Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions.

This week’s episode kicks off our new series called “This or That,” where the travel team compares different ways to travel.

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Our take

Airbnbs and hotels have one major thing in common: They offer travelers a place to sleep for the night. Besides that, the differences in costs, fees, amenities and service are stark. Airbnbs used to be the backpacker-friendly budget option, yet rising costs during the pandemic and add-on cleaning fees can quickly erode their value.

Hotels might be boring, but they’re reliable. And while vacation rentals might be more interesting, they can be a crapshoot. So comparing prices between hotels and Airbnbs can create an apples-to-oranges dilemma.

That’s why we recommend choosing the option that best fits your travel style and needs for any given trip. Group trips with friends will be more enjoyable (and cost-effective) in a big vacation rental home, while a trip to a city might be easier and cheaper in a hotel. If you want to use points to cover your lodging, you’ll probably want to book a hotel, but there are ways to book Airbnbs with travel rewards as well.

Our tips

  • Get the full picture. To compare prices, make sure you always go to the end of the booking process to see the final price with all the fees included. Resort fees or Airbnb cleaning fees can be a good chunk of the total cost.
  • Book for the trip you’re taking. Airbnbs are generally cheaper than hotels for longer stays of a week or more and group trips. However, for shorter trips with fewer people, hotels can usually provide more consistent service, no cleaning fees and loyalty program benefits.
  • Avoid the worst Airbnb pitfalls. Read reviews and search for amenities you care about, like the Wi-Fi speed.

Have a money question? Text or call us at 901-730-6373. Or you can email us at podcast@nerdwallet.com. To hear previous episodes, go to the podcast homepage.