With over 7 million listings, Airbnb is the undisputed king of short-term apartment rentals. And rightfully so — they were the first service that made renting and listing vacation rentals intuitive and user-friendly. But there are many Airbnb alternatives that serve a range of specific niches and they’re worth checking out for your next trip.
Why Look Outside Of Airbnb?
Again, I’m a big fan of Airbnb and in many ways, it’s still the best all-around option if you’re looking for a rental apartment. They truly have the booking process down to an art.
But there are now a few Airbnb competitors that offer other great rental properties and services which serve different niches.
So why even bother looking outside Airbnb? Let’s take a look:
- Alternative Selection: Most people head straight to Airbnb when looking for a rental apartment — which means the best properties get snatched up quickly. Sometimes there are some gems on other services that go unnoticed.
- Niche Properties: Some Airbnb alternatives focus on a specific type of property and/or client. For example, some focus on high-end properties.
- Specialized Services: Some rental services provide different types of services. For example, some companies own all the apartments on their platform so they have higher quality control over their properties. Others offer a more concierge level of service.
- Cheaper Prices: You can often find cheaper prices on other rental services since there are fewer people trying to book the same rental as you are.
- Local Market Experts: Airbnb didn’t invent short-term vacation rentals. In the past, apartments were rented by the owner or a property management company managed a handful of apartments. In fact, just about every European city still has small property management companies that don’t list their properties on every listing website.
The Best Airbnb Alternatives
QUICK NOTE: The Consolidation Of Vacation Rental Sites
There are dozens of vacation rental websites but over the past few years, we’ve started seeing the smaller websites being purchased by larger websites (i.e. TripAdvisor and VRBO). In some cases, the smaller websites are merged with bigger ones and in other cases, the smaller websites continue to operate separately but often display the same results as their owner.
Therefore, I’ve only listed the best vacation rental websites so you don’t waste your time sorting through dozens of websites only to find the same results.
VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner)
VRBO is the granddaddy of vacation rental sites and it’s been around for over 25 years (a full 13 years before Airbnb launched). VRBO was also recently bought by Expedia and merged with HomeAway so now VRBO is the second-largest vacation rental website with over two million properties.
Historically, VRBO has focused on true vacation homes — i.e. these properties are used by the owners for part of the year and then they rent out the property while they’re not using it. I like it because this gives you a glimpse into the owner’s personality as opposed to feeling like you’re living in a place designed solely as a rental (i.e. the property doesn’t look like an IKEA showroom).
VRBO is especially good for houses and larger apartments meant for groups as that’s been their traditional clientele. However, you can often find smaller properties as well so it’s worth browsing the inventory.
VRBO is also good for finding the exact property for your stay because it has better filters so you can limit your search to a specific neighborhood, property type, distance to the beach (or other popular areas), etc.
All in all, I’d say that VRBO is Airbnb’s largest competitor so it’s worth browsing.
If you want a truly unique and awesome vacation rental then you should head straight to Plum Guide. Plum Guide only accepts around 3% of the properties submitted and they personally visit each property that’s listed on their website to test for things like cleanliness, internet speeds, amenities, and more. Basically, these properties are well-vetted before being listed.
Additionally, one of the conditions of being listed on Plum Guide is that owners can’t list the property for a lower price on a different platform (like Airbnb) so you know you’re not paying a premium. That said, the properties listed here tend to be a little nicer than average so don’t expect to find super cheap options but at least you know you’ll get a good value for your money.
Sonder is a new hospitality startup that feels like a mixture of a hotel and a rental apartment. Sonder actually leases the apartments themselves and then renovates them before renting out (including adding quality beds, nice towels, quality coffee, and other amenities). This means you get a hotel-like experience but still get the rental apartment vibe. They focus solely on trendy neighborhoods in popular cities so you know you’ll be in a cool part of town.
I like how Sonder uses a fully automated self-check-in process so you can arrive at your leisure. They also offer 24/7 support via their app.
