From over a decade of experience with both:
- If something goes wrong during your stay – Hotels win. We had an AirBnB in Spain where the washer door froze in a locked position – for 2 days. Multiple spin and drain cycles wouldn’t release the door lock. The owner of the 5 star rated flat would only communicate via WhatsApp or Airbnb email (never in person). After a lot of back and forth and waiting, she actually sent me a YouTube video instructing me to take apart the washer and release the door. The YouTube video wasn’t even for the same washer! I refused and asked her to get a maintenance person to come fix it. Finally, 2 days later, just as she was about to send out for a repair, the washer fully drained and unlocked itself.
With a hotel, you just call down to the front desk and have them send the on-site maintenance person to fix it same day. Or if the washer is broken but you can actually get your clothes out, use a different washer in the same hotel. Or have them do the laundry for you.
- Broken or missing items: Hotels win. We had an air conditioner remote in a Sóller Airbnb that was locked in a drawer so we couldn’t use the AC in the bedroom. The owner told us to open windows for a breeze, but that would let light in while sleeping. We had to politely pester her 3 times before she would unlock the drawer and allow us to use the air conditioner on very hot nights. Again, at a 5 star rated Airbnb.
Another time in Spain, 2 of 3 air conditioners were working but the one in the kids room wasn’t. We had to blast the main AC to keep the kids from sweating. In a hotel, they’d just move us to a different room.
In an Airbnb in New Jersey, the owner had a carbon monoxide detector beeping intermittently right beside the bedroom we were sleeping in. The host dismissed it as “the detector was too close to the water heater”, but we noped right out of there and got a hotel. Thankfully, we managed to get the owner to refund us our money.
In multiple Airbnbs in two different cities in Spain, we had problems with very loud rooftop birds waking us up at 6 and 7am. Hotels usually have double or triple paned glass and shutters to keep out the noise. The Airbnbs didn’t.
In general, things are more likely to be broken, blankets are more likely to be musty, and owners unresponsive, in an Airbnb. You can get a fresh blanket or extra pillow in a hotel. At one 5 star Airbnb, we had multiple remote controls for air conditioners and TVs with batteries so old that they were corroded. We had to buy more batteries and clean the corrosion ourselves. Not hard, but an inconvenience when you’re just trying to relax after a long trip or scout your next destination.
- Internet: More likely to be reliable in a hotel. At one Airbnb, I had to find and reboot the router for the connection to work, and even then, the Wi-Fi didn’t reach the master bedroom 50 feet away. At another home, we had problems getting reliable Wi-Fi in every room in the house. It’s as if the owners have never heard of modern mesh networking with eero routers, or maybe they just don’t want to spend 150€ to improve coverage. Meanwhile, at all hotels we stayed at during our European and New York City trip, we had strong reliable wifi everywhere.
- Checking in: Hotels win. At a Spanish Airbnb, the owner tried multiple times to remotely unlock the front door. After 30 minutes in the hot sun, we were able to ring all 4 neighbors and find one that had double locked the door so it couldn’t remotely unlock. He unlocked it for us. Thankfully we got there during daytime hours. If it had been 1am, we’d of had to wake somebody up! (and likely pay a late check-in fee to boot)
- Location: Airbnb usually wins. You can get a flat in the center of it all, in walking distance to anything you might want to see. With hotels, you might be a bit farther out or pay a lot more for something closer to the sights and eats. One caveat: a taxi can almost always bring you directly to your hotel, while your Airbnb flat might be in a location only accessible by foot. We experienced this multiple times in Europe. If you have a lot of bags to schlep, best get a hotel.
- Space for Families: Airbnb usually wins. You can rent an entire apartment with a separate room for each kid. This is fantastic for everyone’s sleep! (If the AC works.) With a hotel you have to seek out the rare ones with partitioned/adjoining rooms. Sometimes these rooms can actually be cheaper in a hotel – but they are hard to find. (For example, Hilton Embassy Suites have these, and occasionally hotels will have extra handicapped rooms available which they will allow families to use.)
- Travel Advice: Airbnb wins. Owners are usually knowledgeable about good places to eat, avoiding local scams, and avoiding tourist traps. At a hotel, you’re more likely to be recommended a potential tourist trap they’re getting a kickback from recommending.
- Supplies: Hotels win. Need more toilet paper? Front desk will send some up. Need more towels? Front desk. At multiple AirBnBs in major cities in Spain including Sóller and Barcelona, the owners seemed to think 3 tiny rolls of toilet paper is enough for 4 people for 1 week. No. Especially when you have small children going potty a lot. It’s not hard to buy more at convenience stores, but hope you don’t run out at 10pm when they close. The owners are usually not on site when you need them.
- (Free) Breakfast: Hotels usually win. There’s almost always no breakfast in an air bed n breakfast. Hotels usually have something free/included or at least easy to get to. Fortunately, the locations we picked for Airbnbs had us covered for some delicious breakfasts (for example, Zeni Coffee in Nice, France – we literally went here every day of our stay in Nice – it was that good.)
- Price: Hotels usually – but not always (see Airbnb-biased chart above) – win again. What the chart doesn’t show you is – after Airbnb’s hidden cleaning fees and service fees – Airbnb is usually more expensive. In Europe, tax is usually included in the price you pay, so the advertised hotel price is what you get. With Airbnb, more often than not, the advertised price looks cheaper but is more expensive during checkout. Plus, many times you may have to pay a hidden cash-only local tax fee to the Airbnb owner of 13-20€. Don’t forget late-check-in fees of 30-60€.
On top of the higher price, Airbnb expects and nags you to spend time rating your stays and writing reviews. You can either write an honest 3 star review and get reciprocal 1-3 star feedback, ruining your chances of getting accepted as a guest again, or you can write a glowing 5 star review that the owner doesn’t deserve just so you can get a 5 star review back.
Or you can do what I do and just refuse to write reviews on their site any longer. At hotels, you might get one survey email which they give you points for filling out. You usually don’t have to worry about speaking your mind about what the hotel can improve.
- Security/Spy cameras: There are more likely to be hidden/undisclosed security/spy cameras in your room in an Airbnb than a hotel – although you should still check your hotel room carefully.
- Bed bugs: Could be anywhere. Check any place you stay. Especially if you’re in a big city staying in a popular place. We actually found some old very slight potential bed bug evidence on a pull-out-bed mattress in a U.S. hotel about a year ago. The hotel was great about it. They quickly replaced the entire mattress and gave us a free night.
- Politics: If you prefer the companies you do business with to stay neutral on politics and just focus on providing good service, hotels (especially smaller ones) have a lot better track record than Airbnb does.
- Amenities: Many hotels offer spas, swimming pools, massage, fitness centers, even steam rooms, whereas Airbnbs usually don’t.
Overall, hotels are still the best. (Winning 10 categories above to Airbnb’s 3 categories). Check Priceline or your warehouse club’s travel page for even better deals, or just book with the hotel directly.
The only reason we still hold our noses and occasionally book with Airbnb is because it’s easier to find separate bedrooms for parents and kids. Of course, we could get adjoining rooms in a hotel for this but that’s sometimes double the price. Shop carefully!