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Is It Better To Stay In A Hotel Or Airbnb?

February 24, 2019
lobby of Hotel Corona D'oro in Bologna

When planning any independent trip abroad, finding suitable accommodations—along with securing flights to and from the destination—are among the first tasks to be tackled. We were planning to go back to Bologna to spend two wonderful weeks in this medium-sized city that’s the capital of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. With a range of lodging options available to us, we wrestled with the question of whether to stay in a hotel or rent an apartment through Airbnb.

We decided to split our time between each type of accommodation, booking our first week in an apartment and the second at a four-star hotel. Both properties were conveniently located in the historic center of the city. Our reasoning: We like variety and could experience the best of both worlds.

Piazza Maggiore, the living room of the historic center of Bologna, in morning

Piazza Maggiore, the living room of the historic center of Bologna, in morning

During our stay, we began to reflect on the pros and cons of each.


7 ADVANTAGES OF STAYING IN AN AIRBNB

1- More choices in terms of location 

Because there are far more apartment listings in Bologna than the number of hotels, the former offered greater choice in terms of location. For the location of our Airbnb, we pinpointed a small alley that was lodged in the center of the busy ancient market area called the Quadrilateral. 

Getting to know my kitchen in Bologna

Getting to know my kitchen in Bologna

2- Homelike feel and more space 

At a rental, you are more likely to feel “at home.” In addition to having a bedroom, we enjoyed the luxury of having a kitchen and living room where we could cook our own meals and relax. Being so close to the market, we imagined cooking more meals “at home” than took place in actuality. As it turned out, a coffee bar we could almost fall into was directly across from our apartment and there were many more in the immediate area. Like most busy working Italians, we wound up having a quick coffee and Nutella-filled cornetta (croissant) at different bars each day until we chose one where we became “regulars.” The idea of cooking fell flat, too. Why hassle with cooking in a small kitchenette when we were surrounded with wonderful eateries within steps of our door?

Living room of our apartment in Bologna

Living room of our apartment in Bologna

The spacious dining area of our apartment

The spacious dining area of our apartment

Vincenzo in the bar across the street from our apartment

Vincenzo in the bar across the street from our apartment

3- Less touristy and more authentic

At the apartment, we lived among real neighbors without other tourists traipsing in and out of the building with luggage. Each time we entered and left, we felt part of our neighborhood. Moreover, staying in someone else’s apartment, we were able to experience the characteristic way a true Italian lives in terms of lifestyle and décor.

4- More privacy and independence

While hotels in the U.S. tend to be more anonymous, each time you pass a front desk in Italy, it is almost compulsory to exchange greetings, Buongiorno in the morning or Buon Pomeriggio in the afternoon. Many people appreciate bypassing a hotel lobby and being able to go directly to their room. In our case, neighbors weren’t right next door either, as they might be in a hotel. If we were in a rush in the morning, we didn’t have to tidy up for the arrival of housekeeping as we might in a hotel.

5- The bonus of having a washer and dryer

Being able to wash and dry our laundry mid-week and at the end of the week was a true blessing. Not all rental accommodations have them but many do. Of course, there was a startup curve in learning how to operate the washer/dryer combo with all the electronic settings written in Italian. Now I know that asciugatrice means dryer.

The first time I tried, the wash cycle took more than three hours and the clothes still emerged very damp. Thankfully, I was able to hang them in the kitchen (to continue drying) on a portable drying rack that the owner had stashed in a utility closet.

Learning to wash and dry in Italian

There’s a learning curve to washing and drying in Italy

6- Better value

Not all the time but most times, rental apartments turn out to be a better value. Our apartment was priced at only $96 a night. We would have been hard-put to be able to find a suitable hotel room at that rate. When families travel and need multiple bedrooms, the cost-savings can be even more dramatic. Sometimes, too, renters are able to negotiate better rates with a lengthier stay. Of course, when deciding upon a rental, it’s important to calculate what cleaning fees, Airbnb or other rental agency fees, etc. are added on that might negate or minimize your savings. When drawing the comparison, don’t forget hotel taxes and amenity charges.

7- The element of surprise 

Although there is also a downside, the upside of variability and inconsistency among rentals means that many times, you get more than you bargained for. In our case, it turned out that the apartment size was much larger than it appeared in the listing photos, and that the apartment had many “extras,” including a foosball table in the living room and wonderful coffee table books to browse through. Some owners are extremely gracious while others are stingy in an effort to cut costs. For example, your toilet paper supply or box of tissues may not outlast your stay. Also variable is whether or not the owner leaves detailed instructions for how to use appliances. For example, it Italy, we eventually figured out that it is common to have to turn the gas on with a wall handle before using a stove. Even taking out the garbage can be a hassle if you don’t understand the system. Bologna has a complicated recycling schedule and once in our apartment, we discovered we had to take refuse to public recycling bins located on another street.

