This story was originally published by Curbed before it joined New York Magazine. You can visit the Curbed archive at archive.curbed.com to read all stories published before October 2020.
Thanks to well-known companies like Airbnb and Vrbo, short-term vacation rentals are here to stay in America’s cities. Slick apps and cheaper pricing make booking a vacation property easier than ever, whether you’re paying to sleep in someone’s extra room — the true definition of the “sharing economy” — or renting an entire house.
But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for companies looking to take advantage of the short-term-rental market. Airbnb is undeniably popular: Now in 100,000 cities, with seven million rental listings worldwide. At the same time, the company and its competitors have battled local zoning laws that prohibit short-term rentals and fought grassroots movements aiming to limit where and how short-term rental companies can operate.
On top of this, Airbnb has come under fire for its role in campaigning for lax rental laws, been criticized for exacerbating the already tight housing market in America’s biggest cities, and faced serious accusations of racism—highlighted by the #AirbnbWhileBlack hashtag. For some, Airbnb’s lack of transparency and questionable practices have pushed people to look elsewhere for vacation rentals, even as the company works to combat these problems.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up alternatives to Airbnb and Vrbo, the two biggest players in the short-term rental industry. Whether you use this list as part of a deliberate choice to support an Airbnb competitor — or just because all your favorite Airbnb listings are booked — it’s a helpful guide to other options in the vacation rental market.
This new site mixes the amenities of hotels with the conveniences found in rental apartments. Sonder offers a fully automated check-in process and provides high-speed WiFi, towels, in-suite-laundry, and coffee in every rental. They are currently in most major U.S. cities, but have also expanded abroad with rentals in Dubai, London, Dublin, Mexico City, Rome, and Toronto.
A listing service originally dedicated to temporary housing for visiting scholars, Sabbatical Homes provides short-term and medium-term home rentals and exchanges in 57 countries to both academics and non-academics alike. Low listing fees keep costs down (fees are slightly higher if you are not an academic), and members work out rental terms with each other. Once a member has found a match, they can decide on an honor-based success fee of any amount that support Sabbatical Homes and keeps the site advertisement-free.
This Portland-based vacation rental company may not be as large as Airbnb — it offers around 25,000 vacation homes around the world — but it offers a few key differences. Instead of relying on the home sharing system, Vacasa curates the properties and pays over employees to clean and maintain them. According to Fast Company, Vacasa workers earn at least $15 an hour at their jobs in order to comply with the company’s fair wage initiative.
Even though Vacasa isn’t a peer-to-peer home sharing company, it still offers good prices on vacation rentals and claims to provide more consistent quality than competitors like Airbnb.
This London-based startup bills itself as the Michelin Guide for vacation homes. The company selects its properties based on a 150-point criteria and a team that visits each home to test everything from the neighborhood to the WiFi speed, with a sharp eye for interior decor. With properties in London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Rome, Milan, Copenhagen, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Berlin, and more, the Plum Guide also has a customer service that team that is available via call back, email, or a live chat.
Founded in the summer of 2016 in response to racism experienced by people trying to book lodging on Airbnb, Innclusive is a peer-to-peer rental platform with an admirable goal: “We’re building a place where you can travel with respect, dignity, and love, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity.”
The ever-growing site makes sure that people can’t discriminate when booking lodging by only showing identity photos after bookings have been confirmed; it also offers instant booking on almost all of the listings, and prevents hosts from denying a booking to one guest and offering it to another.
It’s the eternal problem for parents everywhere: Hotel rooms are pricey but many vacation rentals don’t offer enough amenities and convenience to be worth the hassle. Enter Kid and Coe, a site launched in 2013 that offers plenty of kid-focused amenities. Listings tell parents exactly how many people — and what age — the property can handle, and the site offers extensive descriptions of toys, baby gear, and beds.
We love the amount of information provided on each property, with paragraphs on “Perks for the Parents,” “Why Kids Love It,” “Things to Know,” and even “Style Notes” describing the decor. The downside? Inventory can be limited and some of the listings are more expensive than on other sites.
If architecture and design is just as important as relaxation on your vacation, Boutique Homes could be the site for you. With a highly curated collection of design-driven homes — listed by invitation only — Boutique Homes offers dramatic locations and stays in some of the most beautiful properties in the world.
Beyond architectural gems for your next vacation, Boutique Homes also provides an impressive list of event venues available for rent. While the number of listings is substantially less than other sites, jaw-dropping photos and fun descriptions more than make up for the lack of quantity.
Now owned by TripAdvisor, FlipKey is similar to Airbnb but offers guest reviews and property owners who are verified by FlipKey staff. Beyond this, expect the same experience as the other big competitors, and the site also offers payment protection. Note that FlipKey doesn’t provide shared rooms, but you can use lots of filters to find the perfect dog-friendly, kid-friendly, or waterfront property.
If cost is your biggest deciding factor, consider booking with Homestay. There aren’t any private houses or apartments on this site, and every stay is a hosted experience. But by booking with Homestay, you get an in-the-know local who can give advice and help you navigate the city. There aren’t as many options in some cities, but the prices make Homestay a reasonable option.
With an emphasis on city apartments, Wimdu has about 350,000 properties around the world and is especially popular in Europe. There’s a nice selection of well-priced properties, from a room in an Amsterdam apartment to a whole-house getaway in Croatia. Helpful filters let you pick the type of property, price, and amenities like whether there is a washer and dryer or an elevator.