This post was originally published on May 3, 2016, and was updated to reflect current data on January 24, 2018.
The HomeAway and VRBO we see today are vastly different from the ones we saw a couple years ago. There have been substantial changes to vacation rental listing sites, from the way they charge homeowners to the amount they charge guests, all the way down to the way they rank properties in search results.
All these changes are leaving vacation rental owners with one critical question: Which listing site is best?
You can also check out our related infographic: Which Listing Site is Best for You? to see how the fees on each listing site will impact your rental income and guest fees.
Let’s Look at the Fee Structure
Below, you’ll find a cross-platform comparison of the fees you’ll have to pay to promote your property on each major listing site, including pay-per-booking fees, subscription costs, and credit card processing fees.
After looking at this chart, you may be wondering what these numbers mean for you.
Let’s take a closer look.
Below you’ll find the annual net income you should expect from each rental site. We based our calculations on the assumption that you’ve made an annual rental income of $28,000. According to HomeAway, $28,000 is what the average vacation rental owner grosses per year.
Whether you fall above or below that income margin, this breakdown should give you an idea of what kind of annual income you can expect for each site.
HOMEAWAY AND VRBO SUBSCRIPTION
- $1,339 is what you’ll pay to list your property
- $26,661 is what you’ll earn in gross annual income
We’ve found that the HomeAway and VRBO subscription is a great choice over the pay-per-booking model for owners who rent out their property for over 6 weeks of the year and earn at least $6,980. But if your bookings fall short of this, the pay per booking is a better deal for you.
HOMEAWAY AND VRBO PAY PER BOOKING
- $2,240 is what you’ll pay to list your property
- $25,760 is what you’ll earn in gross annual income
As you can see, the pay-per-booking model leaves you with less than the subscription model. We’ve found that the pay-per-booking plan only works out in your favor if you’re making less than $6,980 in rental income per year. Any more than that, and the subscription plan is the better choice.
Airbnb only operates on a pay-per-booking model, and to list your property on the site, you pay a 3% booking fee ($840 per year if you make $28,000).
- $840 is what you’ll pay to list your property
- $27,160 is what you’ll earn in gross annual income
With these low fees, Airbnb is a great platform for homeowners who want to rent out anything from a private room to an entire house. Keep in mind that Airbnb is more popular for short stays and weekend trips rather than week- or month-long reservations.
TRIPADVISOR AND FLIPKEY
- $840 is what you’ll pay to list your property
- $27,160 is what you’ll earn in gross annual income
Tripadvisor and FlipKey also have low fees, making them affordable picks for owners. But they make up for those low fees by charging travelers a premium – the most out of all of the sites in our comparison. Read on for more information on how this traveler fee may affect your bookings.
Booking.com operates on a pay-per-booking model, and to list your property on the site, you pay a 3% credit card processing fee* ($840 if you make $28,000) and a 15% booking fee ($4,200 if you make $28,000).
- $5,040 is what you’ll pay to list your property
- $22,960 is what you’ll earn in gross annual income
Booking.com charges the heftiest fees to owners – but don’t let that scare you away too quickly. It’s the only site that charges nothing to travelers, providing a major incentive for guests to book with them.
When comparing prices on different distributions sites, you can’t just look at how much you will be charged. One of the most important factors to consider is how much the traveler is charged because this can greatly impact your booking performance on any site
Four of the five listing options include a traveler service fee, which is calculated based on the total nightly rate and fees of the property they are booking.
We looked at how traveler fees are calculated for a 3-bedroom property in Cape Coral, Florida, to see how they add up and impact a prospective traveler’s decision to book your property.
To calculate this, we took into account:
- The property’s weekly rate of $1,050
- The occupancy tax of 11% (traveler fees are not charged on taxes)
You’ll see the traveler fee as a percentage, as well as a dollar amount based on the weekly rate for the property:
- Booking.com charges no additional fees, providing the lowest price to travelers
- HomeAway and VRBO are in the middle, with the second-lowest traveler fees
- FlipKey and TripAdvisor are the most expensive for travelers
If the higher traveler fee makes your vacation rental less attractive in terms of pricing, you may receive fewer bookings. That said, travelers have been booking consistently on Airbnb, VRBO, and TripAdvisor for years, so the traveler service fee needn’t be a reason to completely disregard a listing site.
Take Traffic Into Consideration
Another thing to consider when making this decision is how many travelers use each of these sites when searching for their vacation. It doesn’t do you any good to pour your money into a platform that doesn’t get any traffic. You want to advertise your rental property on a website that receives a lot of visitors, because more visitors equals more bookings – in theory.
In reality, you also need to determine which site is attracting the most visitors who will be interested in booking YOUR property. Remember the adage “quality over quantity”? That applies here. You want views, but you want views from the right people.
Take a look at the figures below to see the number of monthly visitors going to each of the sites, as well as the pros and cons of that audience demographic.
Booking.com: 40 million monthly visitors
Booking.com is the #1 most-visited travel site online and hosting your listing on their platform is a great way to get your property in front of more people. However, there are three major trade-offs to that extra traffic:
- Higher owner fees
- Mandatory instant booking
- The site isn’t exclusive to vacation rentals
Remember that Booking.com asks for the highest percentage of owner fees, making it the most expensive listing site in our comparison.
