VRBO vs Airbnb vs Booking Direct: What's the Difference?

What’s the difference and why does it matter?

You’ve probably heard the terms such as Airbnb, VRBO, and “book direct” in relation to booking a vacation rental home. But what is the difference between Airbnb and VRBO, and why does it matter? In this post, we’ll break down the differences in the classic VRBO vs Airbnb comparison. You’ll also find the pros and cons of booking directly through a property management company. If you’re trying to decide how to book a short term rental home that best fits your needs, this is the article for you!

Airbnb vs VRBO: Overview

Terminology: Is VRBO owned by Airbnb? Are Airbnb and VRBO owned by the same company?

First, let's clarify the literal origins of the terms VRBO and Airbnb. VRBO is an acronym for Vacation Rentals by Owner. Airbnb stands for Air Bed and Breakfast, as you likely guessed from the name. According to Mashvisor, the founders of Airbnb - Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky - wanted to rent out a room in their place to earn some extra cash. However, all they had to offer overnight guests was air beds, and some breakfast in the morning. So the origin of the term 'Airbnb' is quite literal.

Where to find the best Airbnbs in Holland and Grand Haven MichiganAirbnb and VRBO are both online platforms for booking short term rental homes. As more and more people opt out of hotels and choose vacation rentals instead, Airbnb and VRBO are becoming increasingly popular. Both websites show pictures and descriptions of the rental homes alongside guest reviews of the homes. The home owners/property managers of the rental homes can also review each guest.

Airbnb and VRBO are not vacation rental companies and/or property owners. Rather, these websites are reputable booking platforms that help connect vacation rental owners and management companies with potential vacation rental guests.

VRBO (which stands for Vacation Rental by Owner) was founded in 1995. Currently, Expedia owns VRBO, Homeaway, and Travelocity, Hotels.com, Expedia.com, Hotwire, Orbitz, Trivago, and CarRentals.com.

Airbnb didn’t show up until 2008, but it certainly made a name for itself quickly!

Airbnb vs VRBO: 7 Key Differences

Many people have asked, "What's the difference between VRBO and Airbnb?" and "Is VRBO better than Airbnb?"  But the answer is not one-size fits all. Both companies are owned and operated by different people. But to elaborate more deeply upon their differences, let's take a look at the seven points found between VRBO vs Airbnb below.

1. Airbnb offers more choices.

VRBO has about two million listings in 190 different countries. In contrast, Airbnb has over 6 million listings in 200 different countries.

2. VRBO reviews offer more information to potential guests.

Guest reviews are available on both Airbnb and VRBO. On Airbnb, guests and hosts have up to two weeks to leave a review after the guest stays. VRBO allows an entire year as a window of time for guests and hosts to review each other. These guest reviews are extremely helpful when selecting your vacation rental home! Hearing what actual guests have to say helps you learn about little quirks to be aware of. However, VRBO also shows the host’s response to the guest review in the same section. This is so important, especially since a lot can change in even just a few months. These host responses update users on potential repairs made to the home and also educates them on how to best enjoy their vacation experience.

2. VRBO lists entire homes for rent, while Airbnb offers shared living spaces for rent in addition to entire units.

Both platforms list private homes for you to rent for just you and your party. However, Airbnb has the unique feature of allowing owners to rent out rooms without a home. For example, you could use Airbnb to rent a private bedroom in a shared apartment. This is typically less expensive, but you do have to forfeit the luxury and privacy of having your own bathroom, kitchen, and living rooms.

VRBO vs Airbnb when booking short term rentals online

3. VRBO is more popular among large groups wanting a traditional family vacation, while Airbnbs offer more non-traditional options and often allow shorter stays.

Since Airbnb has a bit more flexibility and allows shared spaces to be listed, you’re more likely to find out-of-the-ordinary vacation rentals like yurts or tiny houses on their platform. So if you are searching for something totally trendy, like a vacation in a castle, Airbnb is the best place for you to start searching.In contrast, VRBO is better for family vacations in traditional homes. If you really want to find a large vacation home for your family, VRBO is the best place for you to begin your search.

4. You’ll find search filters on both platforms, but VRBO’s is more user-friendly.

There are many ways to narrow down your search, and both Airbnb and VRBO offer fairly intuitive search filters. However, VRBO’s sorting features are more conspicuous. For example, directly on VRBO’s search screen, you can select “Pets allowed” to ensure that all of your search results are pet-friendly homes. To determine the pet policy on Airbnb, you’ll need to look at the “House Rules” section for each listing.VRBO also allows users to narrow down search results to “Highly Rated for Cleanliness,” or “Highly Rated for Location.”

