Airbnb’s Pros and Cons Versus Hotels: A Wake-Up Call

Growing Stale


My first time was amazing.

It felt illicit, exciting, and just a little bit dirty (in a good way).

It was on the upper floor of an apartment of Santiago, Chile with a middle-aged mom. She made it really comfortable for me and gave me tons of helpful tips.

And I fell in love.

Then Kim joined in, too.

But in the almost ten years since, things have gone downhill. The excitement is gone. Now Kim and I feel it’s only about the money and not about the connection. So we’ve started sleeping elsewhere.

That’s right. We’re no longer exclusively staying at Airbnbs. The pros and cons of Airbnb versus hotels have shifted in the latter’s favor.

Airbnb can still win back our favor, but it needs a wake-up call. And you need the truth before making your own decision of Airbnb versus hotels.

In This Guide to the Pros and Cons of Airbnb vs. Hotels…

  • Advantages of Airbnb vs. Hotels
  • Disadvantages of Airbnb vs. Hotels
  • Airbnb Tips, Warnings, Updates, and Coupons
Expensive hotel in Lamu Kenya, one of the pros of Airbnb vs Hotels
This hotel in Lamu, Kenya was super central and had a beautiful pool but paying more than quadruple what we were paying for our Airbnb wasn’t worth it for us.

Pro: Price


Price is the only reason Kim and I still stay in Airbnbs.

For Kim and me, price outweighs all other factors when deciding where to stay. We’re bloggers, after all, not Instagram influencers. And we rather spend our money on food and experiences than some room to close our eyes in.

Airbnbs’ prices continue creeping up towards hotel levels, but they remain lower. And they more often have kitchens, which you can use to save on eating out.

Chris playing it safe in Johannesburg
This was outside our slummy Airbnb in Johannesburg, which had stellar reviews.

Con: Risk


As we’ve found out the hard way, a lot more can go wrong with Airbnbs than hotels.

Your host can cancel on you last-minute or they can turn out to be a complete weirdo and make the whole experience uncomfortable. Same with the neighbors, who may not be stoked to have randoms like you staying next door.

The photos are as untrustworthy as someone’s Tinder profile and the location can turn out to be “only 10 minutes by foot from downtown” because it’s in such a sketchy party of town you have to run.

Airbnb’s review system doesn’t help. Hosts can game the system and most past guests are too big of wimps to tell the truth. They rather give 5-stars than create a fuss.

Airbnb’s Cleaning Up

After multiple Airbnb scams, schemes, and scandals earned wide publicity, the CEO wrote a company-wide email announcing a major move to clean things up starting November 2019.

Among the changes:

  • Fully verify the accuracy of every one of their over 7 million listings by December 2020.
  • 100% money-back guarantee for guests starting December 2019.
  • 24/7 hotline that anyone can contact any time to speak to a real person.
Kim locking up so animals didn’t get in at Mbizi Lodge just outside of Kruger National Park.

Con: Safety


We made the “Con” extra small here because safety’s only a slight disadvantage of Airbnb vs hotels.

A hotel’s more likely to be in a safer, tourist-police-patrolled neighborhood and have a lower incidence of theft. But only very slightly. Ninety-nine point nine nine percent of the time, an Airbnb’s just as safe.

Screen shot of Sophie's comment from Airbnb
Our friend Sophie’s negative Airbnb experience in Portugal.

Warnings from Airbnb Hell

While researching these pros and cons of Airbnb versus hotels, I quickly came across a site, AirbnbHell.com, that collects Airbnb horror stories.

Don’t let AirbnbHell.com sway your opinion too much. That’d be like asking the opinion of a jealous ex before going on a first date someone. But it’s a fun read (in a macabre way) and these warnings from their homepage are worth being aware of:

  1. If any of your personal items, cash, or valuables are stolen (by the host, other guests, or burglars) you have no protection from Airbnb.
  2. If there is a foul odor, loud noises, or any other problems with your room that are not easily documented with photos, you are out of luck and your claim for a refund will be denied.
  3. If you rent a single room, there is no guarantee regarding how many people might be living in a given home/condo while you are there. If there is a shared bathroom, you might end up sharing it with 1 person, or 20.
  4. A “fully stocked kitchen” means very different things to different people. One pot, 2 dishes and a handful of silverware does not mean you can actually cook a meal there, yet this is not enough evidence to seek a claim for refund
  5. If you buy groceries and another guest or the host uses them or throws them away, you’re out of luck.
  6. If the host or another guest has a party every night, you will have to thoroughly document each incident with video recordings and time stamps to seek any sort of claim or refund. Even then, it will be a battle that may take weeks and you are unlikely to win.
  7. Airbnb charges you about 15% on top of what the host actually receives for your reservation (even more if you need to exchange currency). That means you COULD get your reservation for about 15% LESS if you booked directly with the host.
  8. If you have to cancel your reservation at the last minute, the host has the right to keep some or all of your money for your entire stay.  You will not have any ability to write a review of your host if you cancel your reservation, even if you end up paying for your entire stay and the host double-books the rental space.
Chris Rebecca and Kim on our road trip along the Garden Route after meeting each other in Medellin, Colombia.
We met Rebecca, a fellow Vancouverite, at our Airbnb in Medellin two years ago and have since kept in touch and traveled together.

