My Experience Using Airbnb vs. Hotels

Airbnb vs. Hotels

Airbnb was founded in 2008 and had already served 9,000,000 guests by the time I discovered it in 2013. Since then I’ve used Airbnb for stays in Toronto, Calgary, Kelowna, and Port Renfrew (Vancouver Island). More recently, we stayed at an Airbnb in Inverness, Scotland, and in Kilkenny, Ireland during our epic trip to Europe.

We got a good mix of experiences at Airbnbs and hotels during our trip, so I’m going to use that to share my thoughts on staying in Airbnb vs. hotels. For our trip to Europe we stayed five nights at a hotel in Edinburgh (Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa), seven nights at an Airbnb in Inverness, 14 nights at an Airbnb in Kilkenny, and five nights at a hotel in Dublin (The Westin Dublin).

We chose hotels in the bigger cities for two reasons. One, I had built up a ton of Marriott Bonvoy points and we could redeem them to stay five nights (and get the fifth night free) at each location. Two, we knew these hotels were right in the heart of downtown – close to all the action and attractions.

In the smaller centres, hotels weren’t as plentiful and Airbnb gave us more options from which to choose. We also had longer stays lined up in Inverness and Kilkenny. Staying in an Airbnb meant we’d have more space, including a kitchen to prepare our own meals, plus laundry services to wash and dry our clothes (essential when you pack light for a long trip).

Our Hotel Experience

The Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh was arguably the best hotel experience I’ve ever had in my life. We stayed free on points, but I spent $95/night to upgrade us to the Club floor, which included access to the Club Lounge and the spa, plus a full hot buffet breakfast each morning. Simply amazing! The location was terrific, right across from Edinburgh Castle. The service was top-notch, and the food was incredible. Simply put: We wouldn’t have changed a thing about our hotel stay in Edinburgh.

Comparatively, the Westin Dublin was a bit of a letdown. The hotel wasn’t as nice, and there was no pool or Club lounge. The breakfast wasn’t as stellar as the Sheraton’s, but it was adequate. We definitely wouldn’t pay the going rate of $500-$600 per night, but staying on points was okay. The location was fantastic, right in the heart of downtown Dublin and a few minutes from Trinity College and Temple Bar.

All-in-all, our hotel experience was positive and if you plan to visit Edinburgh or Dublin – especially in summer – you can get great value from using Marriott Bonvoy points to get free nights at hotels that can cost upwards of $600 per night.

**Get the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card and you can earn 51,000 Marriott Bonvoy points (with a referral link) after you charge $3,000 in purchases within the first three months**

Both my wife and I signed up for the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card last summer (I also have the business card version) and so we earned 150,000 points to use towards hotels on our trip.

Our Airbnb Experience

We’ve always had a great experience using Airbnb and this trip was no different. Our seven nights in Inverness were spent at a great downtown apartment overlooking the river Ness. We were within 15 minutes’ walk from dozens of restaurants, and steps away from the nearest grocery store. We were eager to cook our own meals, for the most part, after five nights of eating hotel and restaurant food. Our goal was to relax, but still be able to enjoy the amenities that Inverness had to offer.

Our Kilkenny Airbnb was a little more ‘off-the-grid’ in that we stayed just outside the city on a farm. Our goal was again to relax and give our kids a different experience than the hustle and bustle of tourist attractions in the major cities. The farm was gorgeous, and just a 20 minute walk from Kilkenny Castle. The kids each had their own room, and we had plenty of living space – plus acres of farmland to explore.

Our hosts lived in their own house on the farm nearby and stopped by once in a while to say hi, or bring us fresh farm eggs. They also had horses, one of whom had a newborn foal the day after we arrived. It was simply an amazing experience that we could not get in a hotel anywhere in the world.

During our stay, we also discovered a relatively new feature on Airbnb – which is called Airbnb experiences. These are billed as “one of a kind activities hosted by locals”. We found a two-hour pony trekking adventure not too far away that had excellent reviews. It was awesome, and our girls had the best time riding their ponies up the Devil’s Bit mountain.

One of the problems I found trying to book local authentic experiences during our trip was that a lot of activities seemed more like tourist traps. We were thrilled to find an authentic local experience directly through Airbnb, with verified hosts and actual customer reviews. And the hosts were thrilled that Airbnb was sending them great customers, too.

