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Airbnb vs. HomeAway

Christopher
Published Nov 07, 2017

So you’ve made the choice to take a vacation, but you’re not too keen on being in a hotel and having to adhere to strict checkout times and other things that you feel may hamper your overall experience. With that in mind, you decide to take the plunge and look into making a vacation rental home or apartment the place you’ll stay for your getaway. The online vacation rental industry is growing at an immense pace, with many companies out there trying to dominate the market, but there are two main companies at the forefront - Airbnb and HomeAway. In this article, we’ll take some time to check both out and lay out their pros and cons. This article will include the most recent analysis and resulting figures that will definitely set out what each vacation rental site has to offer to those who are looking to be either a host or guest.

The basics

Villa on the Baltic Sea
Source: Pixabay

Airbnb

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Airbnb was set up and designed as a company for online hospitality service and marketplace. Beginning in 2008, Airbnb’s main function as an online broker is to guide registered users to a multitude of properties that they wish to rent on a short-term basis from hosts who make their homes or apartments available. The website even lists hotel rooms and hostels and even beds for rent. These searches can include a variety of filters such as city, the dates one wishes to stay and also whether pets are allowed on the premises. Its main headquarters is in San Francisco, California. For those looking to put their properties up for rent, there is no annual subscription but Airbnb does have a host fee locked in at 3% whenever there is a successfully completed booking.

Homeaway


Homeaway is older than Airbnb, having been first established in 2006 after a couple of acquisitions and rebranding. It has gone on to acquire other websites in order to enlarge their own vacation marketplace portal including sites such as VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner). Based in Austin, Texas, HomeAway operates in the same fashion as Airbnb with one key exception - they primarily offer only rentals of entire properties. In this regard, it is mainly individuals or property management companies that create listings on their website for guests seeking vacation rental. In addition, HomeAway currently charges those looking to subscribe an annual fee of 349 USD. When it comes to the host fee, HomeAway’s fee is at 5% - two percentage points higher than Airbnb. HomeAway does have a decided advantage in the fact that it has a number of different companies under its umbrella because they help to better shape not only overall policies but also provide a firm framework that addresses all aspects of vacation rental, from inquiries to guest feedback, after their stay.

Who’s bigger?

Both vacation rental companies have high tallies when it comes to what they offer. A particular consideration comes down to guest preference in relation to where they’re traveling with regards to both availability and the uniqueness of the lodgings that they’re looking at on each website.

Airbnb

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Airbnb, which at one point early on was dwarfed by HomeAway’s listings, has ballooned to having about 2.3 million listings in 191 countries offered by over 600,000 hosts. And to reiterate an earlier point, Airbnb does have a greater variety of options in terms of lodging offered through their sites. Another factor with Airbnb’s offerings is that they also have fully-crafted “excursions”, which are various tours and experiences that are curated by the hosts to be additional things to do for travelers. These can be booked separately or in conjunction with another housing booking. A recent study by Beyond Pricing shows that Airbnb tends to be more favored among those looking at more urban-oriented destinations and is a primary option for younger travelers who were looking for deals both domestic and internationally.

HomeAway


HomeAway at present has over one million listings throughout 190 countries. Within this comparison, the main point that HomeAway tends to have is more listings that are resort-like properties or lavish home rentals. In the previously cited study by Beyond Pricing, HomeAway was shown to have drawn more people who were looking at family-oriented destinations with an emphasis on areas in and close to the United States. Specifically, HomeAway on average saw a high number of bookings along the East Coast of the United States and also within the Gulf Coast, primarily in Texas.

A closer look

For guests, Airbnb and HomeAway begin to show some contrast when you look closer at the numbers. According to recent reports, both have a similar figure on average of 1050 USD when it comes to an average weekly rental rate. There’s also a similarity with regards to the cost of taxes, with both having a flat rate over the same period of 115.50 USD. After that is when you see a divergence between the two companies, beginning with the traveler service fee which has been a bone of contention for property owners with one company (and will be detailed later). Be advised - security deposits do vary for bookings on both sites depending on the particular type of property.

Airbnb

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When it comes to additional fees, Airbnb does incorporate value-added tax or VAT that applies when booking in countries such as South Africa, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland as well as those in the European Union. This is seen with the initial booking charge - Airbnb normally charges 6 - 12% for guests on their initial booking. One things to note is that Airbnb does not have additional charges for payments via credit cards.

