Hotels vs. Airbnb

For quite some time now, I’ve been a very strong advocate in favor of Airbnb. I’d even go as far as to say that the highlight of many trips are the actual homes, apartments, houseboats, trailers, etc., we stay in.

For example… The photos below are all from within 50 yards of the cabin we rented in Colorado Springs. You’re not going to get THAT at the Holiday Inn.

Granted, I do understand that there is a time and place for hotels. They are generally a bit more convenient, centrally located, and suited to business trips. Road trips are inherently without a strict itinerary, so unless you can find an “Instant Book” option on Airbnb, you’ll probably end up at a hotel/motel anyway. Besides, if you’re just looking for a place to crash before hitting the road again in the AM, there’s no need to put much effort into lodging.

The main purpose of this article will be to answer the question I get every time I espouse the virtues of Airbnb… “Isn’t that a lot more expensive?” Even if I don’t get the questions directly, there are often suspicious looks. My standard response is something to the effect of, “Not really.”, or “It’s totally worth it.” Both are true, but intentionally vague.

Some number crunching is in order…

For starters, let’s take a snapshot of three cities. San Francisco because it is notoriously expensive to live in and visit. It is also the HQ of Airbnb. Austin and Milwaukee because they are two cities I have called home. They should also provide a good contrast of data.

(Click on each chart to view the full size version in a new tab.)






At first glance some things are both obvious and predictable. San Francisco is the most expensive followed by Austin, and Milwaukee. No surprises there.

As a general rule, a single room with Airbnb will be cheapest. And, if you’re only looking at the most frugal options, hotels come next, and then entire homes on Airbnb. This makes total sense if you’re a budget-conscious traveller, but as soon as you get out of the absolute low-ball range, you start to get some interesting options.

It is here the trends over time that seem to make each location unique.

In San Francisco the cost of a hotel and an entire house begin to merge pretty quickly. If you find yourself dropping $150 on a hotel room you may want to consider what that same $150 could get you in a whole house.

Better than a hotel? I think so!
Better than a hotel? I think so!

In Austin is quickly becomes a waste of $$ to get a hotel room. Once you hit $100 it starts to make more sense to rent an entire house on Airbnb. And, if you’re just looking for a single room, there are TONS of very cheap options. It’s worth taking a look because many of the “single room” options are actually guest houses or entire floors of residences. Pretty much the same as having the whole place to yourself.

Milwaukee is weird. But, I could have told you that. There actually wasn’t enough data in Milwaukee to make a very good comparison. For the other locations I pulled the cheapest 50 entries. Milwaukee only had 33 entire houses available, and some of them were starting to get pretty far from the city center. They also get really expensive really fast. (Time to buy a house in MKE?)

Milwaukee also seems to caution “buyer beware”. Sure, there are quite a few single rooms for rent, but many of them seem a little rougher than what your average traveller would want. This is probably the only city on the list that I’d actually consider a hotel as a good option. (And I do generally just find a cheap La Quinta near the highway when I visit home.)

A second way of looking at it is by accommodation rather than location.




This set of data isn’t quite as telling, but it gives a good idea that you should consider choosing your where you stay based on the city you’re in. If you’re a lazy traveller, hotels are pretty consistent across the board. Single rooms can almost always be a great options for getting by on the cheap. And, entire houses may not be nearly as bad as you expect. (Although some of them are.)

So, has a point been made?

All I really want is for the general public to think of ways to make their trips more memorable. Chances are, most vacationers will spend more time than they’d like to admit just sitting in the hotel room, channel-surfing until they hit a Family Guy marathon on the free cable TV. (been there…)

What if, instead of becoming zombies…

– You find a box of board games.

– There’s a fireplace. Or, better yet, a fire pit!

– Meet the local cat, dog, raccoon, deer, etc.

– Feeling nosey? Dig through the owner’s stuff. I bet they’ve got all sorts of weird books and belongings to give you insight to what kind of people they are.

– Cook a meal! Lots of places have great kitchens for experimenting in.

Here’s where I insert the obligatory referral. If you haven’t checked out Airbnb, and want to get a $20 credit, use this link:

Honestly, I don’t care that much. Sometimes all this affiliate stuff makes me sick. You could just go to and do your own thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *