When you plan family vacations, there are several things to consider and decisions to be made especially considering hotel versus vacation rental pros and cons. First and foremost, “Where should we go?” You may have specific ideas in mind. Places you went as a child and want to share with your family. Or new places you want to explore with your family. Sometimes, even the children contribute ideas to the hat, having seen something on YouTube or heard of a vacation from a classmate.
Once you narrow down the options and are close to selecting the destination, you will consider activities and what options are a good fit for you and the family. This may include considerations based upon the age of the children, the amount of travel needed, the time zone of the location, and other important factors.
Next on your list is “Where will we stay?” This is when you should consider the hotel versus vacation rental pros and cons to figure out what best suits your needs. Like a traffic-jammed road trip or a series of delayed flights and layovers, where you stay can sometimes change the mood of the trip. After a day of site seeing or even a day at the beach, you want to come back to a restful, clean and secure room. While traditional hotels still account for 87% of available room inventory in the U.S.A. in 2015, they only accounted for 34% of inventory growth. The other 66% of the growth rate is attributed to vacation home rentals.
A vacation rental is renting out a furnished apartment, house, or professionally managed resort-condominium complex on a temporary basis to tourists as an alternative to a hotel. There are multiple vacation rental pros that come with this option, but some people still prefer the convenience and amenities of a hotel. With additional access to vacation rentals in the United States and abroad through multiple websites these days, the options are unlimted.
Here are 20 Hotel Versus Vacation Rental Pros & Cons to Consider:
1. Room size
According to USAToday, the average hotel room is just over 330 square feet with interior dimensions of approximately 13’x25′ (including a full bathroom).
While many vacation rentals are often larger in size than the average hotel room, it is important to consider that vacation rentals include shared rooms, a private room in a home/apartment, or the entire home/apartment. Before you book, check the description and room details to ensure you are booking the right selection for your vacation.
Most hotel rooms come standard with one private bathroom. In a hotel, bathroom cleaning and upkeep is almost daily. Any leaks or plumbing issues are taken care of quickly. In addition, the bathrooms are often supplied with a generous number of towels and brand name toiletries. Vacation rentals can have more than one bathroom. This could be a plus if traveling with small children, teenagers or a large group. However, you may not get the daily, fresh towels and you may have to bring your own toiletries, as well.
If security is a concern or important factor in your decision, a hotel will seem the safer option. Hotels have well-lit parking lots, security cameras inside and outside the building and elevators, and key card entry after hours to enter and use the elevator. If there is any security issue, you have hotel staff coverage 24×7. Most hotels also offer personal safes to protect valuables, such as passports. For vacation rentals, unless you know the surrounding neighborhood well, you will not have a general sense of security. And you will not know if the rental has a security system or cameras.
4. Staff and resource availability
When you check into a hotel, you have access to services of the hotel reception desk, concierge services and other support staff. If you run out of toilet paper, it is a simple call down to the front desk and within a short time, supplies are delivered to your room. The apartment or rental home owner or manager may offer some basic support, leave some coupons on the countertop and give you the Wi-Fi password, but likely you are not going to see him or her until check out. Further, hotels provide daily room servicing, unless you note otherwise, whereas a home/apartment rental is only cleaned and serviced upon your departure.
5. Checking in and Checking Out
Hotels have an easier check-in and check process. It is standard and predictable. You enter the address from the booking and follow the directions. You park at the hotel and can pull up to a convenient visitor check-in spot, to allow easy access to transport your luggage into the room. Hotel lobbies are staffed 24×7, giving you the luxury of checking in late or early.
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Vacation rentals are subjective. Parking can be difficult to find, even if they assign you a spot. Some rentals have elevators, but many do not. You generally do not have a staff member to help you carry or bring in heavy luggage. Directions for checking in, such as keypad codes, are often only given to you a few days in advance. Some providers give you mobile phone numbers to call, while others only allow contact via the booking app or via email.
6. Swimming pools and Outdoor areas
With the exception of major cities like New York and Boston, most established hotel chains offer a swimming pool as an amenity to lure in guests. Some resorts offer multiple pools and may have separate pools for families and adult-only spaces.