HomeAway


In terms of additional fees, the traveler service fee shows a difference in favor of HomeAway - they actually charge less of a percentage at 7.16% to Airbnb’s 9.19%. That translates to HomeAway charging a little over 75 USD when it comes to traveler taxes. Their initial booking rates are lower as well, ranging from 4 - 9% on average. There is, however, one sticking point for those using credit cards on the site - HomeAway has a 2.9% rate for those using credit cards to book. According to some analysis however, HomeAway has been shown to be beneficial to both hosts and guests for stays longer than a few days.

Additional offerings

A key factor to consider when it comes to comparing vacation rental services is the availability and consistency of customer service. Both companies have customer service that is available 24/7. The ability to provide feedback whether one is a guest or a host is another major point of interest for those who are reviewing both companies. In addition, both have detailed review systems.

Airbnb

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Airbnb prefers users to only call the customer support phone line in pressing situations, and for certain questions to be directed to the hosts instead. Airbnb does allow for guests to leave reviews using both star ratings and text commentary. It’s only allowed for those who have used the properties in question and guests have two weeks to leave their reviews after their stay. Both parties then have 2 weeks to respond once the review goes live on the site.

HomeAway


Breaking it down further, HomeAway allows phone calls and emails from both guests and hosts in need of assistance no matter the situation. The company also makes it possible for guests to leave reviews using both star ratings and text commentary. Like Airbnb, it’s only allowed for those who have used the properties in question. One key difference from Airbnb lies in the time a guest has to leave those comments. With HomeAway, that period of initiating the review is actually extended up until a year after the rental stay for both hosts and guests. But once the process begins, the other party has up to two weeks to respond. Reviews for HomeAway go live 48 hours after their initial posting.

The bottom line

When stacked up against each other, Airbnb and HomeAway are positioned at the forefront of the global vacation rental industry for very valid reasons. Each company has capitalized on their own unique approaches to provide guests with attractive properties to check out for their vacation needs. With all of this information, you may be wondering which of the two companies may be better for you when it comes to your vacation. Truth be told, there’s no bad choice to be had here once you totally review everything. It doesn’t mean that there haven’t been issues with both companies.

Airbnb

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For Airbnb, their focus on being an online broker has paid off wildly because it allows them more latitude beyond their initial locations within cities to the point where they can offer other more enigmatic rental opportunities such as being able to rent out castles and ski chalets. Airbnb in the past has had to deal with a fusillade of complaints that range from minor situations such as miscommunication on the part of the hosts to more concerning situations such as guests questioning the legality of some rental spaces - this has been a major sticking point with Airbnb’s presence in cities such as New York City and Paris in the past. The company has been making adjustments when it comes to guest and host relations with their improvements to the aforementioned customer service support process. And despite some wrangling with city officials, Airbnb is trying to work with the council boards and other groups in the cities they’ve had issues with.

HomeAway


With HomeAway, their aim has been to provide more traditional rentals in terms of whole properties, with some prime advances especially in the American market within the past five years. The main issue that observers have pointed to has been the company’s turbulence in adapting their approaches to gain more users without alienating the hosts who list their properties with them. Hosts with HomeAway have complained with regards to the aforementioned travel fees being a slight hindrance when it comes to their yearly costs with the company. For some of these owners, a rise in cost can make them not rush to list more properties for rent especially if they’re properties that may not draw a lot of customers in to make enduring those costs worthwhile. To their credit, HomeAway is diligently working on ways to make more property owners buy into their plan and they’re upping their advertising game to attract more customers from all sectors of the public.

Which is right for you?

Don’t think of Airbnb and HomeAway as one and the same - it helps to look at them like Star Trek and Star Wars of accommodation; both have made huge impacts on the vacation rental industry and the hospitality culture on a whole. It’s entirely dependent on the type of vacation that you’re planning from scratch. If you’re looking to have more of a flexible situation on your vacation and you don’t want to feel too tied down or if you’re heading out somewhere solo, you may be inclined to look into Airbnb. If you happen to be planning to travel in a large group be it with family or not, both Airbnb and HomeAway have an extensive list of properties available but the latter will provide more of these through established rental companies with proven track records. Cost isn’t a troublesome factor either with rental consideration as both have rentals on vastly different price scales, with Airbnb offering more variety with regards to space. But all in all, these issues haven’t yet been heavy deterrents from people flocking to both companies for their getaway plans. No matter which you choose, it’s a safe bet that with all of this information on hand, you’ll snag yourself a vacation rental that will be totally satisfying.

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Christopher Smith is a writer who hails from New York City. Growing up, he had the love of travel instilled in him from a young age thanks to his parents to go along with a love of writing. After a...Read more

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