The Finances and Reliability of Alternative Lodging

Airbnb and other lodging services may offer you additional flexibility and cost savings.

by Nell McShane Wulfhart - April 17, 2017

Renting a stranger’s home while traveling or on vacation may seem like a risky proposition — with a chain hotel you usually know what you’re getting. But alternative lodging sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and onefinestay have become increasingly popular. These online services enable travelers to rent accommodations that fit their needs — such as location, size, and amenities — often for less than they’d spend at a typical brand name hotel. Plus, amenities you get in a home compared to a hotel may make your vacation budget stretch further as well. Here are answers to commonly asked questions about home rental sites, which can help you determine if these services are right for you.

Is it safe?

It’s normal to worry about your credit card information being shared with disreputable landlords, but Airbnb and other sites have an insurance policy that stops you from being scammed. Rather than pay the owner directly, you pay through the site. Ever been overcharged for incidentals by a hotel? That doesn’t happen with alternative lodging: All fees are mentioned upfront, and you never pay a penny over the total. Best of all, only the home rental site has your credit card info.

How do I know the place I think I’m renting is the place I’ll actually get?

You can protect yourself from unscrupulous landlords, misrepresented apartments, and hidden fees by doing one simple thing: reading the reviews.

Home rental sites use consumer reviews to weed out inaccurate listings. Airbnb has a star-based rating system that makes it easy to find the places users have raved about — and skip over places you should avoid. You can even filter your search to display rentals by “Superhosts,” who are highly rated, have a rapid response time, and rarely cancel bookings. If reviews are positive, chances are you’ll be happy with your pick.

Airbnb rentals can save travelers an average of about $82 nightly in New York.

— Data from

Also, if a potential host takes more than 24 hours to respond to your initial inquiry, think twice about renting. If there’s a problem with the place once you arrive, you want to make sure you’re dealing with someone who’s available to take care of issues right away.

Although it only operates in six cities — London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Miami — onefinestay circumvents this problem entirely by sending a team member to check out each home before it’s listed. Then when you arrive, someone from the company is there to greet you and make sure that everything is as it should be. It’s more expensive than Airbnb, but typically the places you’re renting are commensurately nicer — and it’s practically foolproof. VRBO, which also rents entire houses, offers money-back guarantees against listing fraud, misrepresentation of the property, and wrongful withholding of security deposits; they’ll also help you rebook immediately if an owner should cancel your booking at the last minute.

Why should I pick a rental over a hotel?

While many hosts rent out single rooms in their apartments or houses, you’ll have more privacy if you book an entire place. There’s a distinct advantage here: You’ll likely have a kitchen, so you can save money by preparing your own meals. And there’s no need to tip housekeeping when the place is yours.

Then there’s the added bonus of more space. If you’ve ever been in a hotel room where the only place to sit was the bed, you’ll no doubt enjoy being able to sprawl on a sofa or maybe even barbecue in the backyard when you’re not out exploring.

Last, since hotels are often clustered near popular tourist sites, prices at nearby restaurants and shops can be higher than in other parts of the city. By renting in a neighborhood that’s not filled with tourists and trendy chains, you may be able to save money. You’re also more likely to discover authentic cafés, shops, and other attractions where you can rub elbows with the locals, which usually makes for a more memorable traveling experience.

Nell McShane Wulfhart is a freelance writer based in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Image by iStock

Additional Resources

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