets to the crux of what really separates HomeAway from Airbnb, which is that it skews more toward providing a familiar professional booking experience (it is owned by Expedia, after all), rather than the more laid back “sharing economy” vibe of Airbnb. In addition to offering rentals on HomeAway.com, the service acts as a hub for promoting your rental on over 20 different listing websites.
HomeAway (and by extension the “HomeAway Family”) provides two different type of plans for rental owners. Hosts whose properties are regularly occupied for most of the year would probably be best off taking advantage of the $499 annual subscription, which will ultimately save you more money in the long-run. However, if you’re rental is booked infrequently or only available at certain times of the year, there is a pay-per-booking option, as well, which comes with a 5% service fee. There is also a 3% credit card fee applied to all transactions. Some additional fees (like a cleaning fee) can be added at the host’s discretion.
The most notable of those aforementioned HomeAway-affiliated listing sites is VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner). VRBO listings are concentrated in the USA and stick closely to the general mission of its parent company, so it’s where people are likely going to look for rentals in places like Myrtle Beach, Aspen, or Honolulu. Because it’s affiliated with HomeAway, it falls under the umbrella of the $499 annual subscription fee, as well as the standard 5% pay-per-booking fee. The site is nearly identical to HomeAway.com, making it easy for travelers to search for places by location, target dates, and number of guests. Additionally, it’s easy to filter searches to find more nuanced features, such as pet-friendly listings or places with a pool, so if you can offer these things, you have a chance to stand out and find the types of renters you want to attract.
VacationRentals.com is another member of the HomeAway Family with (sort of) a focus on vacation rentals in the US for the more budget-conscious traveler. If you’re already using the HomeAway subscription service and you’re comfortable with bringing in a wider range of guests, it probably wouldn’t hurt to list on this site, as well, but I wouldn’t recommend it as your only or even primary source for finding renters.
The biggest benefit to using FlipKey is that it is owned and integrated with TripAdvisor, one of the best travel sites out there. Every property is rated and ranked based on TripAdvisor’s review system, so like Airbnb, it provides a sense of community and trust. Good reviews carry a lot of weight and will help you build your rental business.
Unlike the HomeAway Family, FlipKey doesn’t really have a specific niche and tries to cater to every type of host and traveler. Of course, traditional vacation destinations are highly represented and sought after, but overall, it’s a far more accessible service for hosts just looking to make a few extra bucks. Just remember that with such a large platform, it can be hard to stand out, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve taken the time to really optimize your listing and do some additional marketing outside of the site (i.e., use social media) to promote your rental.
It’s free to list your rental on FlipKey, which also uses a pay-per-booking model with just a 3% service fee, so it’s tied with Airbnb for the most cost-effective options on this list. I definitely recommended that you use this service as a way to get more eyes on your rental.
This service is incredibly similar to FlipKey in many ways. It’s also owned by a major travel brand (Priceline) and also sort of operates as a catch-all platform for travelers and hosts of all shapes and sizes. Because of this, the site receives a lot of traffic, so it’s another chance to quickly and easily get your rental in front of thousands of potential guests. However, the downside is that because Booking.com deals in more than just vacation rentals, you’ll be competing against hotels, bed and breakfasts, hostels, etc. — as well as entire travel package options — so it will really take a lot of extra work to get your listing noticed.
Although you don’t have to pay to list your rental, Booking.com charges a whopping 15% service fee and a 3% credit card fee, which can really eat into your profits, especially if you’re a more casual host with a cheap rental option. I would only recommend this site for seasoned and professional hosts who operate like a business and have guaranteed consistent traffic throughout the year. And even then, it should be used in conjunction with other services.
OneFineStay is the most specialized of the services on this list, focusing exclusively on high end luxury rentals in major destination cities. (For instance, the only places where it’s available in the US are New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.) To ensure that they can maintain this level of quality and exclusivity, each rental is selected and reviewed by members of the OneFineStay team. This type of curation and attention to detail really set this service apart from all the others. The website provides visitors with weekly staff picks, and when it’s time to check in, guests will receive a personal welcome from a OneFineStay staff member (complete with fresh linens and toiletries) who can provide recommendations for local food and activities. They will even have access to a 24-hour hotline for assistance. Travelers can also indulge in additional services like childcare and grocery delivery.
Obviously, there’s a huge barrier to entry for this service that the majority of vacation rentals probably won’t ever meet (location specifications aside), but if you live in a city that is supported by OneFineStay and feel confident that your place can cut the mustard, it might be worth a shot. As part of the illusion of luxury, no fees are readily available on their site, but one can surmise that it’s probably pretty expensive to list your property with them. Of course, the flip side of that is you stand to make a lot of money, as well.
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
With the exception of OneFineStay, all of these services have payment options that allows you to list your property for free, so it’s probably worth it to try out any of them that seem like they would be a good fit for your rental to see which ones can successfully bring in travelers and help you build your business. In the end, it comes down to knowing who your target audience is and connecting with them. Luckily for you, there are many websites and applications out there that can help you find your perfect guests at little-to-no upfront cost. Over time, you’ll learn how to leverage each service you use to play to it’s strengths and weaknesses and maximize your profits (but that’s for another blog post, really).