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Difference between Airbnb and Vrbo: Which vacation rental site is best for you?

Airbnb has more properties, but Vrbo is more customizable. We'll help you decide which hotel alternative is best for your trip.

Home-sharing services exploded across the globe over the past decade, as millions of people decided sleeping in a stranger's bed was a worthwhile price to pay for living like a local in a given city. Airbnb is now the world's largest online marketplace for lodgings, with listings growing more than 100% each year, one study found -- hurting the hotel market in the process. Longstanding online vacation rental company Vrbo also has a large footprint in the US and abroad, while offering more traditional benefits like trip insurance. 

So the question is: What is the difference between Airbnb and Vrbo, and which home-sharing service is the better choice for your vacation? 

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Airbnb: Best for flexibility

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An Airbnb listing in Mexico City.

Airbnb

Airbnb has more than 7 million listings, and is accessible in 62 languages and 191 countries and regions. More than half a billion guests have booked through Airbnb since it was founded in 2008, according to the site. More recently, the company has expanded from only offering short-term rentals into selling experiences and adventures (activities and multiday trips led by local experts), and offering restaurant recommendations from locals. 

One major advantage of Airbnb over Vrbo is that it allows you to book single rooms within a home, rather than the entire property.

But that accessibility has not come without controversy. Airbnb has been criticized for failing to provide adequate support for reports of bedbugs and an alleged scam involving fake host profiles and rentals that did not match the condition of their photos. And after a shooting at a house rented through the platform for a Halloween party in October left five dead, the company announced a number of new safety features. They include verification for all Airbnb home listings worldwide, a 24/7 support hotline staffed by real people in every region, and a "guest guarantee" that if you check into a property that isn't as it was described online, the company will either find you a new one of greater or equal value, or, if unavailable, will refund 100% of your payment. 

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Vrbo: Best for customizing your stay

vrbo

A Vrbo listing in London. 

Vrbo

Vrbo -- which stands for Vacation Rental By Owner -- has been around since 1995. It has 2 million properties in 190 countries, all of which are entire homes, so no single room shares within a home are available. Vrbo's parent company Expedia Group also owns home rental service HomeAway. 

Users book via the Vrbo website or app. The user experience for both Vrbo and Airbnb are similar: When you enter the location, dates and number of guests, you see a list of options on the left, with an interactive map pinpointing each property on the right. 

Where Vrbo stands out is its use of filters: Travelers can search 25 different types of homes (ranging from apartment to castle), 13 location types (like oceanfront or downtown), safety and accessibility features (like wheelchair accessible and low-allergen environment). You can also filter by neighborhood, rating, features and amenities, nearby activities and more. 

Airbnb has added some similar filters as well, including one for "unique stays" (like a tiny house or treehouse). Vrbo's are more in-depth, however, allowing for more customization. 

Vrbo's Book with Confidence Guarantee already offers what Airbnb is just now adding, including payment protection, 24/7 customer service, and rebooking assistance for last-minute cancellations. 

The bottom line

As with any service, the right home-share option depends on what you're looking for, and how good the individual property and property manager are. Vrbo has been trying to manage your experience with its Book with Confidence Guarantee for the past few years, and Airbnb is trying to improve this capability as well with its new safety features that are rolling out in 2020. Basically, your individual experience will vary. Always look at the reviews for any property before booking, which both sites have -- the more positive ones, the better. 

Airbnb's large number of properties, its expansion into offering experiences and adventures in different regions, and its listings for single rooms (usually for far less money than a whole property) make it an attractive choice for travelers looking for flexibility and preplanned activities. 

But Vrbo's many filters and whole-property offerings make it a strong choice for travelers looking for more specific types of homes to stay in, and with more user protections built in (at least until Airbnb ramps its up more in the coming year). 

Prices for a given property on either site vary due to demand on a given week or time of year. Airbnb charges a guest service fee that is "typically under 13% of the booking subtotal." Vrbo also charges a service fee but does not specifically state its service fee rates. (Its site says that generally, the higher the reservation amount, the lower the fee. Other travel sites named the rate at up to 12%. Vrbo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

To get started, you can search for your next vacation rental on both Airbnb and Vrbo for free, and compare your options, prices and fees before booking. Whether you land on one of their properties or a hotel, happy travels! 

Originally published earlier this week.