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VRBO vs Airbnb: Which Is Right for Your Short-Term Rental Business?

When deciding where to list your short-term rental property, there are countless platforms you can choose to use. They all have different target audiences, different host fees, different reach, and different cancellation policies, just to mention a few things. So, how do you possibly decide where to start?

In this article, we do a deep dive into which of the two biggest platforms, Airbnb or VRBO, is better for your short-term rental business.

Airbnb vs VRBO Background

VRBO (previously known as vacation rentals by owner) operates in 190 countries in the world and markets itself as a platform that enables families and friends to travel better together. It was founded in 1995, which was more than ten years before Airbnb burst onto the scene in 2008.

Although Airbnb is a younger company, it operates in more than 220 countries and regions and is worth more than the three largest hotel chains globally. It is undoubtedly the market leader when it comes to short-term rental listings platforms. However, does this mean that Airbnb is always the better option for property managers?

Choosing between Airbnb vs VRBO

Property Type

When it comes to the type of property that each platform allows hosts to list, there are significant differences.

Airbnb allows the listing of whole homes and shared spaces (e.g. a room in your house). This makes the platform a great option if you are house hacking. On the other hand, VRBO does not allow the listing of individual rooms in a property as hosts can only list full properties, apartments, or spaces.

Needless to say, if you are wanting to rent out a room in your house, you will need to use Airbnb.

Target Audience

Reflecting the different types of properties that each platform advertises, the target audiences for Airbnb and VRBO are both slightly different. When you imagine guests staying at your property, who do you think of?

Given that Airbnb allows the listing of shared spaces, it is unsurprising that it attracts younger audiences and travelling professionals. If your property is located in a more urban area, it may make more sense to list with Airbnb.

On the other hand, the traditional family stays and larger vacation homes on VRBO attract large families and a slightly older audience. This is not to say that families or larger groups do not use Airbnb or that younger travellers do not use VRBO. As both have such a wide reach across the world, the target audience for both platforms is diverse in itself.

Service Fees

Both platforms charge a service fee for hosts that covers customer support, marketing, protection for your property, and more.

On Airbnb, hosts can choose whether to pay a 15% service fee themselves or have this split with the guests. Using the split fee model, the host will pay a flat rate of 3% of the total booking cost and the guest pays a percentage of the reservation fee, which works out to be between 5-20%. The benefit of the host paying the whole fee themselves is that there are no additional service fees for guests, making the property listing more attractive.

VRBO offers hosts a subscription for their service fees at a flat rate of $499 a year. This is great value for hosts who have a high volume of bookings or higher-end bookings that bring in more rent. Instead of having to pay a service fee for every booking, they only incur a one-time fee. Alternatively, VRBO hosts can choose to pay-per-booking, which works out as a 5% service fee with an additional 3% credit card fee per booking.

Listing Fees

While both Airbnb and VRBO charge service fees for hosts, it is free to list properties or rooms on the platforms (unless you are operating under the $499 VRBO subscription).

Due to neither platform requiring a listing fee, both can be used by the same host at the same time. Depending on the suitability of your short-term rental property, you will be able to use the same photos and copy for your listing on either platform. This will save you time on your short-term rental management while allowing you to easily increase your reach.

If you do decide to use both platforms to list the same properties, make sure to sync your calendars together so you don’t end up with double bookings. Having to cancel reservations can be a bad look for you and will also prevent you from becoming a VRBO Premier Host or an Airbnb Superhost.

airbnb fees vacation rental

Cancellation Policies

Although not ideal, short-term rental property owners will have to deal with cancellations from time to time. While the decision to cancel a reservation is most commonly down to the guest, both Airbnb and VRBO allow hosts to choose from a number of policies, giving them some control over the process.

Airbnb cancellation policies vary and guests are entitled to a refund under the following plans:

  • Flexible – guests can cancel until 24 hours before check-in for a full refund.
  • Moderate – guests can cancel until 5 days before check-in for a full refund.
  • Firm – guests can cancel until 30 days before check-in for a full refund.
  • Strict – guests must cancel within 48 hours of booking and 14 days before check-in for a full refund.
  • Long-term – applies to stays of over 28 days. Guests must cancel within 48 hours of booking and 28 days before check-in for a full refund.
  • Super strict 30 days – guests must cancel 30 days before check-in for a 50% refund.
  • Super strict 60 days – (invitation only for certain hosts) guests must cancel 60 days before check-in for a 50% refund.

Different cancellation policies can be applied to different properties, so Airbnb hosts do not have to choose just one.

