Whether you’re thinking about listing your holiday home for rent or searching for somewhere to stay in the UK or abroad, you’ve almost certainly heard of Airbnb.
But there is a (much older) alternative – Vrbo, launched way back in 1995 as Vacation Rental By Owner.
So, which of these two short-term rental platforms is best suited to property owners, hosts, and travellers?
Read our comparison to get a handle on the pros and cons and the differences between the sites to work out which is better for you, Airbnb or Vrbo?
- Airbnb v Vrbo: history and similarities
- Airbnb v Vrbo: size and market share
- Types of audience and property for Airbnb and Vrbo
- Functionality and ease of use
- Additional features of Airbnb and Vrbo
- Airbnb and Vrbo service fees
- Cancellation policies for Airbnb and Vrbo
- Insurance for Airbnb and Vrbo
- Making reservations: Airbnb v Vrbo
- Customer service
- Reviews on Airbnb and Vrbo
- Safety features for travellers
- Can you list on both Airbnb and Vrbo?
- Airbnb and Vrbo summary of differences
- Which platform should property owners list their property on: Airbnb or Vrbo?
- Alternatives to Airbnb and Vrbo
Despite its higher profile, Airbnb is the new kid on the block, formed in 2008 as Air Bed and Breakfast after joint founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia were looking to rent out part of their San Francisco apartment to help them pay the rent.
After a rebrand in 2009 to Airbnb, the platform became a fixture of the sharing economy, allowing owners to earn income from short-term rentals on either part or all their properties.
Airbnb now boasts in the region of 6million listings in at least 100,000 cities in more than 220 countries, eclipsing its older sibling Vrbo.
The origins of Vrbo date back to 1995, when David Clouse created a website to rent out his Colorado ski apartment.
Soon, other homeowners asked him to list their properties for short-term rentals, and Vrbo – now owned by the Expedia group – has grown to more than 2million listings in 190 countries.
Airbnb and Vrbo have many similarities: they both offer hosts the opportunity to list properties for short-term rentals for a fee and have many of the same features for both owners and guests.
But, there are some key differences that rental owners will need to bear in mind.
As a rental owner, the online visibility of your listing is one of the most important factors in deciding which platform to use, so it’s important to know which is likely to get your property the most views.
Although Airbnb is newer than its rival, it has quickly become the larger of the two sites, both in terms of the number of listings and the number of people using the site to search for holiday bookings.
According to website comparison site Similarweb, Airbnb had 110.2million visits in August 2022, compared with 52.9million for Vrbo.
During their visits, browsers viewed more than twice the number of Airbnb pages (19) as they did on Vrbo (8).
However, just because Airbnb has about three times the number of listings as Vrbo, and attracts many more visitors, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the better platform for your property.
Choosing which site to advertise on depends on a range of other factors.
One of the biggest differences between Airbnb and Vrbo is the type of property that tends to be listed on the sites, and the demographic of visitors to the two sites.
When choosing where to list your rental, it’s important to know which types of travellers are likely to be searching on which site.
Airbnb guest profile
According to Similarweb, Airbnb attracts a younger audience than Vrbo, with nearly 50% of its website visitors aged 34 or under.
Visitors of Airbnb are generally people who are looking for more affordable holiday rentals for shorter stays, often in city locations. Airbnb also appeals to those seeking adventure and new experiences compared with a typical hotel stay.
There is also a large number of business travellers looking for convenient accommodation in cities for shorter periods.
Vrbo guest profile
By contrast, Vrbo has a larger number of older people and families booking via its site, with Similarweb showing 44% of browsers aged 45 and up compared with 32% for Airbnb.
These travellers are looking for more traditional holiday stays and take advantage of Vrbo’s high number of listings in tourist destinations.
So, if you have a larger property that can accommodate a family or group, Vrbo is well worth considering.
Airbnb property types
From its inception, Airbnb’s mission was to allow people to earn extra money by renting out a room within their home, and this flexible approach to rentals continues to this day.
So, Airbnb allows hosts to list anything from single rooms in homes to shared spaces, cabins, entire properties, luxury rentals, and beachfront cottages.