All vacation rentals should be evaluated individually. Some rentals have private swimming pools as part of an individual, single family home rental or as part of a condominium association with a shared pool. However, due to potential liability, not all vacation rentals may offer guests access to the swimming pool. Prior to booking, confirm access to a swimming pool with the vacation rental property.
7. Meals, and Kitchens
If saving money on food is important, selecting a hotel chain or vacation rental that offers a kitchen should be evaluated. Some hotels have kitchens or half kitchens and most vacation rentals have full kitchens. Dietary restrictions may also be an important factor in having a kitchen.
And in most cases, it is more cost-effective to cook one or more meals from the room, in contrast to eating out at restaurants three times a day. Restaurant bills can add up quickly and if you are traveling on a budget, eating out could break the bank quite quickly.
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More recently, newer renovations in hotel chains include expanding their selections of snacks and food for purchase items. In addition, if you subscribe to an online grocery delivery service, check the delivery options at your vacation destination. If you are already a user of the service, you pay the same delivery fee at your destination. There are typically no additional fees for delivery in other cities.
Not everyone needs (or wants) a kitchen when on vacation. With the increase in food delivery options in major options, ordering from a wide variety of food options and having it delivered has never been easier. Or, if enjoying your experience eating the local foods, dining out with family and friends, and not having to clean up and wash dishes, is a higher priority, skip this amenity on your list.
So, ask yourself, do you want to cook during vacation? Do you want to wash dishes and clean countertops? If cooking is the best route for you, vacation rentals win this one. If one perk and reward for you during your vacation is having someone else cook meals and clean up after, hotels, especially those will room service, score the point here.
Whether you are in a hotel or vacation rental, you pay sales and occupancy (or tourism) taxes. In fact, vacation rentals pay the same taxes as a hotel. Hotels generally disclose those fees in booking or at least the percentage. You may have to calculate the estimated total price, by adding the occupancy taxes. Vacation rentals should disclose the same percentage. Again, you may have to calculate the total price.
There has been an increase in pet friendly hotels. In fact, the majority of hotel chains, including Marriott, Hilton, Best Western, Holiday Inn, Westin, Sheraton, Aloft, and Lowes offer pet friendly rooms in most popular locations. However, they also come with a daily pet fee, have restrictions on the size of the dog (i.e. some only allow small dogs) and have a maximum of 1 or 2 pets allowed. The rooms tend to be located on the first floor and in some cases, less-than-desirable parts of the building, due to the potential noise risks. Vacation rental homes usually have pet policies as well and you may be able to find a home where you can bring a larger dog, have a yard, and are generally more accommodating to pets.
10. Location, Location, Location
“Location is more important to travelers age 35 and older,” according to a 2019 study completed by Turnkey Vacation Rentals.
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Location can be tricky. Hotels are transparent about the address and location, and user reviews disclose a much-needed perspective on the location. Many established hotel chains in large cities have selected locations in popularly visited areas, are often near expressway exits and have restaurants and shopping centers at a relatively close distance. In fact, many user reviews include location highlights, such as distance to popular attractions. Because vacation rentals often limit providing the address until closer to your arrival date, you may have a general idea about the location, but not specifics about the street name, neighborhood information, walking distance, and parking availability. Evaluate user reviews for insights into the location.
11. Cancellations, Deposits and Refund Policies
Hotels often offer different rates and price structures, based upon the room type, size, and additional features like a private jacuzzi. In addition, more and more hotel chains, such as Hilton and Marriott, are offering tiered pricing where you can pre-pay for a lower per night room rate, but with a no refund policy on cancellations. Pay slightly more per night and you can book a room that generally can be canceled up to 24 hours in advance, with no charges or fees.
Alternatively, vacation rentals generally require pre-payment of up to 50% ahead of time and offer partial cancellation policies, such as partial refunds or refunds less processing and other fees. In other words, full refunds are likely not available for vacation rentals. If you feel there may be a chance your plans change or that you may change your decision about the booking, choose a hotel instead.