**Try Airbnb for yourself using this referral link and you’ll get $45 off your first stay, plus $17 to use towards an experience worth $63 or more.**

Airbnb: Finding Accommodation

Despite my positive experience staying in Airbnb’s around the world, I’m still surprised by some of the reactions I get from people when I tell them about the service. First of all, there’s a perception that an Airbnb is like a traditional Bnb, or Bed & Breakfast. It’s not. Or, some people think when you stay at an Airbnb you’ll be sleeping on the host’s couch or in their basement. Again, that’s not the case.

While you do have the option of staying in a shared space, like a common room, Airbnb also allows you to filter your stay by the type of place you’re looking for. So, if you want the entire place to yourself, make sure to select that feature and your searches will reflect these results.

Airbnb filtered by type of stay

As you can see from the picture above, you can also have your own private room, with shared common space (like a traditional Bnb). Or, filter your search to include boutique hotel rooms or hostels.

With a family of four, we like to have an entire place to ourselves. The price is typically more comparable to a hotel room, but we get much more room, plus a kitchen and laundry facilities (and the kids often get their own room). The brilliant thing about Airbnb is that we can select all of those filters to narrow down our choices and increase the odds of getting something we’ll love.

Next, we make sure to select our actual travel dates to filter out any accommodation that might already be booked. You can also select a price range if you’re staying on a budget. Finally, if you have an idea of where exactly you want to stay, you can filter the results by neighborhood. The end result is a well-curated list of places that meets all of your criteria and increases the odds of finding a match.

We went through this exact process to find accommodation when we visit Italy next April. Hotel prices in Italy are insanely high, especially in Rome, so we found great value on Airbnb – with prices often less than $150 per night. That’s compared to a price range of $350 – $580 per night for Marriott hotels in Rome.

We wanted to be in downtown Rome, close to the Colosseum, and we found a gorgeous place five minutes away for just $185 per night (we’re staying three nights). As you can see, the cost savings of booking through Airbnb vs. hotels can be dramatic. We love to stay in nice accommodations, but if we can’t use hotel points we want to make sure we get the best value for our dollars (Euros) so we can use the savings to enhance the rest of our stay (attractions, dining, etc.).

Final thoughts on Airbnb vs. Hotels

I used to work in the hotel industry and to this day it still pains me to spend more than $69 per night (employee rates) at any hotel. Staying in hotels for any length of time can get tiring – and not just the food, but the fact that you don’t have a lot of space, or all the comforts of home.

Airbnb has been great for our family because we love to have extra space and to cook our own meals. We love slow mornings, and so the kids can watch TV and my wife and I can enjoy a cup of coffee on the patio without having to rush and get out the door for a breakfast that only runs til 9:00 a.m.

We also love that our kids can stay in a separate bedroom, rather than having us all crammed into a two queen bedded hotel room. Our kids are in bed early and we’d like to stay up and have a glass of wine or watch some Netflix without disturbing them. You can do that with an Airbnb.

Finally, some people worry about the safety of staying in someone else’s place. We’ve never had an issue and have always had great communication with our host, with easy-to-follow check-in instructions (typically a keyless door lock with a re-programmable code). We tend to select “Superhosts” – those who are Airbnb’s top-rated and most experienced hosts – and read lots of customer reviews to look for any negative feedback or red flags.

There will always be a place for hotels in our life, but for any lengthy travel with the kids we’ll check Airbnb first to get a bigger place (all to ourselves), to save money, and to find the best locations.

**Try Airbnb for yourself using this referral link and you’ll get $45 off your first stay, plus $17 to use towards an experience worth $63 or more.**


  1. Deborah S. on August 6, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    Another other great feature of Airbnb is discounts for longer stays, excellent for “slow travel.” Not every host offers them, but we’ve had 40% monthly discounts in Mexico.

    • Robb Engen on August 8, 2019 at 5:41 pm

      Yes! We’ve stayed for longer than a week on several occasions and were impressed with the week-long discounts. A 40% discount is amazing!

  2. Peter on August 6, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    The major problem with Airbnb is that, when something goes wrong, there is no one (despite what Airbnb claims) to take responsibility and make things right. Not all “hosts” are reliable — see the recent odyssey of the girls’ basketball (I think it was) team in the Maritimes. And, in many cities, multiple apartments are being taken off the rental market by “hosts” that manage dozens of properties.

    • Robb Engen on August 8, 2019 at 5:37 pm

      Hi Peter, that hasn’t been my experience when I’ve had issues with Airbnb. Any host worth their salt would not want a negative review on their place and would go above and beyond to make things right.

