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When Airbnb Is Better Than a Hotel for Families

June 27, 2019
16 min read
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Love them or loathe them, strict hotel occupancy limits (as in the number of people bookable per room) are a real nuisance for families and groups looking to travel outside of the US. Hotels in Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America are notorious for restricting the number of guests one can include in a hotel booking due to room size, local fire regulations and bedding arrangements. Many times, only two or at, best, three guests are allowed in a room, posing a real challenge to traveling families of four or more.

The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards for Airbnb

Photo by ElenaNichizhenova/Getty Images

While there may be ways to get around hotel occupancy limits when traveling abroad with children, that may not be the best approach for your family.

Some hotels won't count children 12 and younger as part of the room occupancy limit as long as that child sleeps in the room's existing bedding. But many of the standard rooms that you can book with points will offer only a single queen bed or two twin beds. For families of four like mine, sleeping on two twin beds would simply not work. Not only that, many hotels simply will not allow it.

Hotel rooms in Europe, for example, are also less likely to be connected with a pass-through door, so reserving two connecting rooms may not be a viable option either. Families can consider booking a larger room type, such as a suite, but that will certainly cost more points or cash than a standard room.

Try Airbnb or Other Home Rental Companies

With more than 3 million family-friendly listings worldwide on Airbnb, families like mine have plenty of lodging options when considering Airbnb over a stay with one of these global hotel brands such as Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott or IHG. As a matter of fact, family-friendly listings account for more than half of the total listings on the Airbnb platform.

If you haven't tried Airbnb, it's really easy. Here are tips for families using Airbnb.

Certain Airbnb markets are so robust in quantity and quality that, comparatively speaking, it may makes sense for you to save your hotel points and explore Airbnb listings in the following places:

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Iceland has seen explosive tourism growth since 2011. With winter's Northern Lights, natural geothermal pools, waterfalls, and year-round natural beauty, it's no wonder tourists continue to visit the "Land of Fire and Ice" at impressive rates. Nationwide, room occupancy at year-round hotels was 72.1% in 2017, a 53.7% increase from 2010.

With a continued large influx of tourists and an overall hotel shortage (particularly for points hotels), lodging demand in Iceland greatly outweighs supply. Like most of Europe, Iceland has strict regulations of room occupancy limits, with the handful of Marriott and Hilton properties in the capital of Reykjavik only allowing two guests per room. Rather than provide a pricier rate to accommodate a family of four, the Hilton search result will display "sold out for these dates."

Hilton hotels in Iceland will show "sold out" when searching for rooms with more than two guests.

Thankfully, Airbnb is regulated in Iceland and hosts can rent out their listings for up to 90 days per year (30 days maximum at a time), with the maximum combined income total a host can make within a calendar year limited to 2 million ISK or approximately $16,000 (USD). Despite this, you'll find plenty of diverse listings with all the family amenities you're looking for (heated floors are heaven), both in the capital of Reykjavik and across the countryside, where most of the sites and attractions are located.

Our family-friendly Icelandic cabin on the Golden Circle route. (Photo by Juan Ruiz)


Stop me if you've heard this before: Hotels in London are expensive. They sure are, and despite an abundance of hotels that can be booked with points, traveling families with more than one child will have a tough time finding points hotels that can accommodate the whole gang. (Here are eight London hotels where a family of four can book with points.)

Take, for example, the popular Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill, which can accommodate families of three on a points or cash booking. At a cash rate of $383 or 25,000 World of Hyatt points per night, a family of three can share a room with two twin beds or a king bed in London's famous West End neighborhood.

A family of three can stay at the Hyatt Regency London.

But if you're a family of four and want to stay at the same hotel in London, you won't be able to book a single room here on points due to the hotel occupancy policy. (You'd be forced to reserve the Royal Suite costing an absurdly high cash rate of $4,075 per night!)

An example of a price hike when you increase hotel search from one to two children.

