Hotels vs. Airbnb: Which should you book during your summer getaway?

Jun 11, 2021

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Hotels or Airbnb? It’s a great debate among many who travel regularly. People tend to fall in one camp or the other on which they prefer, and for a variety of reasons.

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Those who like hotels may enjoy the amenities — room service, daily cleaning, potential to sign up with loyalty programs to earn points and more.

“I typically pick hotels, especially when going to a beach destination. There’s nothing better than getting a drink delivered to you at the pool or beach,” says Nick Ellis, TPG reviews editor.

Others choose hotels for safety reasons when traveling alone, such as TPG senior reporter Victoria Walker, “It’s a safety thing. I would prefer to stay in a hotel with a front desk where someone can clearly see me go in and out in case something happens.”

People who prefer Airbnbs generally enjoy having more space — especially when booking a getaway for a group. I personally almost always book an Airbnb over a hotel when traveling with friends so I can have access to a kitchen and we can each have our own bedrooms. And I’m not the only one.

“I tend to prefer Airbnbs because I can cook (which can save lots of money on longer trips),” says Maddie Tarr, TPG product manager. “I also love Airbnbs because I feel more integrated into the community I’m staying in. It allows me to feel more like a visitor than a tourist.”

Historically, Airbnbs were a more economical option. This is still the case in some places, but with steep fees and heightened demand, these home rentals are no longer guaranteed to provide a budget-friendly option for your vacation.

Why have Airbnb prices risen?

Airbnb has come under fire recently for high prices — especially on Twitter, where the brand was even trending last week with users complaining about how costly booking stays has become.

There are a few different reasons prices are so high right now — part of it is due to increased demand over the past year, part of it is the taxes and fees structure imposed by Airbnb and part of it is because of astronomical cleaning fees charged by hosts.

During the pandemic, home rental bookings increased as hotels shut down and those who were traveling wanted to stay as far away from others as possible. That, of course, has caused prices to rise in popular destinations.

There has also been a crackdown in recent years on the taxes Airbnb collects after local governments raised concerns about missing tax revenue from rental companies. Now, many Airbnb listings are taxed like hotels — which has increased the overall taxes and fees on many listings. And those fees may continue to rise as local governments — especially in Europe — look to impose more regulations on short-term rental properties to help counteract the damage Airbnb and similar rental sites have done to the affordable housing markets in many cities.

Most recently though, prices have risen drastically because of heightened cleaning fees charged by the hosts themselves. Hosts set individual cleaning fees for their listings, and customers have noticed a steep increase over the past year. Many listings now have a cleaning fee higher than the nightly cost of the rental itself, which can make short-term stays at many Airbnbs a less attractive option.

Where to stay in summer 2021

According to both Airbnb’s most recent trends report for summer 2021 and data gathered by Condé Nast Traveler, outdoor destinations are the top options for travel this summer. Open-air locations such as beaches and national parks are where U.S. travelers are booking the most trips right now. Considering we’ve all spent the better part of the past year indoors and many are still looking to practice social distancing as best as they can on summer trips, it makes sense that the top destinations would be outdoor and rural spots.

So when looking at hotels compared to Airbnb rentals at some of the top destinations of summer 2021, where should you stay? I looked up July and August travel dates for both Airbnb and hotels in five popular travel destinations to compare which is more cost-efficient when booking with cash.

Glacier National Park

There are far more Airbnbs to choose from than traditional hotels and lodges near Glacier National Park in northern Montana, but prices for what is available are comparable for this summer.

The lodges located within the park are mostly booked through at least August. If you do manage to snag a reservation, you’ll end up paying anywhere from $320 to $400 per night. Availability in nearby areas such as Kalispell is better, but you’ll still end up paying between $300 and $400 for standard rooms at hotels such as Homewood Suites, Hampton Inn and Springhill Suites.

Related: Complete guide to Glacier National Park

You do have quite a bit more to choose from when it comes to Airbnbs. Airbnb lists more than 300 available accommodations in the Glacier National Park area. Of course, size, cost and quality of those stays vary widely. But looking at the average one-bedroom cabins scattered across the area — including a few Superhost tiny houses that I saved for future trips for myself — were priced at around $250 per night throughout July and August 2021.

But once you add in taxes and extraneous fees for these stays, you’ll be tacking on at least $150 to the overall cost of the stay — which evens out to about the same cost as most of the hotel and lodge options for short stays.

Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. (Photo by Feng Wei Photography/Getty Images)

The deciding factors here will be availability and what you value most out of your stay experience. If you want daily housekeeping and the peace of mind of a front desk, one of the lodges or area hotels will be your best bet. However, most of the Airbnbs will have more space and a kitchen area where you can cook meals instead of eating out.

Verdict: If you are traveling solo or with one other person and can manage to book a reservation at one of the park lodges, I would say it’s worth it. Otherwise, an Airbnb will likely be a better experience for the money.

Hawaii

In Hawaii, you’ll find a seemingly unlimited array of resorts to book stays. But the state also has plenty of Airbnbs to choose from. The difference will be location. Resorts have the market cornered on beachfront properties in popular areas, whereas Airbnb stays typically don’t have beachfront access.

