Which Vacation Rental Service is Best? A Comparison of HomeAway, AirBnB and FlipKey

One of our clients, a property management company, recently ventured into the vacation rental market.  Based on our work with another client and personal experience we made recommendations on various vacation rental services they should use.  When I travel, I prefer to stay in a vacation rental versus a hotel for longer stays or when traveling with my spouse.  My experiences certainly played a role in helping to recommend which services to use.  While there are other services to choose from the three we use and recommend are HomeAway™, AirBnB™ and FlipKey™.

We developed a scoring rubric with 23 dimensions based on an 85 point scoring system (“our recommendations”.)  Certain dimension’s scores were weighted heavier than others; and the score assigned to the service when the score exceeded 1 point are subjectively assigned.  A secondary performance rubric (“success test”) was created using the original 23 dimensions plus a 24th dimension that measured the actual success in vacation rental bookings.

My personal observation and preference for a service is HomeAway™ because they have really good customer service, deposit money into the owner’s bank account when it is received, and has a mature dashboard.  Getting the money when the tenant pays is a huge plus for me.

My original thought was that AirBnB would be the third place because I had personally had a very negative experience with them in Templeton, California last year.  However the only major detractor for this service is that it does not include the correct taxes in the rental fee.  My client was able to overcome the tax problem by including tax in the nightly rate.  Including tax in the nightly rental creates an in-balance because sometimes competitive property owners do not include taxes in their rates and AirBnB deducts a service fee from the included tax.  AirBnB could win first place if they fixed the taxation issue, deposited funds when they are received and had an easier to configure pricing system.  If “Bookings” was the only measure, then AirBnb was the clear winner.  AirBnB was responsible for majority of bookings on our client’s property (62%.)

I found the HomeAway customer service to be the most responsive.  AirBnB ran a close second place, although their stubbornness with regards to the taxes is most disappointing.  And FlipKey just took too long to respond.  In some fairness to FlipKey, they made significant changes to their dashboard and had other technical glitches during the testing period which might have caused excessive wait times in the customer service queue.

FlipKey (which is a Tripadvisor™ company) does a huge marketing campaign and is very well positioned for search engine optimization.  All you need to do to find a property in Phoenix, Arizona is type “tripadvisor phoenix az” into the Google™ search engine.

Comments on Subjective Criteria

Service Fee to the Guest – We ranked HomeAway the highest (4 points) because there is no service fee charged to the tenant.  Both AirBnB and FlipKey charge a service fee, but AirBnB’s is considerably less than FlipKey’s so we gave a higher score to AirBnB.

Merchant Charge – All of the services charge something to the owners for the merchant fee.  HomeAway charged the highest rate so their score was lower.

Tax Included / Correct – HomeAway properly computed taxes and itemized it correctly on the quotes and invoices.  FlipKey included taxes but incorrectly did not compute taxes on taxable fees (e.g. cleaning).  AirBnB scored zero because they do not include taxes and receive a booking fee on nightly rentals which include taxes.

Picture Count – HomeAway limits the pictures displayed to 24 which earned it the lowest score.  I would have scored them a “5” but bumped them to “7” because they have an easy to use picture management system.  AirBnB and FlipKey seem to have an unlimited number of pictures.

Review System by Guest – AirBnB’s approach as a social scoring and reviewing system is unique and easy to use.  This earned it the highest score in this category.  Also, AirBnB is the only service that allows the owner to rate the tenant, so I scored them the highest in that category.

Easy to Use Rates – FlipKey’ rate system was the most intuitive and easiest to setup.  AirBnB offered too much flexibility and HomeAway did not offer enough.

Services use of SEO – FlipKey was the hands down winner of SEO and TV advertising.

Customer Base – AirBnB’s customer base is huge, so I turned the volume up to “11” for this rating.

Background on the Services

HomeAway (AWAY NASDAQ) was founded in 2005.  It has more than 1 million properties listed in its system.  It is headquartered in Austin, Texas.  HomeAway™ is a trademark of HomeAway.com, Inc.

AirBnB (private) was founded in 2008.  It has more than 800,000 properties listed in its system.  It is headquartered in San Francisco, California. AirBnB™ is a trademark of Airbnb, Inc.

FlipKey (a TripAdvisor company, TRIP NASDAQ) was founded in 2007.  It has 300,000 properties listed in its system.  It is in Boston, Massachusetts. FlipKey™ is a trademark of FlipKey Inc.

Conclusion

In our recommendations and in the success test HomeAway™ was the clear winner because of its many features that makes it better suited for commercial vacation rental ownership.  FlipKey™ and AirBnB™ tied for second place on the recommendation rubric.  Despite FlipKey’s slick features and huge marketing budget it failed to beat out AirBnB on the “success test” rubric.  AirBnB on sheer customer numbers and booking strength bested FlipKey to pull in second place in the performance rubric.

Our ranking overall is 1st HomeAway, 2nd AirBnB and 3rd FlipKey.

We have not been asked to provide commentary on these services by their respective owners so we have no conflict of interest with this blog.

Rubric
Comparison of HomeAway, airbnb and FlipKey
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