Are Airbnbs always cheaper than hotels?

When to choose one over the other.
woman searching on airbnb

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While Airbnb started as a budget-friendly alternative to hotels, fees on the platform rose just as quickly as its popularity did. This has left many travelers asking the same question: Are Airbnbs always cheaper than hotels? As with most things, the answer is that it depends.

Personal finance website GoBankingRates recommends considering your travel style. If you’re just looking for a place to sleep or store your belongings while traveling, a cheap hostel or hotel might be the best option for you. Conversely, if you expect to spend a bit more time in your room and need a place that feels a bit cozier, spending a few extra bucks on an Airbnb with the proper amenities is a better bet.

Just like in real estate, location also seems to be the name of the Airbnb game. In 2018, the team at bus-booking website Busbud found that while average Airbnb rates in North America and Europe are often cheaper than hotels, it still varies widely from city to city. For example, Airbnbs in popular cities like Vienna and Madrid were half the price of hotels, while Airbnbs in Barcelona were a staggering 80% more expensive than hotels. 

The place where Airbnb truly wins out is for group and long-term stays. Research from personal finance site NerdWallet shows that while a single hotel room for two adults is about 29% cheaper than an Airbnb split by two people, the value of a hotel is lost as soon as you add more guests. They found that booking an Airbnb for a group of six people is about 33% cheaper per night, per person than booking three hotel rooms. 

If you’ve ever booked through Airbnb, you know that their nightly rate search tool doesn’t include the cleaning fees, service fees, or taxes. And while those hidden fees might cause some sticker shock when you go to confirm your accommodation, it’s not so different from the additional resort fees or taxes hotels also have. 

Another NerdWallet study found that the base price accounts for an average of 68% of the total Airbnb cost, while 16% of the remaining 32% is the average cleaning cost. All that’s to say, when booking an Airbnb, don’t just look at the nightly price, but the total cost of the property. Sometimes, you’ll find that a hotel is cheaper and, thanks to housekeeping, has fewer chores than an Airbnb.

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