One flight of the two flights up to our apartment in Bologna

One flight of the two flights up to our apartment in Bologna

In-house foosball fun

In-house foosball fun


5 ADVANTAGES OF STAYING IN A HOTEL

1- Predictability and fewer surprises

Hotels tend to be more predictable with fewer surprises. This allows you to spend less time worrying about your accommodations. And if something goes wrong, it usually can be remedied with a quick call to the front desk. In an Airbnb, it can take time to contact an owner and there may not always be a quick fix. Also because hotels tend to be more regulated than private apartments, you are more likely to find smoke or carbon monoxide detectors in these properties. A recent article in the New York Times notes that the greatest renter laments are over what is missing (e.g., towels or a cutting board) rather than what is there. 

2- Personal service 

If you want personal service, you’re likely to opt for a hotel stay. Most apartments tend to be self-serviced. If you really need assistance you can contact the owner but otherwise, you’re on your own. In the apartment, I was responsible for washing dishes, keeping things tidy and making our bed each morning. In a hotel, it is always a joy to return to an immaculately clean room, a refreshed bed and changed linens. At the hotel where we stayed, a concierge was at our beck and call to offer directions, hail a taxi, make restaurant reservations or suggest things to do.

3- Breakfast and room service

Most hotels in Italy offer a complimentary buffet breakfast with a night’s stay. At our hotel, we had the choice of an indulgent buffet breakfast in the sala colazione (breakfast room) or a continental room service breakfast. For me, having a cup of cappuccino delivered each morning was a real luxury. Our hotel had no restaurant, so room service was limited to breakfast but some hotels provide room service all day or around the clock.

Breakfast in bed at our hotel

Breakfast in bed at our hotel

A small sampling of the breakfast buffet at the hotel

A small sampling of the breakfast buffet at the hotel

4- Better bathrooms and amenities

Luxury hotels tend to update their bathrooms and provide more shower amenities (e.g. rain shower heads, shower caps, branded toiletries, etc.) In our experience, the quality of bathrooms in rental apartments tends to be more idiosyncratic. Towels tend to be more plentiful and of better quality in hotels; they also can be changed as often as necessary. In our Airbnb, the linen supply was limited to one bath towel, one hand towel and no washcloths for the week. On the subject of washcloths, they are typically hard to find in Italy so we now bring our own (see Washcloths in Italy: Do Italians Use Them?) Another thing to know: You may find extra hand towels hanging over the bidet but most Italians would never use them for anything but their intended purpose: cleaning one’s private parts.

These are not hand towels!

These are not hand towels!

5- Safety and security

As older travelers, we are often concerned about the security of our accommodations. At the hotel, the front desk screened any visitors coming into the building, requiring them to provide an ID before entrance. We also had an in-room safe to secure any valuables. At the apartment, we weren’t quite sure who else had access to our unit and had to trust that nothing we left there would leave the premises. Fortunately, it didn’t. At night, the staircase leading to our apartment two flights up seemed more spooky than private. People traveling solo also may feel more comfortable and secure in a hotel. One more thing: In the event of a personal medical emergency abroad, it’s easier to pick up a phone and call the hotel reception desk than to find help in a rental apartment.

Bottom line

The choice of whether to stay in a hotel or an Airbnb usually isn’t clear-cut. Fortunately, we were able to give both our choices five-star ratings!

Although the decision to stay in an Airbnb or hotel is likely to depend on the availability of both accommodations, the length of stay and cost at a destination, it is also a matter of how you want to live and experience your travels away from home, and your flexibility and sense of adventure.

In our case, staying in an apartment for our first week allowed us to immerse ourselves in our environment and get to know a neighborhood really well. During the second week, we loved living in the lap of luxury. Yes, this was the best of both worlds.


Are there some other determinants that dictate how you decide between a stay in a hotel or Airbnb?  


All photo credits: Jerome Levine


For information about lodging and attractions in Bologna:


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Airbnb vs. Hotel: Which would you choose?

  • Reply
    Sheryl
    February 24, 2019 at 8:35 am

    Sounds like each one offered unique advantages. An interesting mix, for sure!

