This post was updated on March 14, 2019 to reflect current data.
You’ve done your research about how to run a vacation rental. You invested in the right furniture and amenities to appeal to guests. You have a plan in place for cleaning and guest support. Now, how do you get bookings?
The listing site you choose will have a significant impact on your vacation rental’s success. It affects your costs and can impact your ability to get bookings.
That’s why we want to help you determine: Which listing site is best for you?
At Evolve, we cover the cost of listing our owners’ properties on VRBO, Homeaway, Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Flipkey and more, so the owners who work with us don’t have to choose. Our strategy pays off: our owners often double or even triple their rental income by having a professional property listing that appears on multiple platforms.
But if you have to choose, it’s important to understand how the listing sites stack up. We’ve crunched the numbers for the top vacation rental listing sites for you: HomeAway/VRBO, Airbnb, TripAdvisor/FlipKey, and Booking.com.
Use this post to find out where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck and see all the factors that ultimately affect your take-home profit.
- Owner Fee: 3% booking fee
- Guest Fee: 0-20% per booking
- Monthly Traffic: 80 million visitors
Airbnb continues to prove it’s a force to be reckoned with in the travel industry. With 80 million monthly visitors in January 2018, it leads the pack for sites that specialize in short-term rentals. In fact, it’s gone so mainstream that most travelers talk about staying in an ‘Airbnb’ rather than a ‘vacation rental’.
The low 3% owner booking fee makes it an affordable choice for owners and with the volume of traffic it receives, we believe that Airbnb is a listing site owners need to use. In fact, if you’re not on the platform, you’re likely losing bookings.
We also think Airbnb’s guest fee is a drawback to consider. It can run up to 20% depending on the booking total, and while it doesn’t impact your bottom line outright, higher prices can impact your ability to attract bookings.
HomeAway and VRBO
- Owner Fee: $499 annually or 5% per booking + 3% credit card processing fee
- Guest Fee: 5-15% per booking
- Combined Monthly Traffic: 40 million visitors
Boasting a combined monthly visitor count of over 40 million, HomeAway and VRBO are great choices for owners of traditional vacation rentals. They focus exclusively on “whole home” rentals so they’re attracting travelers who aren’t interested in sharing space with others. Both sites are under the umbrella of the Expedia Holding group, and when you list on one, you get the added benefit of being listed on the other.
With HomeAway and VRBO, you have the choice between a subscription model or a pay-per-booking model. The subscription model costs $499 per year and covers all the bookings you make on the platform. With the pay-per-booking model, you pay 5% of every booking to HomeAway and VRBO.
If you’re weighing the differences between the two, we’ve found the pay-per-booking plan works out in your favor if you’re making less than $6,980 in rental income or booking fewer than six weeks per year. Any more than that, and the subscription plan is the better choice.
The guest fees range is lower with HomeAway and VRBO than Airbnb, but it’s still something to factor into your analysis.
TripAdvisor and FlipKey
- Owner Fee: 3% per booking
- Guest Fee: 8%-16% per booking
- Monthly Traffic: 145 million visitors
TripAdvisor and FlipKey operate on a pay-per-booking model with the same owner fee as Airbnb, 3%. The low cost makes these sites affordable choices for owners, but not necessarily a great choice for guests.
They make up for those low fees by charging travelers a premium. Their 8-16% guest booking fee is highest of all of the sites in our comparison, with a median of 12% per booking.
TripAdvisor’s 145 million monthly visitors are certainly impressive, but it’s important to note that a lot of this traffic is likely focused on the site’s other travel-related services such as reviews, hotels, and car rentals.
But we think TripAdvisor is worth the investment for two reasons:
- The owner fee is low
- 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 because it promotes vacation rentals to travelers searching for hotels.
- Owner Fee: 15% per booking + 3% credit card processing fee*
- Guest Fee: 0% per booking
- Monthly Traffic: 448 million visitors
Because Booking.com is the most-visited travel site in the world, posting your listing on their platform is a great way to get your property in front of more people. It charges no additional fees to travelers, and it provides the lowest price for guests, which are great perks.
However, there are three major trade-offs:
- Higher owner fees
- Mandatory instant booking
- The site isn’t exclusive to vacation rentals
Booking.com also provides hotels, flights, vacation packages, and transportation in addition to vacation rentals, so there’s no guarantee those visitors are looking for a short-term vacation rental.
That’s why we’re not quite persuaded of the return on investment with Booking.com , plus this platform tends to be much more popular outside of North America.
How the listing sites compare
Now let’s pull it together to see how the listing sites compare when you stack them side by side.
To calculate how much you’ll pay in owner fees, we used an annual rental income of $28,000. According to HomeAway, this is what the average vacation rental owner earns per year.
Airbnb and the HomeAway/VRBO subscription model tied for the lowest owner fees, making them our top picks for affordable listing options.
The TripAdvisor/FlipKey option was a close second, followed by the HomeAway/VRBO pay-per-booking model. Finishing last was Booking.com. With owner fees that eclipsed the other listing sites – it’s the priciest choice by far for vacation rental owners.
It’s also important to consider how much your guests are going to be charged to book your home. Four of the five listing options include a guest service fee, which is calculated based on the total nightly rate and property fees.
We looked at how guest fees are calculated for one of our 3-bedroom properties in Cape Coral, Florida, to see how they add up and can 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:
Even though Booking.com charges no additional fees and offers the best prices, we still think you should approach with caution because of costs associated with listing.
However, HomeAway/VRBO and Airbnb prove to be an attractive choice on both sides of the coin. They’re in the middle with the second- and third-lowest traveler fees and reasonable owner expenses as well. Meanwhile, TripAdvisor/FlipKey is the most expensive for travelers.
FINAL DECISION: Which Listing Is the Best?
Our recommendation for your property is as many sites as you can manage.
If you have to choose one listing site, then pick the one that makes the most sense for your vacation rental based on fees, traffic, and the audience.
The cost difference between HomeAway/VRBO, Airbnb, and FlipKey/TripAdvisor is slim, especially when you factor in all the components above, which 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.
Interested in learning more about Evolve?
Evolve creates an optimized property listing for every owner, takes professional photos, and promotes all of our properties on HomeAway, VRBO, Airbnb, FlipKey, and TripAdvisor, in addition to providing all-day reservation support from our team of Travel Advisors – for just 10% per booking. Call us at 877.881.7584 or click here to learn more.