7 Reasons why to book an Airbnb instead of a points hotel

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Even though we all love suite upgrades, lounge access, and 4pm checkout, I think there’s a strong argument to be made for Airbnbs sometimes being a better choice than points hotels. During the 4 years of nomad-life where Drew and I were keeping meticulous notes about our travel stats for Travel is Free, we averaged about 3 or 4 nights in one place. That pace was exhausting, and we’ve changed our travel style quite a bit since those early days. Nowadays we make use of Airbnb almost everywhere we go, often staying for 2-4 weeks in one spot.

Stephen is also a nomad and also uses Airbnbs quite frequently in his indefinite travels across all 50 states. So when Stephen and I were paired up as a team for the Party of 5 challenge, it made perfect sense for us to highlight an incredible Airbnb property for the trip we’d planned for the rest of the team. That Airbnb served as a great anecdote for the many reasons why travelers (not just nomads) might prefer staying in an Airbnb rather than a points hotel.

(And it’s worth noting, when I refer to Airbnb in this post, I’m using it as shorthand for any of the common Short Term Rental platforms.) 

7 Reasons why to book an Airbnb instead of a points hotel

1) Weekly or monthly discounts make Airbnb quite affordable for longer stays.

Like I mentioned above, when we were focusing on miles-and-points for our “housing”, the pace of our travels ended up being pretty fast. This wasn’t usually by preference. Often our fast pace was a by-product of the points strategies we were using.

Airbnb on the other hand works out kind of the opposite, more likely to promote longer stays than shorter ones. For instance the cleaning fee may sometimes looks steep, but is only charged once per stay. Also, many hosts set 3-night minimums and offer discounts that trigger at 7 days or 30 days. And even when they don’t have these discounts automatically set up, we’ve had good luck asking for discounts for longer stays, especially if we’re making these requests the the week before (or even the week of) our intended stay.

For example last year we found a beach-front Airbnb in Puerto Rico that was pricing out at close to $3000 for the month. We asked the host if they would take $2000 for the month instead, since we were just a few days away from the intended stay and their unit was still empty for the full month. They agreed and we spent the whole month in a great beachside property for $2,000. You might think this is annoying to hosts, but when I was an Airbnb host, this didn’t bother me as long as it wasn’t busy season. Sure, in busy season I rejected most of these kinds of requests, but in medium/slow season I often accommodated because cutting down on the turnaround cleanings was always preferable, and of course having a booking at all was better than letting the Airbnb stay empty.

Even if you’re not trying to stay a whole month anywhere, switching hotels costs time and when you can’t secure a late checkout, there’s always a possibility that you’ll be left with a few hours of needing to hold your bags someplace. Being able to have a one spot for a long stretch cuts out the inconvenient transitions.

View from Puerto Rico Airbnb

2) Airbnbs are easier for groups.

During the Party of 5 Challenge, Stephen had to work some serious magic to make sure we always had enough beds for each of our 5 travelers. Sometimes this required 3 rooms, and sometimes we could handle it in 2, but we we had to split up each night and everyone but Greg had to share a room at each hotel. But with the Airbnb we booked for our stay in the Philippines, there were more than enough bedrooms for everyone – not just beds. For a similar price, we each had our own room and bathroom.

Group Hangouts at Airbnb in Philippines
We loved having so much space to hangout as a group at our Airbnb in the Philippines during the Party of 5 Challenge.

3) Airbnbs often have amenities like laundry, kitchens, and group hangout spaces.

It’s awesome having your own bedroom and bathroom, but it’s also great to have big shared spaces to hang out in. This isn’t true at every Airbnb of course, but many Airbnbs have a homey layout with some kind of common area where everyone can hang out together, often a full kitchen and dining area, and sometimes even a backyard or patio. At our Airbnb in the Philippines, it was so much fun gathering together for meals in the big dining area each morning and evening.

Eating out every single day gets expensive really quickly, especially depending on where you’re traveling. Having a full kitchen and laundry facilities is the kind of amenity that means a lot to someone nomadic like myself, but I don’t think you have to be a nomad to find these amenities useful. A lot of travelers count on being able to cook a few meals themselves, just to help keep their budget in line. And it doesn’t take many days of travel to appreciate a laundry opportunity.

Homemade fish meal in Jamaica Airbnb
At an Airbnb in Jamaica, we experimented with cooking fresh fish.

4) Points hotels which offer dining credits and lounge access can demotivate you from local food-ventures

This brings me to another meal-related point. In the comments of Greg’s post evaluating our Party of 5 trips, one commenter highlighted that points and miles hotels can leave you missing out on local experiences for meals, saying there’s a “somewhat negative impact of staying at too resort-y places to maximize value of free breakfast etc.”

