Airbnb vs. HomeAway: Which Is Right for You?

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Whether it's a ski condo in the mountains or a summer house with a nearby lake, renting a getaway home is more convenient than ever. Homeowners make money by listing their properties online and travelers save hundreds by lodging in a rented home instead of a hotel, an arrangement that lets them live like locals. Online home rental services include TripAdvisor's FlipKey, HouseTrip, 9flats, and Roomorama. There are sites for specific audiences, such as Onefinestay, which lists high-end properties in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and Los Angeles, but most vacation rental websites offer similar services. It can be hard to know which to rely on, so we focused on the major differences between two top competitors: Airbnb and HomeAway, which comprises Vrbo,, and more than a dozen international sites. Both companies have more than 1 million listings, with nearly every country represented. FlipKey, by comparison, lists about 300,000 vacation homes.

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Both Airbnb and HomeAway list available rentals by date and length of stay, location, and number of guests. However, they differ somewhat in the types of dwellings available. On Airbnb, hosts usually list their own homes for periods when they are out of town -- or not; some enjoy temporary roommates. Renters can secure entire apartments, shared rooms, and even couches. There are few restrictions on the types of listings allowed, although the accommodation must be used solely for lodging. HomeAway is a tad more highbrow. The motto is, "The whole house. The whole family. A whole vacation." Only rentals of entire properties are allowed. The majority of rentals are vacation homes listed by individuals or property management companies. Listings can also include condos, boats, castles and private islands, as well as single-family houses. HomeAway users might find more rentals large enough to accommodate a wedding party or group retreat. Vacation homes generally don't have permanent occupants, so they may feel more like a hotel.

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Guests searching on Airbnb are likely to be younger, book closer to the time of travel, and be more cost-conscious than renters who use HomeAway. Airbnb accommodations can go for as little as $50 a night, even in popular locales. (We found a listing for $21 a night in New York City -- for someone willing to share a room.) Guests searching on HomeAway tend to be older and travel with families or groups. According to one homeowner commenting on Quora, who lists on both rental sites, HomeAway users are experienced travelers who are familiar with renting vacation homes and accustomed to following maintenance procedures. They book well in advance, have high standards, and can afford pricier units.

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On Airbnb, the atmosphere is cozier and more community-based. Many hosts showcase their unique style through quaintly decorated rooms, art, and quirky knickknacks. Hosts and guests can leave reviews for each other, and some keep in touch through Airbnb. HomeAway also enables hosts and travelers to engage with each other, but the site has more of an online-classifieds feel, because many listings come from management companies, not owners.

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Airbnb and HomeAway adhere to different payment procedures. Airbnb serves as an intermediary between homeowner and renter. All financial transactions flow through the site (which allows only paid, confirmed guests to review the hosts). HomeAway's payment system depends on the homeowner's listing plan. Generally, when guests commit to making a reservation, HomeAway connects them with the property owner or manager, who is responsible for collecting payment. HomeAway offers a guarantee that starts at $39 and reimburses travelers up to $10,000 should something go awry (say, the host double books or the rental is fraudulent).

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Airbnb listings are free; the site profits by taking a percentage of every booking transaction from the host and the guest. HomeAway also uses this pay-per-booking model, but a majority of listings are subscription-based. Annual subscriptions start at $349. Some higher-cost plans give a property a higher ranking in search results, although there's no guarantee of bookings. For homeowners looking to list, the site Smart Host analyzes market conditions (such as similar listings, local events, and occupancy) and suggests what to charge. Both Airbnb and HomeAway have FAQs and guides for newbies.