Hotel or house? It depends.
That’s the best answer anyone can give to the summer’s hottest question: Should I book a hotel or a vacation rental? It depends on your circumstances, your destination, your budget and your lodging preferences.
It’s a wishy-washy answer, but no one could do any better – until now.
New data from the online booking site Hipmunk.com suggests that if you’re not particular about your accommodations, you can save money by sometimes choosing a hotel and other times, a vacation rental.
For example, in Seattle, the average nightly hotel rate is $289, but the average rental rate is $158 – a savings of $131. By savings potential, it’s followed by Boston, with average savings of $115, Houston $70 and San Francisco $67.
On the flip side, you might want to check in to a hotel if you’re visiting West Palm Beach, where the average nightly rental rate is $216, but a hotel goes for just $115 a night – a $101 savings. Similarly, you’ll want to go for a hotel in Indianapolis where you’ll save $94, Cincinnati $84 and Charlotte $57.
The numbers, which apply to advance reservations from June through August, include taxes and booking fees.
Does the data make your decision easier? Maybe, maybe not. Hipmunk found that in many major markets, the price spread is negligible – in Tampa, you’ll save just $7 a night by staying in a hotel, and in Chicago you can save $9 a night by opting for a rental – which means the answer to that question remains “It depends.”
If you’re Christopher Brown and you’re looking for accommodations for you and your family in Hawaii, you might be partial to a hotel. Brown, who works for a software developer in Stouffville, Ontario, had heard he could save money by renting a home, but when he looked into a rental, he found there were strings attached.
“The owners usually wanted 50 percent or more upfront,” he says. “The hotels often require small or no deposits.”
In the end, the price of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa in Honolulu and the rental they were considering was the same, but then the hotel offered a deal too good to pass up: They’d move the family from a “city” view to an ocean view and reduce the price for their stay from $2,400 to $1,900.
Sure, the Browns were giving up some space, but that suited them. “We do not spend any time inside, so we felt we would be paying for something we won’t use,” he says. Also, the hotel offered daily cleaning service and parking and included a fast wireless connection.
For Bryan Marsden, a financial journalist from Machesney Park, Illinois, a vacation rental makes more sense. In July, he’s vacationing in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and he crunched the numbers out of a sense of professional obligation. They made a clear case.
“For the same price as a room at the Best Western a half-mile down the road, I’m getting a two-bed, 2½-bath condo with a full kitchen, which sleeps 10 with a pull-out queen sofa,” he says. “This also allows me to cut costs on food and the like, as we can make meals because it has a full kitchen.”
There is no one right answer to the question of rental vs. hotel, according to Sara Nakash, owner of Off the Map Travels, a Brooklyn travel agency specializing in adventure travel. The length of stay, not the cost, is perhaps the most important criteria. If you’re staying somewhere longer than a week and it becomes your home away from home, you might feel more comfortable in a real home, she says.
Other factors to consider include amenities and housekeeping services. You have to actually clean your own rental, unless you make special arrangements. On the other hand, you’ll probably have a full kitchen in a rental. And then there’s the most difficult thing to quantify: the actual experience.
“This is a big one for me personally,” Nakash says. “Hotels are great if you want to be in the city center near all the tourist action. But if you’re looking to experience local culture and stay in a more quiet residential neighborhood, a vacation rental is an easy way to do so.”
Beth Carson, the editor of Vacation Rental Travels, a travel magazine, says even she will sometimes stay in a hotel – for example, when she’s traveling solo, speaking at a conference or staying at an airport overnight before a flight.
For people booking a summer vacation with their families, the decision often hinges on how you answer one important question: What’s more important – space or location?
“Can you save some money by staying two blocks from the beach in a larger home, or is being able to step directly onto sand important?” she asks. “It’s your much-anticipated vacation, and you need to be happy.”
Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler’s reader advocate and author of How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler. www.elliott.org.