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

At top resorts in popular Hawaii locations, you’ll easily shell out $800 or more per night for a standard room in July and August 2021 (though if you book farther out, you can generally find much more affordable prices). Of course, if you have an abundance of points racked up, you may be able to find a deal by booking that way. But if you’re looking for a cash getaway, a stay at a top resort will cost you a pretty penny, although there are also some budget-friendly hotels and resorts — such as the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort — that are more affordable at around $300 per night.

Related: Fair warning, Hawaii is packed again with tourists 

Popular Airbnbs for two people average out between $200 and $300 per night, but many of the affordable options won’t be directly on the beach. There are some hidden gems — such as this one-bedroom condo retreat that’s only a five-minute walk from one of Hawaii’s black sand beaches at $140 per night. But once you add in service fees, cleaning fees and taxes, you’ll end up adding at least $200 to any stay. One house located on a cliff that currently costs $279 per night adds $368 in fees to the booking. Another oceanfront beach house listed at $665 in total for a weeklong stay (less than $100 per night) adds an astronomical $798 in taxes and fees to the overall trip — that makes those pesky resort fees we all hate look like a great deal in comparison.

(Screenshot courtesy of Airbnb.)

Verdict: Unless you’re traveling in a group of six or more or plan to stay for an extended trip, you’ll likely find a better deal at a hotel. Direct beach access, hotel services and minimal fees offer a better deal.

Mexico

Cancun is another top destination for summer 2021 that offers an array of hotel resorts and Airbnb options for stays.

Similar to Hawaii, resorts make up the vast majority of oceanfront real estate — especially in the hotel zone. And you can find some great deals at all-inclusive resorts. I recently stayed at the Royalton CHIC in Cancun for around $300 per night, and at the nearby Hilton Playa Del Carmen for around $400 per night. These were both all-inclusive resorts, so all food and drinks were included in my room price.

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

You can also find plenty of beachfront condos for less than $200 per night in the Cancun hotel zones that have great reviews. But between taxes and fees, you’ll add $300 or more to the cost of your trip by choosing a top-rated Airbnb. Considering you’ll also be stuck paying for your own food and drinks for the duration of your stay, it’s a no-brainer to look at all-inclusive hotels first when booking your summer trip to Cancun.

Verdict: Cancun and surrounding areas offer many all-inclusive resorts that will give you a better value for your money with all resort food, direct beach access, poolside bars, beach drink service and more included in your room price.

Florida

Panama City Beach and Miramar Beach — both located on the Florida panhandle in a stretch of coast called 30A— are top summer 2021 destinations, according to Airbnb’s trends report.

Related: TPG’s favorite Florida beaches 

You’ll find plenty of hotel options along the coast, including boutique hotels and points options. Places like the SpringHill Suites and Hampton Inn are bookable at around $200 per night.

There are plenty of Airbnb rentals located right on the beach near Panama City Beach, but most interiors are dated and you’ll still end up paying at least $120 per night before tacking on another more than $200 in service fees to the total cost of the trip.

Our home rental in Santa Rosa. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

If you stay in some of the smaller beach communities located on the 30A stretch of coast, you can find some great Airbnb condo rentals within easy walking distance from the beach. Of course, you could still end up paying up to $600 in fees for some places. These rentals could be worth it if you plan on staying for at least a week and have a larger group (or a large family) tagging along to split the costs compared to needing individual hotel rooms. But if you’re traveling solo or with your spouse and kids, you’ll likely find a better value sticking with hotels.

Verdict: Most people will get a better value and a nicer stay when booking a beachside hotel this summer.

Yellowstone

For a trip to Yellowstone, you’ll likely want to find a place near one of the park entrances unless you’re willing to drive an hour or two to the park.

Related: Complete guide to Yellowstone

Most of the top places to stay in Cook City, Montana, are already sold out for most of the summer. But you can find availability toward the end of August in West Yellowstone and Gardiner, Montana, for $230 to $300 per night. If you want a major chain hotel, your best bet will be Bozeman, Montana, or Jackson, Wyoming. But prices in both of those cities are high — especially if you’re booking this close to your travel dates. I saw rates in Bozeman for as high as $500 per night and even higher in Jackson.

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

To be honest, most of the Airbnbs I found looked dated. The best rental options are located in the Big Sky area and Red Lodge areas for $120 to $150 per night. You can also find a glamping experience in West Yellowstone with good reviews for less than $100 per night. But you’ll be tacking on at least $250 in fees most places if you plan to stay for a week.

Granted, if you do plan to stay six nights, $150 per night plus $250 in fees ($1,150) still comes out less than a hotel that is $230 per night without the fees ($1,380).

Verdict: This one is more of a toss-up. If you can find a great Airbnb with good reviews, you’ll likely save money on longer stays — even with high fees. But you’ll have to be selective to find a good rental of the same quality as the available hotels.

Bottom line

For a lot of people, the Airbnb vs hotels debate is about more than just cost — safety for solo travelers, cleanliness in the wake of COVID-19 and service preferences are all part of the equation. I’ve long been a fan of Airbnb for my personal travels because I can generally find an affordable option that comes with a kitchen and more space than a standard hotel room, especially when I travel in a group.

Related: Tips for making your Airbnb safer

And with so many popular destinations for summer 2021 located in more rural areas, there is an argument to be made for Airbnb since hotel options are typically sparse and a kitchen could be a hot commodity in an area without many dining options. However, because of rising fees and heightened demand, there are places where getting a hotel room will be more cost-efficient.

Featured image of an Airbnb rental in Joshua Tree courtesy of Airbnb

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