VRBO cancellation policies can also be chosen by the host for each short-term rental property and include:

  • Non-refundable – bookings are non-refundable
  • 60-day policy – guests can cancel 60 days before check-in for a full refund.
  • 60/30-day policy – guests can cancel 60 days before check-in for a full refund. Guests can cancel 30 days before check-in for a 50% refund.
  • 30/14 day policy – guests can cancel 30 days before check-in for a full refund. Guests can cancel 14 days before check-in for a 50% refund.
  • 14/7-day policy – guests can cancel 14 days before check-in for a full refund. Guests can cancel 7 days before check-in for a 50% refund.
  • Custom – some properties have custom policies that have different cancellation terms and fees.

Bear in mind that while it is up to the host to decide which cancellation policy they use, the stricter the policy, the less attractive the listing will be to potential guests. You will need to find a balance that protects you as a host, yet gives your guests peace-of-mind, should their circumstances change.

Host Support

Both platforms pride themselves on their host support services, but how do they stack up against one another?

Airbnb has a comprehensive help center with articles for new and experienced hosts, to walk them through everything from marketing and promotion to refunds and reimbursements. They also have a global community forum where you can communicate with your fellow hosts, post your listing for others to critique, and start your own discussions.

VRBO also has a wealth of resources including checklists for new hosts, advice on how to drive reservations and revenue, and a comprehensive list of FAQs.

As mentioned previously, Airbnb and VRBO recognize their high-performing hosts through the Superhost and Premier Host programs respectively.

Once certain criteria are met by the host (high reviews, low cancellations, high response rates, and more), they are given a badge to set them apart from other hosts. This indicates to guests that the property is well-worth staying at and that they should have a stress-free experience with their booking and stay.

As a host using either platform, it’s worth working towards Superhost or Premier Host status to improve the chances of your short-term rental property being booked.

Reviews

Airbnb reviews must be posted within 14 days of the stay coming to an end. This means that it won’t take too long for your listing to be updated with recent guest reviews. This is great for future prospective guests, as they can see up-to-date feedback on your property. Guests can also leave a star rating for the following aspects of their stay:

  • Overall experience
  • Cleanliness
  • Accuracy
  • Check-in
  • Communication
  • Location
  • Value
  • Amenities

With VRBO, guests have up to a year to submit their reviews. This is great from a guest’s point of view (as they do not have to rush) but could lead to long waits in between getting reviews and actually having them supplement your listing. Nonetheless, the more relaxed approach to reviews on VRBO means that there is generally lower importance of reviews on the platform compared to Airbnb.

As well as helping other guests decide where to stay, comprehensive reviews will help you as a host to refine your listing where needed. For example, if you notice that guests are not giving you full marks for the accuracy of your listing, you can update it to benefit future guests.

Whether you use Airbnb or VRBO, you as a host will also be able to leave reviews at the end of your guest’s stay.

Instant Bookings

Both Airbnb and VRBO have instant booking features, but this must be enabled by the host first. With an instant booking, a guest can book without any further approval from the host. Instant bookings are recommended by Airbnb in particular because it increases the discoverability of your listing.

If a host does not want to enable instant bookings, they do not have to. Just keep in mind that guests will appreciate the ability to instantly book a property or room when planning last-minute work trips or spontaneous vacations.

How many listings are on each platform?

As the market leader, Airbnb gets more monthly viewers than most other short-term rental listing platforms.

Airbnb has approximately 5.6 million. However, this does not mean that listing on any other platform is redundant. In fact, because there are more properties on Airbnb than other platforms, this means there is also more competition. 

VRBO has approximately 2 million listings, making it a great place to list your property to ensure it is in front of as many pairs of eyes as possible.

Airbnb vs VRBO: Final words

If your short-term rental properties are whole homes or apartments, why not use both Airbnb and VRBO to maximize your reach by sharing them with as many potential guests as possible.

At the end of the day though, everyone’s short-term rental property portfolio is different, so you should choose the right platform for you. Start by considering the type of property or space you are offering and then take cancellation policies, service fees, and everything else into account.

Once you’ve established the best way to find and manage guests you need to ensure you have all the tools you need to ensure you operate a profitable and professional short term rental business. With property management software such as Landlord Studio, accurately and efficiently track your income and expenses, keep a record of your tenancies, and run comprehensive financial reports at tax time. 

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Ben Luxon

Ben is the editor and lead writer for Landlord Studio. He has worked with real estate professionals all over the world and written educational articles on tech, real estate, and financial growth for sites such as Forbes, TechBullion, and Business Magazine.

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