Airbnb is booming in London. A study from property services company Colliers suggested that Airbnb’s market share in London jumped in 2017 from 2.8% to 7.6% on overnight stays. With iconic landmarks such as Big Ben, Parliament and Buckingham Palace, the tourism-magnet capital city of England wears the crown as the market leader on Airbnb with a whopping 75,700 listings as of May 2019.

This London flat fits five guests at $250 per night, making it an excellent hotel alternative. (Photo by Airbnb)

An expensive hotel market combined with room occupancy limits and a huge surplus of Airbnb listings for rent makes London one of the stronger cities for choosing Airbnb over hotels. In certain markets, Airbnb isn't the cheapest option. In London though, the average cost of an Airbnb is $144/night versus hotels at $252/night.

Latin America

Mexico City

Mexico is the most developed hospitality market in Latin America and is poised for continued growth in 2019. Mexico City is among the 10 largest cities in the world and has many lodging options for visitors. So why would "DF" -- (short for Distrito Federal), as it's affectionately called by locals -- be a better Airbnb market than hotel city for families?

For one, although most major hotel brands having a strong presence in Mexico City, few are able to accommodate families of four or greater.

I wanted to use my Hyatt points for a stay at the luxurious Hyatt Regency Mexico City as it costs only 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night, which TPG values at 1.7 cents a point. Unfortunately, there were no room types available for a family of four due to maximum room occupancy rules.

Regardless of points or cash, families of four cannot stay at Hyatt Regency Mexico City due to hotel maximum occupancy limit.

Meanwhile, the vast quantity of spectacular five-star Airbnb listings curated for families in DF was incredibly impressive. Ultimately, the tipping point in my hotel-versus-Airbnb debate for an upcoming family trip to Mexico City in July came down to how many ridiculously affordable apartments I found in the hip and safe neighborhoods of La Condesa and Roma.

Related: 8 Incredible Mexico City Airbnbs for Every Budget

Hotel rooms in high-end hotels, such as Hilton Mexico City Reforma or the InterContinental Presidente Mexico City, could accommodate a family of four at sub-$200 per night rates, but I could also rent an entire apartment, with a top-rated superhost, in the most upscale neighborhoods of Mexico City -- with a kitchen, multiple bedrooms and kid-friendly amenities for a fraction of the cost of a small hotel room. I recently booked us a two-bedroom/three bathroom Airbnb in the chic neighborhood of La Condesa in Mexico City over Fourth of July weekend and I ended up paying $168. Total.

Five-star family friendly Airbnb listings in Mexico City are in abundance.

You could spend at least a week eating your way through all of DF's foodie neighborhoods, visiting the renowned Papalote Children's Museum and wandering its tree-lined neighborhoods with gorgeous playgrounds. And your Airbnb wouldn't put a dent on your family vacation budget.

Rio de Janeiro

As of September 2018, Rio de Janeiro is in the top five Airbnb markets with more than 29,000 listings. But unlike Mexico City, there isn't much competition from the hotel industry in Rio, even after the 2016 Olympics.

The tourist area boasts just one Hyatt, one Hilton and two Marriott properties that can be booked on points. Only the Hilton Rio de Janeiro Copacabana can accommodate a family of four and it will require booking a premium room reward starting at 70,000 Hilton Honors points a night.

The Hilton Rio de Janeiro allows four family members in a room but it will cost you more points.
The Hilton Rio de Janeiro allows four family members in a room but it will cost you more points.

We have visited Rio without kids and it's by far one of my favorite cities in the world but most tourists don't venture outside the beach strip of Copacabana, which is a huge mistake. Some of the best restaurants, bars and shopping experiences in the city are located right beside Copacabana but in the more upmarket neighborhood of Leblon and, to a lesser extent, Ipanema. These neighborhoods are also where you will find tons of gorgeous Airbnb listings. The image below shows more than 50 five-star Airbnb homes hosted by superhosts in the Leblon and Ipanema neighborhoods, right beside Copacabana, with most under $100 a night.

