a pool with palm trees and chairs

This post serves two purposes: a confession, and a warning. The confession is that as much as I love points, I love “perfect” trips more. The warning, is that more and more often, at least for my family, a perfect trip doesn’t always involve a hotel.

It’s taken a couple years to get there, but I’ve reached a point where hotels are a part of the search, but not “the” search for many places I go. That’s seismic and we’ll get there.

I love starting the year off with an escape, and even though its only February, I’ve spent more than $15,000 in hotels and accommodations so far this year. And no, I def won’t keep that pace up, but it’s not uncommon to see $25,000 in a year.

If I were a hotel chain loyalist, I’d be near top tier ambassador or concierge status right now — just two months in — but instead I’ve hardly earned any hotel points and as very unpopular as that may be, i’m here to say that’s actually ok.

I don’t mind, or care. Hotels devalued their programs to inexplicable levels and I’m happy where I am. There’s a lot to digest, so let me explain…

a pool with lounge chairs and a radio

I Wish Airbnb Had A Loyalty Program

Travel is finally unlocking now.

Complicated testing requirements are dropping in most of the world — your turn, USA — and the success of vaccines and booster programs are giving people the confidence to reconnect. It’s wonderful.

With that said, business travel is not back as it was once before, and many people who are traveling are doing so for leisure. For me, trips are longer and more purposeful and have been used as a chance to connect with family or friends in an easy way.

Traveling with a 2 year old, draconian hotel rules and minor frustrations like a lack of food preparation facilities have shifted much of my leisure spend to Airbnb. Search for two adults and a child, you’ll see vastly different hotel prices. Add in a third adult, and let’s hope you run a large hedge fund.

I can get a house with a few bedrooms (and sometimes a pool) for the same price as a standard five star hotel room in many cities. If I stay in hotels, I’m proactively working on negotiated rates for suite upgrades and that’s not even fun.

In sunny areas we’ve prioritized during these odd times, it’s totally transformed things and frankly, I wish Airbnb had a loyalty program. It doesn’t, and it hasn’t mattered, in large part, because legacy hotel chains made theirs so meaningless.

Marriott requires $20K in spend to reach top tier Ambassador Elite, which is among the loftier hotel statuses in the world. Hyatt, Accor, IHG and Hilton require similar for their top levels. Just two months in the year, I’d basically be there… if I was staying in hotels.

Based on metrics, rather than egos (or reach), I’d easily be one of the most sought after customers for any chain based on these spend figures.

I’d have lots of so called “benefits” when checking into these chains, and yep, some points too — but being loyal can mean not getting exactly what you want. Like a hotel on the “other” side of town.

I just haven’t been willing to do this.

I want a place that ticks all the boxes, and as Airbnb’s become more like hotels, with points of contact for any needs, and sometimes even a concierge who can assist with little things like delivery, I’ve started to wonder how hotels will actually survive.

Is it the breakfast that they (largely) took away?

Is it the “service”, which requires a tip for every point of contact?

Is it the “facilities”, which somehow remain “closed” in many properties?

I’m just finding the lines more blurred than before, and the trajectories are the inverse of what I would’ve expected to see. It’s not hotels that are getting nicer, it’s alternative accommodations.

Airbnb’s are becoming more like hotels in everything but name, and hotels are sadly not actively seeking new ways to differentiate in most markets.

Rather than remind people why hotels are utterly uh-mazing right now with O-T-T (over-the-top) service, hotels are taking every chance to reduce service and save money.

Loyalty programs too became more hopes and dreams, than bolted on guarantees, which made people like me shift to luxury travel agents, who could guarantee benefits by booking through the right channels, rather than pledging allegiance.

Meanwhile, Airbnb entrepreneurs are taking a nimble hospitality approach to a once quirky house sharing setup. In the places I’m staying, it’s a lot more hotel than many hotels.

I now expect hotel quality linens and little amenities in my Airbnb’s, and Airbnb and other platforms have done an excellent job to curate this approach. Where do these two trajectories cross, or find equilibrium?

What’s Stopping Me?

As bad as this sounds already, there are only a few things stopping me from sending the wallet share further. A large one of those issues is “ROI”. There’s only so much time I’m willing to spend researching Airbnb’s and photos.

