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Why Airbnb Isn't Worth All Those Fees, According to Reddit

Lifehacker logo Lifehacker 10/12/2021 Meredith Dietz
© Photo: RightFramePhotoVideo (Shutterstock)

Last summer, I booked a secluded, moody Airbnb in rural Washington and spent a relaxing few days in a land where everything looked and felt exactly like I was in a scene from Twilight. So when I needed a place to sleep in Portland, Maine last month, I turned to Airbnb in search of another satisfying experience. But after considering the costs of the available rentals about six weeks out from my trip, I started comparing prices to hotels–just in case. And much to my surprise, I wound up booking a hotel over an Airbnb for the first time in years.

Airbnbs have gotten more expensive

I’m nowhere near the first person to notice the costs of hotels and Airbnbs are a lot closer than they used to be. In 2020, TripSavvy found nine cities where a hotel would actually be cheaper than Airbnb, including Miami, Las Vegas, and Chicago. And according to a report from the bus and train booking website Wanderu, the pandemic has yet further shifted the pricing paradigm between hotels and Airbnbs.

Even when the rate for a stay seems fair, the fees can really add up—at the sticker shock at checkout seems to be the most notable reason people have been abandoning Airbnbs for traditional accommodations. As the Washington Post reported this summer, Airbnb is taking a closer look at fees after backlash from a viral tweet with a screenshot of a $99/night listing that ended up totaling $413.95 for two nights after fees and taxes were added at checkout.

Even still, reporting in the Washington Post and TravelFreak has concluded that Airbnb prices still tend to be cheaper than hotel rates—but even if they are, that doesn’t mean the two experiences provide the same value.

To find out whether hotels or Airbnbs offer the best return on your vacation investment, we looked to see what the good people of Reddit are saying about Airbnb fees—from the perspective of hosts and travelers alike.

The host POV

For the most part, hosts on r/Airbnb agree that the fees have risen significantly, both for their guests and themselves. User @TrickyAndroid says “I have DEFINITELY [sic] noticed how expensive it’s gotten...I like helping out ‘the little guy’ and renting from people, but it’s getting to the point where it doesn’t make sense financially anymore. Sucks because I’m a host and have had to lower my price a lot to still remain competitive.”

User @sprinkles111 agrees that as someone who occasionally puts their own home on Airbnb, “fees have increased...especially for guests” and that it’s “almost not worth the inconvenience. I always use Airbnb when I travel, but last trip I used hotels because the cost difference in that city was like $20/night more for a hotel, but hotels were NICE [sic] and Airbnbs were average.” So yes, you may save a little on an Airbnb, but the difference in price might not be worth the difference in comfort (considering Airbnb guests often have to clean up after themselves or miss out on the little amenities that hotels provide as a matter of course).

User @jkrozar adds some more insight into how the numbers break down for a host:“As a host of a cabin on 23 acres, I took in about $45,000 [in 2020] and spent all but $5,000 on utilities, mortgage, taxes (real estate & room), repairs, cleaning & snow/lawn & hot tub maintenance, upgrading or repairing furniture, membership fees, ads in local tourist publications, and supplies.”

Backing this up, user @Joygboro, who in 2020 said they’d been a host and guest for over three years, claims that Airbnb has raised fees they collect from hosts. While they think Airbnb is a better deal “if you just need a place to sleep and shower and are willing to do shared space” or split costs with a group, they’ve also looked at a guest’s costs and been “puzzled as to the reasons they didn’t choose a hotel” instead.

User @Threevestimesacharm says that even traveling with five kids, “it was cheaper (half [the] price) to pay for two rooms and parking downtown rather than an Airbnb after cleaning fees, extra persons fees, etc.” and that hotels can be a better deal for families due to perks like complimentary breakfasts, exercise rooms, and schedule flexibility.

Even with the rise in fees, the difference between hotels and Airbnbs is often narrow, with other value considerations influencing your decision. The final cost depends on a range of factors, including location, the individual Airbnb host or hotel chain, length of stay, who’s traveling, and what amenities you want guaranteed.

Why the price hikes?

Like any service in the hospitality industry, Airbnb costs fluctuate with demand. But the reasons behind the sharp rise in fees over the past few years has led to a lot of anecdotal speculation on r/Airbnb (note that many of these posts predate the pandemic). Reddit user @kagko says they’ve used Airbnb exclusively since 2013, but that they believe fees have now become “prohibitively expensive” for the following reasons (condensed for clarity):

A shift to a “five star” mentality [for hosts]...It seems like if hosts don’t have five stars, they aren’t visible [to guests]. This shift has made it so that every place must be 100% perfect aka more expensive.

Fees are high and not included in the list price. So many times I have found a place I love, gotten ready to book, then was shocked at the final cost once fees are added forcing me to abandon my booking.

Rising costs for longer travel. I take a lot of four-day trips with my family. There is no point to use Airbnb for this purpose because cleaning and service fees will drive up the cost so that you might as well take an extra night at a hotel.

Unfortunately, during your initial search of rentals, there’s currently no way to see the final net cost that includes all of the taxes and fees. You’ll need to go to the individual listing, enter your dates and number of guests, and find the clear breakdown of the additional charges before you press “reserve.”

If you don’t like what you see, you can negotiate rates with your Airbnb host. Here’s our guide to doing it right.

Bottom line

Even if Airbnbs are typically cheaper than hotels, the difference is a lot smaller than it used to be; certainly the cost disparity isn’t drastic enough to uniformly declare one option more economical than the other. It comes down to what you value: For a shorter stay where you just need dependability and flexibility, splurge on a hotel. For the more personal, “live-like-a-local” experience, you might still want to stick with Airbnb. But double-check the amenities, calculate whether the fees are worth it, book well in advance, and try to negotiate the price.

Ultimately, the right choice will involve a little bit of research on your specific situation. I guess you’ve got to do some work if you want to enjoy that vacation.

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