HomeAway has been making some major changes to its pricing model over the past few months. In November, the company announced that it would begin charging a service fee to travelers. Last week, HomeAway said it would be phasing out subscription tiers and dropping the owner pay-per-booking fee to 5%.
All these changes are leaving vacation rental owners with a critical question: is HomeAway/VRBO still the right listing site for me? Could I get a better deal somewhere else?
We’ve crunched the numbers to give you a clear idea of what the fees are across the top five listing sites that advertise vacation rentals – along with some in-depth analysis on factors that can affect your ultimate take-home profit.
Let’s start with a cross-platform comparison of owner fees for each major listing site:
What Is and Isn’t Included In These Calculations
We’ve calculated the owner take-home income based on the amount HomeAway reports is the average for a vacation rental owner: $27,360 per year. Assuming you charge the same nightly rate for your rental on any given platform, the amounts at the bottom of the table are what you can expect to take home.
Looking at the table, an owner would retain the most money from an Airbnb, FlipKey, or TripAdvisor listing. HomeAway/VRBO’s subscription option comes in $321.64 behind those platforms, while HomeAway/VRBO’s pay-per-booking lags over $1,200 behind, and Booking.com sends an owner home with nearly $3,000 less.
However, while this table gives you an understanding of the owner fees, it doesn’t necessarily tell you which listing site will provide you with the most rental income.
Your “best” listing site can vary based on your location, your nightly rate, the type of travelers you rent to, the competition in the area, and the number of nights you rent per year – among other factors.
So which is your best listing site? Let’s take a look.
How Does the Traveler Service Fee Affect Bookings?
As you can see from the above comparison, four of the five listing options include a traveler service fee that is calculated based on the total nightly rate and fees. We promote our properties on all of the listing sites that include traveler fees, so we decided to take a closer look at how this fee varies from site to site.
The table below shows the difference in traveler fees as quoted by each site for one of our 3-bedroom properties in Cape Coral, Florida. This particular listing has a weekly rate of $1,050 and an occupancy tax of 11% (traveler fees are not charged on taxes). To give you an accurate idea of what each site charges for our property, we’ve included the traveler fees as a percentage of the total next to the dollar amount.
This comparison provides a very different picture than the owner fees. HomeAway and VRBO are charging travelers $30.50 less than Airbnb and $66.57 less than FlipKey and TripAdvisor.
If the higher traveler fee makes your vacation rental less attractive in terms of pricing, you may receive fewer bookings using listing sites that charge your guests substantial fees.
That said, travelers have been booking consistently on Airbnb, FlipKey, and TripAdvisor for years, so the traveler service fee needn’t be a reason to completely disregard a listing site. It’s simply worth factoring in what effect the fee may have on your ability to command your usual nightly rate and make your accustomed number of bookings.
What If I Don’t Rent Out My Property Very Often?
HomeAway’s subscription offering seems like a much better deal than their pay-per-booking option – so why would they provide a pay-per-booking model at all?
If you rent your property year-round, the subscription model will almost invariably give you a better return on your investment. But for owners who only rent a few months of the year, the pay-per-booking option is actually the best choice.
We’ve crunched the numbers, and the magic figure for pay-per-booking is $6,980.
If you earn anything less than that number in an average year, pay-per-booking will wind up costing you less than the subscription model.
If you earn more than $6,980 in an average year, the subscription option will be a better bet.
What Listing Sites Are Your Travelers Using?
When we published our thoughts on why HomeAway had added a traveler fee, we received a comment on Facebook from an owner who said that he would never use Airbnb, since travelers aren’t looking for “luxury” homes on that platform.
While we’d disagree that a luxury home can’t get booked on Airbnb, it’s true that travelers looking for a certain type of vacation home experience tend to browse on certain websites.
For example, travelers searching for vacation rentals in traditional resort destinations often look on HomeAway and VRBO, since those sites are known for having a large amount of inventory in beach, mountain and desert locations.
Millennials and travelers searching for rentals in urban destinations often lean towards using Airbnb to find their ideal property. 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 (which owns FlipKey) and Booking.com are much larger platforms covering more aspects of travel than vacation rental, 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.
Which Platforms Get the Most Traffic?
Booking.com, as you can see above, asks for the highest percentage of owner fees and they will require you to accept reservations instantly (as opposed to HomeAway/VRBO, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor, which all allow a grace period for the owner to decline a reservation after the traveler books online).
So if Booking.com is the most expensive site and has a policy that makes it difficult for you to vet guests, why use it?
Simply put: traffic.
Booking.com is the #1 most-visited travel site online (though Trip holds a strong second-place ranking), which means you can get your property in front of more people. Are those extra eyes on the page worth the trade-off in cost to you?
We’re not sure it is. Booking.com and TripAdvisor both boast an enormous number of monthly site visitors – 40,000,000 and 38,000,000 respectively – but they don’t focus on vacation rentals exclusively. Both sites aggregate 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? Hard to say. We’ve yet to find any reports that offer a definitive answer.
Meanwhile, while Airbnb and HomeAway aren’t as impressive as the two travel industry front-runners in terms of traffic overall, they both easily make the top 15 list, 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 only offer short-term rentals. If travelers are specifically looking for a vacation rental, they’re likely to turn to one of those two platforms.
That said, both Booking.com and TripAdvisor promote vacation rental properties as alternatives to other forms of lodging, which may mean owners can benefit from new converts to vacation rental.
We personally haven’t quite been persuaded that Booking.com can give us a solid return on our investment because of their exceptionally high owner booking fee and the difficulty of ensuring quality guests for our owners.
We decided that TripAdvisor was worth the gamble for two reasons: their owner fee is much lower, and TripAdvisor automatically posts all its listings on a sister site that does focus exclusively on vacation rental: FlipKey. This means we’re getting exposure on two fronts: the larger, less-targeted audience, and a smaller, more-targeted audience.
For us, that made listing on TripAdvisor well worth the risk. And if we’re lucky, we’ll get a few new converts to the pleasures of staying at a vacation rental instead of a hotel, since Trip promotes our vacation rentals as alternative lodging options to travelers searching in our properties’ areas.
Final Decision: Which Platform is Best?
Our take: as many as you can manage.
The cost difference between HomeAway, VRBO, Airbnb, FlipKey and TripAdvisor is so negligible, especially when you factor in all the components above, that we think it’s better for owners to prioritize getting their properties in front of as many travelers as possible.
So why choose?
As we’ve demonstrated above, the owner still takes home the vast majority of their rental income on any given platform. 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.
Which means the best possible listing site to use? Is all of them.
We’re not just blowing smoke, either – we practice what we preach.
We cover the cost of listing our owners’ properties on all five of the sites above to make sure they get in front of the most travelers. 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.
The one exception for us? Booking.com. That 15% owner fee is a bit rich for our blood, and owners like knowing that we take the time to vet every guest before confirming an online booking.
But with HomeAway, VRBO, Airbnb, FlipKey, and TripAdvisor? Owners are getting good value for money, and we think they should take advantage. The one trait these listing sites have in common is that the more bookings you make, the more rental income you take home.
Want to get your home listed on multiple platforms without the hassle of managing everything on your own? Talk to one of our Homeowner Consultants about becoming part of Evolve Vacation Rental Network. We create an optimized property listing for every owner, take professional photos, and promote all of our properties on HomeAway, VRBO, Airbnb, FlipKey, and TripAdvisor, in addition to providing all-day booking support with our team of Travel Advisors – for just 10%. Call us at 877.818.1014 (press 2) or click here to learn more.