5. Airbnb offers a unique “Experiences” option.

Unlike VRBO, the Airbnb Experiences feature allows guests to book a location-specific activity along with their home rental. These are not available in all locations, but they’re definitely worth checking out if you have the chance. We think the opportunity to “walk with the wolves” in Palmdale, California looks like fun!

6. The VRBO Trip Boards feature may make planning your vacation easier.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the options when planning your trip. Especially when you want to make sure you’re not forgetting anything! The VRBO Trip Boards feature helps you organize your favorite locations and rental properties by board. You can even invite friends and family to join these boards. This makes it much easier to organize your favorites and collaborate with other travelers!

What About Whimstay vs Airbnb vs VRBO?

As you'll see below, it may help to compare multiple booking platforms. There are plenty of them!

Airbnb & VRBO vs Whimstay

Often, vacationers will want to compare Airbnb vs Whimstay. While Whimstay is a much newer booking platform, it has become popular due to its signature dedication to saving travelers money. The catch is that these are last minute deals. So, Whimstay isn't a great option if you're planning a vacation far in advance. You'll also have less options, since you're relying on last minute opportunities. However, this is a great booking platform for bargain hunters!

The HomeToGo Comparison

It's important to understand in the Airbnb vs VRBO comparison, that Airbnb or VRBO vs HomeToGo is like comparing apples to oranges. Whereas you can actually make a reservation through Airbnb or VRBO, HomeToGo is simply a search engine. In other words, it's like a 'Google' for vacation rentals. Once you make the booking through the HomeToGo website, it will direct you straight to the original host's booking platform.

Marriott Homes & Villas vs Airbnb & VRBO

Simply put, booking through Marriott Homes & Villas is great for loyal Marriott travelers. This is because there is a rewards program, the customer service is exceptional, and travelers can use "points" to purchase future vacations. While it may cost more, this is great if you travel in Marriott hotels often.

What Does It Mean to “Book Direct”?

Regardless of how you book your stay, all vacation rental homes have a host. This will either be the owner of the home or a property management company. The host is responsible for listing the property accurately, answering questions before, during and after your stay, and helping resolve any issues that arise during your stay.

Many hosts, including BVW Unsalted Vacations, list their rental homes on both Airbnb and VRBO. This is a way to reach as many potential guests as possible. Guests who have used VRBO for years are more comfortable using this platform and typically use it whenever they’re reserving a home, out of habit. Likewise, many people who are booking a short term rental for the first time choose Airbnb because of the brand recognition and popularity.

However, we often encourage potential guests to “book direct.” In other words, we advise guests to forego platforms like VRBO, Homeaway, or Airbnb. Trust us - there’s a good reason for this! It’s because it will cost you more to book through a third party.

In other words, you’re paying more when you book through VRBO or Airbnb. This can add up to hundreds of dollars in fees. You can eliminate the additional cost simply by booking directly through a reputable property management company in your desired destination!

In order to book directly through a property management company, simply search for vacation rentals in the city you’re looking for. BVW Unsalted Vacations offers homes, cottages, cabins, and condos all across lower Michigan.

Examples of Booking Direct vs Airbnb vs VRBO

Many guests love reading the guest reviews on VRBO and Airbnb. If you find a home on our website but want to see a few more reviews, feel free to search for the same rental property on VRBO or Airbnb to check out those reviews. Just make sure to book the accommodations directly through us to significantly reduce the total cost.

VRBO vs Airbnb in Grand Haven Michigan
"Nautical Pointe" in Spring Lake features a balcony overlooking the marina. Learn more

For example, you’ll find plenty of reviews for Nautical Pointe, a spacious Grand Haven condo,  on Airbnb. But you’ll save money when you book the same house directly through our website!

Lake Michigan Vacation Rental deck overlooking the lake
Sunset Shores: This 2 BR 1.5 Bath home offers everything you need for the perfect Lake Michigan Vacation. Learn more

Another example is Sunset Shores. This property is available on VRBO, and you’ll find guest reviews here. But you can also book this home directly through our website to reduce the overall cost by avoiding VRBO’s fees.

Book Direct and Save with BVW Unsalted Vacations

Airbnb and VRBO are popular, but they aren't your only options for booking vacation rentals online. For example, many guests use the Marriott Homes & Villas or Whimstay platforms to locate vacation rentals in their desired location. Ultimately, though, booking directly through a vacation rental company is the best route to go. View our ever-growing list of Michigan vacation rentals and make a reservation today! Choose from pet-friendly vacation rentals, lakefront homes with private Lake Michigan access, rustic cabins in the woods, quaint resort cottages, and more!

If you're a property owner with an Airbnb or VRBO home, make sure to stay tuned for our follow up article entitled "Airbnb vs VRBO for Hosts"!