If not for the brand visibility of a great chain, like a Four Seasons, which makes a search simple and painless, I’d probably already be staying in more well curated Airbnb’s.

a blue credit card on a ledge by a pool

Breaking Down The Spend

In pre-pandemic, rise of Airbnb times, I spent most of my time in hotels. I’d Airbnb in certain cities or locales where hotels were in the wrong part of town, or didn’t have the space and extras needed, but hotels were the majority.

Now, wallets don’t lie, and I’ve spent three out of every four dollars on Airbnb rather than hotels. I’d love recognition for that via an Airbnb loyalty program, but the reality is that I’m spending that money based on the reach, the access in any given city and the spaces on offer. It’s not about late check out, or breakfast.

Again, both of which hotels have savagely clawed back for near on a decade now.

So, help, I’m part of a generation that’s killing the hotel industry even if I don’t want to. I just want the best travel experience in any given city and more and more often, on balance, it isn’t with traditional hotels.

I have no ill will. In fact, I f**king love a great hotel. I’ll stay in one for a couple nights this week, but unless things change, more and more “big picture” purchases will keep going to Airbnb and other lodging options.

Now that Chase has made Airbnb a “Pay Yourself Back” option, and Capital One has a limited time $200 home sharing credit with Venture X, I’ll earn plenty of points and get plenty of benefit from cards already in my wallet, too.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I see where you’re coming from and you gotta do you. I detest Airbnb though, for all the usual reasons, which largely amount to one thing: as a company they absolutely couldn’t give less of a f@$k about the customer. They actually make Marriott customer service look good by comparison. Hell, they make Comcast look good by comparison, which is unheard of. The thing is, as long as you have zero problems that require assistance from the company, you’re fine. That seems to be the case with you so far and legit props that that’s the case. Personally, until the Airbnb corporate culture reverses itself completely to start caring about customers, I’ll forego in favor of hotels.

  2. Some of my best tropical vacations have been in AirBnB’s or VRBO’s. However, for trips less than a week long, I find the cleaning and other fees too onerous. For example, spend two nights in a place and spend $400 in accommodations and an additional $300 in cleaning fees. The last place I stayed was very nice and worked well for what we needed. Since it was a 8 night stay, I reluctantly paid the $450 cleaning fee. This was for a 3 bedroom 2.5 bath home. This is ridiculous, and often the fees are the same regardless of if it is a 2 night or a 10 night stay. Not to mention the 5 pages of rules you need to follow for each different home you rent. Not saying I blame them entirely. If I was renting out my home, I would want some rules in place, but some are over the top. I also had to fax the security company operating the gate into the subdivision copies of my entire parties ID’s. Not something you do at hotels, in the US anyway. If I was renting a place out, I would wrap the fees into the nightly rate and increase the minimum night stay for optics if nothing else.

    One hack I have found, at least in resort areas, is to search AirBnB for rentals and then if they are managed by a local company, go to their website. Often you can rent properties for hundreds less since you don’t pay the AirBnB fees. Might not try it on a mom and pop operation since there are fewer protections, but some of these companies manage dozens of properties.

    1. Yes! This is such a good hack which I use as well. I need/want the protections offered by “a” platform so that I’m not pounding sand if things go wrong, but the fees charged by Airbnb (particularly on monthly luxury rentals) are insane. Truly insane.

  3. Now I have a newborn I am in the same position. Did an Embassy Suites stay in a pinch a couple of weeks ago – surely unhelpful staff and the “kitchenette” was a microwave and a fridge. Paid top $$ as well! & don’t even get me started on the points and status devaluations.

    I rent my airbnb out via an agent and we are seeing a lot more direct bookings for this year so I think people are getting savvy. Airbnb fees are crazy so you can get a good discount coming direct to us and it’s a professionally built website with credit card payment so you are still protected. Always worth googling around and seeing what other websites a particular property is available on

  4. We used Airbnb pre-pandemic. It mostly worked, except once in Spain, in San Sebastian of all places, where owner was a b-i-t-c-h and made our stay a hell. Then we had to deal with reviews, etc. I don’t need this pain. Since pandemic, we don’t use airbnb, their policies are not flexible (my Hilton Diamond level gives me a lot of freedom to cancel or modify my booking). Their cancellation fees are ridiculous. And others already mentioned awfully high cleaning fees, obscene rules and regulations, etc.
    Not saying this will hold forever, but for now, I prefer the flexibility to book and cancel at a drop of a hat, even if service level at most properties went down. There are NO services at airbnb.

