If you are over 50 or just signed up for the newfangled invention called the internet, go ahead and Google “Airbnb” and then come back…
For the rest of us, you’ve no doubt heard of the “Uber for your house”. Airbnb has come to dominate the “vacation rental” market. In just seven short years the tech start-up boasts more than 1.5 million listings in 190 countries. It is the undisputed king of the rental world. I’m certainly no expert on saving money using Airbnb or listing my own place and making money off of Airbnb (the tourist market for small villages on the Canadian Prairies isn’t exactly thriving). That being said, even I know what Airbnb is and why it is so widely used. It seems like a pretty great idea by and large (with the usual small risk associated with staying anywhere while travelling).
The market dominance of Airbnb is so great, that to a neophyte like myself, I wasn’t even aware that there were any real competitors. To me, the brand name was essentially synonymous with the concept of vacation rentals (much the same way the term “Google it” means to use a search engine).
Save Money By NOT Going All-Inclusive
That’s why it caught my attention a couple of months ago when my cousin saved money while coming to our destination wedding in Mexico using a service called FlipKey. He hadn’t really researched it at the time and had no idea how it compared to Airbnb, he had just heard a good review from a co-worker and decided to try it out. The three-room condo that he rented for the week in Mexico was beautiful. It was right in the gated tourist community that was anchored by several large all-inclusive resorts and had access to all the usual tourist stuff that one would expect in such an area.
I personally still like the pampered luxury of a well-priced all-inclusive resort if you’re going the Mexico route. On the other hand, being able to stay 3x or 4x as long for the same price has some allure as well. I thought the condo was an insanely good value for what he paid. He had access to a full kitchen if he wanted to cut costs that way, and beer really isn’t all that expensive if you don’t mind drinking the Mexican domestic stuff (my preferred taste anyway).
That being said, I wasn’t really sure if this was typical of the FlipKey experience, or how it compared to Airbnb, so I did a little research and asked some friends who are more worldly than myself.
Mainstream vs Vacation Niche
It appears that Airbnb is untouched as far as reach and variety. FlipKey has far fewer listings and seems to be concentrated in traditional vacation markets. If you’re looking to rent off the beaten path or looking to really maximize every dollar, Airbnb is a better bet.
The two really interesting features that I think set FlipKey apart are that because it is owned by Trip Advisor, the online reviews are pretty legit, and FlipKey actually guarantees that property owners are verified by FlipKey staff. This is great for middle-class travel wannabes like myself who are more the “dip my big toe” into adventure type than the “grab the bull by the horns and sleep on people’s couches for nothing” type. It seems geared toward folks that are making a cautious transition from a hotel-dependent travel style to a more economical and “authentic” experience.
Price and Availability
A couple of reviews I found online reported that because of Airbnb’s notoriety, it is often the first, second, and third place that travellers look for accommodations when going somewhere. While this is great for Airbnb, it’s not so great for everyone that is in town for a big event. Airbnb and Uber have both been criticized for their free market principles that see prices spike when demand goes up all at once. I don’t see a problem with it personally, but several people noted that secondary options such as FlipKey were able to get them reasonably-priced places to stay during these hot-ticket periods.
Obviously, you can’t go wrong either way if you’re looking for budget-conscious travel, but I found it interesting that there was really any competition at all for Airbnb on the market.
I’m sure several of you have done more travelling than me and have experience with both of these vacation rental providers. What were your general impressions about pricing, availability, and ease of use?