We’ve stayed in our fair share of places around the world, and the question always comes up--hotel vs Airbnb, which is better? It’s the million-dollar question. They each have their pros and cons, but what about specifically for families? In hotel vs Airbnb, which is better with kids?
Let’s break down the benefits of hotels and vacation rentals (for the sake of this post, I will refer to them as Airbnbs), and address their respective difficulties as well. Hopefully our personal experiences will guide you to discover the best place to stay with your family.
Of course there are always exceptions to our pros and cons of a hotel vs Airbnb. But the majority of the time these benefits and difficulties hold true.
Hotel vs Airbnb Pros + Cons
Families love to find cost-effective accommodations for their trips. Since hotel prices can add up quickly, families may consider finding a local Airbnb that offers a lower nightly rate.
PRO Tip: Find discounted hotel rates through AAA, Costco, Kayak, or an airline partnership. You can save on the nightly rate while having the added benefits of staying at a hotel.
Especially if you have a larger family that requires multiple rooms or an upgraded suite at a hotel to fit everyone, see if an Airbnb can provide more rooms and more beds for a lower price per person.
Are you planning on an extended stay? Many Airbnbs will offer weekly and monthly discounted rates. Look into it, and see if you can reduce your nightly rate even further.
If you want to stay at a hotel, then you need to take advantage of one of their biggest perks--rewards programs. Get signed up to earn points for each night you stay at one of their hotels. Then redeem hotel rewards points for free nights on another stay! Some Airbnbs may have cheaper nightly rates, but you can’t beat FREE!
On top of the nightly rate you pay, be aware of additional fees. Whether you stay at a hotel vs Airbnb is irrelevant because they both add them on.
At a hotel, look into their resort fees and parking fees (if you have a car). It’s also not a bad idea to call the hotel and ask what types of additional fees (daily or for the entire trip) they plan on adding to your bill.
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While Airbnb shouldn’t have resort or parking fees, they do have unique fees of their own. It’s common for a cleaning fee and a processing or service fee to be added to your reservation. When you go to book, look at the breakdown of charges and how much it raises your total price.
PRO Tip: Find the total charges (including fees) of your top 3-5 Airbnb choices. Compare those TOTAL prices instead of just looking at the nightly rates. Sometimes the fees make your cost skyrocket--so beware!
Read more: How to Budget for a Vacation
Hotels are often centrally located in popular areas. Their proximity to everything grants you easy access to explore your destination’s dining, entertainment, and hot spots simply by walking or taking public transportation. No rental car needed.
If you can get around without riding in a car for your entire trip, you can leave the car seat at home. Extra bonus! Your bags just got lighter!
PRO Tip: If you are staying at a hotel near a major airport, check to see if they offer a complimentary shuttle service. You could save some money on transportation costs, and often shuttles will provide car seats for children. (Again, you could leave yours at home.)
While staying at hotels in the middle of the action has its pros, their central location is often in the middle of popular touristy areas. Living like a local will be much harder if you are staying amidst several tourist traps and separated from local life.
You need to consider what type of experience you want to have on your trip.
On the other hand, Airbnbs are located all over the place. Even little neighborhoods or villages often have Airbnb rentals. You can rent a small condo or cottage and embrace the “local life” of your destination.
This also means an added perk for families - Airbnbs can be located near neighborhood parks. Your kids can run around open fields and climb all over playgrounds. It’s a fabulous way to burn off energy and maybe even make some local friends.
The location of a hotel vs Airbnb is a personal preference. Ask yourself: Am I looking for easy access, centrally located, and tourist hot spots, or do I want to be off the beaten path, in a local neighborhood, seeing life beyond the most popular attractions?
Read more: How to Plan Your Trip: The 3 + 3 Method
Food is a big part of not only your trip budget but your entire trip experience. What will everyone in your family eat and where will you all eat it?
Many hotels offer onsite dining or room service. While typically not the most cost-effective, they are extremely convenient.
PRO Tip: See if your hotel offers free breakfast or offers a package that includes breakfast. You can save some money while having one less meal to worry about.
If you are looking to save money or like having the option to make your own food, then rent an Airbnb with a kitchen to cook meals. You’ll have full control over which meals you cook yourself and which meals you enjoy in a restaurant. Use the kitchen as little or as much as you like.
If your kids are picky eaters or you’re making baby food, this can come in extra handy. You can prep their favorites and have them on hand even while traveling. No worrying about your child causing a scene as they spit up the local delicacy.
Hotels are known for their large supply of amenities that give their guests the full vacation experience. They pride themselves on exceptional customer service, beautiful pools, serene spas, private beaches, and exclusive entertainment. Especially if you are going to a resort, these amenities are what you are paying to experience--ENJOY THEM!
Austin loves swimming in the pool and going down little kid water slides. I often see bigger kids racing down the big slides and spraying each other with water cannons. If these aquatic family activities are a high priority for you, then look into a hotel or resort that provides tons of kid-friendly amenities.
Read more: 6 Reasons to Travel WITH Kids
An Airbnb can not compete with a hotel’s level of luxury and customer service. But they do offer one thing a hotel can not -- privacy.
You can rent a house that has a backyard with a sick pool, outdoor fire pit, putting green, or patio bar...and you would have them all to yourself.
PRO Tip: Keep in mind you may have to pay extra to heat a private pool. It’s common for Airbnb owners to charge extra for this, so look into those costs ahead of time.
Another slightly random pro is an Airbnb’s access to laundry. Don’t underestimate the value of being able to wash your own clothes during a trip. You can pack less and throw in a load or two of laundry any time you want. Heyo!
While it’s not technically an amenity, something awesome about Airbnbs is the ability to connect with the local owner.
This can be extremely beneficial if you are traveling internationally. Bo and I met our Airbnb owner in Rome to get the keys to our place. Instead of a quick transactional exchange, she took us to a cute cafe down the street, bought us drinks, ordered charcuterie, and told us all the best things to see in Rome (including local tips and hidden gems)!
This is hands down why Airbnbs are one of our favorite options when exploring a brand new foreign city--direct access to a local for the best advice!
Hotel vs Airbnb Winner
As you can see, when considering hotel vs Airbnb, they each have their pros and cons. We stay at both of them on our family trips. Our decision depends on the location and what we want to get out of our trip.
When is a HOTEL better?
A hotel is great for little 1-2 night getaways. You can get in and out quickly with few to no worries. A quick getaway is also the perfect opportunity to redeem rewards points for a free night or two.
Sometimes we end up staying at a hotel over an Airbnb because we can redeem a free night or acquire more points to use toward a free night in the future. Whatever ultimately gets us the most bang for our buck.
The best time to stay at a hotel is when you plan to take advantage of all their amenities. Indulge in a luxury hotel or relax at a resort with an elaborate list of complimentary activities for the whole family.
When is an AIRBNB better?
We love to stay at an Airbnb for a more laid back experience. This is a great option for small towns, secluded escapes, or living like a local. You can experience the destination beyond the tourist hot spots (or without them entirely).
Any time we are traveling with friends or family, we always consider renting an Airbnb. It typically offers a lower nightly rate per person while also having common areas where we can easily hang out and spend time together.
As for 2021... if you are going to travel during COVID, Airbnb is a wonderful (and popular) option. Many hotels are closed or operating at reduced capacity, but Airbnbs are still available. Check out an Airbnb to socially distance while enjoying a new destination with your family.