A solitary cabin is lit up at night in an expansive landscape.

Airbnb vs. VRBO

Thanks to the growing commoditization of desperation, more and more people are turning away from hotels and taxis and to each other to fill the same services. "The hustle" has returned in a big way, and in spite of the occasional horror story, one of the most popular hustles is renting out your room (or even your house). We've looked at Airbnb in-depth before, but it's far from the only service of its kind. How does it stack up against VRBO?

Types of Rentals

Other comparisons—like Airbnb vs. hostels—are sort of tricky to make, in that they offer two completely different experiences. The differences between Airbnb and VRBO, though, are a little more subtle. Airbnb allows homeowners to let out their house, apartment, or condo, but it also lets them rent out rooms in the home they live in. Conversely, VRBO seems to only be for buildings other than a person's residence. On the one hand, that means you're guaranteed a measure of privacy. On the other hand, that means it's a lot less deal-oriented. You're not paying for a room in a home, hostel, or hotel; you're paying for the whole place. And while VRBO does have over a million listings (over 770,000 of which are in Europe) across the various Homeaway brands, Airbnb is sitting at 2 million now.

Types of Customer

VRBO seems to have arisen from the older, larger culture of vacation rentals by owner. (Let's not forget that VRBO was an acronym well before it was a website). Their market position reflects that—or at least tries to. VRBO owners have traditionally had a lot of wiggle room to run their business as they saw fit, and if someone made an offer so low that it wasn't worth responding too, they simply wouldn't respond. Which was nice for owners, but obviously a little frustrating for customers. Airbnb, on the other hand, sprang up as part of the larger movement of semi-legitimizing the shadow economy that grew so large in the wake of the housing market crash and the student debt crisis. As such, it's a little friendlier to bargain hunters, both in terms of rental costs and in terms of handing out coupon codes every now and then.

Catering to Renters/Owners

The general consensus seems to be that Airbnb treats renters better as a matter of policy, while VRBO treats owners a little better. It's worth noting that this perception, however, is rapidly changing amongst VRBO owners since the Expedia purchase a few months back. People who write to Airbnb tend to hear back pretty quickly. People who write VRBO may or may not hear back at all. It's possible that with the addition of the booking fee, they're trying to build out some kind of customer service infrastructure, but right now, they don't really have it—they're just charging for it. Meanwhile, any attempt to search for any information about VRBO is met on the front page with at least one angry tirade from owners who feel like their autonomy has been taken away since the Expedia purchase.

Customer Service

VRBO seems to work primarily by setting up contact. That's about it. People who are renting properties pay an annual fee, and VRBO connects renters to people looking to rent their place out. For some rentals, you can pay through Homeaway for a presumed measure of security, but at others, you can't. This flusters homeowners and renters alike. Moreover, since the Expedia purchase, VRBO has changed its scope—but not its efforts. They originally just charged owners for the service of listing, but now they've started charging renters a booking fee that the owners don't get to see. You might expect the booking fee to come with a measure of customer service. You'd be wrong. Problems still fall very much to the renter and the owner to hash out.

Conversely, Airbnb might make its owners jump through a few more hoops, but at the end of the day, they'll go out of their way to keep customers happy, and they'll also go out of their way to protect owners in the case of horrible renters.

Which is Better?

Right now, it seems that renters and owners alike are a little happier over at Airbnb. It's always worth shopping around to get the best deal, but things don't seem too stable with VRBO right now as it struggles to find a happy medium between satisfying its renters and its owners.

Last Updated: November 23, 2016