I 100% resonate with this commenter’s point. Mexico City for example is a destination Drew and I love, in part because we love all the food there. For this reason, we’ve almost become reluctant to book hotels with free breakfast while in Mexico City. OF COURSE getting free breakfast doesn’t mean you have to actually eat the free breakfast…but we know ourselves well enough to know that we’d have a hard time passing up a free meal if it’s already included. It’s illogical, but we’d probably feel some sort of weird, frugal obligation to eat whatever free meals came with our booking, even if we’d prefer the experience of eating something local outside of our hotel.

It’s no mistake that nearly every time we go to Mexico City, we end up in an Airbnb, where there’s no sense of obligation coming from a free breakfast or lounge access.

Al Pastor in Mexico City
Al Pastor in Mexico City

5) Points hotels can feel insulated from local culture, sometimes in the business district part of town.

This isn’t always the case, but sometimes the points hotels put you in a boring, more touristy, or just wrong part of town. To use Austin as an example, many of the points hotels are right downtown, seemingly where all the action is. (Our old apartment was right in this part of town as well.) But what wouldn’t be obvious to out-of-towners is that the downtown area is great for bachelorette parties and conferences, but East Austin was the part of town with better restaurants (like our favorite Granny’s Tacos), an arts scene, and more local flavor. My Austin intel is now 2 years outdated, so take this anecdote with a grain of salt, but at least at that time, booking an Airbnb was a better way of checking out East Austin.

I’ve noticed this in our travels occasionally as well – where the points hotels put you in the business district instead of the part of town you might be more curious to explore.

6) A local host can often function like a local concierge.

At the Airbnb Stephen and I booked for the Party of 5 Challenge, we found it so helpful to be able to consult with our Airbnb host about the ferry logistics getting to Mindoro Island. The ferry schedules weren’t available online, so I felt nervous making plans around the hope of ferries running at specific times. Michel was able to arrange transport for us all the way from our Manila hotel and gave us specific instructions about which ferry he recommended and when it would be running. Then, rather than renting a car to drive ourselves around the island, Michel also was able to set us up with a full-day tour in a “Jeepney” which covered essentially all of the spots I’d mapped out as hoping to see if we had rented a car.

In our own travels, Drew and I have experienced this same kind of benefit – especially in more rural places, which I’ll discuss more in the next point.

Jeepney in Puerto Galera
Our jeepney

7) Points hotels can be hard to find in rural places.

One of my favorite trips in recent history was to the remote village of Raithal in the Himalayan region of Northern India, which I wrote about here. Airbnb is the only option I know of for visiting a place that remote. Like our Party of 5 Airbnb in the Philippines, our host Naveen helped us solve the logistic puzzle of getting there. Without conveniences like Uber, we needed his help and he readily gave it – meeting us at the bus stop in Uttrakashi to accompany us the remaining hour or so further up into the mountains. Once there, there was no real grocery store, let alone any real restaurant, so we also relied on Naveen for all of our meals. His two cottages are appropriately titled “Raithal Retreat” and that’s exactly what it felt like: a retreat.

Visiting Naveen’s beautiful property (and befriending him with endlessly interesting conversations about life in the Himalayas) will forever be one of my top travel experiences. And all it took was logging onto Airbnb and booking it. (Well…and then getting there.) But can you imagine how hard it would have been to find (let alone book) an immersive, local experience in the middle of the Himalayas like that in the era before Airbnb? I feel so lucky to live in an era when we can find experiences like this fairly easily.

a woman standing on a sidewalk with mountains in the background
This is the view we enjoyed every evening outside of our cottage.

Conclusion

Airbnb doesn’t make sense all the time. But it’s hard to beat when it comes to booking large, homey spaces for long stretches of time in remote places. If your travels involve any of those particular specs, that’s where Airbnb (and other similar Short Term Rental platforms) really excel.

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38 Comments
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Christiane

Thank you so much for highlighting this. Exactly my sentiment! When I listen to many of the podcasters and their travel experiences using mostly Hyatt hotels and resorts, I always feel that something is missing in terms of the local experience. And traveling as a family, I find cramming everyone in one or two rooms vs. having lots of space to spread out in an Airbnb, feels a lot more relaxing to me, especially in the evening when the kids are already in bed.
Thank you for this article, Caroline!!! And let’s not forget to mention the ability to book through British Airways/Delta with Staples gift cards as a hack to get some miles. (3 Avios + 5 Chase points per dollar) unless there are some other special promotions once in a while.

Grace

I have stayed in over 20 AirBnB’s over the last 8 years and for my family of 6, this is the best option. I like having a kitchen, laundry, and more than one bathroom. I also like that I don’t have to constantly tell them to be quiet, like I do in hotels. I have heard of the horror stories but have never had one myself. When my husband and I travel together, we use our points for hotels, but 2-3 hotel rooms in Europe isn’t an option with young kids. We want to be together.