Pron: Travel Experience


The overall travel experience of staying at Airbnbs vs hotels isn’t a pro or a con. It’s a pron. Mostly, it depends on what type of travel experience you desire.

Some considerations:

Social Aspects

Some of our favorite travel memories come not from the places we traveled but the fellow travelers we befriended while there. For similar experiences, don’t stay at a hotel or an Airbnb. Stay at a hostel.

That said, you might luck out and get an awesome host who you befriend and can show you around their town.

But don’t count on it. Airbnb has become a business to most hosts, who won’t care about you any more than their hundreds of previous guests.

Recommendations

There’s a chance your Airbnb host will recommend some hidden gems to you. But there’s even more of a chance they don’t give you any special recommendations at all.

A concierge or manager of a hotel may not have as many unique recommendations, but they’ll have more experience guiding guests and better general travel advice.

Camels up close in Had Draa market in Essaouira
Our Airbnb host in Essaouira, Morocco brought us to a local Sunday market that we wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.

Local Feel

An Airbnb in a local building of a local neighborhood can give you the feeling of what it would be like to live there.

No hotel can replicate this but for some, that’s a good thing. Some travelers need refuge after a day in an overwhelmingly exotic new place.

Our Airbnb in Envigado, Medellin made our Airbnb vs hotel.
We loved our Airbnb in Envigado, Colombia, but it was inconvenient to have only one set of keys and have to keep the stupid deaf dog from escaping.

Con: Convenience


Staying at an Airbnb is like asking an acquaintance to look after your dog. You have to exchange messages back and forth to coordinate, be extra nice, and you feel bad if your dog makes a mess.

A hotel is like a kennel. You drop off and pick up your dog whenever, the interaction is strictly business, and if your dog makes a mess they’re equipped to deal with it.

Some professional Airbnbs have become kennel hotel-like, but even then they tend to have stricter check-in and check-out times and rarely offer luggage storage.

For example, in Windhoek, Namibia, we had to drive across town to our host’s work to pick up the keys and were forced to check out at the same time as our host went to work in the morning, even though our flight was later in the afternoon.

Kim waving from our Airbnb in Barrydale
Our Airbnb in Barrydale on our South Africa road trip was especially memorable for the quirky and friendly hosts.

Pro: Memorableness


A stay at an Airbnb is more likely to be memorable than one at a cookie-cutter hotel.

Mostly, it’ll be memorable in a good way. You might form a connection with the host (we’re Facebook friends with many people we’ve hosted and stayed with) or stay in an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood that exposes you to an unexpected and unforgettable side of the city.

But an Airbnb can be memorable in a bad way, too. Your room can have such a dirty room or uncomfortably unusual host you’ll never forget it even though you’d like to. Such experiences can ruin a holiday, but at least they might turn into fun stories to tell.

bin wayak where to stay in tulum mexico
Our Airbnb in Tulum made it easy for us to cook meals when we were tired of tacos and beer.

Pro: Comfort


Airbnb’s Advantages

The next best thing to “the comfort of your own home” is the comfort of someone else’s.

A well-selected Airbnb might have a yard, comfy couches, a huge patio, a practical layout, and a well-equipped kitchen. And it can have little touches like plants and photos that make the place extra cozy.

Comfort is an especially big advantage of Airbnb versus hotels for:

  • Groups: A big house from Airbnb is more fun than multiple hotel rooms.
  • Long-term stays. Living in hotel rooms eats away at your soul.
Cathedral Peak hotel room and big bed
Chris enjoying a well-earned glass of wine on a big King size bed at Cathedral Peak Hotel after a day of hiking.

Hotels’ Advantages

The biggest comfort-related disadvantage of Airbnbs versus hotels is the beds. Hotel beds are generally better and bigger (and more jump-on-able) than the regular ones at Airbnbs.

Also in hotels’ favor is that they have more common areas like pools and lounges where you can chill without feeling obliged to socialize with your host or other guests.

Con: Effect on the Community


We’re such hypocrites.

In Vancouver, where we’re from, there’s a lot of political strife about wealthy people from China who are making real estate unaffordable and hollowing-out neighborhoods by buying properties and barely using them.

But the same people who complain about “the Chinese” travel to cheaper countries, stay in Airbnbs, and cause similar impacts over there.

Kim about to take a sip of wine inside our Airbnb's wood-fired hot tub in Bot River, just outside of Cape Town.
Kim enjoys a glass of South African wine in the wood-fired hot tub of our Airbnb outside of Cape Town.

To Airbnb or Not to Airbnb

That is the question.

And only you can decide for yourself.

Hopefully, these pros and cons of Airbnb versus hotels help you make the right decision either way. Please leave Kim and me a comment if you still have any doubts.

And if you decide to try Airbnb for the first time, get up to $50 (or more) off your first trip through our special coupon code:

No freebies for you if you’ve already used Airbnb. But you can throw us a bone by booking through these link at no extra cost to you:

Read This Next:

Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we recommend. It costs you nothing, so we’d be crazy not to. Read our affiliate policy here.

Chris and Kim

Kim and Chris are on a mission to eradicate boringness by feeding their curiosity and fighting complacency. Discover the extraordinary and join thousands of others every month with The Unconventional Monthly.

What do you think? (Leave a Comment.)