Is Airbnbs really cheaper for large groups?


Despite all the debate about whether Airbnb is better than hotels, there is one scenario where many seem to assume Airbnb is always superior: group travel.

Airbnbs can keep groups together. Staying under the same roof can make dating easier. If the whole party starts and ends together, it can be easier to account for everyone. And seating the crew around a giant kitchen table might be easier than getting a group dinner reservation.

And many travelers tend to assume that Airbnbs (or vacation rental alternatives like Vrbo or Hipcamp) are cheaper for larger groups. But are they? And if so, how much cheaper?


A June 2022 NerdWallet study analyzed 1,000 Airbnb reservations in the United States with check-in dates in 2022 or 2023. The properties encompassed a range of locations and quality – although the study only considered “whole” properties (as opposed to a single room in a larger house). ). These Airbnb prices were then compared to a NerdWallet database of nearly 1,000 US hotel rooms in the same cities, evenly split across a range of classes and locations.

At first glance, Airbnbs always seem more expensive. While the median hotel room per night in the US was $178, the Airbnb median was $314 (including all taxes and fees).

But these two comparisons are not exactly fair. After all, a hotel room can probably only fit two people, whereas Airbnb can often fit more than that. So when broken down by person, Airbnbs can often be much cheaper – and here’s how much.

Hotels vs Airbnb: What is the cost per person?

NerdWallet unveiled the price per person to understand if Airbnbs is really cheaper for groups.

This study assumed two adults per hotel room. Indeed, while some hotels charge the same price for four adults to fit two queen beds in a room, others charge more. A separate NerdWallet analysis of Hilton room rates in the United States found that prices tend to increase by an average of 11% when the reservation is for four adults versus two adults.

For Airbnb stays, NerdWallet has grouped rentals into two categories: rentals with a maximum capacity of two adults and rentals with a maximum capacity of six adults.

In almost every scenario, groups of six save significantly when booking a large Airbnb compared to three hotel rooms. But for groups of two, hotels tend to be cheaper per person. Here is the cost breakdown per person:

For groups of six, the median price per night per person to stay at a large Airbnb was about 33% cheaper compared to booking three hotel rooms. But a single hotel room is 29% cheaper than a small Airbnb.

But these are nationwide figures, and there can sometimes be high variability depending on location. Here are some notable cities in NerdWallet searches:

In Chicago and Dallas, the median hotel price was consistently more expensive than Airbnb per person, regardless of group size. Meanwhile, the median hotel in Los Angeles and Philadelphia was still cheaper than Airbnb.

Still, in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Akron, Ohio, prices were mixed. Hotels were cheaper than Airbnbs for parties of two, but more expensive for parties of six.

When a hotel might still make sense for large groups

Just because the cost per person is lower doesn’t necessarily mean you have to ditch the hotel for your family reunion, bachelorette party, or any other group trip. In some scenarios, hotels are always superior for groups.

You can earn or redeem loyalty rewards

While there are backdoor ways to earn or redeem points on Airbnb stays, Airbnb doesn’t have its own loyalty program. Points, which can often be easily earned through hotel credit card sign-up bonuses, can make hotels free or cheap. Hotel loyalty programs also tend to include money-saving perks, such as free hotel night certificates and free breakfast.

For a large group heading to Disneyland, Hyatt Place Anaheim’s free breakfast buffet can be faster than cooking in the Airbnb kitchen and cheaper than paying for meals at the theme park. (Photo courtesy of Hyatt)

You will maximize the amenities

Speaking of free hotel breakfast, many major hotel chains promise it. Some, like Embassy Suites by Hilton, additionally offer a free evening happy hour, including appetizers.

If cooking in the Airbnb isn’t your thing, then a large group could quickly rack up a big restaurant bill. Keeping the group together at the hotel’s breakfast buffet might be easier anyway.

Hotels are also more likely to offer amenities and conveniences like an airport shuttle, kids’ club, or crib that you’re unlikely to find at an Airbnb.

The location is more convenient

Although the study rated hotels against Airbnbs in the same cities, it was unable to account for location granularity. Often, hotels are located in the heart of the city, close to major tourist attractions. Airbnbs, although cheaper, can be 8 km away. While staying at an Airbnb, you may need a rental car (and maybe a few) if your group is large. A conveniently located hotel may allow you to walk away and ditch the rental car altogether. That could be particularly economical these days, given that rental car prices in May 2022 were up 69% from the same month in 2019, according to Consumer Price Index data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

When an Airbnb might still make sense for couples

Still, even if the sticker price is more expensive, you might find Airbnbs makes sense. Here are some reasons.

An Airbnb in Sydney, Australia. (Photo courtesy of Airbnb)

You need features like a kitchen or laundry room

Although a kitchen is promised, hotel kitchens tend to be mediocre (often consisting of a mini-fridge, microwave, and cooktop — if you’re lucky). Laundry almost always costs more.

Although not always the case, most Airbnbs include full kitchens and laundry rooms. According to the USDA, the cost of food in the United States for the average adult cooking at home in May 2022 ranged from approximately $55 to $100 per person per week, with variations based on quantity and quality of food consumed. When you’re exclusively dining out on vacation, it can be easy to spend so much per day.

And while cooking at home can be a money saver for the pinch-toe, it could be a lifesaver for those with dietary restrictions. For outdoor trips involving adventures like skiing or fishing, laundry may be necessary.

You are staying in a remote area

While trips to national parks or other remote outdoor areas are becoming more popular, the number of accessible hotels in these areas has not increased. The closest Marriott to Acadia National Park in Maine is still about an hour away, but there are dozens of Airbnb listings on Mount Desert Island, where the park is located. Hilton just opened its first hotel in May in the Yosemite area, the Hampton Inn Oakhurst-Yosemite.

When hotels are full, overpriced, or non-existent, vacation rentals may be your only option.

Airbnb once offered a Winnie the Pooh-themed “Bearbnb” near London. (Photo courtesy of Airbnb)

You want a unique experience

While some say Airbnb has lost its luster as family vacation rentals give way to corporate property management juggernauts, some Airbnbs are still delightfully charming. If you’re looking to get closer to the locals, you’re likely to befriend your Airbnb host who made you breakfast versus the bellhop who brought your luggage to your room.

And while you can certainly find unique hotels, you’ll have better luck on Airbnb booking a geodesic dome on the beach, a treehouse, or a unique Hundred Acre Wood replica on Airbnb.

The bottom line

Airbnbs are generally more expensive for groups of two than for traditional hotels. But, they tend to be much cheaper for large groups looking for a multi-room vacation rental than booking multiple hotel rooms.

Six people are unlikely to all cram into a hotel room together, but booking three hotel rooms can get expensive. Airbnbs can help keep the group together and, in most cities, save you money.

In short, larger groups should almost always consider Airbnbs if budget is a priority. But do your own comparison before booking, as prices can vary from city to city.

Sam Kemmis and JT Genter contributed to this piece.

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