Airbnb has made a name for itself by offering unique and creative home experiences, including a flying saucer in Pembrokeshire, the bus from Spice World on the Isle of Wight, and a Lynx helicopter in Kessingland, Suffolk.
There are typically three types of property listed on Airbnb:
- entire properties, where guests have the whole place to themselves, with their own bathroom, kitchen, and sleeping area;
- private rooms, where guests have their own sleeping area but may have to share a kitchen, bathroom and living room;
- shared rooms, where guests sleep in a room they may share with others.
Vrbo property types
While Vrbo also offers some unique holiday experiences, the key difference with Airbnb is that you are guaranteed to have the place to yourself.
So, hosts looking to rent out a room in a house, or a shared space, will not be able to list on Vrbo, which partly explains why there are fewer listings on the site compared with Airbnb.
Vrbo’s target audience is more geared towards those who want their own private space, with entire homes and apartments listed, with many families and groups using the site to find holiday homes.
The website emphasises the point of differentiation on its home page: “When you rent a Vrbo, you always have the whole place to yourself.”
As you’d expect from two mature booking sites, both Airbnb and Vrbo are easy to use for both hosts and guests.
Once you’ve created an account and profile, it’s simple to list a property for rent on both sites.
In this section we’ll compare the usability of each site, and how search filters allow people to find their ideal rental.
Airbnb provides a number of search filters to allow potential guests to find their ideal property, including basic filters like destination, check-in and checkout dates, and the total number of guests.
Advanced filters allow guests to further refine their search by:
- type of place – entire property, private room, or shared room;
- number of bedrooms and bathrooms;
- property type – house, flat, guest house, or hotel;
- amenities like WiFi, white goods, pool, air conditioning, beachfront;
- instant book;
- accessibility features.
There are also a number of featured collections that show properties by type of locations for those who are looking for adventure irrespective of destination, including national parks, houseboats and camper vans, beaches, cabins, and remote islands.
Again, the initial search for guests uses the basic filters of destination, dates, and number of guests, with further filters for property type, WiFi, cancellation policy, pet-friendly and guest ratings.
There are also pre-set groups for beachfront properties, those that accept pets, larger properties, those with pools, and by type of property.
While many of the features on the two sites are similar, both Airbnb and Vrbo offer special features that can benefit hosts and guests.
Airbnb special features
Airbnb Experiences was launched in 2016 to provide hosts with an additional revenue stream and offer guests a chance to enjoy unique experiences all over the world.
The experiences are led by the property host and could be anything from making sushi with a professional chef, to a guided exploration of the Jurassic coast, or a penny farthing bike tour of London.
It’s a chance to dig a little deeper into the local area, learn a new skill, or experience something you’d never even thought of doing before.
Vrbo special features
Vrbo offers a Trip Board feature to help travellers organise the planning of their trips.
Travellers can save and compare their favourite properties and is particularly useful for those booking for large groups, with group members able to collaborate on boards by discussing and voting on properties and destinations.
Both Airbnb and Vrbo charge fees on successful bookings to hosts and guests, though there is an option on Airbnb for hosts only to pay a fee.
Airbnb service fees
Airbnb offers hosts two different types of fees: split fee and host-only fee.
The split fee structure is the most common and, as the name suggests, the charges are split between the host and the guest.
The guests will pay the majority of the fees, usually paying about 14% of the booking subtotal as an extra fee, with hosts paying about 3% of the total booking cost – or more if the host has opted for a strict cancellation policy.
Under the host-only fee structure, the entire fee is deducted from the host payout, with the guest paying no extra charges.
Host-only fees are usually between 14% and 16% of the total booking cost, though hosts with extra-strict cancellation policies may pay more.
Hotels renting out rooms on Airbnb must use the host-only model.
Airbnb Experience hosts will need to pay a 20% service fee.
Vrbo service fees
Guests pay a variable rate on a successful booking of somewhere between 7% and 12% – the higher the total booking cost, the lower the percentage fee.
