My Experience Using Airbnb vs. Hotels

By Robb Engen | August 6, 2019 |

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.**

How To Level Up Your Credit Card Rewards Game

By Robb Engen | July 31, 2019 |

I spent years looking for the perfect credit card that offered the most cash back (or travel rewards) on my spending. I was frustrated about the lack of one-size fits all credit card solutions.

You see, some cards are good for groceries and gas, while others reward more for dining or travel. I carried multiple credit cards for a while, trying to maximize the earn rate on every purchase. I can still hear my wife asking, “which one do we use for groceries?”

I’ll admit it felt a bit ridiculous trying to squeeze an extra 1 or 2 percent out of my credit card rewards. But it wasn’t until I discovered credit card churning that I realized how much time I was wasting, not to mention how much money I was leaving on the table.

Level up your credit card rewards

Credit card churning is all about trying to level up your rewards game. I stopped focusing on which credit card was best for certain categories, or which card gave me the most overall rewards. Instead, I strategically sign up for new credit card offers and cash in on big welcome bonuses.

When I say “strategically”, what I mean is that I plan any new credit card sign-ups around the time I need to make a big purchase. Timing is everything. For example, my annual car insurance premiums cost around $1,200 and comes due in May. My house insurance is due in August and costs about $1,600.

I might sign-up for a new credit card about one month before each of these expenses are due. Let’s use an example of a valid offer today: The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card . This card meets all of my churning criteria (first year free, large welcome bonus, low minimum spend).

  • 1st year annual fee rebate
  • 15,000 Aeroplan Miles with first purchase
  • Additional 10,000 Aeroplan Miles when you make $2,000 in purchases within 90 days

So, if I signed up and was approved for the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card now, I’d get the card in time to pay my house insurance bill at the end of August (and collect the welcome bonus of 15,000 Aeroplan miles). That only leaves $400 in regular spending to meet the minimum requirements and get the extra 10,000 Aeroplan miles. That’s easily accomplished within the next month or two.

25,000 Aeroplan miles can be conservatively valued at $500 (at 2 cents per mile). That’s a 25 percent return on my spending.

Using an everyday rewards credit card, like, for example, the BMO Cashback World Elite MasterCard, the best I could hope to earn on that $2,000 spending is 1.5 percent – or $30.

Big rewards on everyday spending

Let’s try another example. If you’re like me, your spending around the holidays can quickly get out of hand. Without question we might spend $1,500 or more on gifts and other items around Christmas.

I’ll sign up for another card in November, knowing I’ll have that upcoming holiday spending in my budget. I’ll look at something like the BMO Air Miles World Elite MasterCard. Again, it ticks all the boxes for credit card churning:

  • First year free
  • 1,000 Air Miles with first purchase
  • Additional 2,000 Air Miles when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months

The minimum spend on this card is pretty high, but for me, since it’s a MasterCard, I can use it as my everyday card when we shop at Costco and No Frills. Between Christmas gifts and groceries, we can reach the minimum spend in no time.

I prefer to earn Cash Miles rather than Dream Miles. With Air Miles Cash I can get a $10 grocery voucher for 95 Air Miles. That means 3,000 Air Miles is good for $310 in free groceries – or a 10.3 percent return on my spending.

The pay off

If you’ve followed me to this point you can see how a few strategic credit card sign-ups can net you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars more each year in credit card rewards.

Let’s say you spend $36,000 per year on your credit card, and you manage to earn an average of 2 percent rewards on all your spending. That gives you $720 per year in cash back, travel rewards, or some combination of the two. Not bad!

Now, let’s mix in four new credit card sign-ups throughout the year – one new card per quarter. You sacrifice maybe $12,000 in spending to meet the minimum requirements on the new cards. But those four cards net you $1,200 in rewards.

You still earn 2 percent on your remaining $24,000 in annual spending, or $480, PLUS the additional $1,200 from your new credit card welcome bonuses. That gives you a total of $1,680 in credit card rewards for the year – a 4.67 percent return on your spending!

Final thoughts

I’ve mentioned credit card offers that meet certain conditions – first year free, solid welcome bonus, easily attainable minimum spend. Some years these are more plentiful than others. You might even find several offers with no minimum spending required – the bonus is paid upon activation or with first purchase. Those ones are nice.

You might also look beyond first year free offers and more towards a particular points program that you value. For some, the American Express Platinum Card, even with its $699 annual fee, is worth signing up.

The point is that you should forget about which credit card gives more cash back on groceries or gas. Focus instead on finding four great new credit card offers each year to help boost your overall rewards.

Four new sign-ups spread out over a year shouldn’t negatively affect your credit score, but it will significantly increase the return on your spending and level up your rewards game.

Finally, I should mention that I’ve only covered one part of credit card churning – signing up for new cards. Ideally, you’ll want to cancel these cards before the annual fee comes due the following year. Another option, instead of cancelling, is to ask for a product switch to a no-fee card.

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