BnB, AirBnB, VRBO, managed condo/home rental, or hotel/motel–what’s the difference? If you’re planning a trip it’s helpful to know. Sometimes it’s fun to get out of town to watch the Super Bowl. In a new location, the snacks seem more exotic and it’s easier to imagine a Cinderella outcome! As the coronavirus spreads its influence, it seems like traveling sooner rather than later could be a good idea.
If you’re getting out of town this weekend or later in the year, here are some accommodation differences worth noting:
Hotels are predictable.
Most of us are familiar with a variety of hotel and motel brands and styles. You may have a favorite that you choose on a regular basis. Each will vary slightly in layout, decor, and amenities, but many things are predictable.
The typical hotel or motel has everyday maid service. The rooms are stocked each day with enough towels for at least two showers per person and a day’s worth of hand and bath soap, shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. You’ll consistently find a hairdryer, an iron and ironing board. Some hotels also automatically provide mouthwash, makeup remover wipes, shower caps, shoe polishing cloths, and vanity kits containing Q-tips, cotton balls, and a fingernail file. You can always expect to find ice machines and vending machines around the facility.
It’s been at least four years since I’ve stayed in a hotel that did not have a coffee maker, microwave, and refrigerator in a standard room, but some high-rise convention or small boutique hotels may not. Breakfast is usually served at hotels even when there’s not a restaurant on site. Some hotels and motels offer a self-service laundry as well as a traditional laundry service. Most can provide you with complimentary forgotten items like a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and a comb.
Other hotel amenities may include room service, a pool, spa, beauty salon, shopping, bicycle rental, ballrooms, meeting rooms, exhibit spaces, a golf course, croquet courts, concierge, restaurants, bars, casinos, dance clubs, music venues, and art galleries. Resort hotels will specialize in an even wider range of activities and services from which to choose. If you love hiking, skiing, fishing, boating, or sailing, you can easily find a place that caters to your activity. You can also soak in luxury at a resort with a pillow menu.
Hotels reservations are easily canceled at no charge up to 24-hours prior to check-in. Keys or key cards are distributed from a front desk even if you book and pay in advance online.
Parking policies vary widely. In small towns and cities, parking is usually free and in an open air lot. In larger cities, parking may be in a deck where you must pay. Some facilities offer valet parking only for which they charge a fee. In metropolitan areas, there is often a complimentary shuttle to and from the airport.
Bed and breakfasts may lack privacy.
When my kids were young, bed and breakfasts were all the rage. I stayed at several in several states. Most were located in large, old homes where you rented a bedroom with named for a theme – Benjamin Franklin Suite, Roosevelt Room, Emily Dickinson Lounge, etc. Some rooms came with a private bathroom, but many required me to share with other guests.
Breakfasts in BnBs were prepared and served by the hosts who usually wanted to chat. Other guests also wanted to chat. I know everyone was just being friendly, but I’m more of a drink my coffee in silence person so I have never felt very comfortable in the traditional BnB environment.
For me, BnBs work best when traveling with family or close friends. Everyone can stay in the same place and I’m staying with people I know. If I choose to keep quiet during breakfast, no one thinks I’m being unfriendly. They already know I like to ease into the morning.
If you’re traveling with unreliable friends or family, be sure to review the cancellation policies before booking a bed and breakfast. Some require cancellation days or weeks before check-in and may charge a cancellation fee.
I think this model may have evolved into more of a self-serve situation in some BnBs. There’s a lovely one in Santa Barbara where you help yourself to snacks and breakfast. The breakfast is less elaborate than the BnBs I’m used to, but more flexible and private.
My most recent experience with a bedroom in a shared home was a HomeAway rental in Brooklyn. The owners lived downstairs and rented out the upstairs bedrooms. There was one shared bathroom located down the hall from my room. The owners provided towels and hand soap, but toiletries were up to me. That has been my experience with most BnBs.
The mornings at the HomeAway felt very much like a BnB. The owners served breakfast and expected everyone to show up at the table around the same time. It was not my favorite accommodation, but the location was perfect. I was in Park Slope across from Prospect Park and around the corner from the friends I was visiting.
AirBnB and VRBO units are everywhere and all of them are different!
When location is important, AirBnB and VRBO have made it possible to find accommodations convenient to almost anything. On my last three trips to LA, this has allowed me to forego car rental and ride sharing. I’ve been close enough to walk to my primary destinations and a variety of restaurants.
The maps on AirBnB give a reasonable idea of location, but can sometimes be inaccurate enough to put you on the other side of a major highway. Once you book and receive the specific address, it’s a good idea to review the location so that you can cancel within 48 hours of booking to guarantee a full refund if the address is not suitable.
Cancellation policies vary by host from flexible to moderate to strict. All policies are clearly stated on the site. This can still mean there are some inaccuracies if the host enters incorrect information. AirBnB has a resolution center to help resolve any conflict that may result. I sometimes choose a more expensive option in order to have the flexibility to cancel closer to my departure time, especially when I’m booking well in advance.
