Hotel versus vacation rental: What to consider

SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 9/17/2020, midnight
When you’re ready to travel again, one of your first big questions is likely to be what to do about ...
Hotel room Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay

When you’re ready to travel again, one of your first big questions is likely to be what to do about accommodations? Do you go for a hotel or a vacation rental? No doubt, there is a lot to consider. The coronavirus is a game changer.

In the end, it comes down to what you’re most comfortable with. The experts weigh in to help you make up your mind.

Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn

Jordan Brady, luxury travel advisor and founder of Journey Bound Travel Co., shares his insights. When it comes to the pluses of 4- and 5-star hotels, he says, “Generally, at higher-quality hotels, you are going to be more satisfied with your accommodation. It’s not just a person renting out their private home. Hotels are under more strict regulation from their state/local government to keep health and safety operational procedures up to par.”

He points out that amenities such as pools, restaurants and spas are operating under strict rules. Furthermore, he says that many hotels are in unique, remote locations and have standalone or more private accommodation options than you might realize, such as cottages, cabins, bungalows, villas, or casitas. Some of these are standalone structures, and others might be connected but have a private outdoor entrance and private outdoor space.

Nicole Hunter, a travel blogger for Go Far Grow Close, likes that you can hold the hotel accountable for any health or safety deficiencies that you discover while there. “You can ask for a different room, especially if they have advertised certain safety protocols and they are not living up to them. You can also demand a refund or some sort of compensation. This would be very difficult in a vacation rental,” says Hunter.

But you can’t ignore some facets of hotel life. There are more people around you, especially in the public places. “No matter how strict you are, you’re only as safe as the people you are exposed to,” says Brady.

Understand too, that the amenities you so love may be a bit more complicated. You could now need to make dinner reservations in advance, or reservations for lounge chairs at the pool (in 2-hour blocks), or there may be limited spa availability.

Then there’s the matter of customer service. “Depending on how a hotel is handling their occupancy rate and how well they’ve been able to keep up with staff, you might see a lower staff-to-guest ratio. Also many U.S. hotels rely on their foreign staff members. Due to COVID travel restrictions, many foreign workers have not been able to make it to the U.S. This means the hotel ends up hiring local college kids. This all affects service, unfortunately. So, it’s important to have the right expectations,” says Brady.

Lastly, generally, he says you’ll pay more for a higher quality accommodation compared to a private rental.

Alex Miller, founder and CEO of UpgradedPoints.com, a travel site that provides analysis, data, reviews and in-depth guides to travelers, offers a tip: “With a hotel, you can book the nights before you arrive to guarantee no one will have stayed in your room. This may not be possible with a vacation home, as you have to tend to deal with private renters for these.”

Home away from home

Brady touts the cost savings of vacation rentals and that there is a wider range of options in the private home sector. But there is also a higher risk of not being satisfied with your stay, he says. Consider a private space. “When you stay in a private home, it’s just that. It’s a private home and you can’t completely avoid interaction with others. In a COVID era, there are many more property management companies popping up. These have a much smaller selection of homes compared to Airbnb or VRBO, but they are well vetted. So, book with confidence,” says Brady.

Hunter considers it a plus that with a vacation rental you control who enters the home. You’re not sharing doors, elevators or other common areas with strangers.

There are some big cons though. “Private homeowners are not at risk of being audited for their health and safety measures. So you are putting your trust in the hands of a stranger,” says Brady. Quality can vary. Some rentals will exceed expectations. “But many times, you show up and what you saw in the pictures was not representative of the actual product. The risk is higher for private home rentals compared to higher end hotels. Depending on the rental, there may not be any onsite amenities,” explains Brady.

One traveler’s experience

Portia O’Laughlin is a travel consultant and owner of multiple travel focused websites including whenIwander.com and thatcruiselife.com. She recently travelled and opted for two different hotel brands, Hilton and Marriott, for several reasons.

“Both had changed their cleaning standards and updated their COVID travel information to include important factors such as greater flexibility with cancellation policies, social distancing requirements, contactless services, and personal protective requirements for employees and guests. For example, Hilton offers CleanStay with Lysol protection and a clean room seal on your door upon entry.”

However, she says she found that it was still necessary to wipe down surfaces at one of the hotels she visited due to food stains and a cup ring on the tables that wiped up easily. “I came prepared to do so, just in case my cleaning standards were not met. I believe the likelihood of that happening in a vacation rental could be significantly higher due to the lack of oversight and consistency from one rental to the next.”

But she’s not going to let that deter her from vacation rentals. “I plan to visit a Marriott vacation rental next week and hope to find that because of the affiliation, the extra cleaning might not be necessary, but I’m prepared if it is. That might be one of the issues that just can’t be guaranteed no matter where you go.”

What she finds most appealing about a vacation rental is the reduced traffic and risk of an incidence of running into others, including anyone not following the social distancing and mask requirements.

How to choose?

Much has to do with where you are going and how they are handling the COVID pandemic. What are their infection rates? Is there anyone in your travel group that has health issues that you have to be particularly concerned with? Says Hunter, “I would expect the cost and the number of people in your travel party would also be a consideration. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer, but one that needs to be adjusted based on these considerations.”