Airbnb Alternatives – Going Down the Accommodation Rabbit Hole
After I posted my review of Airbnb, readers mentioned a couple of alternatives for backpacker accommodations/vacation rentals. I decided to follow the rabbit down its hole and take a look at some other Airbnb-like services out there. Here are a few (and nowhere comprehensive) brief reviews.
Homeaway – The elephant in the room, Homeaway recently priced a $216M (up to $248M) initial public offering valuing the company at $2B. Since the company has gone public, shares have risen quite a bit giving them a market cap of $3.35B as of 7/13/11. And because they’re now public, we’re able to take a look at the filings and get the nitty-gritty financials. As of 3/31/11, Homeaway has over 560,000 paid listings, gets 9.5M visitors a month and generated $167.9M in revenue in 2010. In the first quarter of 2011 alone, the company generated $52.0M in revenue. Of the $168M in 2010, $16.9M was profit.
To sum up all that mumbo-jumbo: Homeaway is the largest player in a huge market and they are generating a lot of money. Now how does it pertain to the average backpacker? You can search listings by location of property (beach, downtown, mountain, etc.), travel style (luxury, budget), and amenities. Like Airbnb, each of the properties has photos and reviews. There is calendar that shows availability, a grid that lists all the amenities and an “email owner” link. The interface, although not as slick as Airbnb, is everything you’d expect.
I searched for rooms in San Francisco for 8/5 – 8/7 and the cheapest I found were $95. Many of the rooms had weekly and monthly rates, indicating that the website was also suitable for longer-term rentals. At first glance, $95 seems like a lot but if you dig deeper, you’ll find that the rate listed is often for an entire apartment/house. Split that $100 between 2-3 (the website lists max for each property) and it’s a very reasonable deal. The one caveat, however, was that many of the listings were not in San Francisco. Many were 30 minutes away by car so it would be very tough to get around.
Overall, I think the best value in Homeaway is if you can find a centrally located property that you can share with 2-3 of your friends. Paying $95/night for an entire apartment just doesn’t make sense for a solo backpacker.
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Roomorama – Mentioned by one of my readers, Roomorama is very similar to both Homeaway and Airbnb. It has the standard listing interface, reviews and pictures. A couple of differentiators that make it interesting include a “shoutouts” feature and local perks. “Shoutouts” let people looking for rooms list the location, time and number of people. The messages are displayed on the right side of the search page. Anyone looking at the search page sees shoutouts from all over the world. So instead of renters browsing through pages of listings, a property owner can contact them directly if there is a match.
Perks is also a nice touch for travelers. For staying in Roomorama properties, the website partners with nationwide and local merchants to provide discounts or special offers to customers. A sample of the perks I saw included a free day pass at a gym, 10% off a luggage shipping service and 5% off a car hire service. Nothing ground breaking but still something nice, especially since they come with the room for free.
Searching in the same time period, I found slightly cheaper rates (starting at $69, a few others under $100) compared to Homeaway. And like Homeaway, many places were for more than one person. Nonetheless, the website is generally more expensive/higher end than Airbnb and I would advise using it in the same use case as Homeaway.
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Casacasa – Also mentioned by a reader, Casacasa looks to me like a paid version of CouchSurfing. Members pay $40 a year for access to ~200 hosts around the world and you must be willing to host other members. The site also suggests $15-20 a night for gratuity/clean sheets. I can’t comment on any specific listings because you need to pay the membership fee to see them, but I assume it’s similar to the kinds you’d find on CouchSurfing (spare bedroom, with a host, etc.). So why would anyone choose this over CouchSurfing? Although I personally wouldn’t use it (had a great experience with CouchSurfing), there is value in a more structured and stringent exchange program. The website lists rules and expectations that must be adhered to otherwise membership is revoked, thus removing any bad apples. It’s also a much smaller community so reputation holds a lot more weight.
It’s cheap when compared to hotels or hostels but then again, CouchSurfing is free. I think the service would be useful for backpackers who prefer the quiet over the party scene and feel more assured with a more structured program than CouchSurfing. Not for me, but some may find it useful.
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In the course of looking around for these types of sites, I also found a review of CouchSurfing and three alternatives: Hospitality Club, GlobalFreeloaders and BeWelcome. Instead of reinventing the wheel and reviewing these sites, I’ll just provide the link to the original author’s review here.
It’s really quite amazing how many alternative accommodation options backpackers have these days. The variety of services, prices and places is a bit overwhelming but that means there’s probably something out there that matches exactly what you’re looking for.