I use AirBnb, but my sister uses VRBO. There is some overlap, but it’s easy to search either service without creating an account. I use the filters to make sure I have completely private quarters with enough bedrooms and bathrooms for my travel group to be comfortable.
When it’s just me, I don’t care about a separate bedroom, but I do want a real bed. The site icons make it easy to determine whether the sleeping spaces are appropriate.
In addition to cancellation policies, bedrooms, and bathrooms, I review the photos, list of amenities, and house rules. This means that the flexibility of size, configuration, and location requires more time and research than booking a hotel. If you prefer to keep things simple and predictable, a hotel or motel may work better.
There are also other things that vary. Hosts rarely update their original list of amenities or general check-in instructions. That has meant I carried a hairdryer only to find there was now one provided. Most recently, it meant that the red lantern identifying the appropriate gate to my facility was missing.
Unlike a hotel, you may need to provide your own shampoo, bath wash, and lotion. If shampoo is provided, it may be in a large container like you use at home. There is not a maid or cleaning service to do your laundry or dishes. Those are up to you.
I’ve never stayed for more than a week in a single AirBnb. I’m guessing that towels would be restocked and sheets changed during an extended stay, but I don’t know what interval is considered average.
Just like visiting a friend’s home, you may encounter a broken shower handle, hot water that takes forever, and occasionally a few clothes in a closet. These are a few examples from my experience, but I’ve never had a problem large enough to ruin my trip or even my day. If this kind of thing creates undue stress for you, it may not be worth taking the risk.
A coffee maker and coffee may or may not be provided. On a trip a couple of years ago, I had to borrow a French press from my son and purchase coffee from a nearby grocery.
Your facility may not have a TV, or if it does, it may only be broadcast TV rather than cable or satellite. This is not a big deal for me, but if you’re expecting to watch a game on ESPN you may be disappointed.
My most recent stay provided Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and antenna TV. That meant having two remotes and needing to know how to change the input on the TV, but that’s what I do at home so it felt perfectly normal.
Some hosts provide extras like a variety of snacks, bottled water, and cooking basics like pots, pans, knives, salt, pepper, and cooking oil. Others may have dishes and a microwave, but no food or water.
With AirBnB and VRBO, you simply can’t expect consistency. Read the reviews. Read the lists. Read the rules. You’ll still occasionally be surprised.
Host personalities vary greatly and there is no standard for customer service. Some prefer to communicate only through an app. Others will provide their phone number and meet you at the door. I prefer hosts who are responsive, but not overly involved and I’m perfectly happy if I never meet them in person.
Having the ability to cook if I want to, value for the money, and the wide range of locations and sizes makes AirBnB my preference in spite of the inconsistencies. I just look at those as part of the adventure.
Managed condo and house rentals can be the perfect in-between.
Houses and condo rentals handled by management companies fall somewhere between hotels and AirBnB. While the units are owned by individuals, they are managed under a set of consistent policies administered by the management company. I sometimes choose these when traveling to the beach with a group or to Asheville, North Carolina by myself.
When I stayed in a studio condo at The Residences at Biltmore, I had everyday maid service just like a hotel. I also had a full kitchen sans dishwasher and a stackable washer & dryer. I did my own laundry, but the maids washed the dishes, restocked the towels, and made my bed.
I don’t think any shampoo or soap was provided other than dishwashing liquid, but I really don’t remember specifically. What I do remember is feeling as though I had everything I needed. There was an outdoor elevator to take me to the third floor. I had a lovely balcony with a view where I could sit or dine.
In addition to the bed, there was a chest of drawers, chair, twin sofa bed, fireplace, and small dining table. The closet was large and all of the finishes were high end. Outside, the pool was huge and the pool area included a fire pit for cold weather. Parking was ample and free. Spa treatments were available.
I’ve been tempted to purchase one of these condos. They’re on the edge of Kenilworth, a neighborhood I love. They seem well managed and they stay full. I’d have to be willing to give up some income in order to spend time there myself and I’m just not sure a purchase makes sense at $300,000 and up. Nonetheless, the pull is strong. I loved being there.
Most of us are comfortable in our own homes. When we travel, we hope to be equally as comfortable if not more so. The requirements for an accommodation to provide that feeling will vary from person to person. Your best choice may be guided by budget, convenience, amenities, or level of service. Whatever the criteria, knowing the difference makes the choice more clear.
So, what’s the difference? Here’s a quick recap:
- Hotels are the most predictable, consistent, and easy to cancel last minute.
- Bed and breakfasts may lack privacy, but can provide a homelike feel.
- AirBnB and VRBO offer great locations, the most flexibility, and are often a great value for the money. They are not consistent and require effort to research amenities and policies.
- Managed homes and condos have straightforward policies, fewer personal touches, and don’t require communication with the owners.
Even if you stay home for the Super Bowl, you may want to travel for Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or just a regular old day. That’s what I’m doing next–traveling on a regular old Friday to a regular hotel. Whenever and wherever you go, I wish you comfortable conditions and safe travels!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”