At the moment Sonder mainly operated in US cities but they’re active in a handful of European cities (with more being added). That said, I expect them to continue expanding.
The rental prices for Sonder properties are a little higher than many Airbnb options but you’re guaranteed a high level of comfort and cleanliness.
Another major player in the short-term rental space is FlipKey (which is owned by TripAdvisor). FlipKey has around 300,000 listings that span most countries.
Up until recently, you couldn’t pay for your stay through the FlipKey website so you had to make your payment directly to the owner — which added some friction to the booking process and I think it made them fall way behind Airbnb. However, FlipKey has recently changed its policies and now you have to pay via FlipKey so that is a nice change.
I’ve found that a lot of the properties (at least in cities) are full-time rental units that are managed by a rental company. That said, there are still owners who list their properties as well.
Since FlipKey isn’t as popular as Airbnb and VRBO you can sometimes score a good deal but there is also a much small inventory. If nothing else, it’s worth browsing to see what’s available if you’re not seeing options you like on other platforms.
Booking.com is one of the most popular hotel booking websites but it also lists a number of rental apartments as well. Booking.com is a nice option when you’re not sure if you want an apartment or a hotel so this lets you search everything at once to get a better picture of your options.
When it comes to rental apartments, Booking.com seems to mainly display properties managed by small rental management companies but I also saw a number of “condo hotels” which are basically hotel rooms with small kitchens.
Homestay.com offers something different than other rental companies. Instead of renting an entire place, with Homestay you rent a room and stay with a local owner. In fact, you’re encouraged to interact with the owner so don’t be surprised if you share a few meals with them (some hosts even offer free breakfast).
In addition to truly living like a local, you’ll also save quite a good amount of money because the rates are often very affordable.
However, Homestay has a relatively small selection of properties so finding a spot that works with your schedule (and the host’s schedule) can be a challenge.
Sabbatical Homes has carved out a niche community for academics to rent, swap, sit, or share vacation properties while on sabbatical. There are properties available all across the globe so it’s an excellent option for educators taking an extended break.
If you’re a design nerd (and don’t mind paying for it) then you might want to check out Boutique Homes. This vacation rental website only features properties with amazing style and design — in fact, all properties listed are invite-only so there is a high focus on quality over quantity. You can even search by the architect who built the property.
Naturally, most of these properties are expensive so don’t be surprised to see plenty of $2,000/night listings. However, I have seen more affordable listings starting at $100/night in less expensive locations so it’s worth looking (even if only to dream).
Kid And Coe
One of the hardest things about traveling with a young child is finding a place that’s suitable for children. That’s why Kid and Coe focuses on apartments that have plenty of kid-friendly amenities like cribs, strollers, toys, books, beach gear, and more.
You can even filter by age so you can find an age-appropriate apartment. Most of the hosts also list kid-friendly stores, restaurants, and activities near the property.
Do you have a kid-friendly place of your own? If so, Kid and Co also have an exchange option where you can swap your property with someone else.
One Fine Stay
One Fine Stay is another luxury vacation rentals website that’s now owned by the Accor hospitality group (they’re the single largest hospitality company in Europe, and the sixth-largest worldwide). While they don’t own the properties, they do manage the entire booking process and guest stay — including offering 24/7, concierge-level service.
Learn More About Vacation Rental
I’ve stayed in dozens of rental apartments and I’ve even worked in the vacation rental industry so I have a pretty good idea about what separates good rentals from great rentals. Below are a few more resources to help you score one of the great ones.
- Guide To Renting Short-Term Vacation Apartments
- Airbnb Review: Why Airbnb is the Perfect Way to Explore Europe
- Fashion Advice: How to Avoid Looking Like An American Tourist In Europe - February 20, 2024
- How To Purchase Train Tickets for Europe | Strategies For Buying European Train Tickets - February 16, 2024
- Complete Guide To Train Travel In Europe | How To Travel Europe By Train - February 15, 2024
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Thanks For Reading! — James