  • Reply
    Jerry
    February 25, 2019 at 8:53 am

    We have only used AirBnB once. and it was a great experience. As we prefer self-catering accommodation, we have found other ways as necessary.
    If, for whatever reason, we go to an hotel, it will generally be on a bed and breakfast basis, often buying light snacks at a local supermarket, and eating one meal out every day.
    It’s a personal choice. We have friends who will only travel all-inclusive.

  • Reply
    Michele Peterson
    February 25, 2019 at 9:34 am

    A very good analysis of both options. For a stay of more than a week I generally prefer an Airbnb mostly for the conveniences of a kitchen. But many hotels now have small kitchenettes and those can be really useful for breakfasts. Daily housekeeping in a hotel can be irritating after a few days – especially if timing varies from day to day – as I often work in the room. I’ll often request a specific time but not every hotel can accommodate that.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 25, 2019 at 10:10 am

      You make some very good points, Michele!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 28, 2019 at 5:46 am

      Funny you should mention housekeeping. My husband and I were just talking about hotel turndown service and whether it is more of a nuisance. I’m a big towel user so I love the extra service!

  • Reply
    Anne Woodyard (@MusicandMarkets)
    February 25, 2019 at 11:04 am

    An excellent evaluation of the pluses and minuses of each option – I certainly agree! Both the hotel and the apartment you chose were winners for sure!
    And your beautiful photos of Bologna make me eager to return!

  • Reply
    Carol Colborn
    February 25, 2019 at 11:18 am

    I have used Airbnb once in Rome so close to St. Peter’s but very disappointing, not even close to the pictures. Hotels don’t have washer/dryers or kitchens though. So we opt for time share resorts.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 25, 2019 at 2:43 pm

      Yes, timeshares are another option—with pros and cons, too!
      My impression is that their location might determine where you go.

  • Reply
    Doreen Pendgracs
    February 25, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    Great post, Irene. I’ve stayed at apartments when travelling, and don’t mind it if I’m with someone. But as I occasionally travel alone, I prefer the safety and comfort of a full-service hotel. And I sure would not have enjoyed doing those stairs at the apartment you stayed at. Thx for the analysis.

  • Reply
    Debbra Dunning Brouillette
    February 25, 2019 at 8:13 pm

    We stayed in an Airbnb in Mallorca before our Star Clippers cruise a few years ago but that was only for one night. I would definitely try an Airbnb again, especially for a longer stay. I like the luxury of a full-service hotel, too, so it was nice that you were able to try both options and give pros and cons of each!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Stavert
    February 26, 2019 at 11:03 am

    This is a really terrific analysis. I totally agree with you. We have stayed in both. When we travel with friends it is fun to stay in a two or three bedroom Air BnB because it allows you to hang out in the evening in a comfortable private setting. Both accommodations have their benefits!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 28, 2019 at 5:20 am

      Yes, when you need lots of space and want a kitchen, an Airbnb is a great solution!

  • Reply
    Rachel Heller
    February 26, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    When I’m traveling solo and on a budget, I sometimes stay in Airbnb’s, but not the kind you stayed in. I book a private bedroom in someone’s house, which means that other people are around. Since I prefer my own company, I’d rather stay in a nice hotel, but a bedroom in someone’s house is usually far cheaper. I study the photos carefully and read the reviews before booking, and I’ve never had a bad experience. An advantage of this sort of Airbnb is that you meet a local and can ask questions. Sometimes they want to talk; sometimes they leave you alone. But since you’re sharing a house with them, you can always ask questions.

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    February 26, 2019 at 8:30 pm

    What a nice rundown of the pros and cons of a rental vs. a hotel. I love that apartment you used as an example. It reminds me of what we usually do in London, which is to stay in a luxury hotel for a few days followed by a stay in a simpler inexpensive bed and breakfast. Helps balance the budget.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 28, 2019 at 5:39 am

      I find it great to make a change and see different neighborhoods as well although it can be a hassle to pack up and move.

  • Reply
    Johanna Castro
    February 27, 2019 at 2:45 am

    A great post and one which made me think a little more in depth about AirBnB. We generally book hotels by default, but your post has made me realise that actually an Airbnb in some instances would be a better bet – especially for longer stays. I agree that security when travelling alone is an issue, and a hotel is probably a better bet for a solo woman traveller in a busy city perhaps. Shared on Social Media and coming today from Boomer Travel Bloggers 🙂

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 28, 2019 at 5:40 am

      Thanks for sharing with your fellow boomers, Johanna!

