Spending

Book a hotel instead of an Airbnb for summer travel, experts suggest

"If you're not getting a deal on your hotel this summer, you aren't looking hard enough."

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Before the pandemic, Airbnbs and other vacation rentals were often more affordable than a hotel room, or a better value. A $200-a-night Airbnb might be an entire property in a hip neighborhood, whereas a $200 hotel room might be two queen beds on the outside of town.

However, in response to the pandemic, hotel prices have dropped, especially in major metro areas. Rates in cities including New York City, Phoenix, Seattle, Denver, and Los Angeles are down 17% on average compared to before the pandemic, says Adit Damodaran, economist at fare-tracking site Hopper.

Here's why experts say hotels might be more affordable than Airbnbs this year in many places, and how best to take advantage of these low prices.

Hotels must make up for loss of business travel

In large cities, hotels are hugely dependent on revenue from business travel, which declined during the pandemic. Now many of them are adjusting prices in order to attract other travelers. 

"If you're not getting a deal on your hotel this summer, you aren't looking hard enough," says Elaine Glusac, frugal traveler columnist for The New York Times. "There are tons of discounts at hotels nationally, especially in big cities."

For example, if you want an entire Airbnb to yourself in Manhattan on Memorial Day weekend, the average price is $196 per night. Four-star hotels in Manhattan that weekend are the same price or less. The Arlo SoHo and Freehand New York are $115 per night and $125 per night, respectively.

There are tons of discounts at hotels nationally, especially in big cities.
Elaine Glusac
frugal traveler columnist for The New York Times

Hotels also have more flexibility to offer discounts than vacation rental platforms do, she adds: "Individual property owners or managers set their rates on Airbnb, so you're not likely to see a site-wide sale."

But that doesn't mean you won't be able to find any deals on Airbnb. "Airbnb hosts set their own prices," a company representative tells Grow.

The amenities and size of rentals can also be more cost-effective, he says: "Airbnb's value is rooted in the flexibility offered to travelers — having a full kitchen to share meals with family and friends, a living room to spread out, an office space to work remotely, or a backyard to enjoy the outdoors."

What to consider and what to avoid when booking a stay

Outside of big cities, hotel deals are less of a sure thing. For example, all kinds of accommodations at beachy destinations are likely to be pricier this summer, Glusac says, so "you might want to avoid superpopular places like the Florida Keys, where rates have been driven up by people looking for an island vacation without having to use their passport and go through Covid testing on their return from an international trip."

If you do decide to visit a popular destination this summer, it's important to compare prices. In Destin, Florida, the average price per night of an entire Airbnb is $400. The average price per night at 3-star and 4-star hotels is $357 and $529, respectively.

You may not get the most value for your buck at resorts, warns Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommers.com. "Make sure you're not going to a hotel that has resort charges," she says. Those mandatory fees can be $20 or more per night, and usually cover use of amenities such as the hotel gym and pool that you may not be able to access. "Resort charges are still in full effect even though a lot of things they used to say are covered by resort fees aren't even open."

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