Slaven

Same here. Haven’t stayed in hotel in years as all trips are with kids.
past 2-3 years have been exclusive with Vacasa but before was Airbnb/vrbo.

Ivan

Good article. I think it can make sense to book Airbnb’s for stays of over four nights. One thing I would like to add is you can book apartments on hotel sights as well and receive rewards as well as more transparent pricing.

Although I’ve had generally positive experiences with Airbnb they have horrible customer service when something goes wrong so I tend to avoid using them. That being said I had a great experience at an Airbnb in Crete booked with discounted gift cards I bought. I also stayed in great apartments in Athens and Barcelona booked through hotels.com while earning Cashback through a portal and rewards nights.

Matt

Ah, to be able to spend multiple weeks somewhere else… Maybe someday, for now we’re stuck with 4-6 nights tops

Christian

You raise some valid arguments. Nonetheless, for my wife and me we’ll continue to avoid Airbnb like the plague as long as they continue to side with owners on disputes every single time (except for that time with the photogenic Instagram influencer and her entourage). I’m not saying that the visitor is always right but the company avers that they’re always wrong. That doesn’t work for me.

Ivan

Agreed, they treat their customers like poo.

LarryInNYC

But can you imagine how hard it would have been to find (let alone book) an immersive, local experience in the middle of the Himalayas like that in the era before Airbnb? I feel so lucky to live in an era when we can find experiences like this fairly easily.

I come to you across oceans of time — oceans so deep and so wide that there was no Air BnB and even no Internet.

Back in the day, you’d simply front up at the end of the bus line (or in the ferry port, or wherever) and be met by a bunch of people with cabanas, rooms, huts, or apartments for rent. Sometimes they’d have a small album of photographs of what their place looked like and a printed rate sheet. Sometimes not. Everyone would try to get your attention until you bargained with someone for a place to stay and went off with them.

Each place where backpackers would stay would often have a notebook where you could write your tips for the next people coming through, including any recommended places to stay. That way information would make its way through the grapevine. Eventually it would wind up in the Lonely Planet.

Jimmy

Great post! I have booked dozens of Airbnb stays in the US and abroad and have had overwhelmingly good experiences. In addition to the tips you provided I would add that I only book whole apartments or houses (not rooms) and carefully read all the reviews both for the property and for the host if they have multiple listings. Sometimes something that only bugs a few people is exactly the thing I know would drive me crazy. Also, I don’t book if there isn’t a reasonably long record of reviews. And I read the list of amenities very carefully (no A/C?), check the photos (sometimes noting what they don’t show), and check the neighborhood with tools like street view. With all those measures honestly I have had more sketchy and bad experiences in downtown hotels than in Airbnbs.

You post also highlights a notable limitation of points and miles booking for lodging. If your type of travel is resorts and downtown hotels you have lots of options and are going to be very happy with points bookings. But if you want to go off the beaten path and value local experiences then you are likely going to have limited options for redeeming hotel points with good value. This can have an odd effect on points and miles blog coverage. For example, points bookings at national parks are typically outside of the park and those are the options that get coverage. But in most parks you get a much different (and I would argue better) experience staying in a park lodge where you can walk outside the door and be surrounded by the park. Having to get up and drive into the park every day just isn’t the same.

As another example, I don’t know how many posts I read about travel to New Zealand that largely sticks to the cities where the points bookings are. One blog post (not on this site) even suggesting that you might not need a car in NZ because the public transportation in the cities is so good. Nothing wrong with NZ cities (which are very nice), but I would argue if you are sticking to the cities in NZ you are missing the point…

LarryInNYC

Amen to all of this — except that the very best way to see the national parks is to take advantage of their inexpensive campgrounds.

Christiane

Same, I always read the reviews and have NEVER had a disappointing stay – and we have had many within the US and abroad. I think it typically comes down to booking with a superhost although I don’t make it a requirement.

Ivan Y

Excellent article. We have only done it once when there wasn’t any Marriott hotel nearby. Me cousin is working for Marriotts so we regularly stay at Marriott hotels on employee rate – usually $40 per night for Courtyards, $80 for JW, W, etc hotels, and usually around $100 for Ritz etc. As of last year Marriott allows full benefits on elite members. Since I am a titanium, we almost get upgraded and get lounge/breakfast. When we compared with Airbnb, we have always come out ahead. Not one time has Airbnb won sadly.

Sharon

Cousin?- employee rate? Rules define who is allowed to use the MMP or MMF

MAGA

Never used AirBnB. Always use booking.com or hotel points. Have been very happy so far.

Mercedes

I am going to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment against AirB&B because the section #4 regarding Mexico City reminded me of a problem occuring there. The landlords make much more money renting short term to foreginers via AirB&B guests than renting to locals. As a result, Mexicans are being forced out of Mexico City in favor of non-Mexican tourists. I’d like to see an article or discussion regarding this.