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    February 27, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks for outlining the pros and cons of choosing a hotel vs. an AirBnB. We tried AirBnB once and had a great experience we would definitely use one again if the circumstances were right.

  • Reply
    Tom Bartel
    February 28, 2019 at 12:48 am

    Second pretty much everything you said. We mix it up depending on where we’re going and how long we are going to be there. As you say, both options have their advantages. Just a matter of deciding what’s more important to you at the time and place. BTW, one of the things that gives AirBnb an edge is whether or not you meet the owner and get a detailed outlook of the place from a local’s perspective.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 28, 2019 at 5:08 am

      Yes, agree with what you say, too! Also very important is the owner leaving instructions and information about both the property and the neighborhood.

  • Reply
    Kate Connor
    February 28, 2019 at 8:34 am

    Over the years I have rented places through AirBnB and VRBO/HomeAway probably 35-40 times. I started doing this in Europe when our daughter was young. “Double-doubles” are nearly impossible to find in Europe and I did not want a second room for an 8 year old. Of all these, I have only felt somewhat burned twice. One was a rental in New Orleans which was a 5 bedroom (we were a family group that time) but truly minimal furniture that looked like it was leftover from a college apartment. The other was in St Augustine (again, large group) that was just plain dirty. (That one was a last-minute rental at high season, so pickings were slim.) Basically, everything I have rented has been as-described and as pictured. All classes and prices exist. Choose accordingly. We have stayed at AMAZING luxury apartments in Modena and a 13th century tower in Florence (with view of the Duomo) that I would return to in a heartbeat. I just love the extra space, having a bedroom and a kitchen for my coffee in the morning. Frequently yards, decks or beach or mountain views are included.

    My current approach is that I generally prefer a full house or apartment if I’m staying more that a couple nights. I am not a breakfast person anyway and free breakfast doesn’t interest me. I just want coffee! I have learned to arrive and immediately reconnoiter the place to see what I need. I then immediately go buy coffee, coffee filters or other stuff that is lacking. This is easier in the US but not that hard abroad either. The cost savings make these small purchases well worth it. I have bought cutting boards, wine glasses and even towels. I leave them behind or throw them out.

    Read the fine print. In some locations vacation house rentals are truly bare bones. This is typical in beach areas in parts of the northeast and in Florida, especially panhandle. I mean, you have to bring sheets, towels. Beware of the concept of “turn-day”, as all these areas are 1 week minimum and change over that same day each week. Literally nothing is supplied in these other than kitchen utensils. I have also learned that kitchen knives are uniformly awful, so if we are a group and are staying a week or more, I actually pack (in checked luggage) my good chef’s knife since I like to cook.

    The sense of being a “pretend local” for a week or two is great, and I remember getting a big kick out of an Italian asking ME for directions at our apartment near the Campo di Fiori. Priceless!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      March 1, 2019 at 4:38 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and such thoughtful comments.

  • Reply
    George
    February 28, 2019 at 10:57 am

    I will always book hotels and skip Airbnbs. The main reason is gentrification. While the Airbnb option is always tempting, it’s not fun at all to search for a flat in your own city and being unable to find one because everything is an Airbnb. I’ve seen it happen in both cities I currently live (a half year in Berlin, another half in Athens) and I guess this won’t stop if there are no initiatives from the local authorities…

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      March 1, 2019 at 4:36 pm

      Thanks for your comments and bringing a “big picture” to this discussion.

  • Reply
    Gary Francis
    March 12, 2019 at 11:54 pm

    We’ve usually stayed in an airbnb – for the additional space and facilities. However, over recent years we’ve seen the impact these are having in some places. In some European cities, the locals are starting to protest because they are losing apartments they used to rent to tourists. I’m not sure if that’s the case everywhere, but we are starting to question the impact of short-term rentals and what we should do for accommodation.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      March 15, 2019 at 6:48 am

      You raise an important ethical question. Loose regulations can make things go amok!

  • Reply
    Giuseppe
    April 22, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    I agree with the criticisms about airbnb. I am Italian and I live in a historical center of an Italian city. The easy and immediate gains that come from short-term rentals are transforming neighborhoods. It is evident that over the time urban areas are subject to economic and social changes but in this case I think that changes are unbalanced and one-way.

    About Airbnb point 3.
    Always check if there are airbnb apartments in the same building and block and how many they are.
    The response says if you are contributing to make “Less touristy and more authentic” only an illusion.

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