Not only that, but they also require you to accept reservations instantly, a policy that makes it difficult for you to vet guests. Conversely, TripAdvisor, VRBO/HomeAway, and Airbnb have the option to allow instant bookings, but don’t require them.
And because Booking.com provides hotels, flights, vacation packages, and transportation in addition to vacation rentals, there’s no guarantee those visitors are looking for a short-term vacation rental.
At Evolve, we haven’t quite been persuaded that Booking.com can give us a solid return on our investment for these reasons, and because this platform tends to be much more popular outside of North America.
If the extra traffic is what you want, those trade-offs might be worth it for you. If you want lower fees and greater flexibility, keep reading.
TripAdvisor – 38 million monthly visitors
TripAdvisor is a close second to Booking.com in terms of traffic. With 38,000,000 unique monthly visitors, it boasts an enormous number of monthly site visitors. Promoting your listing here will get your property in front of lots of prospective travelers.
But keep in mind that, like Booking.com, TripAdvisor doesn’t focus on vacation rentals exclusively. It aggregates a wide number of travel-related services such as hotels and car rentals in addition to their vacation rental inventory.
How many of those millions of visitors come specifically to look at vacation rentals? It’s hard to say. We’ve yet to find any reports that offer a definitive answer.
We think TripAdvisor is worth the gamble for two reasons:
- The owner fee is much lower
- TripAdvisor automatically posts all its listings on a sister site that does focus exclusively on vacation rental: FlipKey
This means you’re getting exposure on two fronts: the larger, less-targeted audience, and a smaller, more targeted audience. From our perspective, that makes TripAdvisor well worth the investment. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a few new converts since it promotes vacation rentals as alternative lodging options to travelers searching for hotels.
HomeAway and Airbnb – 8.25 million and 6 million monthly visitors
Airbnb and HomeAway aren’t as impressive in terms of traffic, although they both easily make the list of the Top 15 Most Popular Travel Sites for 2017, with HomeAway showing 8,250,000 monthly visitors and Airbnb bringing in 6,000,000.
Those visitors are likely much more targeted than either TripAdvisor or Booking.com, since both HomeAway and Airbnb focus on short-term rentals. If travelers are specifically looking for a vacation rental, they’re likely to turn to one of those two platforms.
An added benefit of listing on HomeAway is that your property is automatically distributed on VRBO as well.
Go where your guests are searching
While we’d disagree that luxury homes can’t get booked on Airbnb, or that city center condos won’t perform well on HomeAway, it’s true that travelers looking for a certain type of vacation home experience tend to browse on specific websites.
HomeAway and VRBO are musts for traditional resort destinations
Travelers searching for vacation rentals in a resort destination often go straight to HomeAway and VRBO because these sites are known for having a large amount of inventory in beach, mountain, and desert locations.
If you have a vacation home that primarily attracts families or groups looking for a week-long vacation, you should strongly consider listing your property on these websites.
Airbnb is ideal for urban destinations, last-minute bookings
Airbnb is the go-to site for millennials and travelers looking for properties in urban destinations.
Over the years, Airbnb has expanded to include all types and sizes of properties in urban and rural locales. However, its audience still skews toward younger travelers. If you have a vacation rental in a city or trendy vacation destination, this is your best bet to get bookings.
We’ve also noticed that Airbnb travelers tend to be interested in shorter stays, which can be a great way to fill in gaps in your calendar.
TripAdvisor and Booking.com for the biggest pool of travelers
TripAdvisor (which owns Flipkey) and Booking.com are large platforms that cover more diverse options for travel accommodations beyond vacation rentals, including hotel options, B&Bs, and more.
If a traveler is specifically looking for a vacation rental, these platforms may not be the first place they look. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Putting your property on a big travel marketplace will get you in front of lots of travelers, including those who have never stayed in a vacation rental. The extra visibility can help you attract more travelers, especially if your property is in an area where vacation rentals are relatively new.
FINAL DECISION: WHICH Listing site Is the Best?
Our take: it depends.
If you have to choose one listing site to advertise your property- then pick the one that makes the most sense for your vacation rental.
The best price. The most qualified traffic. The right audience for your rental property.
With the information we’ve provided, it should be a little easier to decide which site(s) will give you the best chance to maximize your rental income. But if you’re still not sure which one is going to tip the scales in your favor, don’t stress.
At the end of the day, the best listing site for your property is … as many as you can manage.
The cost difference between HomeAway, VRBO, Airbnb, FlipKey and TripAdvisor is slim, especially when you factor in all the components above. This is why we think it’s better to prioritize getting your properties in front of as many travelers as possible.
If you really want to make more money, your focus shouldn’t be on picking the platform that saves you a few hundred dollars. It should be on getting more bookings overall. The more bookings you make, the more rental income you’ll earn. It’s as simple as that.
At Evolve, we cover the cost of listing our owners’ properties on VRBO, HomeAway, TripAdvisor, Flipkey and Airbnb to ensure they get in front of the biggest audience. And our strategies pay off: our owners often double or even triple their rental income by having a professional property listing that appears on multiple platforms.
Interested in learning more about Evolve? Evolve creates an optimized listing for every owner, takes professional photos, and promotes your property on HomeAway, VRBO, Airbnb, FlipKey, and TripAdvisor. This is in addition to providing all-day booking support from our team of Travel Advisors – for just 10%. Call us at 877.881.7584 or click here to learn more.