Related: Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro With Kids

Tons of superhost listings with five-star reviews curated for families with children in the best neighborhoods in Rio.

With vigorously impressive inventory of Airbnb properties under $100 a night, you'd be hard-pressed to find hotels in Rio that offer a better location and superior value than renting an Airbnb.

Southeast Asia

With about a year until we embark on a three-week family trip to Southeast Asia, I made it a personal goal of mine to research hotels that could accommodate a family. Southeast Asia offers a tantalizing array of lodging options, from five-star mansions in the jungle to small shacks right on the white sand beaches. As in Europe and Latin America, hotel room occupancy limits in Southeast Asia are strictly enforced when booking.

For example, if I wanted to use Marriott Bonvoy points to book a resort in Bali for the family, I'd be out of luck given that most of the properties do not allow four guests in a room using points. You would receive a "Rate Unavailable" notice when conducting your search on the Marriott website.

No Marriott hotel in Bali can accommodate a family of four when booking online with points.

You could reserve a room for a family of four by paying the cash rate but that rate may not be a good choice for you and your family, particularly because Southeast Asia has some of the world's most affordable hotel markets. Why overspend when you don't have to?

Huge pricing surge when searching for hotels in Bali for four versus two or three.

The luxurious five-star properties St. Regis Bali and The Ritz-Carlton, Bali show rates of $397/night and $283/night for two guests with the same dates as the above example. Each charges 2x to 3x more for four guests than for two for the exact same room type.

Only rooms for two guests will display reasonable rates.
Luxury resorts in Bali will display reasonable rates if you're searching for only two guests. This wouldn't work for families.

Instead, search Airbnb for entire homes on the island of Bali with five-star reviews from an experienced superhost and you'll be pleased with the results. Home rental options include all the comforts of a top-end luxurious beach house at extremely inexpensive rates -- including multiple bathrooms, comfortable bedding for the entire family, a full kitchen and a private pool so the kids can be as rambunctious as they want to be.

You will commonly find several dozen listings that fit four or five guests and will also have a housekeeper (included in the rate) on hand to prepare the family breakfast each morning and make the beds daily.

Bali has an incredibly cheap inventory of luxurious homes curated for families.

Researching other Southeast Asian cities such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hoi An and Singapore resulted in similar findings. These hotel markets either have strict room occupancy limits or Airbnb vastly undercuts them in pricing, comfort, location and amenities.

For our 2020 Southeast Asia family trip, I may consider contacting certain hotels in advance to check if they are willing to accommodate the four of us on a points booking for a single room. If they won't, I undoubtedly will opt for a private home rental on Airbnb over paying for a suite or booking multiple hotel rooms.

Bottom Line

Finding appropriate hotel accommodations abroad can be challenging for families of four or more, particularly in places like Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Families planning travel should consider booking an Airbnb or other home rental, particularly in robust travel markets where the hotel options are limiting in comparison to the plentiful and dynamic rental inventory.

If you decide to go the Airbnb route, there are many ways to further reduce your total cost. For starters, if you are new to Airbnb, you can receive $40 off your first $75 or more reservation just for signing up to be a member. You can also purchase Airbnb gift cards at a discount at Raise, eBay or even during Amazon flash sales. Alternatively, purchase Airbnb gift cards at Staples where you can use a card, such as the Ink Business Cash Credit Card (up to $25,000 each account anniversary year), that earns you 5% cash back at office supply stores. Once you purchase Airbnb gift cards, you can add them to your account, which allows you to use multiple gift cards on a single reservation.

Lastly, Airbnb purchases on your credit card should code as “travel” so this is another opportunity to redeem your Capital One or Barclaycard Arrival miles. The current offer for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card awards a bonus of 60,000 miles, worth $600 toward your Airbnb stay (after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening). (Be sure you earn Delta miles, too.)

Read more about points hotels for families:

Featured image by Photo via Airbnb
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.