For hosts, there are two models: an annual subscription costing $499, or a 5% fee-per-booking, plus a 3% payment processing fee (which includes taxes and security deposits).
Hosts renting out their property all-year round, or for more than $10,000 a year, are likely to benefit from paying the annual fee.
Airbnb and Vrbo both offer hosts a range of cancellation policies, and prospective guests should check the chosen policy carefully before booking.
Airbnb cancellation policies
Airbnb offers a large range of cancellation policies to suit hosts with different circumstances.
- Flexible: the most popular option, which offers guests a full refund if they cancel up to 24 hours before check-in.
- Moderate: a full refund up to five days before check-in, after which hosts receive payment for each night guests stay, plus one extra night, plus 50% for all unspent nights.
- Firm: guests must cancel 30 days before check-in to get a full refund, or between seven and 30 days for a 50% refund.
- Strict: guests must cancel within 48 hours of booking and at least 14 days before check-in to get a full refund.
Other options include non-refundable in conjunction with a 10% discount, and a super strict policy by invitation from Airbnb only.
Vrbo cancellation policies
Vrbo also offers a range of cancellation policies for hosts, with some more generous to hosts than others.
- Relaxed: a full refund if bookings are cancelled at least 14 days before check-in, with 50% at least seven days before.
- Moderate: full refund at least 30 days before check-in, with 50% refunded if cancelled at least 14 days before.
- Firm: full refund before 60 days, and a 50% refund before 30 days.
- Strict: the only refund available is a full refund if cancelled at least 60 days before booking.
- No refund offered for any reason in any timeframe.
Both Airbnb and Vrbo offer hosts ‘free’ insurance as part of their service, but they are both limited in their scope. For comprehensive protection for your property you will need to take out specialist short stay or holiday home insurance.
AirCover for Hosts is essentially comprised of two sections which cover property damage up to $1million, and your liability if a guest was injured, up to $1 million. However, Airbnb are very clear that AirCover is not a substitute for your own insurance, and therefore there are gaps in cover. Airbnb also state that AirCover isn’t actually an insurance policy which could be problematic if there was a problem as the Host wouldn’t have any recourse through an Ombudsman, as they would with an FCA regulated insurance provider.
Vrbo provide a similar level of cover, with both liability and property damage covered up to $1million.
However, there is much that needs to be covered if you own a rental property, including loss or damage caused by fire, theft / burglary, storm, flood, escape of water etc.
Bespoke short stay insurance from Alan Boswell Group, which would cover owners renting out their property on both Airbnb and Vrbo, is designed to provide the widest possible cover, including:
- buildings and contents, including theft and damage by guests;
- liability to guests and the public
- employers’ liability insurance for any cleaners or maintenance staff
- standard perils such as fire, flood, subsidence etc
- loss of expected rental income, based on past and future bookings.
- Owners can switch between different tenancy types within the same policy
- Alternative accommodation for guests if the property is uninhabitable due to an insured event.
Specialist short stay insurance is also flexible, providing cover for a wide range of property uses, including entire properties, single rooms, serviced accommodation, and properties let out on a ‘rent-to-rent’ contract.
It’s vital that you inform your insurer that you are renting out your home via Airbnb, Vrbo, or a similar platform. Failure to tell your insurer exactly what your property is being used for is likely to invalidate your policy.
Airbnb and Vrbo both offer the ability for guests to book stays on their websites, and also enable communication between guest and host to discuss things before check-in.
Both sites also offer an instant booking feature, which speeds up the booking process for guests, allowing them to book stays immediately rather than having to wait for approval from hosts.
It’s worth noting, however, that hosts still reserve the right to decline a booking.
Customer service for both Vrbo and Airbnb is something of a double-edged sword, as both hosts and guests are, effectively, their customers.
Airbnb has a Resolution Center that will mediate between hosts and guests in the event of a dispute, and Airbnb will mediate if disputes cannot be resolved – a mediator coming to a final decision.
Both Airbnb and Vrbo provide hosts and guests with the opportunity to leave reviews about each other, but there are some differences between the two.