12. Points and free stays
If you have not already signed up for a hotel loyalty and rewards program, you are missing out on valuable points towards free stays. Rewards programs have been built to offer you free hotel stays after you meet a certain number of stays per year. For example, the Best Western Rewards member program gives promotions to Stay 2 Nights and Get a Free Night for Your Next Stay. These free stays can be used towards your next vacation. Vacation rentals, managed locally by homeowners and rental management companies, do not offer as generous promotions as the hotel chains.
13. Size of family or group
More and more, large groups are traveling together. Whether it be for travel sports or family reunions or having extra hands for watching children, extended families and friends are pairing up to travel with each other. Spreading the cost of the stay may be an option for a small or large group. However, space can be an issue. As mentioned above, the average room size is 325 square feet. That could be tight quarters for some.
Booking adjoining rooms can also be an option at the hotel. However, additional rooms also cost more per night. In contrast, many vacation rentals offer more than one bedroom, separate living space, and one or more bathrooms. But most vacation rentals also have a per person fee, after you exceed 2 people. That can add up quickly for a larger group.
14. Gyms and Exercise Facilities
If you or one of your travel companions is a regular at the gym and staying on track, even while on vacation, is a requirement, consider that most hotel chains offer at least a basic exercise room. Some include more intense equipment and may offer daily exercise classes. Vacation rentals, especially single family homes or apartment units, generally do not have a large selection of amenities.
15. Connectivity and Reliable Wi-Fi
As much as we may want to say we disconnect on vacation, most of us stream videos, television shows and social media while away. Reliable Wi-Fi is an important factor. Most hotel chains offer this amenity for free, and some have daily rates. Most do bypass any fees if you sign up to be a loyalty member. Wi-Fi in vacation rentals is up to the owner and speeds may vary. Be sure to read the details and user reviews for internet access, charges, and connectivity.
16. Who Makes the beds?
Do you love clean, crisp sheets? Does seeing new, fresh towels each day make you happy? Is the only small gift you give yourself on vacations petite toiletries that smell like sage and lavender? If you answered yes to one or more of the questions, hotels win the vote here.
17. Washers and Dryers
Speaking of who cleans up, consider that most hotels have a laundry room, with at least one washer and one dryer. You will have to check with the vacation rental for onsite laundry options. This can usually be found in the description. Having access to a washer and dryer means you do not have to carry dirty clothes back home with you. In addition, you can pack less extra clothing for all travelers for a longer stay.
18. Room Privacy
Most hotels are single rooms with one or more beds, with a private bathroom. Some may come with a separate living area with a pullout sofa bed. However, in most hotel layouts, people are in close quarters with one another. If there is no formal door to close off the sections, that means everyone must sleep in the same room together. If you have light sleepers in your party, vacation rentals, which typically have separated living and sleeping areas, takes the tally on this one. If you are used to sleeping in surrounding areas together and enjoy the closeness of the family in a shared space, give hotels the mark.
If the idea of drinking your morning coffee on a balcony overlooking an amazing view is high on your list of vacation must do’s, both vacation rentals and hotels may offer this. However, this is not a guarantee in either one. Because some vacation rentals can be walkout basements, and some hotels overlook a concrete jungle, you will need to do your research here. Look at guest photos, especially recent ones by date, to evaluate both options closely.
Parking may also have extra fees. Major cities, like New York and Chicago, have expensive, per day parking rates. Some hotels offer free parking per day. Consider factoring in the daily rate of parking, if any, in the total price.
Vacation rentals may or may not have parking. In addition, even when they offer parking, you may only be limited to one space. In some instances, like in the San Francisco vacation rental market, many listings disclose that street parking is the only option. When this is the case, be sure to check with the owner to confirm whether street parking requires a parking permit. If it does, you may not be able to park on the street, if you do not have the required permit.
If you have considered your options and are still debating which option is best on your hotel versus vacation rental pros and cons list, realize that many hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton, have extended stay options, and contain many of the amenities and features of a vacation rental, but under the umbrella and management of a reputable hotel chain giving you the best of both worlds when you travel. Most importantly, do your research, decide where to stay, and enjoy the trip no matter what!
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