  5. I’m all for Airbnb’s if the owner lives in the house and rents out a shared room like a BnB.
    I am against Airbnb when it’s owned by a corporation or investment group. These Airbnb corporations are contributing to the housing crisis and are making some cities unaffordable and destroying the charm of neighborhoods

  6. Lol
    You sound friends of mine decades ago: “We’re killing WalMart and Target. With Amway we use our own houses. Soon, no one will drive to or park at retailers. They’ll do everything in private houses.”

  7. This article really resonated with me. Lately I’ve been moving about 50% of my stays away from hotels and have recently discovered Sonder, which is kind of a hotel/Airbnb hybrid model, but unfortunately also doesn’t have a loyalty program. As for Airbnb, there is a way to claim British Airways points if you book through their portal. Better than nothing.

  8. We had reservations for a home for a stay in Dallas. Two days before our trip the reservation was canceled. Oh what a mess for all of us and the expense was terrible. I can’t take the stress of having another cancelation just before a trip.

  9. Still not sure what makes AirBNB so special beyond what was always available (VRBO, others that predated it). But either way I have used all of these various services before and have had problems every single time. Varying severity of problems, but 100% hit rate with ‘rentals’ and little recourse. Hotels are not immune to problems obviously. But I estimate Hyatt might be 5%, Marriott 75%, and as you say Four Seasons and Fairmont approach zero%. At the end of the day it is the stay/experience that makes my choice, not the loyalty, and AirBNB (or VRBO etc) do not succeed there.

  10. We have had great stays for our family at AirBnB but you have to search and read the reviews. I plan on getting the Chase Aeroplan just for the Pay Yourself Back for AirBnB. I also will use the VentureX as well.

  11. I’d use Airbnb more often if it weren’t for both the fees (even though more hotels are charging destination/resort fees) & the lack of stay protection. It’s only happened to me once in Atlanta, but a host can cancel pretty much up to the day of check in. Definitely happens when folks book holiday stays earlier in the year and then the host realizes they could have gotten a much higher rate, and cancel.

  12. Gilbert-I could not agree with you more!
    “Complicated testing requirements are dropping in most of the world — your turn, USA”
    Please shout this out everywhere!

  13. My first impression of the air bed and no breakfast platform was when a neighbor illegally rented their flat to rude tourists looking to save coin vs local hotels. In the early stages of the company illegal listings seemed to be the majority offered. Couple that with the price transparency, insurance & safety issues and I have yet to be sold on supporting this platform.

    1. I think that’s really no longer much of a factor. Compliance in most markets requires a license to list on Airbnb, which means local taxes and fees paid, as well as safety inspections and so forth. Cities and countries have been all over this.

  14. I’ve definitely looked at Airbnb more lately because you’re right, they’ve come a long way from a quirky home share company and many hotel perks are less perky these days. I just can’t get around the often restrictive cancellation policies. Zero refund often weeks in advance just doesn’t make sense for me. I’m also curious, @Gilbert, what your experience has been with your short term rentals when arriving before check in time and needing to store luggage?

  15. Airbnb is my go-to for long vacations, but they are not cost effective for the shorter stays (1-3 nights). Both hotels and Airbnb have taxes. Airbnb has an additional fee which I equate to the Hotel’s resort fee. Then Airbnb adds an additional cleaning fee which, again on shorter stays, out weighs the benefits of the home. Many times it is close to a nightly rate and they are never consistent even when comparing size and location. Spending an additional $400 for cleaning spaced over 7 days only adds an extra $57 per night. Now compare that to fee to a two night stay makes it an additional $200 per night! For this reason, hotels will remain my go-to for short stays and Airbnb only becomes a contender for my long vacations.

  16. Shouldn’t your title be “Help! Hotels are Committing Suicide and I’m not willing to spend the money to stop them”?

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