Reviews on Airbnb
Airbnb promotes an active review culture, with both hosts and guests given 14 days to leave a review based on the five-star rating system.
Guests are encouraged to rate the accuracy of the property description, cleanliness, communications, location, check-in, and value for money, while hosts can comment on the behaviour and reliability of guests.
When searching for a property to rent, prospective guests can filter accommodation by reviews to find those with the best comments.
On Vrbo, a host or guest has up to a year from the date of a stay to leave a review, with the other party given 14 days after a review has been left to respond.
Guests can use the same, five-star rating system, but the reviews differ from Airbnb in that hosts’ responses to reviews are displayed immediately beneath the review.
It gives prospective guests the chance to see both sides of the story and can be a handy guide to how the host deals with feedback.
Guest safety, especially those travelling alone, is important for Airbnb and Vrbo, both of which have safeguards to show their commitment to trust and security.
Safety is a particular challenge for Airbnb, which offers stays in shared spaces, and the company responded in 2022 by launching a ‘Solo Traveler’ in-app experience.
As well as providing safety tips and good questions to ask the host, ‘Solo Traveler’ allows guests to easily share their reservation itinerary with friends and family, including the address, reservation code, check-in, and check-out dates.
While Vrbo has no such service, the company will investigate complaints about a host’s behaviour, and help the guest rebook if they have concerns.
Vrbo also has strict security and privacy standards to help prevent fraud and harassment, while hosts must declare any monitoring devices fitted.
Yes, there is nothing to stop hosts listing their property on both Airbnb and Vrbo to give their rental the maximum exposure.
However, it’s important to ensure you don’t double book your property on the same dates on the different platforms.
Fortunately, both Airbnb and Vrbo use the same iCal calendar format for bookings, so it’s possible to sync the two calendars to prevent double booking.
As we’ve seen, while Airbnb and Vrbo are very similar in many ways, they have some key differences, summarised here.
- Suited to a younger audience and those looking for adventure.
- Offers everything from entire properties to single rooms in homes to shared spaces.
- Also offers Airbnb Experiences.
- A vast range of properties to choose from, including plenty of unusual places to stay.
- Choice of split fee or host-only fee, based on percentages.
- Special in-app help for solo travellers.
- Only allows entire properties to be listed.
- Popular with families and large groups, with an older guest profile.
- The option to pay an annual subscription as well as paying per successful rental.
- Offers a Trip Board to help people within groups plan and discuss their trip.
- A smaller number of listings, more targeted at cities and tourist destinations, and high-quality accommodation.
Choosing which platform to use will depend on the type of property you have (entire property or shared), and the type of guest you want to attract.
If you have an entire property to rent out, you could advertise on both Airbnb and Vrbo to boost occupancy rates and maximise your income. Just remember to sync your booking calendars.
It’s also worth noting that property owners in London who intend to let their property on Airbnb or Vrbo need to be aware of the 90-day rule. Currently, properties in London cannot be rented out on a short-stay let basis for more than 90 days in a calendar year.
Airbnb and Vrbo are not the only two sites where hosts can list their properties online – there are plenty of alternatives, whether you have a house, apartment, guest house, bed and breakfast, or hotel.
Here are some of the main competitors:
- Booking.com – one of the larger sites with more than 1million listings worldwide. Uses instant booking, and charges property owners up to 15% in fees.
- Homestay.com – allows hosts to rent out rooms in their own home, rather than entire properties. Guests send a booking request, which hosts confirm or decline, with the guest paying a 15% booking fee and the host receiving the whole price they set.
- Simplyowners.net – property owners submit their property to the Simplyowners team, who craft an advert for you. Owners pay an annual fee of £249 + VAT, with discounts for multiple listings.
- Flipkey.com – part of the TripAdvisor group, Flipkey charges hosts 3% for each successful booking.
- Onefinestay.com – if you own a high-end property in London, this might be for you. You can’t just list your property though – a member of the company’s team will visit your property before deciding whether to accept you on the platform.
If you’re new to the short-term or holiday rental market, check out our guide to renting out a holiday let, while a wealth of articles, advice and insurance products are available on our landlord advice hub.