Hotel vs. apartment: where to stay?
The first lesson of adulthood is that you can’t have it all, and even on vacation, one has to give up things to get things. Do you really need room service? A concierge? A pool? Or is local flavor more important?
In terms of choosing the right kind of travel accommodations—hotel vs. apartment—the key is being able to distinguish what you need from what you want.
The Top Apartment Sites
I’ve used and perused VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), VacationRentals.com, Airbnb, and HomeAway, and the first thing you need to know is that their listings aren’t exclusive: you’ll see many of the same apartments on different sites, so don’t drive yourself crazy spending hours on each one. (VRBO, VacationRentals.com, and HomeAway all fall under the HomeAway brand.) Choose two of these three and you should be covered.
VRBO offers a helpful chart that compares various cities’ vacation rentals with hotel rooms in terms of average price, square footage, variety of lodging types, and other variables. Naturally, vacation rentals come out ahead in every category. At the moment, the five-year-old Airbnb, which boasts 250,000 apartments in more than 192 countries and 40,000 cities, has the most buzz. Aston Kutcher is an investor, but don’t expect him to deliver your breakfast in Paris in his Speedo.
How They Work
Owners of private homes, villas, castles, igloos, whatever, create online profiles of their properties, including flattering photos of both the vacation rental and the location (if they’re smart). The renter fills out fields (locale, price, dates, etc.) to narrow the search … and let the shopping begin. The process (how contact is made between owner and renter, how keys and funds change hands, etc.) varies from site to site, but is typically straightforward and user-friendly.
Why Stay in a Private Home?
Two primary reasons: authenticity and cost. Even if you’re only slightly adventurous, or just in love with a particular location, living like a local is seductive. No hotel staff to make small talk with; no maid’s cart; no check-in counter; no Do Not Disturb nonsense; no contrived, controlled, or corporate environment.
On the other hand, there’s usually little or no service or safety net (the owner may not be in another unit onsite, or may not even be in town). Regarding cost: the savings are substantial. VRBO cites average savings of up to $130/night in such cities as New York, Miami, Whistler, and Rome. In Rome, my dad found a two-bedroom apartment for $1,700 a week, through VRBO; in Positano, a four-bedroom for under $3,000/week. In either place, it can be difficult to score a hotel bed in a decent location for less than $300/night. The online vacation rental market has exerted such downward pressure on rental rates that I could fetch only $250/night for my two-bedroom, oceanfront apartment in Southern California on Airbnb (and it has underground parking and a pool). For comparable accommodations in my town, we’re talking a pair of $500/night hotel rooms.
Owners often require a cleaning fee at their discretion; they don’t want pre- or post-guest housekeeping costs to eat into the rates they charge. Sometimes the cleaning fee is imbedded into the rate. When I rented out my SoCal digs, I tacked on a modest cleaning charge that was transparent to potential renters. If you’re thinking of renting your home, just know that the vacation sites extract a minimal fee for their services, and that whatever you make is considered taxable income.