      I do a lot of research and read all the reviews to check for red flags. Often you can tell if a host is absent (in another city) or if they have a bunch of properties to manage.

      But, you’re right. With anything you need to do your due diligence or you’re taking a risk with your booking and stay.

  3. Ritchie on August 7, 2019 at 5:23 am

    All of our experiences with Airbnb and VRBO have been excellent. We do a thorough job of searching properties and reading all of the reviews, especially any negative reviews. In Rome our apartment was 5 minutes from the Colosseum. Our host was incredible. We like to do a lot of walking during the day and a place to kick back in the evening, with lots of room is great. Our only use for hotels now is if we are staying for a very short period of time and/or we are staying at the airport to catch an early morning flight.

    • Robb Engen on August 8, 2019 at 5:33 pm

      Hi Ritchie, we’ve had the same experience with Airbnb or VRBO. Can’t wait to stay in Rome! We’re the same way in that we like to walk around during the day and chill out in the evening (with young kids, they’re spent by 7pm anyway).

      We did love our stay at the Marriott Calgary Airport the night before our early morning travel – rolling into international departures about 20 minutes after we got out of bed was pretty sweet!

      My wife and I like the hotel stays when we leave the kids behind at their grandparents – especially when we can book with Marriott points 🙂

  4. Eric Lange on August 8, 2019 at 8:35 am

    our first experience with Airbnb was in Victoria for 4 nights, the location was right in the downtown area, maybe 7 minute walk to either the cruise ship pier or to the downtown area. The section of the house we had included a kitchen with frig and stove, coffee maker with coffee and milk in the frig, with dozen eggs, the walk to a 24 hour grocery store was maybe 3 minutes away, the host gave us access to their washer and dryer,
    we had a living room, sitting room, private entrance to the house and the master bedroom with on-suite. Parking was available on the street and never had issue with finding a parking spot. we gave them the highest rating possible, as the host checked on us, but didn’t bother us!!

    • Robb Engen on August 8, 2019 at 5:29 pm

      Hi Eric, that sounds great! We’d love to stay in Victoria one of these years and we’ll definitely check out the Airbnb listings!

  5. Ron Sigal on August 8, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    I agree with Peter’s comment above. While AirBNB accomodation is often excellent and reasonably priced, there is no guarantee it will actually be available. A host can cancel a reservation for any reason he/she wants, including someone else offering more money, in which case the customer is left in the lurch. Once I had booked an AirBNB in San Diego for a big conference, and the host (ironically a “Superhost”) canceled my reservation a couple of weeks before the meeting, at which point there was very little other accommodation available. The canceling host did not even apologize, offered absolutely no help, and AirBNB was also of no help. The alternative accommodations AirBNB suggested either were much more expensive, or were unsuitable (too far away, or otherwise not appealing). After wasting several hours in multiple phone calls to AirBNB, I ended up having to book a hotel room at more than twice what the AirBNB had been listed for. In the future, when I know accommodation near a conference will be in short supply, I will only book hotels, not AirBNBs because of this experience.

    • Robb Engen on August 8, 2019 at 5:24 pm

      Hi Ron, I actually had this happen to me when I booked a weekend for me and my wife in Calgary that happened to be during Stampede. Hotel rooms are hard to come by and notoriously overpriced. This place was surprisingly available and cheap.

      But maybe six weeks before our arrival I got a cancellation notification . -apparently the host sold her place and the possession date would be before our reservation. Totally bizarre.

      Anyway, I was in the same boat with more expensive places and less availability closer to Stampede. I complained to Airbnb and they provided me with a $50 credit. Not enough to cover the difference in price for the next place we booked, but it was an okay gesture in my books.

      That has been my only negative experience in about 20 Airbnb stays.

      I have, however, booked through private rental firms (they had multiple units in several condos in the city) and had a nightmare of a time when they screwed up our reservation. I find Airbnb is at least a decent intermediary to problem-solve.

  6. Biff Hooper on August 18, 2019 at 3:50 am

    Just a general question please, as I have ever tried AirBnB. Is the cost of electricity and water ever an issue, or is it always a given that all utilities are included in the stated price?

    • Robb Engen on August 23, 2019 at 7:46 am

      Hi Biff, typically there’s a cleaning fee that’s charged on top of the nightly or weekly rent – but I’ve never seen extra charges listed for utilities or energy consumption.

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