How to always get the cheapest vacation rental

EXCLUSIVE: Which U.S. cities have the cheapest rentals? It depends where you book, according to new research from HiChee.com

You can save almost 50 percent by booking a vacation rental on Airbnb instead of Vrbo in Brooklyn. But in Houston, you can save nearly 40 percent by booking at Vrbo instead of Airbnb. That's according to new research by HiChee.com, a vacation rental site.

Vacation rentals have seen massive growth during the pandemic. If you don't believe me, check Airbnb's stock price. The company had a spectacular public stock offering last week. The rest of the travel industry may be suffering, but not vacation rentals.

HiChee.com is a search engine for rental properties. It aggregates inventory from Vrbo, Airbnb and direct-to-host properties, comparing rates on the properties across platforms.

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In 95 percent of the searches, the direct-hosted option is the least expensive. No surprise, since both Vrbo and Airbnb charge hefty booking fees. Those get passed along to you. 

Three rates for the same property

Note how the same home is listed at three different prices. Talk about confusion!

By booking with one of the major platforms, you get peace of mind that you're dealing with a company that can intervene if something goes wrong. (They don't always, which is why my advocacy organization stays busy.)

The question is, how much of a premium is too much?

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So where are the cheapest vacation rental rates?

That's where HiChee's numbers are useful. If you want to stick to a booking platform, you need to know which one has the best rates. And it depends. (Daily rates are based on weekly rentals. And the difference is in percent.)

If you're renting in Brooklyn or Manhattan, you're better off going with Airbnb. Your average savings will be between 35 and 46 percent, depending on where you stay. Airbnb is also a better deal in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

Vrbo has a significant advantage over Airbnb in Houston. But it only has a slight edge in Washington, Atlanta, Orlando and Scottsdale, Ariz.

HiChee's numbers are based on cities where there are more than 4,000 rentals, and it's a snapshot of available inventory earlier this week. But it offers some insights into the price differences between the major home rental platforms.

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Where should you book your next vacation rental?

I still think there's some value in booking through Airbnb or Vrbo, at least for short-term bookings. But for any rental of a month or longer, these platforms don't make much sense. The fees are too high, and in the end, the owners become involved in your rental experience to such an extent that the platforms just get in the way.

So if you're headed to Houston for a week or two, use Vrbo. If you're going to New York, book with Airbnb. But it might also be worth checking a site like HiChee.com to see which option is the cheapest.

Are vacation rental platforms charging too many fees? I'd be interested in your comments.

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