Jerry

You should go to Miami where The Mexican elites, the Brazilian elites, and The Russian elites are pricing out everyday Americans.

Trixie

Whataboutism never looks good on commenters.

Sharon

What about the 30 day or even 60 day cancellation policy?? Even with insurance, I highly doubt the claim would be accepted without a significant reason.

Sharon

NO , I’m referring to the host requiring a 30/60 day cancellation penalty.Life is so unpredictable , I want the option to change or cancel and not lose 100% fee within reason

Linda

There are some Airbnbs that have strict cancellation policies (though I’ve not seen 30/60 day), but often there are other options with more flexibility. They may have fewer amenities or not be in the perfect location that you seek, but that is the tradeoff to consider. I recently stayed in various Airbnbs over a month in NZ and they were a great option because I did not want to spend all my time in big cities. Currently have booked 3 different Airbnbs in an upcoming trip to Greece. All of the Airbnbs I chose for NZ and Greece allow for cancellation up to the day before. Airbnb (or booking.com as someone else mentioned) usually has flexible options if you are willing to make tradeoffs.

Pierre

You can select to show only options with free cancellation options if that’s a worry for you (but within that there are cut off dates to get a full refund that vary by host so check about that)

Last edited 11 months ago by Pierre
Tad

Point 4 is precisely why I’m not on the free breakfast train, or don’t bemoan the Hilton credit vs breakfast comp. I don’t want to eat in the hotel anyway.

While I like staying in city centers because I’m mostly an urban dweller, when I’m in a place more known for beauty than urbanism (or even a city more known for neighborhoods vs centrality) your point 5 resonates with me as well.

Pierre Tong

As a foodie, I completely agree about this. I want to try the local cuisine wherever I travel and it feels like I’m wasting either a potential meal elsewhere or the meal credit.

Matt

Even when I’ve had free hotel breakfast we usually never eat at the hotel. This isn’t an Airbnb selling point to me. I get hotel status for room upgrades, later checkout, and better parking options, I don’t care much at all about free breakfast. Even somewhere domestic US I’ll find preferable options outside the hotel. Foreign is a flat no to hotel breakfast.

Lee

But, does one receive royalties from the peek-a-boo camera video? And, let’s not forget the $50M per year hush-money fund Airbnb maintains to pay off sexual assault victims.

Last edited 11 months ago by Lee
Jeff

Many of these points resonate with me. However, point #1 is the one I have thought about but not done. In thinking about a more extended stay in the future of a month or more in Cape Town, I was thinking it would make sense to negotiate but was unsure how to do it. For example, what does AirBnB allow in terms of negotiation, both officially and unofficially? What are other ways to find and negotiate a one-month stay that avoids the big AirBnB commission and gets lower prices? Would love to see an article that expands on all this. If you have written or know of one, please point me to it. Thanks.

Jeff

Thank you so much for all those details! Really appreciated. Yes, I would expect that most US hosts wouldn’t want to go off-platform but in Africa and other developing areas there would be much less wariness about that and a greater trust as well as desire to receive cash. Good to know about AirBnB’s redaction process. Anyway, thanks again for such a thoughtful response. Seems this could be an article itself.

Stephen Pepper

I’ve never actually used this method myself as we never book Airbnbs last minute, but this technique could be helpful if you’re willing to book last minute: https://milevalue.com/the-one-killer-message-to-get-big-discounts-on-airbnb/

Jeff

Thanks Stephen! That is helpful.

Christiane

Works every time although I am not comfortable on my own part to wait until two days before my trip when traveling with the family. But even a month out you can get a discount. For me it’s about getting a better house that I would otherwise not have been willing to pay that much for but it will make our vacation even more exciting.

rich

Ive never stayed in a short term rental place and with a lot of the negative stories about AirBnB I’m a bit hesitant. I’m hoping to take a long trip to western Europe and the idea of having a longer term 1+ weeks in various places does sound nice.

I guess I need to do some searching on tips in booking AirBnB to avoid having major issues.

LarryInNYC

My advice would be to not treat it like a hotel booking (using the instant booking feature), but rather contact the host through the platform with any questions you might have (or just a “Hi, I’m interested in your apartment for dates X to Y, is it available” — even though you know from the calendar it is). That way you can have a little back-and-forth and get a sense of what the person is like, if it’s a “real” host or a company, and so on. I’ll sometimes ask questions about the neighborhood (“I know I’m going to have to do laundry, how far is it to the nearest laundromat?”).

Christiane

Read all the reviews and you will get a good feel of what to expect from the host, the place and the area. Try to filter on “Superhost” to get you started and be on the safe side. We only had great experiences so far (20+ in Europe and the US)!